It's official: I can no longer think of a single person I know (unless, of course, you count my two-year-old) who doesn't have more work on their to-do list than any human being can reasonably be expected to handle. If you're like everyone I know, chances are you could use a few new tools to help you manage your priorities, simplify your life, and accomplish more. This guide is for you.
Although there's no shortage of free utilities and services promising to make you a productivity powerhouse, in my experience few of them meet the increasingly high demands of real-world use. I've tested an astounding variety of task managers, list apps, calendars, project trackers, and note takers over the years. Here are 12 that truly earn their keep.
If you're into Inbox Zero, as I am, then you probably feel a deep, bone-crushing need to address and delete every single item in your inbox by the end of the day. So what to do with all those e-mail messages you get that don't require action until tomorrow, next Monday, or January 3? Answer: Nudgemail.
Register your e-mail address at Nudgemail.com, and you can then use your Forward button as a snooze button. Forward a message to firstname.lastname@example.org, and it will return tomorrow. Monday@nudgemail.com will restore it on Monday. Nov13@nudgemail.com will send it back to you on November 13. And with your inbox empty, you can finally go to sleep. (Get Nudgemail)
For scheduling a meeting with a ragtag band of independent contractors or taking a poll about where to go for lunch, Doodle is a quick, no-hassle service that gets the job done. You don't even have to waste time signing up for an account (although you can). Doodle appointments export as ICS files that you can add to most calendar apps, and you can quickly embed invitations and polls on any Website for easy access. (Get Doodle)
3. Remember the Milk
At this point, Remember the Milk has handily earned a place on our list of tried-and-true productivity boosters. In fact, several of our staffers (including this author) use it daily for GTD (Getting Things Done)-style life management. Type any to-do idea into the 'Add a new task' field, and it's ready to track. Add due dates, tags, priority rankings, and repeat intervals all in the same field. You can share lists with other RTM users for group projects, too. And when your list grows long, you can create custom search-and-sort lists on the fly and save them for quick viewing.
RTM boasts a sweet set of mobile apps and third-party add-ons, and it especially comes to life on Android, where its 2x3 home-screen widget keeps your most important list within view at all times. Basic Web access is free, but the $25 pro version adds mobile access--well worth the price. (Get Remember the Milk)
For more-traditional task management, it's hard to beat Toodledo's robust interface. Toodledo is optimized for the GTD methodology with context tags, locations, folders, and great tools for adding notes to a task or project. It works with a variety of mobile apps for Android, iPhone, and iPad.
The free version is plenty useful for individual users, but if you want collaboration and sharing features, subtasks, goal tracking, and the ability to print cool little paper booklets of your daily agenda, you can get a Pro account for $15 a year. A $30-per-year Pro Plus account adds 5GB of storage for file attachments. (Get Toodledo)
5. Taska for iPad
More than a few people in this office have taken to carrying their iPads around from meeting to meeting. Our favorite task manager for Apple's slate is Taska, a $5 download that syncs with Toodledo. (Get Taska)
6. Instapaper and ReadItLater
If you're focused on getting things done during the workday, you don't have time to read every interesting Web link that people forward to you throughout the day. Offline readers Instapaper and ReadItLater solve that problem by letting you send the link to your phone or tablet for perusing during your free time, even if you're away from an Internet connection. Instapaper is by far our favorite, but for now it lacks a decent Android app (some compatible apps are available for Android--we're just not impressed yet). ReadItLater works very well with the Android-based Paperdroid app. (Get Instapaper and ReadItLater)
7. Android Voice Text
I don't care how good smartphone keyboards get; they'll always be small and typo-prone. Since everyone expects me to send mistyped text messages and e-mail from my phone anyway, I skip the keyboard entirely and dictate messages to my Droid with Android Voice Text. The feature is included by default with Android 2.0 and later, so most new Google-powered smartphones already have it built in. You can also use Android Voice Actions (in Android 2.2) to perform basic tasks such as "call so-and-so" or "get directions to Chez Panisse." Sure, the translation is far less than perfect. But it's a lot less work than typing, and your friends will forgive you for the occasional wacky texts you send.
8. Dragon Dictation for iPad/iPhone
If you use an iPhone or iPad, you can skip the keyboard for capturing long-form messages and notes with the free Dragon Dictation app. The app requires you to speak slowly and clearly, but its accuracy is impressive. And if it messes up a word, you can tap to make quick corrections. (Get Dragon Dictation)
I hate--yes, literally hate--fax machines. Every time a contractor asks me to fax back a form, I bristle. But with PamFax, you can keep Luddites in the loop for about $6 per month, and receive unlimited faxes yourself, with no annoying ads. It supports Windows, Mac, Linux, and even Android. You'll want a scanner if you plan on faxing forms and such. (Get PamFax)
Sometimes the best way to capture all the important variables around a project is to map them out visually. For my money (which is exactly zero dollars), there's no beating XMind. This free mind mapper runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, and even comes in a cross-platform portable version that you can run from a thumb drive. Once you create a mind map, you can upload it to XMind.net (either publicly or unlisted) to access it from all of your other computers. For $49 a year, you can also add security and collaboration features. (Get XMind)
Hard-core productivity types need no introduction to Evernote. This online capture tool is way more than a note-taking service. You can type in notes, capture pictures from your smartphone camera, clip content from Web pages, and dictate voice notes into Evernote, and then search for them--even for handwritten words on scraps of paper in pictures--when you need them again. (Get Evernote)
Keeping a team on track takes focus. To ensure that everyone is concentrating on a shared project, try Huddle. This Web-based project-management service gives you a workspace and calendar that you can share with your entire group, so you can dole out tasks, share whiteboards for brainstorming, collaborate on documents, and chat about how terribly behind schedule you are. (Get Huddle)
Have an amazing productivity booster I didn't mention here? Tell me about it in the comments and I'll most likely give it a try (if I haven't already).