My Top Personal Productivity Technologies of 2010

As we welcome Baby New Year 2011 we are deluged with lists of the bests and worsts of 2010 and the trends to look forward to for 2011.  I didn’t want to be completely left out of the fun.

One trend we saw gain traction in 2010 was the consumerization of IT.  Tools that are available to individuals make creativity and productivity possible that cannot or has not yet been duplicated by our corporate IT departments.  I felt the benefits  of this trend in 2010.  So I’ve decided to do a list of my top personal productivity technology of 2010.

Hardware

I’m beginning this survey with hardware because there was a new entry into the world of hardware that makes new, unimagined kinds of productivity possible: the iPad.

Apple iPad: My status as an Apple fanboy remains intact.  I was able to resist buying an iPad for all of about two days.  I found myself in the Apple Store and was unable to resist.  The functionality completely blew me away.  An iPad is so much more than a big iPhone or touch computer.

For starters, the iPad has liberated me from my laptop in situations where a digital device would be useful but a laptop would be unwieldy.  I am a lean, mean tweeting machine now at conferences.  I can actually get work done on a plane with no worry that the guy in the seat in front of me is going to snap my laptop in two!  I watch many more video podcasts, TV shows and movies.  The iPad has replaced both physical books (everywhere possible) and my Amazon Kindle.  As you read my other 2010 tech picks you’ll see that the iPad played a central role in my 2010 productivity improvements.

Fujitsu ScanSnap Pro: 2010 was the year of the home office upgrade project.  Starting from mid-year I took on a project that lasted until last week to upgrade my home office.  While this is the sort of project that I never really finish, I was very successful in one area: eliminating excess paper.

I had file cabinets bursting with old records and files.  I was able to scan these files quickly and eliminate a significant amount of clutter with the easy-to-use Fujistu ScanSnap Pro.  The hardware handles stacks of pages in short order.  The software was phenomenal.  After I eliminated the backlog of old files I can now scan new documents like bills, records and receipts as they come in.  I save up these files to do a clean-up once every week or so, and it takes literally minutes.

GeekDesk:  A few years ago I was experiencing some pain in my lower back.  For several weeks I worked at a standing workspace that I kludged together in the kitchen.  I felt like I had more energy and more concentration when I worked standing up.  I did like to take a load off a few times during the day for some relaxed reading, too.

GeekDesk is a large desk that I can raise and lower through the magic of hydraulics.  I generally lower the desk once a day for longer conference calls or webinars.  The desk itself is very attractive with room for my two laptops, monitor, speakers, iPad, iPhone, podcast microphone, lamps, etc.

Software

Another trend we saw garner a huge amount of attention in 2010 was “the cloud.” The software packages I found most valuable in 2010 either incorporate cloud elements or take advantage of the cloud in some way.

MindNode: Mind mapping has quickly become the way that I create my best work, project plans and outlines.  It’s also the most enjoyable approach to planning or mapping a complex project.  Much of what I created in 2010, including this and most other entries on this blog began as a mind map.

I really like the MindNode software because there is a version for my Macintosh, iPad and iPhone.  I can also export a mind maps in several formats, including an image of the mind map or an OPML file.  The latter is useful and beneficial because I can import OMPL files into OmniOutliner or OmniFocus on my Macintosh.  From OmniOutliner I can transform the mind map into an outline and finally into the finished written product or presentation.  In OmniFocus I can turn the outline into a full project plan, because OmniFocus is the software I use to track my projects and action items.  The integration is nearly seamless, and the mind map can move in my personal workflow from brainstorm to plan to action.

Notational Velocity and SimpleNote: For several years I’ve been using the simple TextEdit application to take notes on my Mac.  This year I installed a simple note-taking program on my Mac called Notational Velocity.  With it I can quickly create a new note.  It’s really easy to quickly search my notes library to find the notes from the specific meeting or on a topic.

Notational Velocity synchronizes my notes library with SimpleNote, a combination of a cloud service and iPhone/iPad app.  Thanks to synchronization I can access, edit or add notes on any of my devices.

