Tech tips and tools that will help you be more productive
While we all wish we could have personal assistants to get ourselves through the day (because being an adult is hard), most of us have to forego that luxury. Luckily, computers and technology have come a long way, and can help us save time, money, and ease the headaches of our everyday tasks. Here are some of the helpful technological productivity tips and tools that can help you stay on top of your s***.
A lot of people make the mistake of using a single monitor when they work, but you can be almost twice as productive with two or more screens. With two monitors, you can split up tasks. For Instance, I'm writing this article on one monitor and have a spreadsheet file on the other to handle a different task. Using a single monitor and having to switch between two tabs/programs just slows you down.
If you can’t get a second monitor for whatever reason, I suggest using a split-screen setup. For instance, with Windows 10, you can drag folders and browsers to either edge of your screen to simulate having two screens split down the middle of your monitor.
Use a digital calendar
My personal choice of calendar is Google Calendar, but there are plenty of others to choose from, most of which will help keep you on task. The nice thing about Google Calendar is that I can set up meetings, deadlines, and appointments on my computer, and then view or edit them later on my phone and vice versa. As soon as I know that I have to schedule a meeting/appointment, I throw it into Google Calendar so I can get a quick glimpse of what’s to come throughout the day/week/month whenever I want.
Use a password manager
Whether it's your email, Steam, bank, or whatever account, it can be hard to keep track of all your various passwords. There’s almost nothing more frustrating than being stuck at a login screen, trying to guess your own password. We’ve all been there. Sure, lots of websites will allow you to forget your password and change it, but this can take several minutes to resolve, and then you’re back to square one with having to remember that new password. Luckily, there are password managers such as KeePass and LastPass. I personally use KeePass as it’s free, and as long as you can remember your one KeePass login, you can save all your various username, passwords, and URLs for various sites that require logins. You can even use KeePass to open URLs and automatically type the login for you, once you’ve got the program up and running.
Ever come across an interesting article or an informative YouTube video, but don’t have time to get to it right away? Often, even if you try and make a mental note to read it later, the article just ends up slipping through the cracks. The Pocket Desktop Browser Extension (and app) resolve those issues. With Pocket, anytime you come across an interesting video or story, you can save it to your Pocket folder in the cloud, and catch up on it later when you have more free time. The mobile app also lets you read stories offline, which is great if you’re on the train (or elsewhere) and don’t have Internet access.
Streak Chrome extension
Have you ever wondered whether an email you sent out was actually read? You’re human, so of course you have. Luckily, there's the Streak Chrome desktop browser extension to help ease your mind. You can set it up so that you get pop-up notifications when your emails are being read, and if the recipient has location-enabled on their device, you can even see what city they’re in while they're reading it. The only downside is that if you send an email to multiple people at once, it doesn’t specifically designate who read the email, only that someone read it. Still, when sending an email to one person, you’ll at least know whether you should follow up on your messages.
Upgrade/build a PC
Depending on what you do for a living, you may want to upgrade your PC. While a $580 i7-5930K CPU might sound like a lot, if you do video editing for a living, for instance, the speed boost can definitely be worth it in the end. Having at least a quad-core processor, 16GB RAM, a modern video card, and an SSD can also help cut down on various time sucks like rendering and load times as well. With better equipment, you can complete more tasks in less time.
Even if your job doesn't revolve around editing video or complex statistical number crunching, simple things like having a quad-core CPU and enough RAM so that you can have multiple programs/tabs open without slowing down or crashing your computer, can be a godsend.
Use SlimWare Utilities DriverUpdate
If you find yourself building a new computer (or multiple computers like someone who works in IT), you’ll want to make sure that your new rig has the latest drivers to ensure that everything runs smoothly and without any hitches. But tracking down the latest updates can be be painful. Luckily, there’s SlimWare Utilities DriverUpdate, which can detect, download, and install all the latest drivers in your computer for you. It can save you a ton of time, especially if you find yourself setting up many computers. It’s also good for general computer maintenance, ensuring that you always have the latest product firmware. While it does cost $40, there's also a free SlimDrivers version, which will locate all the drivers you need to download for your PC, but you'll have to manually install each one.
Speaking of setting up new computers, once you have all the latest drivers installed, you’ll want to download all your favorite programs. This too, however, can take a while if you have to manually download each program. Instead, head to the website Ninite.com, a great free resource that has a ton of web browsers, messaging clients, and lots of popular media tools. You can quickly tick a bunch of checkboxes and have everything downloaded and installed in one fell swoop. It’s super convenient when setting up new systems, and can be a great time-saver.
Talk to your AI assistant
Yes, Siri isn’t as intricate as Samantha, the AI in the futuristic movie Her, but you’ll be surprised by how helpful AI assistants like Siri and Ok Google can be. Using my Nexus 6P, I constantly use Ok Google voice commands to set calendar reminders, alarms, ask for directions, and more. Plus, using these voice features is much faster for getting answers than typing them out in your web browser. For instance, you can ask your voice assistant to tell you when your flight leaves or to check particular stock prices in a matter of seconds. If you’ve never spoken to your mobile device, it may seem awkward at first, but you’ll eventually get used to it. In the event that you don’t have a smartphone, Google has also added Ok Google voice support through Google search on the desktop.
