Tools I Recommend to Make You and Your Computer More Productive
I'm constantly asked by friends what tools I use to keep myself organized and my computer in good shape. I thought it would be helpful to create a resource page like this that you can always come to.
I'll be adding to this list as I learn more. I recommend you bookmark it for future reference and convenience. Enjoy!
Disclosure: please note that some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that if you buy one of them, I will receive a small percent of commission. However, that comes at no additional cost to you. Nonetheless, please understand that I do use all the tools linked below and recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something. Also make sure that you use these tools to achieve your goals. Don't spend money on things you don't need.
These are tools I can't live without. I use them almost every single day, unless I decide to stay away from technology for a while -- though I rarely do. With these you’ll be able to keep your brain energetic, enjoy smooth online browsing, access important notes across devices, and more.
Evernote - (Free)
I've used a couple of note taking tools, including Apple Note, and I find EverNote the most powerful and intuitive. Evernote has a basic version that is totally free and should meet most of your basic needs, such as writing notes and sharing them with friends/co-workers. Evernote instantly syncs everything across your devices, so you always have the information you need at hand.
Loving music is human nature. Brain.fm is kind of a music service, but what makes it different is that it only plays music that helps you work creatively, read enjoyably, or sleep better. In short, it helps you hack your brain. My favorite section is "Intense Focus", as I find the songs effective in improving my focus and attention.
This is one of the best online grammar checker tools; it's much more powerful than the default language-checking function on your computer. With Grammarly, will find your grammatical mistakes, proofread your content, and even detect plagiarism. If, like me, English is not your first language, and you want to write it well, I strongly recommend you try it out.
Roboform is probably the world’s best password manager. It saves you time by memorizing your passwords and logging you in automatically. I've used Roboform for about 6 years, and I am very happy with it. Sometimes I'm curious about how much time and effort the tool has saved me from manually inputting my password, or resetting it due to my poor memory.
Task & Project Management
Chances are you're involved in many projects. Whether they're small or big, being organized and knowing what to do each day is super important. Otherwise, you'll drown under your task list, feeling overwhelmed and unaccomplished. Fortunately, there are many efficient tools out there to help. Here are several I use to keep myself in check.
Wunderlist - (Free)
If you are looking for a to-do list tool to manage tasks, look no further! Wunderlist is absolutely my favorite (yes, I've also used a couple of other alternatives). You can add to-dos based on changing priorities, set reminders, and share lists with colleagues or friends. Updates are automatically synced across the mobile app, website, and browser plugin.
Trello - (Free)
Simply speaking, Trello makes teamwork easy. You can create multiple boards (AKA projects) to organize anything you're working on, and delegate tasks to specific team members. Trello is very intuitive. You can put sub-tasks into cards, add checklists, or drag Google Docs in easily. I really like moving cards from beginning to end… it makes me feel accomplished!
Asana - (Free up to 15 team members)
Another project management and team collaboration solution, Asana specializes in helping teams manage workflows and track results. It's perfect for product managers to get an overview of a project status and then report it to their seniors. Both Asana and Trello are great. Which one you should choose really depends on personal preferences. Personally, I like Trello more because its UI is nicer.
Slack - (Free)
An awesome chat and notification app for teamwork usage. With Slack, your team saves time in communication -- there's no need to notify each other via emails or other means. The app seems simple, but is equipped with powerful features including integration with third-party services. For example, many people find Trello + Slack or ZenDesk + Slack extremely efficient.
In my opinion, if you can manage your time well, you'll be good at managing almost anything. This is especially true these days as everyday distractions continue to increase. While you can find tons of time management tips online, I've decided to share the three time management tools I love using most. Bottom line: control time, measure it; work smarter, not harder.
If you are like me, addicted to social media and too often feeling unproductive at the end of the day, then you'll love StayFocused, an awesome productivity extension for Google Chrome. It limits the amount of time you spend on time-wasting websites. Once that time limit is reached at the end of the day, it will block that site.
RescueTime helps you better understand how you spend your time. Every day it gives a productivity pulse (a score based out of 100) and a percentage increase or decrease compared to the day before. For me, I spend most of my time on "Business" and "Utilities" which is what I usually do. It's pretty cool. I highly recommend it.
If you need a web tool to set a timer (instead of relying on your phone), then E.ggTimer is a perfect option. It's a simple countdown timer with an alarm for the browser. You can quickly define the amount of time you want E.ggTimer to count down. For example, to time a ten minute break, just type "http://e.ggtimer.com/10minutes" and open it. Super efficient.
Outsourcing / Hiring
You can work on one or two projects at the same time, no problem, right? But if you're accountable for several projects simultaneously, you may consider outsourcing some of that work. Sure, it will cost you money, but maybe less than what you think -- and most importantly, you're less likely to burn out. Here are two platforms I recommend you check out to hire contractors or temporary workers virtually.
Upwork is the product of a merger between oDesk and Elance, formerly the two biggest names in web-based contracting. It is a well-known freelancing platform where you can hire independent professionals around the world. Of course, you can register as a contractor as well to take extra projects if you have time. Here, you can easily filter out good developers, designers or customer service providers and more.
Fiverr is another platform I use to outsource small projects affordably. Starting from $5 per gig (hence the name), you can hire top freelancers for predefined creative services, or custom orders. Fiverr lists more than three million services on the site, so you can easily find what you want.
