Best Productivity Tools
Top 10* Tools to Hack Your Time & Be Intentional
For those who know me well, you’re probably used to putting up with my constant blabbing about some niche app or Chrome Extension to make something more efficient or reduce distractions.
There’s so much free/freemium/low-cost software out there that can save you so much time on unnecessary tasks with so little set-up effort.
I find myself sharing these funky tools so frequently that hecc, why not curate a list of my 10 favourite tools and share ‘em with you cool humans.
#1: aText ($7)
Think about how many times you’ve written out the same email template or greeting. Never again! aText is a text expansion tool that allows you to create shortcuts for snippets of texts, message templates, dates, times & more. This is my secret sauce for LinkedIn reachouts to startups & VCs.
Below, I've included a few examples of common snippets I use to save time for Earlywork initiatives:
Never type your full email address again!
Never type an email signoff again!
Even my initial LinkedIn reachouts to companies follow a fillable template where all I have to do after typing the shortcut is type the first name of the person and the name of their company.
#2: Focus To-Do (Freemium)
For those unfamiliar with it, the Pomodoro technique is a time management technique consisting of repeated blocks of 25 mins work, 5 mins break (or some other numerical variation). There's a ton of Pomodoro apps out there, but focus To-Do is an awesome freemium Pomodoro timer app with a slick UI, available on desktop & mobile. You can do a bunch of cool things like customise the work and break lengths, set a cadence for longer breaks after a few work blocks, create tasks and track the number of pomodoros it takes to get them done, but my favourite neat design choice is that by turning your phone sideways, the standard circular countdown morphs into a classic digital alarm clock view.
Here's an example of how the app looks on mobile & desktop:
#3: Zoho Notebook (Free):
My absolute favourite notetaking app. Criminally underrated. Completely free multimedia notetaking app that syncs across mobile, desktop, browser, allowing you to combine text, photos, audio, checklists, sketching, and file attachments into clean notes with basic markup. Notes can be sorted into custom notebooks with your own naming system and cover art, and you can view & search notes by notebook, or view & search your whole collection of notes together. You can even set 'locked' notes or notebooks that require biometric or password unlock.
Below, I've included a screenshot of how I set up my notebooks for some inspiration :)
#4: OneTab (Free):
If you’re currently reading this email and have 20+ tabs open, you have a problem, and OneTab has the solution. Compress some or all of your browser tabs into a list on a single tab to reduce memory & battery usage, and declutter your browser. You can even save a certain subset of tabs as a named collection to be reopened later.
At the time of writing this, I technically have 3997 tabs, but only two of those are actually open. Here's an example of the UI below:
#5: Trello (Freemium):
Often used as a collaborative workflow tool, Trello is a super simple yet flexible task management solution, across browser, desktop and mobile formats, that can be configured to just about whatever you want, both for work and personal life. I have two separate boards set up for tracking my personal Habits and Goals on a monthly basis.
Below, I've given a high-level breakdown of how I structure each of these boards:
Habits: The little patterns day by day, week by week, that I seek to cultivate. I structure these under 5 key domains: Health, Mindfulness, Creation, Learning & Admin, with custom labels depending upon the habit frequency (daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly). I review this list once a month and comment on my progress in each habit, and archive habits that either I don't wish to continue or I've already internalised.
One of Google’s smaller products, I find Google Tasks to be a super clean, minimalist tool to create task lists flexibly for both mobile and desktop usage. Direct integration with Gmail and Google Calendar means you automatically see your tasks alongside these tools. I’ve also included Taskboard, a great Chrome extension for a fullscreen kanban view of all your task lists in-browser in a desktop format.
Below is an example of how I structure my core tasklists (whereas my Trello is focused on longer-term goals and habits, my Google Tasks setup is focused on short-term priorities and responsibilities):
Doing (Max 1): Whatever I'm working on right now. Max 1 item ensures I stay focused on one thing at a time. Even my phone's homescreen displays this task and no other tasks.
To Do (Max 5): Important tasks that are top of mind in the short-term (24 to 48 hours). Capped at 5 tasks to ensure clarity of priorities.
Backlog: Everything else that isn't urgent but is still important. The flow is such that typically, Backlog items will progress to To Do and then Doing (though I often add tasks directly to these two). Sometimes, I will do a review of the Backlog and cull tasks that aren't important.
Beyond this core workflow, I use Google Tasks for a ton of other lists; here's a list of them for inspiration on what you could use Google Tasks for:
#7: Fabriq (Freemium): Probably a tool you’re less familiar with than some of the others on here. Fabriq is less so a traditional ‘productivity’ tool but it tackles a super valuable problem of time in the COVID age: regularly staying in touch with the people you care about. Essentially, it’s like a CRM for friends: an app that allows you to organise your friends & family into a hierarchy of social circles (based on your frequency of interaction) and get automatic reminders to catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while.
Here's an example of how the app looks:
#8: Pocket (Freemium)
Ever find or get sent a super cool article but don’t have time to read it right now? Enter Pocket: a cross-platform tool to save your favourite reads for later and categorise them with custom tags (whether it be investing, technology, psychology, politics or music). Super great way to build up a custom knowledge repository of high-quality info about your favourite topics. When a friend asks about a certain subject, I often find myself pulling out a favourite article from my Pocket collection.
Here's an example of the UI:
#9: Video Speed Controller (Free)
You know how in uni, you always speed up video lectures so you don’t have to listen to the lecture drone on. Imagine that, for every HTML5 video on the internet, with custom speed settings that even go beyond 2X. Video Speed Controller is a free Chrome extension that consistently saves me minutes on the videos I watch online.
You'll see a subtle control bar pop up in the corner of your videos like this:
#10: Calendly (Freemium)
Tired of tedious back and forth emails to pick a time for a meeting? Let your friends and co-workers easily book a time to chat with Calendly, a scheduling tool that allows people to find suitable time slots in your calendar that work for them.
Here's an example of the UI someone would see when booking a meeting with me: