The two of us are pretty particular about our software setups.
We’ve both gone through several email clients, calendars, cloud-based notebooks, journals, to-do list apps and photo storage systems. As such, we’re pretty happy when we find stuff that gets the job done. When we find something we love, though, we’re ecstatic.
Here’s some stuff we’re either ecstatic or nearly ecstatic about.
Something I didn’t realize I needed until I had it is quick window management. One of my most logical and productive engineering friends clued me into this one. (For context, she’s the kind of person whose preferred note-taking app is Terminal.)
With Divvy, you set up keyboard shortcuts for however you typically resize windows on your display (e.g. you like to put two windows side-by-side, or you find yourself resizing apps to take up the entirety of your screen, but you don’t want to put it in “full-screen” mode). Then, whenever you open up a new window, you type in your shortcut, and the window is quickly set to the right size and placed in the right place. It doesn’t sound like much but, outside of Spotlight, this is probably the app I use the most.
Duet turns your iPad into a portable second display. I work in a lot of different places: coffee shops, airplanes, coworking spaces, hotel lobbies, kitchen tables, etc.
I’m currently using a laptop with a 15” display, which is relatively large, but it still helps to have a separate screen available for work-adjacent stuff like communication apps, reference material, or notes.
I also use Duet when I’m conducting user interviews: I’ll keep the video chat and screen-sharing on my laptop and use my iPad as my note-taking screen. It’s a lot easier than flipping back and forth between the two.
Here’s a list of what I prefer to listen to while working, in order of preference:
- Some of the Focus playlists on Spotify
- The muffled white noise of an airplane
- A white noise track on loop
- People talking to each other quietly
- Some random instrumental music
- Music with words I don’t understand
- Music with words I do understand
- People talking to each other loudly
- People talking to me
My top option, Brain.fm, gives you access to a variety of styles of instrumental music that’s intended to boost your ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. It’s sort of like video game music: interesting enough so it’s not boring, but not so interesting that it’s distracting.
I had a yearly subscription to this a couple of years ago and canceled it during a round of digital spring cleaning. Then I started working onsite at a client’s office recently and found myself unable to stay on task for more than what felt like minutes at a time. I re-upped my Brain.fm subscription, and focus has become effortless once again.
Shameless plug, but I’ve been working on this app as a side project with a great group of people. Upstate’s a quick way to capture fleeting thoughts, random ideas, to-dos, and myriad other small things that might pop into someone’s brain throughout the day.
It’s made for the Apple Watch, so you can tap a complication, record a note and Upstate automatically sorts it into an actionable category (like Do or Buy) using some logic we built in.
Toby is a browser extension that helps me organize access to the websites and web-based tools I use all the time. Basically, bookmarks. But better. Adding shortcuts to a destination is a simple drag and drop. Organizing these shortcuts into groupings is as easy as naming a “collection” and deciding what goes inside.
The result is that everything I typically need is easily accessible via the browser toolbar (which, admittedly, isn’t all that different than bookmarks). What makes Toby great for me is that it’s also my homepage. Each time I pop open a browser window or tab, Toby presents me with quick links to the places I’m probably going. Which saves time getting to where I was planning to go and prevents detours.
I’ve spent pretty much my full adult life trying to find the ideal email client and Spark is the best one I’ve found. Because I have a few email addresses I’m always using (Goodmaker, Designation, personal) along with a slew of client-provisioned email addresses I’m occasionally using, getting a handle on mail when it’s all over the place is a high priority for me.
Spark makes it easy to pull in email from a bunch of addresses, enabling me to see all my mail in a unified inbox or to quickly toggle between individual addresses. It also lets me choose the “from” address when I compose new messages and assign the right signature.
The biggest downside is that Spark is exclusively available on Mac / iOS.
I’ve been a fanboy of the company for a while and a daily user of their app for years. Todoist doesn’t do anything feature-wise that it’s competitors don’t also do. It simply structures things in ways that are really intuitive and easy to use.
I use “Projects” to organize to-dos across Goodmaker, Designation and real life, “Labels” to tag tasks with the appropriate client name, “Filters” to specify importance, and “Dates” to assign deadlines. With that structure in place I’m able to view tasks by work environment, project, level of importance or proximity of deadline.
All of which, for me at least, makes it viable to work on a bunch of different things over the course of a week without losing my mind worrying about all the loose ends and/or details.
We’re not receiving any sort of compensation or consideration from any of the tools included above. We simply think they’re neat and think you might too.
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