If you own a computer, running under either Windows or Mac OS X, you probably need some third-party software to keep your system clean, fast and secure. In particular, the data you stored inside must be safe and within your control. Instead of installing multiple programs, here are the only two all-in-one software I recommend for you. Note: each of them actually includes dozens of small utilities you'll find extremely useful.
CleanMyMac - (free to clean 500MB junks, $39.95 to buy)
If you are using a Mac machine, you should try CleanMyMac. It's an amazing app that integrates a set of smaller utilities into one. Each utility solves an issue e.g. cleaning system junk files, finding duplicated items, removing unused apps, securing your data, etc. See CleanMyMac 3 coupon code.
These days you should have tons of pictures. Editing images
Canva is my #1 image design tool, and I think it will meet almost all your design needs. It is extremely easy to use, and free unless you use their premium photos -- which are only a buck per image (not expensive at all when you look at what you're getting). With Canva, you can quickly create a social media cover image, custom flyer, elegant restaurant menu, resume, etc. No need to hire a designer.
Greenshot is screenshot software designed for Windows. Since PCs do not come with default screen-taking feature, you need to install a program to do it. Greenshot is a tool you can rely on. It's open source, which means you don't need to pay for it. Also, it's extremely powerful. You can create screenshots of a selected region, a window, or take a simple fullscreen shot.
Never underestimate the power of the Preview app if you are using a Mac machine. It's an awesome image editing tool. With it, you can quickly an image's color or size, add annotations like an arrow or line, and more. You can also use it to take screenshots of your desktop (like Greenshot for Windows). It's a perfect Adobe PDF editor as well.
Dealing with videos can be a headache; it's harder even than editing images. However, some companies make it easy for you through great, usable software. Below are several I've tried and found useful. Note: I highly recommend you first go over their product tutorials before diving in.
When it comes to video recording and editing, Camtasia is the absolute best. Their product video tutorials best demonstrate the quality of their products. I've used Camtasia, the Mac version. to record and edit a couple of mobile app demos, and had an awesome, seamless experience. There's also a Windows version called Camtasia Studio.
Screenflow is another premium video tool that wins lots of approving testimonials. It does pretty much the same thing as Camtasia--but I didn't find Screenflow offering mobile app recording features, so I switched to Camtasia. I'm not saying Screenflow is less powerful than Camtasia though. Test the demo versions of both programs and decide which works best for you.
Explainer videos are quite hot recent years. A lot of companies, especially startups, love using them to quickly introduce their products and convey the benefits… and they seem very effective. Well, how to make explainer videos without paying a ton of money? My recommendation is VideoScribe, an award-winning whiteboard animation tool for you to create engaging videos.
Audio files are used less often than they used to be, but still you need them often. For example, a friend of yours shares a nice sound clip, and you want to extract a certain part. Or perhaps you want to record a speaker's presentation during an event. These are the tools you should try.
If you ever want to record audio or edit it (eliminating background music from a clip, for instance), you'll probably find Audacity very helpful. Audacity is free, open source software developed to record and edit sounds. It is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and other operating systems.
QuickTime, used more as a music/video player, is also a great application for audio recording. Just open the app, right click and you'll see a "New Audio Recording" option. The quality of the recorded audio is quite good, though it can't be compared to professional recordings with premium mics.
Domain & Hosting
Are you interested in setting up your own portals on the web as I do? Cool. In fact, you can make them in minutes without having to be a tech person. There are only two things you need to do: register a domain, then purchase a hosting service to hold your files (unless you have a geek friend who is willing to do you a favor). Here are the services I currently use and am quite satisfied with.
GoDaddy is the world's largest web domain registration provider. It’s said they have had more than 13 millions users and 60 million domains registered as of 2015. I've been with GoDaddy since 2010, when I registered my first website. In general, I'm very impressed by its website management portal. It's very intuitive.
Two reasons I recommend TPH hosting service: high speed + super awesome customer support. They also provide free migration services, so you can get running with them in less than 24 hours. You'll find cheaper service providers, but trust me, you won't get the same quality that TPH offers.
CMS / Website Builder
Now that you've got the basic website stuff ready, it's time to get some webpages up and make sure they look beautiful. You'll need a Content Management System (CMS) to manage your site files, and maybe a premium theme to make your sites look good. Check out those tools below.
The only CMS I use to create my websites, including this one SoftwareHow.com. WordPress is free and open source. It powers more than 30% of the websites in the world as of 2015. The reasons why I like it are simple: It's quick to set up, easy to manage pages/posts, SEO-friendly, and most importantly, a lot of themes and plugins are built upon the platform.
I wish I'd found Thrive Themes earlier! They're so good, you can hardly believe how superior their offerings are if you've tried a couple. ThriveThemes are optimized for both design and speed. I use the entire Thrive framework for this site, and built it on the FocusBlog theme.
SumoMe Social Share is a WordPress plugin that enables you to create a custom bar for social media icons on your website. This way, visitors can share your content easily to their audiences. Bottom line: The more people share your site content, the merrier! In a word, it's a great tool to signal the quality of your website and content.
Great that you got your website live...cheers! Hopefully, you've also written some content and promoted it. Now what's next? Tracking! I am sure you want to know how many visitors checked your site yesterday, how long they stayed, etc. No worry, you can rely on the following tools to figure that info out very quickly.
A must-have for your site. Just register a Google account (if you already use Gmail, congrats!), sign in to Google Analytics, then follow the instructions. You'll need to paste the tracking code to your site, and you're done. Now sit tight and wait for those reports to arrive. Tip: Be sure to check the live stats module to see how many people are actually on your site right now.
Last Update: August 28, 2016