Category Archives: Useful Tools

A list of my favorite digital tools these days

I often say that tools don’t make you productive, YOU make you productive. Take a small example, has there been an author of the stature of people like Tolstoy and Dickens in the times of desktop and cloud-based wordprocessors? Just imagine, they could manage 1000s of handwritten papers using pens and quills they repeatedly had to dip into the ink pot.

Recently I came across this piece of text that beautifully summarizes the absence of a parity between quality of tools and productivity:

Back in the 60s and 70s the computers were as strong as today’s smart phones. They sent manned missions to the moon with the same processing power, and we are hitting pigs with birds.

No, really I’m not bashing tools and technology, I’m just saying that using multiple tools doesn’t make you productive. You become productive when you really want to be productive and it’s only then these tools are useful to you.

With that bit out of my way now I will talk about some digital tools that are helping me organize my information in a better way and become more productive in the process. You might already be aware of these tools but I am sharing them here just to talk about how I am using them.

Evernote

EvernoteI have been using Evernote off and on for the past four years I think but it’s only now for the past 6-8 months I have been really using it. By really using I mean if all of a sudden they start charging me a reasonable fee (something that I can afford) I will gladly pay.

As you know you can save your notes and all sort of information in Evernote. You can create different notebooks and within those notebooks you can create different notes. So I have created different notebooks for

  • Keeping client-related information: All the information my clients send me I keep them in these notes. This includes company information, all the vital details that I must keep in mind while preparing their content and associated bits of information like e-mail ids, reference URLs and all the research information I gather while working on their project.
  • Collecting blogging ideas: Whenever I come across a blogging idea I add it to a note I have specifically created for this task.
  • Preserving clips from the web: There is lots of information that you cannot capture in text files – it is a mix of images and text. I can simply clip the information from the webpages and save it as a note in Evernote.
  • Maintaining a diary: This is something that I have been planning to start for a very long time. Back in college days I used to have a diary but somewhere I lost touch with the habit. I have again picked it up. I have created a diary notebook. Now all I have to do is create a new note, give it a heading (I don’t have too) and start entering my day’s briefings. Since all the notes are automatically sorted by date I don’t have to worry about the sequence.
  • Domestic “things to remember”: For instance, just in the morning my father phoned and said that they haven’t received their electricity bill for the past two months. I asked his consumer ID, went to the power company’s website and took the printout of the latest bill. So that I don’t have to ask for the consumer ID again I have saved it to a notebook I have specifically created for such trivia.
  • Writing my next book: Along with notebooks you can also create stacks in Evernote. So I have created a “Book Writing” stack and within that stack I have created notebooks like “Chapters”, “Characters” and “Random Notes”.

Aside from an ability to arrange and preserve information in such a manner that it can be quickly retrieved, I can access all my information across my devices such as my computer, my laptop and my Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Dropbox

DropboxEver since I started using Dropbox I’m saving all my client files in that folder. If you don’t know what it is, it is a cloud-based drive hosting service with a desktop interface. So once you have signed up, you can download an application that creates a separate folder for the cloud-based drive and whenever you save something in it it is automatically synchronised. Aside from the fact that your important files are safe from hard disk crashes, you can access your files from anywhere provided you have an Internet connection. When you sign up, you get 2 GB of free space but you can get more free space by getting your friends and colleagues to sign up via your referral URL.

Pocket

Pocket

It was formerly known as “Read It Later” and frankly I never used the service then. I don’t know what was lacking but when they recently launched it as “Pocket” I started using it. In fact I know why I didn’t use it back then – I didn’t have a tablet.

My main utility for the tool is that all the articles and blog posts that I want to read but cannot read at that time because I’m working, I can just click the “Pocket It” bookmark on my browser and they are automatically saved under my account. Then at night, when I’m in my bed, I can log on to my account through my Galaxy Tab and access all the blog posts and articles I have saved in there. And the best thing is, the sidebars, the header and the footer are stripped away and you get to read just the content.

Google Docs

Google DocsAll my content writing work these days happens on Google Docs. Even for clients who prefer to receive their work in MS Word files I prepare the documents first in Google Docs and then download them as Word files.

Most people who use Google Docs prefer the service for its collaboration features – multiple authors can work on a single document while maintaining multiple versions. I started using it simply because it keeps saving the work simultaneously as you type. You don’t ever have to worry about saving your file. I have been using Google Docs for the past two years now and I have never lost a single document since then.

