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Personal productivity tips I actually use every day

by David Spark on January 26, 2010

Lifehacking, personal productivity, there is an endless slew of advice and information, much of which isn’t applicable to you. While all of this personal productivity information is interesting, it’s not always applicable. I have to admit that I sometimes offer productivity tips that I don’t adhere to myself.

So that’s why I decided to write an article about personal productivity tips I use on a daily basis. My interest in this subject piqued when I heard entrepreneur Stephen Jagger describe how he has moved many of his company’s business operations to the cloud using cheap to free Web 2.0 applications. What made his story so interesting is it wasn’t just “advice,” he was actually using these tools regularly for his business.

So I’ve decided to do the same. I’m going to walk through every element of how I’ve improved the efficiency of my work process, personal branding, and media consumption. It’s far from perfect. I can still be highly distracted and I’m always looking for new productivity tips. If there are any that you can recommend, I’m always up for updating my regimen.

Real-time content will be the next best resource for journalists. Read how in the 20-page report, “Real-Time Search and Discovery of the Social Web.” Read a summary online or just register to download the full report here:





 
   

Tools and tips I use for everyday productivity


Run in the morning – First thing I do in the morning. Sometimes I’ll blow it off with the rationale “I’ve got too much work to do.” If I do what results is I’m far more sluggish and I don’t think I’m nearly as productive. The run definitely helps amp me up for the rest of the day.

Password memorization – I have more than 300 accounts on various sites. Before I had a password memorization tool, I used to type in a variety of usernames and passwords hoping that I got the right one. Today, I skip that fruitless pastime and just use Roboform2Go, a password memorization tool that you install on a USB drive. The advantage of using a flash drive is I can take my passwords wherever I go and use it on any computer, even if it isn’t my own. Passwords are erased when I remove the stick. For more, read my article “Products I love and actually use – Roboform2Go.”

Personal content management – I use two tools: Microsoft OneNote for any communications and scraps of info I find. And I use my blog as a thought space to collect my ideas on different topics and issues.

OneNote is hugely advantageous in that I can pop in and out of different projects incredibly quickly and content is really well organized in tabs and folders. Opening, naming, and saving Word documents when you’re parsing out a variety of different information is simply not possible. OneNote makes it possible. Read my article “Products I love and actually use – OneNote.”

The blog is great when I want to collect my thoughts on a specific subject. I used to do this in long emails. When I wanted to share it with someone else I’d have to hunt for that email and forward it. Now I just write a blog post. When someone brings up an issue for which I’ve written something about it, I just search my blog, and then attach the link to an email.

Quick access to sites – There are about ten sites I consistently go to every single day. I used to type them in and let the browser’s auto-complete finish it off. Instead, I just create toolbar buttons at the top of my screen. The trick to getting them all in one row is trimming down the letters of the site’s name or removing them altogether and just leaving icons.

dsbrowsericons

delicious_logoBookmarking – I used to stick bookmarks in a folder and then they would disappear and I’d never see them again. Now I use Delicious along with the Delicious Firefox plugin to quickly bookmark and catalog items I see online. Often I’ll see something that will be of use to me in the future. A quick click of the Tag button and a couple clicks of the suggested tags of the site, and that page is bookmarked, making it easy to find again in the future.

Keeping up with trends – I use real-time search tools such as OneRiot and Twitter Search. For more on real-time search, read my report “Real-Time Search and Discovery of the Social Web” (20 page PDF). If I need to understand what a certain hashtag means, I take advantage of WhatTheTrend.

whatthetrend_logo

Mobile communications – My BlackBerry on Verizon. Yes, the iPhone is cool, but it does one thing very poorly, make calls. Where I live is an AT&T dead zone. My Verizon phone is awesome. I’ve yet to have a dropped call. Yes you read that correctly, NO DROPPED CALLS. As for that, the only thing I use daily on my BlackBerry is email and Twitter with Twitterberry.

twhirl_logoDigital communications – Beyond email, I heavily use Twitter and instant messaging. Much can be debated as to whether they’re making me more or less efficient. All I can say is at least they’re keeping me entertained. The two applications I use are Twhirl for Twitter and Trillian as an all-in-one instant messaging application. While I know most Twitter goons have graduated to Seesmic or TweetDeck, I’m still very happy with Twhirl for its simplicity and small footprint on my desktop. Similarly, that’s why I also like the latest version of Trillian. Although when you first install Trillian, it doesn’t seem that simple. Tons of annoying alerts pop up. The trick is to go through the settings and turn them all off, and then only turn on the ones you need.

trillianlogo

Consuming the newsGoogle Reader as my homepage is invaluable. Although I need to get it to cycle other news sources to the front. Another tool I started using to speed up my reading is Zap Reader. If you highlight some text, and then click a Zap Reader button on your toolbar, it will immediately load the text in the Zap Reader. Depending on the speed settings you had previously set, the words from the document will flash through in sequence allowing you read the document quickly without moving your eyes. I’ve just started using it and it’s become really valuable for concentrating and reading online documents more quickly.

zapreader_setting

The other time I use to consume news is during what I call my semi-distracted time, where I’m doing something else that doesn’t require mental concentration, such as running, cleaning up, or commuting. I figure I have somewhere between 1-3 hours of semi-distracted time every day. During those times I can’t read, but I can listen so I take advantage of those semi-distracted moments by consuming podcasts. When I used to hold an office job, I’d listen to my industry news on the way to work. So when I got to my job, I already knew what was happening. Podcasts are very valuable for keeping me informed and entertained. Check out my podcast listening lineup for 2010.

