Essential Digital Productivity Tools – Part I

The recent circumstances and shift to remote work has helped me realize the importance of having the support of reliable tools to enable our productivity.

Given that hundreds of thousands of apps and services exist out there, I wanted to share my personal experience with digital tools that have allowed me to automate, batch, and delegate so that I’m able to focus my time and energy on more pertinent tasks.

This is my list of personal favourites that has helped me stay organized, automate workflows, and increase task speed + efficiency.

1) Schedule your appointments effectively with Google Calendar + Calendly

I’ve tried a lot of calendar solutions over the past few years: Outlook, iCal, Any.do, Samsung Calendar. During university, it was to schedule my classes and allocate time for studying. Today I continue to use Google Calendar for work and personal commitments — it essentially serves as a ‘master calendar’ and allows me to efficiently plan and schedule my time. Google Calendar stands out in its simplicity, cross-platform integration (desktop, browser, mobile), and open source availability of add-ons and tools.

Google Calendar + Calendly

Calendly itself is a great platform. It‘s essentially a version of Outlook’s ‘Scheduling Assistant’ that functions independent of Outlook’s ecosystem. You’re able to share your schedule, view other schedules and book meetings accordingly. Meeting invites are then automated and sent to the user’s calendar with an invite sent to both parties including all the key details.

Integration with Google Calendar is seamless: Calendly can provide an overlay on Google Calendar to determine your available slots. You’re able to mandate start + end times to ensure you don’t offer up a time slot at say, 2:00 am. You can then share a custom URL (mine is https://calendly.com/andrewyeung) to others to schedule time with you.

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Google Calendar is free. Calendly Basic is free, Premium and Pro are $8 and $12 monthly, respectively.

2) Automate your life’s workflows with IFTTT

IFTTT is one of those hidden gems on the internet. It stands for “If This, Then That.” Essentially, it’s an intuitive way to automate workflows and tasks that may otherwise be repetitive or impossible. Users create scripts or “recipes” to trigger actions following a prompt. You can think of it as If-Then statements that apply to your application ecosystem and digital services. When used correctly, IFTTT can be extremely powerful in increasing efficiency and saving you a lot of time and effort. I’ll likely write a more thorough piece on IFTTT down the road but for now, here are some sample use cases:

  • If you’re tagged in a photo on Facebook, the image is uploaded and sent to your Dropbox folder
  • Automatically tweet a new follower a welcome message after receiving the follow
  • Add YouTube videos that are marked ‘Watch Later’ to your Evernote notebook
  • Log all Foursquare check-ins to your Google Calendar
  • Automatically turn your lights off when you leave the house

Additionally, here are some that I personally use:

  • Automatically turn off the WiFi on my smartphone after leaving my place of residence and turn it back on upon return
  • Text me the weather forecast and top 10 news items every morning
  • Send me a daily push notification with the ‘Word of the Day’

You can find these scripts online and just follow the steps one-by-one. It is relatively simple once you get the hang of it, but in some cases, it may require a bit of testing and troubleshooting.

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IFTTT is Free for the general user. Developer build is available at $199 annually.

3) Master digital note-taking with Evernote + Web Clipper

Evernote is one of the most robust and reliable note-taking platforms out there. I’m able to create and transcribe notes in a dynamic manner, reference these notes across all my devices (laptop/tablet/smartphone), and easily share content with my peers. There is a myriad of use cases: study notes, meeting minutes, recipes, to-do lists, workout plans… the list goes on (this article was actually initially written in Evernote). Aside from being just a great note-taking tool in general, below are some additional features to supercharge your Evernote experience.

Save snippets of web content with Evernote Web Clipper

Evernote Web Clipper provides a simple solution if you’re conducting research and don’t want accumulate a list of URLs with no sense of which link holds what information. You can simply download the Evernote Web Clipper Chrome/Safari extension and plug in ‘clips’ of the web content you’re browsing to notes in your archive. It’s a very similar process to browsing the web on Mobile and hitting the ‘share’ button to distribute the content toother platforms.