Of course there is an added advantage that I’m now no longer tied down to a single computer. Wherever I am, I just need to log on and start writing. I have also gotten used to writing with bare minimum features. Again, I can also access my documents using my tablet.

FreshBooks

FreshBooksIt is a service I have just started using a couple of months ago when I switched over to an hourly rate. I have known about the service for many years but never used it. Now it has become an integral part of my work. I not only track my clients’ work I also track my own time while working on my own website and other marketing activities. If you don’t know what is FreshBooks it’s an online time tracking and invoicing service.

Astrid Tasks

Astrid TasksIt is a task management tool. I first started using it on my Android phone and later on also started using it via the Google Chrome browser. It is the best task management tool I have come across so far. Before that I was using Remember the Milk but it is not as good as Astrid. It has everything you need to manage and track your work-related as well as personal tasks. Of course it has a great interface too.

Although there are many tools and services that I use almost every day, they are not a part of my “real” work. The tools listed above actually help me be more productive and manage my work well.

Are there some digital tools that are your favorite? Please share them in the comments section but just keep in mind they need to be some things that really help you be more professionally efficient.

The benefits of having a Google +1 button on your website

Although this has got nothing directly to do with content writing and content marketing, since it can help my clients I have decided to write on this topic. Frankly, I haven’t really started using Google Plus as regularly as I use Facebook and Twitter, but the Google +1 button is slightly different from the social networking platform Google is trying to promote.

What is the Google +1 button?

You can see the Google +1 button on the top of this blog post (most probably on the right hand side at the top).

It can be used like a “thumbs up” act by your visitors. If you’re familiar with how the Digg button works, with every click, the number of people who have “plussed” your link increases. On Digg, the more diggs you have, the better is your chance of getting on Digg.com homepage and all of sudden increasing traffic to your website by hundreds of thousands. I am personally not very impressed with the sort of traffic you get from Digg.com but that is just a difference of opinion I guess.

The Google +1 button achieves almost the same thing, but instead of helping you get to the homepage of Digg.com, it helps you improve your search engine rankings. It is something like page rank: the more “trusted” websites and blogs link to you, the better your search engine rankings get.

The Google +1 button is a step closer to “humanizing” search engine results. So far, almost all the search engines have depended on ranking algorithms to rank various links. Although these algorithms are mathematically sound, after all they are algorithms, and whenever you have algorithms, people can devise workarounds.

But if actual human beings start recommending web pages and blog posts by clicking on the Google +1 button it increases their relevance in the real sense. Then Google doesn’t have to depend much on its algorithms and its search engine results are more validated and relevant. So if you have a Google +1 button on your website, you are allowing your visitors to help you improve your search engine rankings. When they click on your Google +1 button they recommend your link to Google.com – “Rank this link well, it is definitely good!”

It is like “social search”. This concept has been introduced by many newcomer search engines.

Some even say Google.com immediately crawls your web page and indexes it the moment you install the Google +1 button on it. I’m not particularly sure of that. Anyway, if you regularly publish content on your website or blog, your content gets indexed within a few seconds or a few minutes of the new content appearing on your website or blog.

Another benefit of having a Google +1 button on your website or blog

The Google +1 button also allows you to post the link you are presently on directly to your Google Plus profile. It is like, Facebook or Twitter plug-in that allows you to straightaway post the link under your profile.

How to install a Google +1 button on your website or blog

The direct way to install the Google +1 button is by heading to the official Google webpage dedicated to the button. This page has code snippets that you need to insert into your website. The first code snippet is for the button to appear wherever you want it to appear, and the second code snippet is the required JavaScript that you will be putting within the <head></head> section of your website.

If you manage your blog or website with WordPress (as I do) you can simply install a plug-in to display the Google +1 button. This is not the only recommended plug-in – you can use whatever you prefer. If you’re using a social media plug-in as you can see on the left hand side of this blog post, it might already be coming up preloaded with the Google +1 one button feature.

Here is a small video on the Google +1 one button (from Google.com):

In Gmail now you can undo a message you’ve just sent

Ever regretted sending that message?  Sometimes you send a message to a wrong person and sometimes in the heat of the moment you say something that you regret immediately after clicking “send”. There was a time when a message sent via Gmail (or rather any other web based email service) was like a bullet you’ve just fired; just like you cannot stop the bullet you’ve fired, you couldn’t stop the message you had sent.

