A few of my favorite things

One good thing about my jobs, both of them, is that I get to play with a lot of different software tools. I love tinkering with new tools, and now i get paid for it!

Sure, there’s the big apps that I can’t live without like Microsoft Office/iWork or Adobe CS3. But woman cannot live by Mac OS X and commercial software suites alone. For me, it’s the little stuff that makes the difference between productivity and frustration.

Unfortunately, most of the time, I find that these tools are solutions looking for the problem and they don’t stick around on my drive past the demo expiration. It’s not that they don’t do what they say they’ll do, it’s that they don’t become part of my workflow. If I have to force myself to work an application into habit, there’s no pointing in keeping it.

Here’s a sampling of what has made the cut in my book…

OmniFocus

I’ve tried the demos of every GTD-like todo/personal project manager there is, including Midnight Inbox, iGTD, Toodledoo, Vitalist and RememberTheMilk. While I liked a lot of what the web-based tools had to offer, I couldn’t get them to really mesh with my personal workflow. They were great as long as I remembered to load the website.

It may be just me, but I need to be able to clear my mind of tasks by hitting a quick keystroke no matter where I am. If I have to stop what I’m doing to go to a browser, IM application or email client it just doesn’t work for me.

OmniFocus is not cheap. The regular price when it’s released next month will be $80. You can get it now at the pre-sale price of $40. I purchased it when I realized that if it wasn’t running, I felt lost. I am getting used to hitting control-option-space, dumping my mind and then letting the application tell me what I should be doing next. Better yet, I can be in nearly any other application, select something and a keystroke and it’s in OmniFocus. A count of how many tasks are due today sits up in the menu bar and in the dock. Web-based task tools aren’t there yet.

The only gap is that I can’t view or add to my tasks from my Blackberry. But I can easily get tasks to OmniFocus from email, so I’ve been emailing myself and then processing when I get back to my computer.

In a similar space is Things. I have been playing with the prerelease on that too just to see the difference. Focused more on tags than contexts & projects, it has a lot going for it. However, OmniFocus development is further along and while Things looks interesting, it’s not quite as flexible and powerful as OmniFocus. So far.

1Password

When I was using Windows more, I fell in love with RoboForm for autofilling form data on websites. At the time, there was no suitable equivalent on the Mac side. No longer an issue, as 1Password more than fits the bill. It’s very actively developed with new (beta) updates every few days, and it keeps getting better. It works in multiple Mac browsers and rarely makes a mistake.

Better yet, 1Password is more stable and takes less CPU & RAM than RoboForm did on the PC side.

Skitch

You have to wait for a beta invite, but it’s worth it. Simply, Skitch is an application you can use to take screenshots and manipulate images, but it’s much better than that. Command-shift-3/4 is so 1995. It’s hard to show what it does (since I can’t get it to take a screen shot of itself) so watch this and see for yourself.

Jing

What Skitch does for images, Jing does for video (although it also does images, too). With Jing, you can quickly record a screencast, with audio, upload to a server (yours or theirs) and get a URL to share with others. When someone in my office asks “How do I…?” I show them by doing the steps on my own computer, then give them the URL so they can watch what I’ve done.

Both of the above tools are free while in a beta/preview phase, although it may not stay that way.

TripIt

I can’t believe I used to search Mail.app to find my reservation emails the night before a trip. Whether it be my frequent day trips to DC, or for longer jaunts, TripIt keeps it organized for me.

You can see that the folks behind the site have a clear plan and have answered a need. This isn’t a “Web 2.0” app trying to catch a buzz wave by being “Facebook for…” (are you listening, Plaxo?), it’s pure function through and through.

Sign up at the site and tell it all your email addresses. When you get a reservation confirmation email, just forward it to plans@tripit.com. That’s it. The night before your trip when you’re running around getting organized, you have everything in one place. It works with all the usual travel reservation sites, including major hotel chains, airlines and Amtrak.

In addition to the details you need about your hotel and flights, it also provides weather, maps and other information that you didn’t know you needed until TripIt remembered to provide it for you.

Google Calendar Sync

Oh, how I’ve been waiting for this. I can’t stand iCal, and prefer to use Google Calendar for all my calendar scheduling needs. Only downside was when I needed to make an appointment when I was away from my computer. Google has a mobile interface for calendar, but it’s very slow and cumbersome to navigate. They also have the ability use SMS to add calendar events, but how to check if there’s already something scheduled at the specified date/time?

The Blackberry calendar is much easier to deal with while on the go. Up until now, I could only sync it directly with iCal on the Mac (using Missing Sync) and I haven’t been happy with any of the iCal <-> gCal tools out there.

And then Google makes my day by coming out with a tool that syncs Google Calendar to the Blackberry calendar over the air. No 3rd party go-between needed. Amen and hallelujah is all I can say.

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