1Password: For a long time I engaged in the bad security practice of using the same password for multiple sites, and often weak passwords at that.  Recently the password breach at Gawker Media put the fear of God in me about my password security.  I knew that I needed to do something, but I was very annoyed by the proliferation of sites and software that required log in credentials.

1Password was the answer that I’ve been waiting for all my life!   I had been hearing about 1Password on various podcasts for a long time.  With the Gawker breach I finally caved.  Not only does 1Password manage your log-in credentials, it can generate very strong passwords so that you can have insanely difficult, unique passwords for all of your accounts.  All of these are saved in an encrypted file that itself is password protected– you have to remember that one on your own, and you should make it a strong one.  1Password syncs among my Mac, iPad and iPhone, so the tough passwords are always with me.  There is a plug-in for all of the major web browsers (including my beloved Chrome) so that I can easily provide log-in credentials when I go to a web site.  This software is so great because it has both increased my level of security and made my life easier all at once.  Take that, TSA!

Cloud Service

DropBox: Having access to important files across all of my machines has always been a major challenge, particularly work files between my personal laptop and my work laptop.  DropBox helped save me a lot of time swapping files on key drives, and also helped me avoid version control problems.  DropBox also is a functional back-end for synchronizing files across devices for other software (such as 1Password).  DropBox is what Apple’s MobileMe iDisk should be.  It just works amazing well and plays so nicely with the other toys.

Back-ups

In addition to paranoia about passwords, I’ve taken some life lessons from friends who have lost valuable data due to hard drive failures and laptop theft to create a good back-up strategy.  I roughly follow the model of having multiple back-ups in multiple places, including off-site:

Carbonite: This is a very easy-to-use service to back-up my laptop to the cloud.  Carbonite is constantly adding my new and updated files to an encrypted cloud back-up.  Carbonite addresses the need for an off-site back-up that will save your data in the event of a major disaster at your home that destroys your hard drive.

Carbonite does not back-up any material on external hard drives but has the benefit of being so extremely easy to use.  Carbone recently rolled out an app for the iPhone and iPad that you can use to access your files that are stored in your back-up.

ChronoSync and my Drobo: ChronoSync is a software application that I used to create scheduled back-ups of specific folders on my laptop.  Deep in the cold, dark night it backs up my documents, iTunes media and iPhoto files to my Drobo each and every night.

The Drobo is an external hard drive enclosure that holds multiple hard drives in a RAID-like array for on-board data duplication.  You can add storage capacity with new or larger hard drives.  While the Drobo is more expensive than a traditional RAID it is easier to set up and maintain.

SuperDuper: I use this application to copy my entire laptop hard drive to an external hard drive.  This is a complete, bootable duplication.  I run this a couple of times a month and stash the hard drive in a secure place.  If ever something happens to my laptop I can boot a Macintosh directly from this back-up and pick up right where I left off.

iPad Software

Worthy of special mention are the many apps that I have found indispensable on my iPad.  Some of these are translations of software for the Macintosh that I’ve already mentioned: MindNode, 1Password and SimpleNote.  Others are worth a bit more background:

OmniFocus: I love the software that the Omni Group creates, and OmniFocus is my favorite.  I’m an adherent to David Allen’s Getting Things Done
framework for personal productivity, and OmniFocus is a project and task tracker created from the ground-up with GTD in mind.

OmniFocus on the iPad is a thing of beauty and a joy to use.  It’s strange but true that the form factor actually makes it easier to plan out my projects and tasks.  The software synchronizes with OmniFocus on my Mac and my iPhone.  I’ve already mentioned how I can bring my mind maps from mind node into OmniFocus for the Mac.  This application ecosystem has enabled me to create a terrific workflow.

Reeder:  This is a great RSS reader application that synchronizes with my Google Reader account.  I can quickly look through all of the new items from my RSS feeds, share items of interest or send articles I want to read in-depth the Instapaper.

