Let’s face it, time is our scarcest resource. None of us wants to waste it, particularly not on mundane tasks that pop up both in our professional and personal lives. So how can we minimise the time we waste and spend more time doing the things we enjoy? Technology is the answer.
We live in the midst of a technical revolution where there are literally thousands of apps and digital tools being built every day purposely designed to help us automate our lives and save time. Each and every one of us can take advantage of these tools to save time regardless of how tech savvy we are. All it takes is a little bit of research.
As a cloud enthusiast, I make it my business to stay ahead of the curve. I’ve literally spent years searching for, evaluating and implementing the best time-saving tools in my work and personal life. It’s an on-going project that’s constantly evolving. But what value is knowledge that isn’t shared? I decided to write my top 10 with the hope of helping others shortcut the process. Hopefully, by reading this you can save yourself some time researching (no pun intended) and jump start your own digital transformation.
Feel free to add to my suggestions or leave comments at the end.
The digital note-taking app for your devices
OneNote is a digital notebook which replicates the functionality of a traditional paper notebook. I’ve been using OneNote since 2008 to store notes, screenshots, to-do lists, random ideas and just about anything else. When combined with OneDrive or Office 365, notebooks are stored in the cloud making them available on all of your devices. Apps are available for Android, iOS, PC and Mac. You can also access it using a web browser.
Its list of features continues to grow. My favourites are the screen clipping tool, search capability which allows you to search everything include text in images, simple arithmetic functions, and the ability to easily share your notebooks with others. OneNote is a must have!
Smart budgeting & personal finance software
Pocketsmith is the ultimate personal finance manager. Developed in New Zealand, Pocketsmith is in my opinion, the market leader in this space. It allows me to track the balance of my bank accounts, credit cards, loans, superannuation and managed funds in one place. If you’re like me and have multiple bank accounts and credit cards for different purposes then this will save you a bunch of time logging into each and every online banking platform to check your balances.
What really amazed me was how easily I could add each of these accounts. Live bank feeds require a premium subscription which at $10 a month is an absolute bargain.
In addition to tracking my accounts, I am able to easily see my net worth, setup & manage budgets, forecast cashflow and categorise transactions to see what I spend most on. New features seem to be regularly added indicating that the team at Pocketsmith plan to continue innovating and adding value to an already exceptional product. Product support is also very good.
Your beautiful & simple online to-do list app
Recently purchased by Microsoft, Wunderlist is the ultimate to-do list app. I use it heavily for work and personal list keeping.
For personal use, it’s invaluable as a general to-do list, shopping list, travel packing list and goal tracking. I save huge amounts of time by re-using the same lists which, for example, saves me the hassle of re-writing a shopping list each week. Instead, when something runs out I move it from complete to incomplete. When I hit the supermarket I know exactly what to buy without giving it any thought.
Wunderlist’s best feature, in my opinion, is list sharing. It allows you to create shared lists with friends, family, work colleagues, or anyone else with ease. At work, this is great for collaborative projects. At home, it’s a great way to get things done with your family.
Wunderlist also allows you to set due dates, create reminders, set up sub-tasks, add files and notes. The native apps for iOS and Android are super slick and easy to use. The web interface is equally good and works seamlessly in all major browsers.
Wunderlist is available as a free or paid service. The paid pro version offers some additional functionality which I’ve never needed. As a free app, Wunderlist offers all the functionality you need to save hours of time and get more done.
The last password you’ll ever need to remember
Before I discovered LastPass, managing passwords was a major hassle. Presumably like many others, I had a handful of regular passwords which I’d re-used far too many times. Keeping track was difficult and re-using the same password is not a good practice for obvious reasons. Furthermore, each password had to be simple enough to remember which typically means easy to guess or brute force. With LastPass, I only need to remember a single master password.
Unlike the built-in password managers included in popular web browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer), LastPass never stores any information locally on your PC or Mac, making it far more secure. Instead, LastPass securely stores your passwords in the LastPass Vault. To access the Vault you must first log in to LastPass using your master password. Any information you store in the vault is encrypted using 256-bit AES which makes it very secure and cannot be decoded without your master password. For additional security, you can enable 2-factor authentication (recommended).
Web browser plugins are available for all major browsers which simplify password management further by automatically entering your credentials on login screens. When creating new accounts, LastPass will automatically generate a secure password and save the information to your Vault.
LastPass conveniently provides a way to import your existing passwords from a variety of sources including web browser password managers, Windows wifi passwords, KeePass and even a plain old CSV file.
In addition to passwords, I use LastPass to store credit cards and identification documents such as license, passport and medicare number. This is very convenient for online shopping or when completing online forms which require identification.
Another great feature of LastPass is the security challenge. The security challenge scans your password vault and generates a security score including detailed analysis with actionable steps to increase your score. For example, how secure are your passwords and the number of times you have re-used the same password.
Apps are also available for Android, iOS and Windows allowing you to lookup passwords on the run.
When you find something you want to view later, put it in Pocket
Since 2007, Pocket has been helping people save interesting web content for later enjoyment. Personally, I like to think of Pocket as my save button for the internet. Many times I come across interesting articles at inconvenient times. The solution is to save them for later consumption and Pocket makes this simple.
