Enhance productivity using your mobile and the right software

DropboxThe one thing that defines my life is the constant and overwhelming assault of demands on my time. So for me, productivity is not a nice thing to have, it’s an essential skill to master.

Add to that the fact that I have a naturally curious personality prone to distractions (INTJ in Myers Briggs) and what you have is a recipe for disaster.

So to stay on top of things and be effective I use a suite of software programs that help me be hyper-productive: very focused on the most important tasks for me, on top of the information that I need to get my work done and with a list of things that my colleagues owe me.

I have honed this system over time so that it stays with me, whether I’m working in the office, working at Starbucks, travelling, or even when I’m hanging out and all I have access to is my iPhone or my Android.

Here’s what my productivity software list is made of:

  • OmniFocus
  • + Basecamp
  • + Dropbox
  • + Evernote
  • + Socialtext
  • + Ringio
  • = stay productive.

My personal organizer application: OmniFocus.


I mentioned this app in my previous blog post. In a nutshell, OmniFocus helps me implement David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. It is a sophisticated app for managing to-do lists. What’s special about it is that it has many criteria to help you bubble up to the top whatever is important to you.

OmniFocus has desktop software client and a mobile client. I sync between them using a service called Spootnik, which has the added benefit of syncing between my organizer system and the rest of the company’s system, which resides in Basecamp.

Other alternatives to Omnifocus are: Things and TaskPaper (which I really like for its simplicity). Remember the Milk does similar things but is web-based.

My company’s organizer application: Basecamp


It’s not enough for me to keep track of my tasks, I need to be able to keep track of other people’s tasks, and as a group we need to stay organized and seamlessly communicate about each other’s projects. Since Ringio collaborates with a lot of vendors and people outside the organization, we use 37 Signal’s excellent, lightweight project management tool called Basecamp.

If you’re using Basecamp right you will have increased the awareness about the status of projects, and the chances that something will catch you by surprise will be drastically reduced.

If you don’t like Basecamp, or the price, there are many worthy alternatives

My files: always with me with Dropbox


It’s amazing how complicated it was to share files two years ago… if you had a Windows network and had a file server you could set up local file sharing… but it turns out that most of the files you want to share is with people outside of your network :-) The alternative is FTP, but many people don’t know how to use it, and it’s insecure anyways. What you really need is a way to create shared network folders without the network or without the file server… enter Dropbox.

Dropbox is an elegant service that integrates right into your desktop (Finder, Windows Explorer, etc) and mobile, and allows you to share folders with other people. When you update a file on your computer, it updates on theirs, and vice versa. Even when you’re not at your computer, you can log in to the Dropbox website and it gives you access to your files, and shows you recent activity. It even helps you recover accidentally deleted files.

One edgier alternative to Dropbox is Drop.io

My personal note taking system: Evernote


Evernote is a lightweight note taking system that helps you keep all your text, screenshot and video notes organized. I use it to jot down ideas, meeting notes, feedback from customers, transcripts of phone calls, reference how-to-do-this things….. anything that is for my eyes only.

Evernote does a great job of staying out of the way until you need to recall something, then it’s super search and tagging system come to the rescue.

With their iPhone and Android clients, Evernote helps me capture notes (even voice dictation or pics I take with my camera) while I’m on the road.

My company’s document sharing system: Socialtext wikis


A wiki is collaboration software that helps you keep documents organized and hyperlinked, much like a website that anybody in your team can edit. The ultimate example of a wiki is Wikipedia. We use wikis at Ringio to create things such as product specifications, software release plans, to create customer proposals, to keep track of our competitors, and to store instructions for different kinds of activities that our teams do.

A wiki is a system that acts as “company memory”. If you’re using it right you will be avoiding duplication in the long term, because you will be able to more easily recall when somebody had been working on an idea that you’re revisiting.

There are alternatives to Socialtext, such as Clearspace, or Google Sites.

My company’s virtual PBX system: Ringio

Virtual PBX
Virtual PBX

I spend a good chunk of my time on the phone, making calls to prospective customers, bloggers and the press, investors and partners.

It’s essential for me to spend as little time as possible looking up contacts and dialing, and I need the flexibility to call from any old phone and know that the receiving person is seeing always the same caller ID.

The Ringio software does exactly that for me.

There alternatives to Ringio, such as Google Voice, Toktumi or Ringcentral. I’m biased, of course, so I encourage you to try the different solutions.

Other productivity boosters:

  • Searchable email: I heavily rely on Gmail’s search capabilities and labels
  • Delicious bookmarking, Chrome’s bookmark sync
  • 1Password or LastPass for password management and form-filling
  • Tungle for meeting schedule management

What software do you use to increase your productivity?

