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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tools Smart People Made That Make My Life Easier

Boomerang. It's a Gmail plugin. If you use Gmail, you should get it. It does two really great things.
  • Write an email now, schedule it to be sent later. Say you want to get an email written so you can stop thinking about it, but you don't want the recipient to know you are a freak who writes work emails at 2:30 AM on Saturday morning. No problem. Write the email, and tell Boomerang to send it Monday at 8. Boom. Erang.
  • You email someone a question, but this person maybe doesn't always, you know, answer. Without help, it's easy for a month to go by, and then you're like, oh, snap, I really needed an answer to that. You can use Boomerang to Boomerang the email back to your inbox in a few hours, or a few days, or a week, if there is never a reply. I'm pretty sure that's why it's called Boomerang. (This feature also makes people think you have super memory powers, or at least that you are somehow On Top of Things in a way that they are decidedly Not.)
Evernote. Replaces my URL bookmarking, notebooks, filing cabinet, and to-do list. There are a zillion wonderful articles that go into great detail about why it's so great, so I won't reinvent the enthusiasm wheel, here. Here are a few specific things that I am loving it for, lately:
  • I find myself writing what are essentially the same emails over and over again. For example, instructions for teachers in our online PD project to join an Edmodo group. I have the instructions saved in a note in Evernote in large, friendly letters and upbeat prose that I wrote after a glass and a half of wine. Instead of spending ten minutes to write that email from scratch several times a week, I just copy it from Evernote, tweak a few details, and boom. (I realize that the text is agnostic about where it is stored, and you don't need Evernote for this. But I like having all the things I need to keep and remember in one place. It's just one more thing I use this app for.)
  • The Secret Weapon. Seriously. "Weapon" is not an overstatement. If you tend to forget to do things because the tasking gets buried in your email inbox, or you keep writing the same thing on hand-written to-do lists over and over again, this is worth a read. Check this out:

Tasks and to-dos are entered as notes. They're tagged with what project they are for, when I need to do them, where, and who is involved. By clicking on any of those tags in the left column, I can see what I need to get done today, or everything for one project, or everything I need to talk to Karim about. When done, I move the note from the Action Pending notebook to the Completed notebook, so I have a record of everything. EVERYTHING. It's pretty magical.

Doodle. The next time you have to schedule a meeting, avoid an interminable chain of reply-all emails that say things like "I can come Wednesday between 9 and 11, Friday after 3, or any time on Sunday." Send those people a link to a Doodle instead. They can all click on the times they're available, you can easily see a time that works for everyone, and they will think you are a genius.

Certain OSX shortcuts
  • Spotlight search. I've loved keyboard launchers for a long time, and I used Quicksilver for a long time. That functionality is in OSX now, and it's super fast. Instead of having a million icons in the dock, or opening Finder every time I have to open something, I type ⌘-Space and then the first few characters of the thing I want to open. It's so fast.
  • Insert a link with ⌘-K. Instead of sharing a gross, ugly URL with someone (Google Drive shared documents are particularly heinous), highlight text and type ⌘-K then paste in the link. Voila, pretty hyperlink.
  • This is a Chrome thing, but you can right click on a tab, and close all the other tabs. Take that, other tabs. Aaahhhhhh.


  1. WOW. Thank you so much for sharing these tools and giving such specific examples of how they simplify your life. It made for a very useful blog post. For example, Boomerang will allow me to pretend that I have a social life when I'm catching up on work email on a Friday night. :) Glad I'm not alone!

  2. And then you get that annoying person (raises hand) who replies to your Doodle with "I can't make any of those days."

  3. Thanks for the Boomerang tip. Kristen Fouss just shared about the mute button in gmail to silence all of those ridiculous "reply all" people. Now if there were ONLY a way to teach people how to email using BCC.
    I need to give Evernote another try. I looked at it again last week but just didn't have the energy. In other "tab" news, I recently learned that you could actually pull a tab out of your browser and the window would pop right out. I'm sure everyone else knew this, but it fascinated me!

  4. There needs to be more software that covers one's own idiosyncratic behavior. That's a great call.

  5. Kate, TSW is awesome - you just solved my 'multiple to do lists in multiple places' problems.

    And Chrome has a 'close tabs to the right' option!

    @Julie - you can also drop tabs right back in.


  6. Julie, I'm convinced that it's too hard to try and use Evernote without some kind of instruction about how to set it up. If TSW doesn't look like your jam, check out this guy or this guy. Or, google the thing you want to use it for -- "organizing evernote for bookmarks" or whatever.

  7. I love Evernote for collecting useful blog content. I use a different program for task management:Remember the Milk, but I use the Getting Things done philosophy. I would recommend David Allen's book if you haven't read it.

    For common email responses, there's a gmail lab called "canned response" that's super useful!

    Here's the post I wrote this summer bou how I stay organized digitally:


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