Now that my summer vacation is officially over, I’ve been getting back into my old habits and learning some new ones in an attempt to maximize my time. This means firing up the apps that have been hibernating since finals week in May and looking for some new ones to fit my new post-college needs. I thought I’d do a quick rundown for this edition of Things I Love.
I started to use Evernote soon after I began my term as photography editor at The Cornell Daily Sun. I was searching for something that would let me collect my thoughts and internet findings and organize them for future retrieval. While I do use delicious for bookmarking, I wanted something where I could store screen grabs, some notes, and just random things. Eventually it evolved into a storage system for everything from my grocery lists (when paired with Quicksilver it becomes especially easy) to design inspiration for various websites I’ve worked on. More recently it’s become a repository for cool features I come across on sites I like so that down the line when I’m looking to design a form, for example, I can just open up Evernote and search for my form tag.
One of the best features of Evernote is that it parses the text in images and makes them searchable. I’ve paired this with the iPhone app and made a great little wishlist system. If I’m browsing around Barnes & Noble and find a book I like, I take a photo of it and then when I get back home I add it to my list of books to get from the library.
Evernote is free for up to 40MB of syncing (did I mention you can also access your stuff from their website? It just keeps getting better!) It does limit the file types you can upload to images, audio, ink, and PDF, but if you’re willing to shell out $5/month or $45/year that limitation is removed. I have yet to find the need to upgrade, which is another tick in the Pro column!
I’ve been a huge fan of Google Docs for a long time now and have all but eliminated MS Office from my workflow. One of the tools that lets me use gDocs so seamlessly is Precipitate. I can’t remember how I found it, but I installed it a few years ago and haven’t looked back since.
Precipitate indexes your gDocs and allows you to search for and access them straight from Spotlight (obviously, for Mac users only). You can also access them via Google Desktop for Mac, but I prefer the quick Spotlight interface.
It’s this simple: You hit the keyboard shortcut to open Spotlight, type in the first few characters of your gDoc, and when you select it from the results, it opens up the Doc in your browser for you to edit right away. There were points where I had gDocs opened all day long and Precipitate was a lifesaver. It definitely lowers the barrier to entry for using gDocs by bringing it closer to your fingertips. Give it a shot!
Skitch is almost too obvious to put on here, but considering that I use it at least a dozen times a day on a quiet day, this list wouldn’t be complete without it.
Skitch is super-simple, but really powerful screen grab application. With a quick keyboard trigger, you can either grab an entire window or just part of the screen. While you can do this with OS X’s native Grab application, Skitch is soooo much better. Once you’ve grabbed what you need, the Skitch window opens up where you can then draw on, crop, and resize the image. When you’re satisfied with that, you can click the webpost button which can be configured to upload to your Skitch page (which is private unless you give out the URL), your flickr stream, MobileMe, or anywhere you have FTP access. In addition to that you can just drag the image into the app of your choosing or right onto the desktop for later use. As I mentioned earlier, Skitch is a great app to pair with Evernote. They’re like peanut butter and jelly. They’re just better together.
Here’s a quick example to show you the wonder of Skitch. Let’s say I wanted to show a friend tomorrow’s forecast for San Francisco. I hit my little keyboard shortcut, select the area on weather.com, and let Skitch open up. I grab the arrow tool and point out lunch time with a quick bit of text. I could change the colors, but I’m going for the quick-and-painless route. Once I’m done adding my text I hit the webpost button down at the bottom where I already have it configured to upload to a certain directory on my web server. When it’s done uploading a few seconds later I can click the button again to have the URL copied to my clipboard and then I shoot it off in an IM to my friend. That took all of 45 seconds. If I didn’t want to add text or arrows it would be even quicker. It’s one step closer to actually being able to communicate as if you were sitting in the same room looking at the same things.
Fluid.app is my site-specific browser (SSB) of choice. I only recently started using it when I rearranged my email filtering system and wanted to keep it running in the browser at all times. I use Spaces pretty liberally, but running jMail (it’s my jennvargas.com email account) in Safari with the rest of what I was working on was getting clunky and I kept opening it when I didn’t want to. I realized that if I could pull jMail out of my regular browser I could separate it into a specific Space and therefore save myself some time and sanity.
I’d tried SSBs before but could never really find the value in them. I was sort of fitting something into a SSB just because I wanted to use one rather than the other way around. Fluid.app makes it really simple – you download it, enter the site you’d like to run in the browser and you’re basically done. If you want to get picky about it (which I did) you can set a custom dock icon for that particular window. Check out Chris Ivarson’s icons if you like to keep your dock looking pretty.
I should also mention that you can run more than one SSB at a time. It basically installs a mini-app for each SSB you want. This is where the dock icons come in handy. Going back to #2 on my list, I could also keep gDocs in an SSB, or maybe facebook or Google Reader or maybe the NY Times if that’s more your style. It’s really handy for sites that you frequent often over the course of a single day. It pulls them out of your regular tabs saving you clicks and time.
I really could go on for hours about the little things you could do to maximize your workflow but I think I’m going to cut it off here for this edition. After all, you should be spending more time being productive rather than reading about productivity, right?
In the last edition of Things I Love, Alex recommended RescueTime which I actually installed this afternoon to take for a test drive. I’m a bit of a data and statistics geek, so it’s right up my alley. I’m always looking for ways to fine-tune my workflow, so if you have any suggestions/tips, I’d love to hear them! Let me know down in the comments!
Until next time…