The “Dark Side” of Android

Android has its dark side too

Some would say I’ve been waxing lyrical about Android in the last few weeks as I compared iphone vs android, I am a fan, no doubt, but –lest you think that I’ve lost my sense of objectivity– here are some worrying trends that have recently emerged about Android phones:

  • Some new Android models have been getting so-called JunkWare: gratuitous apps that are shoved into the standard distribution of the OS whether the user likes them or not. Mark Milian highlights some of the abuse in a recent LA Times article.
  • There are unconfirmed reports that the new Motorola Droid X (a very cool phone by technical standards), contains hardware preventing users from installing their own homebrew version of the Android Operating System. While most users won’t be doing any of this kind of hacking, it’s just bad style on the hands of a manufacturer.

So just because the Android platform has been making a lot of progress in competing with iPhones, it doesn’t mean that it’s devoid of its own dubious practices… remember, use your best judgement when picking a phone for your business.

image credit – scifi cool

Trendspotting: Mobile apps that sync with their Desktop counterparts

One of the defining characteristics of modern office life is that we divide our work and attention between the big screen (our computers) and the small screen (our mobile phones). Smart application developers have spotted this trend and designed their software to better support this workflow.

The critical feature that you should look for when evaluating these apps is how well they keep your information and configuration in sync between the two screens. Applications that excel at that will allow you to seamlessly switch screens and waste no time getting your work done. You should be able to enter items in the mobile app and see them in the desktop app, check items in the desktop app and have the new state reflected in the mobile app.

Here are 3 fantastic applications that exemplify this new development approach:

Twitter client: Tweetdeck

TweetDeck desktop
The TweetDeck Desktop app

TweetDeck is a client for social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Google Buzz. TweetDeck is ultra-configurable and the tool of choice for a lot of social marketing experts, who use it to monitor and engage customers in discussions about products and services.

TweetDeck uses an online account that you can sign up for from the client to save all your configuration, primarily what columns and saved searches you want to see.

Then, you can configure your mobile app with those same views, columns and searches.

TweetDeck for iPhone
TweetDeck for iPhone

It’s easy to turn Twitter into a time-waster and productivity sink, but used with good criteria, it can turn into a powerful marketing tool. The trick is to make Twitter an integral part of your marketing diet… and encourage employees to engage customers online.

To-list management GTD-style: OmniFocus

OmniGroup produces some of the finest Mac software. They have great attention to detail and OmniFocus is a paramount example. Omnifocus is a power tool for well organized people. It allows you to track all your to-dos and projects using the Getting Things Done methodology popularized by David Allen and idolized by geeks worldwide.

The OmniFocus for Mac application allows you to capture to-dos from any of your Mac apps, organize them into projects and lists by dragging and dropping, reviewing them on a regular basis and prioritizing them according to a number of criteria such as how long they take to complete, their dependencies and much more.

The big payoff of having a well structured task management system like GTD is that it relieves you of the stress of worrying about all the things that you have to do and helps you focus on what you can actually do right now, with the time and energy that you have available.

For this system to work, to get todos out of your mind and into your GTD system, you need to be able to enter them whenever they occur to you, and your iPhone is a perfect device to do that, as you probably carry it with you most of the time.

OmniFocus for Mac
OmniFocus for Mac

OmniFocus can sync your tasks between your Mac and your iPhone in a number of ways, but the two most useful are:

OmniFocus for iPhone
OmniFocus for iPhone
  • Syncing via your wifi… whenever your iPhone is roaming in the same wifi as your Mac both versions of the program find each other via Bonjour technology and exchange the latest tasks.
  • Syncing over the Internet… if you sign up for the wonderfully simple and powerful Spootnik service, you can sync via their servers… with the added benefit that you can sync with Basecamp, a project management service. Using Basecamp, Spootnik and OmniFocus you can set up a company wide GTD system… an incredible productivity tool worth a future post

Virtual PBX and Contact Sharing software: Ringio

Let’s say that you want to increase the chances that when somebody calls your business phone number, or the cell phone of one of your employees that you will know who they are, how to greet them, who they’ve talked to before and what they want.

For that to happen you are going to need a call collaboration solution that will help you get those phone calls routed to the right person in the right department, and that will enable each user to share their online address books and call histories.

You’re also going to need some sort of screen pops that allow you to see the information about them in the context of the phone call.

That, in a nutshell, is what Ringio does.

The Ringio Desktop software sits neatly on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer and gives you all this info at your fingertips. When a call comes in, you get a screen pop on your computer and then you can decide to take the call or send it to somebody else. Ringio will then log that phone call.

Ringio Desktop software
Ringio Desktop software
Ringio Mobile for Android
Ringio Mobile for Android

Ringio is a great example of a new generation of applications that takes syncing one step further. Not only does it sync between the desktop and the Android mobile app, it syncs between users in the same company and between the Ringio service and online address books such as Google Contacts / Gmail.

In conclusion

Over the next few years we will see an emerging super-class of mobile apps that is very much aware of all your data, whether it sits on your computer, your mobile or the internet, and will be able to help you stay productive and informed.