Directly emailing content into a notebook

Every user has a dedicated Evernote email address — it’ll be something along the lines of “andrew.123@m.evernote.com”. This provides you with the functionality to archive email content as notes on the fly. Similar to forwarding emails from an email account to another (i.e. work email to personal), this allows you to archive and store relevant email content easily. I usually use this feature to archive newsletters or articles that I want to revisit later.

Tagging + sharing notes

Organization is key and after using Evernote for 8 years, I’ve accumulated thousands of different notebooks. Evernote allows you to easily tag and segment notes (i.e “Ideas”, “Startups”, “2020 Books”) and effectively search via tag when you’re looking for something specific. The sharing feature is also very convenient — with one click you can generate a share URL and distribute your notes to anyone. If shared with a fellow Evernote user, they’re able to add it directly into their notebooks archive. Real-time collaboration functionality is currently not available but I‘d be surprised if it’s not an upcoming feature in the product roadmap.

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Evernote Basic is Free. Premium and Business are available at $9.99 and $14.99 monthly.

4) Create any kind of digital art with Canva

Canva promises a quick and easy way to create visuals and helps those unskilled in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to create professionally designed graphics. I’ve experimented with a wide variety of amateur-intermediate level graphic design tools over the past couple of years including GIMP, Paint.NET, Sketch, and the Adobe suite of products. Canva is definitely the most intuitive graphic design tool out there with one of the cleanest interfaces. Just to give you an idea of what Canva can do – with no prior design experience you can create posters, logos, flyers, business cards, info-graphics, brochures, resumes, CD covers, menus… pretty much anything you can think of.

Take your social media marketing to the next level with Canva + Hootsuite

Canva offers hundreds of templates for your social media channels. Pre-set templates scaled to the correct dimensions and resolutions for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest. Combining this with Hootsuite — you’ll be able to automate and schedule high quality social media marketing posts in batch orders.

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Canva is Free. Pro and Enterprise are available at $12.99 and $40 monthly.

5) Secure and sync up your files with Dropbox

Most of us are familiar with the concepts of cloud storage and shared drives as they’ve been around for well over a decade. I think Dropbox is still the best option out there even when benchmarked against the big tech alternatives: Google’s Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, and Amazon’s Amazon Drive. I’ve been on Dropbox for nine years now since the early ‘Refer a friend for an extra 500 MB of storage space’ days and Dropbox has continued to offer a consistent and reliable experience across all platforms.

There’s a reason Dropbox is so popular. Users can conveniently access the platform on all their devices and file upload and sharing is incredibly simple. Here are some additional things you can do with Dropbox:

Automatically and securely back up and your files

On both Windows and Mac, you’re able to create a real-time synchronized folder and just drag-and-drop any files you wish to upload. It’s incredibly intuitive and quick access to these files are available on all platforms. Dropbox’s encryption is very secure as it uses 256-bit AES keys to protect files. There’s also a 30-day window to recover accidentally deleted files (180 days on Dropbox Business). Sharing is also incredibly easy. A simple right click offers options to email a file, share with previous contacts or to create a custom URL link.

Save captured screenshots automatically

A feature that is underutilized on the platform is the screenshot upload feature. While Dropbox is running in the system tray, capturing a screenshot will result in the screenshot being saved in the Screenshots folder of your Dropbox installation. During this whole process, a custom URL of the screenshot image will be automatically generated and copied to your clipboard, making it easy for you to share the screenshot image.

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Dropbox Basic at 2GB is Free. Plus (2 TB) and Professional (3 TB) are available at $12.99 and $23.25 monthly.

That’s my list. I hope that you appreciated this post and found some value from it. If you have any suggestions or comments on the tools above, drop a comment below!

Part 2 will follow shortly.

Andrew Yeung is currently at Bell Canada in a strategy and operations role. He has previously worked at the advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, in a strategic planning role and Nike, in consumer marketing.He is passionate about the growth, self-development, and technology, and harnessing tech to enable productivity and growth within your career, and personal life. On the side, Andrew advises early stage startups. 

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