Well, if the divine realization of “this shouldn’t have been sent” hits you within 5 seconds, in Gmail now you can undo a message that you have just sent. This may save you a lot of heartache (or broken bones for those who prefer to live on the edge) in the long as as well as short term.

If you activate a feature in Gmail, Gmail will hold your e-mail (this sounds like a rhyming poem) for 5 seconds so that you get enough chance to stop it. Just go to Settings and then the Labs tab. Scroll down until you come to this section:

gmail-undo

 

 

 

Simply click Enable and save the setting. From now onwards, whenever the message “Your message has been sent” appears, you will also notice an Indo button.

My experience with Linux, especially Ubuntu

Ubuntu

I have a geekish streak that is perpetually lurking in my subconscious and comes to the surface twice or thrice a year.  This is a time when I normally, completely destroy my system and almost lose my computer files (fortunately I have always been able to save them eventually for I have some files as old as 1999). For a few months I have been playing around with Ubuntu, perhaps the most advanced version of the Linux operating system in terms of user interface.  As it normally happens, I ended up obliterating my hard disk partitions. Being an experienced computer user (yeah, of course!), I took full backups before starting to install Ubuntu.

After wasting a few days and spending some money somehow I managed to install both Windows XP and Ubuntu on my laptop.  Every week I spend a couple of hours working in Ubuntu, especially when my wireless connection conks under Windows XP.  In Ubuntu, I can easily check my e-mails, send replies, work on my documents and occasionally write blog posts.  For instance, I am writing this blog post in Ubuntu.

Why did I want to switch to Ubuntu when everything was working perfectly fine in Windows XP?  In fact some of the software that they use in Windows XP is far superior than the Ubuntu alternatives both in terms of graphical user interface and functionality.  My first reason was that Windows XP is quite slow and it crashes often. On top of this I had been reading for months what a great time Ubuntu users are having with no crashes reported for months, no need to reboot the system, stability and reliability, and a great interface. Anyway, here are a few observations of mine regarding Ubuntu:

  • Great interface of course and I love the way Ubuntu renders fonts. For many weeks I have been trying to make Windows XP render fonts the way Ubuntu does but haven’t succeeded yet.
  • Ubuntu recognized all my hardware on its own and my wireless networking connection never stops the way it does in Windows XP.
  • I haven’t used it much, but Ubuntu has never crashed.  Of course there are many programs that have crashed, but Ubuntu is not affected by that.
  • Ubuntu is definitely not as easy to set up as many people on the Internet claim.  Be prepared to have nightmares. It is not for the fainthearted, at least not yet.
  • Windows programs, as claimed, can work if you install Wine on Ubuntu, but my experience has been horrible.
  • Not everything is graphical user interface.  If you are a power user then you will have to resort to some command line operations and this may involve lots of research on the Internet.
  • Don’t switch to Ubuntu if you are a busy person, at least not yet (I am a busy person but my geekish doppelganger sometimes overtakes my judgment and it always culminates into a disaster).
  • Windows XP doesn’t seem all that bad once you have spent a few days banging your head against the wall and trying to make Ubuntu perform even the simplest of tasks such as recognizing and mounting another partition.

A new version of Ubuntu is going to be released next month and I hope things will improve.  I am very much open to switching to Ubuntu but there are many crucial applications that I use under Windows XP that simply refuse to work in Ubuntu.

I wrote this blog post after reading 25 Reasons to convert to Linux.

A very light word processor

Checking this new “light” word processor called Atlantis.  I just downloaded it.  Although for years I have been working in M.S. Word it is needlessly quite a bulky software and takes ages to load on my laptop.  This particularly becomes a nuisance when I have to open attachments from my clients, multiple times in an hour sometimes, and when I have to quickly write a few paragraphs (okay, I must admit I cannot write without a word processor). I needed a word processor that I could keep running all the time without it hogging the memory and slowing down other applications. So when I did a search on “very light word processors” I found Atlantis, and right now I’m typing in it.  It seems quite good; loaded immediately and it has all the functions that I need on a daily basis.  It has been designed on the concept of 10/90, that means, 90% of word processing work can be achieved by just 10% of the features presented by most of the off-the-shelf word processing packages and a totally agree.

Undoubtedly M.S. Word is a lot cooler than Atlantis, with very neat looks and an array of features (that I have never used ever since I started using it since the days of Windows 3.11).  Nonetheless, for a few days I am definitely going to give this new word processor a try. If you want it, you can download it here. It’s free (oh! not free, costs $35, but the trial lasts for a month).