This week’s article is a break from the usual topics of decluttering and home organizing. As a lover of technology, I am often amazed at how much I rely on it to keep my life organized. My husband Eric is a computer programmer with Groupon and has always been quick to utilize technology, while I have tended to resist. He may have felt at times like he was dragging me kicking and screaming into the digital age. Although I still tend to utilize notes on index cards for daily reminders, I have mostly transitioned to digital tools for almost everything. In this article, I will highlight my favorite tech tools for organization.
Google tools: Calendar, Documents, Sheets, Slides, and Numbers (iOS, Android – free)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you probably know about Google as a search engine. But you may not know about all of the free tools that Google offers. The fact that all of these are cloud-based means that I can get to any of them any time on any device in any location.
I mentioned before that I was a latecomer to a digital calendar. Now I can’t imagine ever going back to paper. With a digital calendar, there is no more, “When I get home, I’ll check my calendar and let you know.” I love the fact that I can share a calendar with other members of my family so that we can stay informed about each other’s schedules. Being able to color code different events by category really appeals to me visually as an organizer.
I use Google Documents to create, store, and share documents. Groups of documents can be placed into different folders, much like a file folder system. It is easily searchable and sharable, no matter what kind of computer someone is using. When sharing a document, you can choose whether the person can view, comment, or edit the document. No more having to email yourself Microsoft Word documents to get them to a new device. It’s also great when a group of people (like a volunteer committee) need to jointly edit a document. Plus, you never need to hit Save – it is always saving all of your changes as you edit.
When I give group presentations, I love using Google Slides to create and store the presentation. It is easy to use, and since the information is stored in the cloud, I don’t have to worry about whether the venue at which I am performing has the proper connections for my laptop; I can simply use the machine that is already hooked up to the projector.
Reminders (iOS – free)
I truly cannot imagine what I did before being able to rely on this app. The fact that it can be tied to specific days, times, and locations via GPS is my favorite feature. I use it to remind me of a variety of things: from one time events to repeating ones, work and home-related tasks, from the critically important to the trivial. Here is a partial list of things that I have used my reminders app for just in the last few days: turn in my next Times News article by Tuesday, use my gift card at Panera, post a Monday motivational quote on my business Facebook page, put a new Kleenex pack in my purse when I get home, update my business spreadsheets every Saturday, etc. The thing I like best about using this app is that I can get all of those “I need to remember to…” items out of my head (because it is physically impossible to remember them all) and record them into a trusted system. I can also use Siri and my Amazon Echo (“Alexa, remind me to call my Mom in an hour”) to add items to my Reminders app.
AnyList (iOS – free)
Gone are the days of a paper grocery list. With AnyList, I have my grocery list with me all the time. I use AnyList not only for a grocery list, but for any store I frequently visit. So the next time I happen to visit Target for a specific item, I can look to see what else I need while I’m there. Items can be added to the list by scanning a product’s bar code. Best of all, since I can share the list with someone else, Eric always knows what we need at the grocery store. And I love being able to say, “Alexa, add bananas to the Kroger List.”
Trello (iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows – free)
Although AnyList is useful for most of my lists, Trello is more useful for higher level organizing or for groups. I use Trello to organize all of my To Do lists for my home and my business. Each broad category can have a different board, and items on the list can be prioritized in order of importance. This is where I store all of the ideas I want to work on in the future. Documents and pictures can be attached to items on each board. Multiple people can coordinate tasks and communication using Trello, and because it is Cloud-based, all of the information can be accessed from anywhere and is updated in real time. Evernote is a similar tool that is also easy to use and very highly rated.
CamCard (iOS, Android – free version for up to 200 cards)
It didn’t take long as a new business owner for me to realize that I needed some kind of tool to organize all of the business cards I was collecting. I knew I didn’t want to carry them all around, nor did I want to manually enter all of the information from each card. With CamCard, I can take a picture of the card (which is stored on my phone), and it also pulls all of the information from the card. The information can then be grouped and added to my contacts. Some cards that have dark backgrounds or unusual designs or fonts can be tricky for CamCard to correctly identify all of the information, but it doesn’t take long to check and edit as needed.
Unroll Me (Web-based – free)
This tool helps me organize my email simply because it significantly decreases the volume of emails I receive. UnrollMe will automatically identify any email subscriptions and give you the option to Keep, Unsubscribe, or Roll Up each one. If you select Keep, you will continue to receive emails from that subscription as a separate email. Unsubscribe doesn’t technically unsubscribe you (this requires going to the individual page, clicking Unsubscribe, which then takes you to another page asking your reason for unsubscribing). With UnrollMe, Unsubscribe means that an email from this subscription will be automatically directed to the trash.
Key Ring (iOS, Android – free)
I like the perks I get with loyalty cards, but I don’t necessarily like carrying them around all the time. Granted, if it’s a card that requires physically punching or stamping it, carrying the card is necessary. But for cards with a number and barcode, that information can be entered into an app like Key Ring by either scanning the barcode or manually entering the numbers. When making a purchase, simply open the app, scroll through the list to find the appropriate store, and the barcode can be scanned at the register. Key Ring has decreased the size of my keyring and my billfold substantially.
Focus Keeper (iOS, – free)
Focus Keeper has vastly improved my productivity by keeping me on track during work that requires mental focus. The principle underlying this strategy is that an auditory cue (the sound of a timer) can serve as a reminder to stay focused for a specific period of time (25 minutes). At the end of the 25 minutes, the user is rewarded with a short break (3-5 minutes) before another period of focused work. It’s a simple tool that has proved quite useful for me.
Mile IQ (iOS, Android, $5.99/month or $59.99/year)
Keeping track of mileage traveled for business purposes is one of a myriad of details that must be managed by a small business owner. For the first few months, I relied on paper to log my mileage, but this shortly proved cumbersome. MileIQ is a wonderful app that allows me to quickly record each trip as either business or personal. I know I’m going to be very glad to have this information readily available when I am working on my taxes. This is one of the few tools that isn’t free, but the time I save makes it worth every penny.
1Password (iOS, Android, MacOS – $2.99/month or $4.99/month for family of up to 5 users)
Passwords are a necessary evil when it comes to online security. Although it simplifies things considerably to use the same password for everything, this is not the most secure approach. But who can remember a different password for every website and app? Simply keeping a paper or digital list of all the passwords is easy but not secure. Password managers like 1Password allow you to remember only one password that will give you access to the many different passwords you need.
There is no doubt that tools such as these have greatly simplified my life. I hope this information is useful in your efforts to organize your life.