Tools of the Day Trade: Productivity on a Budget


I’ve been working since I was 16-years-old. My parents taught me the importance of good ol’ honest, hard work and honoring my commitments, including in the workplace. I had a few challenges early in my career, as we all do, but I learned how to ensure that I was organized and productive.

And then one day, I missed a meeting. It wasn’t just an ordinary, every day meeting; it was a critical meeting with our director and a vendor. After the obvious embarrassment and shock of realizing that my trusty system wasn’t working anymore, I knew it was time to investigate more emerging organization tools…especially the inexpensive ones. Hey, we all have budgets to maintain, and my jewelry collection isn’t getting any smaller.

Over the years, I’ve found the right ones for me, and though I’m happy with most of these, I’m always on the lookout for enhancements and ways to streamline my organization processes. That might sound strange because some of my tools do overlap; however, for my needs, until certain tools fix their shortcomings, I’m content with the overlap.

Here’s what I use and do to stay organized and maintain my productivity:

  • Toodledo: I love this to-do list and project organizer. It’s deceptively simple, yet effective. Its noteworthy features include:
    • The notes tab: I can add notes and organize them by folder/topics. I do wish it had multiple labels for each note page, but I can cope without that capability…for now.
    • Sort tasks by my priority: I can view and sort my main projects in ways that make sense to me, instead of being locked in by one method.
    • Outlines: I can break out my ideas into hierarchies and map out projects, reports, and even behaviors.
  • My daily log: I’ll never forget that day when my supervisor asked me what I’d worked on the day before, and I couldn’t remember. Let me tell you that my daily log—including what I did, phone calls I made, and chats I had—has covered my life on many occasions. I use Toodledo for this, but I even do outside the app, when I unable to get online. This log allows me to capture conversations in the minute and paste them into each project/to-do item.
  • iCal and Google Calendar: Yes, I do use both! I use Google for my job and iCal for personal items, and they work together well. I have to admit, even as an Apple fangrrrl, that I like the ease of Google’s calendar better, but my heart belongs to Apple. What’s there to love about the ol’ GCal?
    • Custom calendars for any period of time.
    • Private calendar entries—I can set all private events or specify particular events.
    • Reminders for individual events and a daily schedule reminder. Having the ability to see my day at a glance is chocolate.
    • Attachments with invites: I can send documents when I set up a meeting and send updates later.
    • Others can create events in my calendar, if I give them permission.
    • Two words: color coding! I can color other people’s calendar and use colors for different event types.
    • Robust variables for repeat events—this must be the best feature.
  • Delicious vs. Pinterest: Oh, stop laughing now. Yes, more people still use Delicious than you think. Believe it or not, some content works better in Delicious and the reverse is also true. While Delicious has some serious usability deficiencies (which I’ve written about to the site manager), the ability to add tags and longer comments than Pinterest wins on many levels.

On the other hand, Pinterest is great when I need to capture visuals for a team project without having to paste them all in one document, and I can update the collection easier than a static document.

  • Headset: Since I mostly work from home, the phone might as well be an earring for convenience sake. The next best option is a high-quality headset. I don’t have a near-permanent crick in my neck from craning to the side all day.
  • Headphones (!): When I do go in the office, I can’t live without headphones to drown out the inevitable noise from our open concept set-up. I seriously can’t focus without headphones, so either I use them or I’m forced to read a sentence three times before it makes sense, while listening to “Doug-Bob” describe his weekend in gory detail. That’s at least four hours saved right there!
  • BreakPal: No matter what type of work you do, in any office setting, it’s important to get up and walk around as often as possible. Fortunately, I can do that with BreakPal’s reminders and exercise suggestions. Besides, there’s nothing quite like discussing a project with the team while doing 10 sets of lunges.
  • Google Drive: Do you know how many computers and devices I use? The number is so ridiculous that I won’t even say. Even if I used a thumbnail, it’s still an ordeal to work on the same document from different devices without something like Google Drive. I can capture and format ideas while I’m on the subway, and when I’m ready, I can convert to a Word doc (because Docs just doesn’t have the rich and full features that Word has) and keep going.

Of course, there are always other tools I’m exploring, but I don’t have a firm opinion during my evaluation phase—especially since some of them introduce more overlap. They include:

What productivity tools and apps do you use?

Angela Hooker is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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