Keep a to-do list on the cloud
Whether you’re at work or at home doing the chores, it always seems like there’s too much work to do as an adult. “I need to file my taxes, get a smog check, write that report, etc.” With so much to do, it’s easy to forget to follow through with everything, but you can change all that by filing your tasks in a to-do list. While you can keep a physical list on paper, the beauty of using an online list is that it's stored in the cloud, and you can view and edit it from any computing device.
There are many resources such as Evernote or Wunderlist that do this, but I personally like using Google Drive/Docs. I create separate to-do lists for home and work usage to make sure that I’m on top of my personal and professional life.
Use Netflix’s “My List” feature
All work and no play might get the job done... until you burn out. So, if you like to unwind with a little Netflix from time to time, then I recommend using its “My List” feature. Adding awesome movies and TV shows to your personal list cuts down on the time you have to wade through the thousands of movies and TV shows to figure out what to watch. Generally, what you’re trying to do here is to trim down the fat that encroaches on your relaxation time, so that you have more time throughout the day to focus on the more important things. Like going on a healthy diet, it’s about having a cheat day every now and then, but you still have to learn how to cheat the right way.
Save money on travel
Speaking of having cheat days, there have been numerous studies that indicate that having vacations are good for productivity. But you don’t have to spend a fortune for a nice getaway to reset your mind. And as the saying goes, a penny saved is a penny earned. Luckily, there are tools like Airfarewatchdog that will notify you of crazy flight deals. There are also apps like Hopper, which allow you to type in a location and date, and it will notify you when there’s a particularly cheap day to buy a specific airfare ticket you’ve been eyeing. Then, of course, there’s Airbnb, which lets you lounge around people’s summer homes on the cheap.
Take advantage of navigation tricks
If the saying “time is money” is true, then you're paying dearly if you spend a lot of time stuck in traffic. Luckily, there are mobile apps like Waze, which will not only help you find out how to get to your destination, but will show you the quickest way to get there (with real-time traffic updates). Google Maps also has a bunch of tricks. For instance, using your desktop browser, you can type a destination into maps.google.com and then use the “send to your phone” button so that when you pick up your phone, the navigation is up and ready to go. You can also save or “star” addresses on the map so you know where they are when you’ve parked the car and need to walk to the address. Google Maps also allows you to save regions/locations for offline use, which is great in case you lose your signal or are traveling to a foreign country where your signal might not work. There are a bunch of other helpful Google Maps tips and tricks here.
Batch images with Irfanview
If you’re like me, you’ve come across several occasions where you’ve needed to either compress or convert a bunch of images, maybe to help get file sizes down when sending email attachments, for instance. While you can shrink and/or convert images one by one through various imaging programs, the program Irfanview allows you to batch convert multiple images at once within seconds. Best of all, it’s completely free. If you’re a photographer (whether amateur or professional), a tool like this can be a great time saver.
Use health/fitness programs
Research from the CDC indicates that a healthy person amounts to a productive person, but it can be hard to live a healthy life style if you’re constantly slaving away at your desk. Luckily, there are health tools that will help get you in shape. Since we know that sitting for prolonged periods of time isn't healthy, you can use the Stand Up browser extension to periodically remind you to stand up and walk around. If you’re trying to keep track of your calories and/or nutritional intake, you can download the MyFitnessPal app, which helps you log all your daily meals. In case you didn’t want to buckle down and purchase a fitness tracker, there are free apps such as RunKeeper that can help you track your exercise.
Keep track of your finances
It can be hard to be productive if you’re always worried about your personal finances, but Mint.com (and its app), can track all of your spending for you. It can also provide you with weekly updates indicating how much you’ve spent throughout the week and how under/over budget you are in relation to your normal spending habits. There are tons of detailed reports here, and it can notify you when you have upcoming bills due and more.
Short for “If This Then That,” IFTTT is a powerful tool that allows you to set up “recipes” to get your favorite programs and tools working together. For instance, if you have a bad habit of not returning phone calls, you can set up IFTTT to send you reminder emails to respond to those missed calls. You can also set up recipes that remind you to respond to any emails that you mark as important. If you have smart home devices like the Philips Hue Lights, you can set them to dim or change colors as it gets darker outside. There are thousands of combinations of recipes here and it can pretty much get as intricate as you want.
Learn keyboard shortcuts
Whether you’re using Windows, Word, Chrome, or some other piece of software, it’s always a good idea to learn keyboard shortcuts, as using them can save you precious minutes every day (and those minutes add up, folks!). You probably know that CTRL + C equals copy and that CTRL + V equals paste, but did you know that the Windows button + print screen button automatically screenshots your desktop and saves it as a PNG image file in your Pictures folder? Or how about Using the Windows button + M to minimize all your desktop folders and windows, so that you don’t have to manually minimize each one? It’s not all about just shaving a few seconds, however.
What happens if your computer crashes and all your important tabs go away in Chrome? Well, you can press CTRL + Shift + T to restore them and pick up where you left off. You can find more helpful Windows shortcuts here, and some useful Chrome shortcuts here.
And that rounds up our tips. Do you have any tools and recommendations of your own? Let us know in the comments below!