Instapaper: This is a great combination of a service and application that lets me take web pages I want to read in detail and read them offline.  The app pulls out the text for a clean, easy to read view of news articles, blog posts and the like.  I can download articles to my iPad and read them even when I do not have an Internet connection.  I save up articles of deep interest and set aside some time to read them when I can give them the appropriate level of attention.  I save up some long-form articles for when I’m going to be on a plane.

Looking Forward to 2011 and Some Remaining Honorable Mentions from 2009

2010 was a great year for technology enabling personal productivity, mostly because of some of the tools that the cloud and iPad make possible.  Some older tools from 2009 remain favorites, e.g. Google Apps, Google Voice and my Verizon Wireless MiFi.

There are technology tools that I’m aware of and want to add to my toolbox for even greater productivity in 2011:

Diigo: Social bookmarking that takes where Delicious started and builds from there.

TextExpander: I’ve owned the application on my Mac and iOS devices but have yet to make the best use of it.  TextExpander lets you create shortcuts for text snippets to save you from typing them again and again.

Hazel: File management automation for the Macintosh.  Specifically Hazel would help me streamline some of my paperless office workflows.

OmniPlan: Also from the Omni Group, this is what Microsoft Project should be.  I’ve used it a bit in the past and always found it useful.  In 2011 I expect I’ll need to add this to my traditional workflows for more complex projects that require coordination with large groups of people and stakeholders.  I also have several repeatable project workflows that I want to “standardize.”

GoToMeeting: I have to say that Citrix designs some great projects.  I like the simplicity and functionality of GoToMeeting compared to some of the other packages out there.  I’m looking forward to using GoToMeeting for some personal projects that require virtual collaboration.

Verizon Wireless iPhone: I don’t know that it’s coming, and would definitely NOT be blogging about it if I did know.  We all expect it, though.  I for one can’t wait for the best device on the best mobile network in the US.  Insert standard Verizon employee disclaimer here.

What was your favorite tech tool of 2010 and what were you able to do with it?  What tools are you adding to your toolbox for 2011?

11 responses to “My Top Personal Productivity Technologies of 2010

  1. Nice review, and congrats on getting your personal IT house in order. I would have to say my favorite for 2010 was my DroidX (ditto on employee disclaimer). As someone with a 3 year old Blackberry, I have been wowed by the photo and video capabilities. The ability to check social media on the run and the end of printed driving directions has been invaluable, too.

  2. Great set of reviews- thanks for posting. The only thing I’d add would be Scrivener; I’ve found it to be a great tool for complex writing projects.

  3. Contests on completing the home office project – desk looks cool. Appreciated the description of how you tied your picks into your workflow. Paper mess is just killing us.

  4. I should never have read your list…I was doing so well not buying certain items and now I am feeling the urge again…love the list. Darn you!

  5. Sorry, Suki. I’m happy to say that the productivity gains have made the initial investment and the learning curve worth it.

    I’ve heard great things about Scrivener from the likes of Merlin Mann of 43 Folders fame. 2011 may be the year I break down and give it a try.

  6. This article is very good. I would love to see how you would diagram your various workflows using some of these apps. I’ve been posting and googling around trying to find any diagrams people have created for how they integrate and use these kind of apps in various workflows. Seems like you could use mind map or Omni graffle apps to do various diagrams. I’d be interested in seeing this. Not for publication, but just for reference on using best in class apps together.

  7. My only comment is I wish I was as organized as August.

  8. Pingback: Rant: One Writer’s Nightmare with Modern Technology | Alison Amazed

  9. Regarding standing while working, I wanted to do the same thing but what about drawers in the desk? I have tons of things in the drawers and fortunately found the kangaroo desk http://www.ergodesktop.com I got to keep my old desk but can still sit or stand

  10. Good point, Hank. A solution like Kangaroo Desk to modify an existing desk is probably a good cost-effective and experimental option to make the transition to a standing desk. For me that switch coincided with a move towards eliminating paper and minimalism, so the lack of drawers was actually a plus. Not everyone can make the transition I made, though.

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