Sometimes, staying productive is all about the little efficiencies, whether it’s the ability to dictate a quick note into my phone or using its camera in lieu of my big, bulky scanner. This week, I’ve found a few apps that take care of these tasks and more.
I love the idea of using my iPhone completely hands-free. And while Siri, the built-in virtual assistant, can help, she’s not my favorite voice-recognition app. (It doesn’t help that she continues to mispronounce my name, no matter how I try to correct her.) Enter Dragon Dictation, a free, straight-forward dictation app for iOS that allows me to compose notes, emails, text messages, and more, hands-free—almost. To use Dragon, you simply open the app, hit record, and begin speaking. It proved remarkably accurate at recognizing all of my words, with no training required. Saving your text isn’t hands-free, though, as you’ll need to tap the screen to save your it as an email, SMS, a tweet, or more. While Siri can handle the entire task hands-free, it’s far slower and less accurate.
Chrome, Mac OS, iOS, Android; free (standard), $14/mo. (Business)
Sometimes the most annoying part of my job is making sure I get paid for it—especially when I get paid an hourly fee. But since I’ve starting using Yast, keeping track of my time is getting a lot less time consuming. This free Chrome, Mac, and mobile (iOS and Android) app lets you track the time you spend on projects just by clicking a button. All of the versions sync seamlessly, which makes it easy to track your time when you’re away from your computer. The mobile versions are useful for tracking the time spent on phone calls, though the tracker isn’t integrated with your phone on the free version—you still have to launch it manually or upgrade to the $14-per-month Business version (which includes added features like sharing projects and downloadable reports).
If you need to keep track of your time purely for motivational and productivity reasons, consider 30/30. This free iOS app is centered around the idea of a work cycle, which suggests that you work on a task, uninterrupted, for 30 minutes and then take a 30-minute break from it to achieve the best results. To that end, you enter your list of tasks in 30/30 and set the timer for each one. It defaults to 30 minutes, but you can change it to meet your needs. When your allotted time is up, 30/30 lets you know that it’s time to move on to the next item on your list. It’s attractive, easy to use, and—dare I say it—kind of fun. I found it easier to stay on task using 30/30, because I knew a break was coming soon.
iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone; free
Paperwork and mobile phones don’t always mix well, unless you have ScanWritr. This free app, which runs on Android, BlackBerry, iOS, and Windows Phone, turns your smartphone camera into a portable scanner. Take a picture of a whiteboard, a sign, a document, or anything else, and ScanWritr turns it into a digital file. You can edit the picture before it’s captured, which allows you to control exactly which text is stored, and you can mark it up after it’s saved. I especially like how easy it is to save your files as a PDF and share them with others, though the free version of the app does include a ScanWritr watermark on all of your files.
iOS; $4 for iPhone, $5 for iPad
Another option for creating PDFs—especially more complex ones—is Save2PDF. This iOS app ($4 for the iPhone, $5 for the iPad) lets you create robust PDFs from a variety of documents. You can add photos, spreadsheets, text documents, and more, into a single PDF, which can be rearranged with a simple touch of the screen. It doesn’t work as a scanner, though, so you’ll need to have all of the documents you’d like to use already on your mobile device—and email will work, as it can handle attachments
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Liane Cassavoy is a veteran technology and business journalist. She contributes regularly to PCWorld and has written about business issues and products for Entrepreneur Magazine and other publications. She is the author of two business start-up guides published by Entrepreneur Press.