Promotions – I manually post every blog post to Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, and StumbleUpon. I tried Ping.fm for mass posting across multiple services but the problem is submitting to the different sites is nuanced. No two are really exactly the same. That’s why I customize my promotions for each service differently. It’s obvious when people use the auto or mass-posting services. I kind of get turned off by them and start ignoring auto-postings. I just don’t feel comfortable doing it myself. It is a little extra effort, but for the audience I think it’s definitely worth it.

Writing faster – For filling out forms online, I turn once again to Roboform2Go which also has a built in utility that auto fills out online forms. These services have been around for a while and I used to just ignore them as silly until I started using them.

texter_logoWhile I may not fill out a form every day, I do type a lot of the same text every day, such as my phone numbers, web sites, email addresses, and more. To speed up the monotony, I started using a small macro utility called Texter that works in all applications in Windows. Simple to use and I use it multiple times every day.

Getting around town – When driving, I rely on Google Maps, but I don’t take advantage of them on my mobile phone solely because of the small text. I print out directions first. But the real life saver for me is NextMUNI which is a service from the San Francisco transit system that tells me when the next bus is arriving, This is an ENORMOUS life saver as bus delays allow me to plan my schedule accordingly or take a different route. On my BlackBerry I’ve bookmarked my most frequent routes.

OK, that’s it for me. I’m eager to hear your suggestions on what productivity tips and tools you use on a daily basis.

Creative commons photo courtesy of Ashley Fisher and stock photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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  • http://www.sethlieberman.com Seth Lieberman

    This is a great set of productivity ideas- personally I have become addicted to Evernote vs the MS product.

  • http://www.sethlieberman.com Seth Lieberman

    This is a great set of productivity ideas- personally I have become addicted to Evernote vs the MS product.

  • Joel Bultman

    Good tips David! Thank you. I am always looking for new ways to organize.

  • Joel Bultman

    Good tips David! Thank you. I am always looking for new ways to organize.

  • buzzbruggeman

    Just read your list! Baffling to me that you wouldn't us our product ActiveWords. It is about 10x more powerful than Texter.

  • Todd Lash

    curious about roboform2go. I like the idea, but i use two computers (pc and mac) at the same time.

  • buzzbruggeman

    Just read your list! Baffling to me that you wouldn't us our product ActiveWords. It is about 10x more powerful than Texter.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    Hey Buzz. Good to hear from you. It's been a while since I've looked at ActiveWords so I took a look at the videos to remind myself. Yes, you're correct that ActiveWords has a lot more functionality than Texter. But honestly, all that extra functionality is not something I want or need. Texter just does the one thing I personally need done, text substitutions. I don't need the other functionality.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    Uggh, I don't know of a solution that allows you to switch between two different platforms. Another friend of mine suggested 1Password for the Mac. He says it's pretty good, but not as good as Roboform2Go.

  • Todd Lash

    curious about roboform2go. I like the idea, but i use two computers (pc and mac) at the same time.

  • http://www.SurfCanyon.com mcramer

    Great tips, David. I wasn't aware of RoboForm2Go, but it looks very cool. If you're not sitting at computers that don't belong to you, I'd recommend Xmarks – syncs up bookmarks and passwords across browsers and machines.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    Hey Buzz. Good to hear from you. It's been a while since I've looked at ActiveWords so I took a look at the videos to remind myself. Yes, you're correct that ActiveWords has a lot more functionality than Texter. But honestly, all that extra functionality is not something I want or need. Texter just does the one thing I personally need done, text substitutions. I don't need the other functionality.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    Uggh, I don't know of a solution that allows you to switch between two different platforms. Another friend of mine suggested 1Password for the Mac. He says it's pretty good, but not as good as Roboform2Go.

  • http://www.SurfCanyon.com mcramer

    Great tips, David. I wasn't aware of RoboForm2Go, but it looks very cool. If you're not sitting at computers that don't belong to you, I'd recommend Xmarks – syncs up bookmarks and passwords across browsers and machines.

  • http://www.phraseexpress.com Michael

    Hi David,

    I saw that you are using LH's Texter which is a fine text replacement software.

    It would be great if you would also check out our text expander “PhraseExpress”.

    It is as clean and slick as Text but offers a few extras that you might like, even if you only want text replacement:

    * Support for formatted text

    * PhraseExpress can also store bitmaps – Such as your handwritten signature that you can paste by simply typing 'sig' for example.

    * You can re-use the same abbreviation for *multiple* text replacements.

    Here is a video demo:
    http://demo.phraseexpress.com

    PhraseExpress is free-of-charge for personal use.

    Michael
    PhraseExpress Team

  • http://www.phraseexpress.com Michael

    Hi David,

    I saw that you are using LH's Texter which is a fine text replacement software.

    It would be great if you would also check out our text expander “PhraseExpress”.

    It is as clean and slick as Text but offers a few extras that you might like, even if you only want text replacement:

    * Support for formatted text

    * PhraseExpress can also store bitmaps – Such as your handwritten signature that you can paste by simply typing 'sig' for example.

    * You can re-use the same abbreviation for *multiple* text replacements.

    Here is a video demo:
    http://demo.phraseexpress.com

    PhraseExpress is free-of-charge for personal use.

    Michael
    PhraseExpress Team

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    Michael, very cool. I'll give it a try. Thanks for bringing your app to my attention.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    Michael, very cool. I'll give it a try. Thanks for bringing your app to my attention.

  • http://www.reximedia.com/ Danielle Daly

    I found this so helpful! Thank you. I going to check out Roboform2Go now.

  • http://www.rosssimmonds.com/ TheCoolestCool

    Solid post! I've been using my Google Reader since the cave days but will take a look at this Zap Reader tool as well.. Couldn't agree more that a run to kick start the day is one of the best way to get your mind focused on what you want to achieve that day.

    Running builds stamina physically and mentally… It doesn't get much better than that.

  • neilvidyarthi

    This is great, thanks!

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