Bookmarking web pages in a browser is a good solution if you primarily use a PC, but these days I consume content on a variety of devices including phones, tablets, and PCs, so browser bookmarks no longer cut it. Pocket makes it easy to save content no matter which device I’m using, and consuming it later is equally versatile.
Pocket has apps for iOS, Android and Mac. Browser plugins are available for Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera.
Your writing, at its best
Writing is one of my weakest skills yet crucial for modern communication which predominantly takes the written form. Using Grammarly I get a full-time English coach watching out for spelling and grammar mistakes in my writing, completely free of charge. Unlike other tools I’ve used, Grammarly includes easy-to-understand explanations helping me understand and improve my writing over time.
Grammarly integrations are available for Microsoft Office and all major browsers and also as a standalone Windows application so it’s always by your side.
There is no cost to sign up and use the free version. Premium is a little pricey at $29.95/month but can be reduced to $11.66 if you pay for the year upfront. Personally, I’ve yet to see the need to upgrade.
Say goodbye to coins forever
There’s nothing more inconvenient than parking your car and realising you have no coins to feed the meter. Or realising your ticket is about to expire and you’re stuck in a meeting. With PayStay, you’ll never have to worry again. Unfortunately for you folks reading from outside Australia PayStay is not available. But for those lucky enough to live down under, this is the must-have app for parking.
There are a couple of great things about PayStay. Firstly it means no more coins for parking, ever. Second, it allows you to pay only for the time you use. Hit start when you park and then stop when you leave. No more paying extra ‘just in case’ you take a bit longer than planned. And when you’re approaching the time limit of the area you’re parked in, the app will send a notification to your phone.
PayStay will save you time, money and removes the stress from ticket and meter parking. Apps are available for iOS and Android and are free to download.
Online receipt & invoice management
Still collecting receipts in an old shoe box? I was too, until recently. My shoebox was literally overflowing and when I needed to find an old receipt it would take far too long to sift through. It was time for to look for a digital solution.
Initially, I started out takings photos of my receipts on my smartphone. While this is an ok strategy for storing the receipt, finding it later can be time-consuming as receipts get mixed up with other photos. Unless you are disciplined enough to move them to a separate folder, which I wasn’t, then this strategy is not much better than the old shoebox.
What’s really needed is an app which can store photos of receipts and provide a way to quickly search for and find old ones. Squirrel Street does this like a champion.
Squirrel Street scans and organises your receipts, invoices and documents securely online.
The Squirrel Street app, available on Android and iOS, captures receipts using the smartphone camera and runs OCR over the image to extract information like the name of the vendor, cost, tax, date of purchase, and payment method. This information is stored together with the original image of the receipt, making it extremely easy to find at a later date.
The app also provides you with a dedicated email address to forward digital receipts like invoices received via email when online shopping, for example.
What I love most about Squirrel Street is their forever free 5 document / month DIY account that allows you to scan up 5 receipts per month. Not to worry if you exceed the limit, receipts are still captured and stored without the additional information. When the next month clicks over they will be automatically processed. If you can’t wait that long there’s an option to manually enter the information.
I tend to store receipts for big-ticket items, clothing and anything I may need to claim on warranty, leaving out everyday items such as groceries and fuel which means 5 per month, or 60 a year, is more than enough.
Do more with the services you love
IFTTT, aka If This, Then That, is a free automation tool that connects to literally thousands of different cloud services to automate your life. Using what it calls recipes, you create simple tasks that are automatically carried out when a trigger occurs. For example, every night at 9 pm IFTTT puts my phone in silent mode. Then, at 7 am the next day, it automatically disables silent mode.
Some of my favourite recipes are a notification when UV is high, an alert when rain is headed my way, tracking how much time I spend at work, and notifying me when a friend completes a Strava activity.
The #1 app for runners and cyclists
Not a productivity tip as such, but regular exercise is crucial to good health and well-being which enable us to more productive. There are a plethora of choices in fitness tracking apps, each with their own unique benefits. For me, as a runner, Strava is the app of choice for a number of reasons.
Strava makes it simple to track running activities by connecting to my TomTom running watch and automatically uploading my workouts, eliminating the hassle of connecting to a computer. Of course, most fitness apps offer this functionality but it’s still nice to have. Strava lets me easily track how far I’ve run, how much time I’ve spent running and how much I’m improving.
What really sets Strava apart though is the social aspect. As your number of followers and people you follow increase, Strava begins to take on an Instagram-like feel with an activity feed of other people’s workouts. Instead of photos, activities display a map along with workout statistics including total time and average pace. What makes Strava extra cool is the ability to give Kudos (akin to Likes) and write comments on other people’s activities, creating a social aspect to running online and providing motivation to continue improving.
Those looking for extra motivation can join the monthly challenges which include distance, climb, half marathon and 10k. Challenges allow you to benchmark yourself against other Strava runners worldwide to see how you rank.
If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s time to replace your running shoes Strava can tell you. Simply add a pair of runners to the Shoes section and Strava automatically tracks their mileage, alerting you when it’s time to buy a new pair.
Like most apps, Strava is free and provides a premium option for those who want extra features. Personally, I’ve found great value in the free offering and never seen a reason to upgrade.
If Strava sounds like your thing be sure to signup and send me a follow request – https://www.strava.com/athletes/10209227