Personal productivity: tools and techniques worth giving a try
The previous article concentrated on team collaboration at Alty. This time, I’ll explore the things I use for my personal productivity.
Throughout the past few years, I’ve been trying dozens of things in the search of the ways to be more productive at work and maintain a healthy work-life balance. The remote environment granted me a lot of time to experiment in this field. I was able to test a number of things and now I’m uncovering what’s proven to work for me.
Last summer we had a speaking club gathering at the Alty office, and the facilitator suggested a seemingly simple topic — “How to stay safe online”. When it was my turn to speak, I generated some nonsense about using browser incognito mode and avoiding clickbait websites. I failed to mention one important thing though — strong passwords and secure way of storing them.
A couple of months back, I started considering using a password manager app to put my password mess into order. And I was pushed to action by the recent news about millions of user credentials being sold on Dark Net (remember the talks about Zoom credentials leak?). I realized that if someone gets possession of my Zoom or other login credentials, he may use them to log in to my email or banking app (because I extensively reused the passwords). So I finally made an effort and spent a few hours to enhance my password management. As for the app for it — I chose 1Password over Dashlane just because I liked their UX better.
Since then, I am very happy that I’ve done that. Now I spend zero time creating, remembering, or typing passwords, I fly through the web forms, and I am sure my data is safe. I highly recommend considering a password manager app to those who need to ensure that they “stay safe online” :)
Organizing Virtual Space
I’ve always had an issue with arranging application windows on my desktop, and it’s especially relevant for the 2-display setup. At some point, I understood that I was spending way too much time for resizing and dragging windows into their place. It felt good to run into the Tiles app for macOS. It allows resizing and pinning windows to the sides of the screen with a couple of keyboard shortcuts.
Unsplash Wallpaper comes as a nice addition to Tiles. This lightweight app allows customizing desktop wallpapers and scheduling their update. So now I start every day with the new breathtaking picture on my desktop. Not rocket science at all, but always makes me feel a little more inspired.
Tomatoes, Todos, and Automation
Finding a perfect time management strategy always was difficult for me. Some of the recommended methods implied way too much effort to adopt and maintain them. Things changed for me after I had discovered the Pomodoro technique. It borrows its name from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that was used by the system creator Francesco Cirillo. Pomodoro technique implies breaking down your work into 25-minutes intervals of uninterrupted work (intervals are called pomodoros). Two consecutive pomodoros are separated by the 5-minute break, with a longer break after every 4 pomodoros. I recommend exploring this technique to those who look for the lightweight framework to get things done. And here’s a great macOS app that helps me run my pomodoros — Tomato 2.
While running pomodoros and accomplishing tasks feels good, sometimes I realize that I need to keep the better track of what I need to do (and fill my pomodoros with!). For me, one app comes to the rescue. It’s great to help you manage things, and it’s called — you guessed it — Things. Its convenience and flawless UX makes it worth checking out.
I know that the todo manager you use is not paramount. Sometimes it’s challenging to find time to create new todo items. And recently I’ve found out that I can automate the routine process of typing down my todos. Now I use Zapier automation service to connect 3 apps: Gmail, Slack, and Things.
It works like magic: starring my email in Gmail creates new todo in Things. Pushing any message from Slack to Zapier creates a new todo in Things, too! If you need such kind of automation — with Zapier you can connect any apps that you please. Definitely worth checking it out.
About a month ago, my teammate suggested a website that is all about practicing keyboard hotkeys — Shortcutfoo. I was quite skeptical at first but decided to give it a try. A couple of hours spent on Shortcutfoo helped me master a bunch of useful shortcuts for the tools I use every day. The app allows practicing hotkeys for programming editors, photo editors, mail clients, and more. Spending some reasonable time to learn shortcuts helps save hours in the long run. Also, hotkey-ing is good for the focus and staying within the context of your current task — you avoid being distracted by reaching to the mouse.
Alty team has always cared a lot about the UX and UI of the products we develop. And although I am not a designer myself, I try to stay up to date with the product design trends and improve my knowledge in this field. Some time ago, our lead designer recommended one great resource for that — Growth Design case studies.
First of all, these case studies provide great content by breaking down and analyzing the UX of the most popular apps. The way the material is presented makes it easy and fun to consume. But there is another advantage of checking out these case studies. Since the Growth Design team usually examines valuable cutting-edge products, wandering through the case studies often leads to discovering some great new apps for yourself…
Focus and rest
…And that’s exactly how I discovered the Calm app. It’s an application that provides audio content for relaxing, sleep, meditation, and getting into the mood. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that apart from the music and curated courses, the app features quality content from the guest instructors (renowned sportsmen and celebrities). So far I can confirm that the Calm app helps me fall asleep faster and easier, which is a good thing. And in general, listening to the app’s content helps me focus, reduce the level of stress, and generally get calmer (who could have thought!).
The following 2 apps may be looking too geeky, but they serve me well to keep my brain busy outside any work-related contexts.
The first one is great for the chess enthusiast. It’s Puzzle Rush by Chess.com. It suggests you solving as many chess puzzles as you can in a 5 minutes’ time. Puzzles are fun to crack, and the “rush” part ensures that some adrenaline is added to the mix. Great way to kickstart the brain and shake off some sleepiness.
The final app I’ll bring to your attention in this article — Brilliant. I am very thankful for those ad-suggestion algorithms that introduced me to it. The app features more than 60 courses that cover math, geometry, logic, computer science, probability, finance, and more. The main entertainment element is that all the courses come with a little bit of the theory and the extensive amount of thematic puzzles.
Wrapping my head around the problems is oftentimes so exciting that I cannot think of anything else before I solve the current puzzle. I consider Brilliant to be great for learning something new and for the “gear-switching” after the long day at work.
If you’d like to learn about Alty’s experience in driving the product development in the remote setup — check out our previous article.
Artem Loktionov, COO — Alty.