There are a few digital tools that help save my digital sanity on a regular basis. Sometimes little apps can be so powerful and so dang useful. These tools, in particular, are all about organization, productivity, and focus.
Heads up: I’m Mac-based, so these tend to work best with an Apple device at the moment. Some of these work across multiple operating systems.
Magnet: resize all your apps cleanly on your desktop
Magnet is an app you can add to your laptop or desktop and it’s Apple and Windows compatible. If you’ve ever spent time dragging windows around and trying to get two different applications to show up side-by-side, this app saves you. With a few quick keys, you can automatically size applications to halves, thirds, top, bottom, or a corner. If you’re editing two word docs, Zing! They’re side by side. It costs the same as a bag of chips but stays awesome way longer—it’s $1.99 on the app store.
Be Focused Pro: use a tomato timer to really get your productive work done
My life changed when I started using Pomodoro timers. Specifically, and I’ve tried a bunch of them, I like Be Focused (Pro). One of the best first things I did was simply track each session and what got done. The awareness gains of seeing how I “spent” eight sessions of blocked work time was really critical to getting better at estimating my future time and output. Because honestly, much of our frustrations at work can come from poor project planning, unclear scope, and miscommunications about deliverables and deadlines. Knowing what you’re working on, how long it takes, and having a small timer to keep you accountable is genius.
There is a free version, but I prefer the pro version ($4.99) because you can create an account, set up custom tasks, get a spreadsheet of your time spent on projects, and sync to your phone as well. That way, if I’m doing a journaling task not at my normal desk, I can still use the timers to track my time. Huge fan. My friends over at The Sweet Setup did a whole deep dive on Pomodoro apps, and I highly recommend it. This one is Apple-based, I believe, but there are tons of Pomodoro timers for all sorts of devices.
Flotato: create a standalone app instead of drowning forever in too many web tabs
Ever want to get out of a browser and make a website an app? For me, I wish Asana were a standalone app. Now it can be. Flotato helps me so much because rather than spinning through tabs trying to find my to-do list, my Asana can be a separate, easy-to-get-to space on my desktop.
It’s free for the first few apps, but then it’s a one-time fee of around $19 (at the time of this publishing). Seemed a little steep for me, but I ended up buying it. It still costs less than a NYC hamburger.
Text Expander: new secrets you didn’t know you could use that already exist on your computer
This isn’t an app, but a tool already on most computers. Learning how to use text expander well is a great skill you should take advantage of. In most computer setups (as well as phone setups) you can set up text expanders to create quick replacements with custom codes. I use them all sorts of ways, for example, with basic contact information I might need to share a lot or don’t want to type out a hundred times:
STARTUPPREGNANT = startup pregnant .skp = my email address .alex = his email address 415- = auto-fill my phone number
You can do this for library numbers, and more. This isn’t necessarily for password maintenance—I use LastPass for password storage—but for things you might be texting and typing a lot where autofill doesn’t work. Think: someone asks you on messenger what your email is, and how to schedule…yada yada yada.
The part that’s really helpful is when you think even more creatively about how to use text expander. For example, I use it to create short answers to common emails:
nfit = Thanks for much for thinking of me! That’s not the right fit for us right now, but really appreciate you thinking of us. ooo = We’re out of the office right now and replies are delayed. We’ll get back to you as soon as we can. psch = Here’s a quick link to schedule. Let me know if any of the times work for you! [Calendar link]
Another creative example is creating hashtag bundle expanders for Instagram. A while ago I did research on the most popular and relevant hashtags for my various posts, and grouped them by theme (postpartum, fitness, food, motherhood, and mornings, for example). Then, I took a cluster of hashtags and created a shortkey for them, like this:
#MSKP = this will expand to create all of my #MorningsWithSKP hashtags (there are about 20 of them). That way I’m not typing a bunch of hashtags in with each post.
Finally, and I love this last example, but you can use it to create some pro-feminist and equality built in. We know from lots of research that tech tools and data samples can be accidentally biased, sexist, and more. Personally, I don’t love using the word “bossy” or “hysterical” for females (or even the word “ambitious”). Any time I catch myself using a word that I wouldn’t use for a dude, I think, “Hmmm, what word would I replace this with and why?” When I come up with a good one, I pop it into the auto-replace so that my future self doesn’t get lazy. For example, the word “hysterical” (which comes from the idea of wandering uteruses and women being crazy) now means something akin to “hilarious.” We say “That’s hysterical.” So I check myself and set up a text replacement to automatically edit any instance of hysterical and replace it with the word hilarious.
hysterical = hilarious bossy = driven ambitious = driven
Overall, the key is not to create something you would already type (that gets annoying), but to create a short code that is both easy to remember and something atypical. Using a period at the start of a word can be a great way to prevent accidentally typing something, while keeping it relatively simple to remember.
A few more bonus tools that didn’t make the top four list—but they are still really good: speed up your videos, count your daily words.
Two more that didn’t make the list but are worth mentioning — the WordCounterApp is great at tracking all the words I write in a single day across apps (I’ts 7:45am and I’m already at 3,225 words right now). My biggest critique is that I wish it parsed word counts within web browsers, because there are so many different activities going on. I set up a temporary solution by using Safari for social media accounts, Firefox for gmail (although I’ll be switching back to Super Human soon), and Chrome for everything else.
The second runner up is the Chrome browser extension Video Speed Controller, which lets you speed up any video anywhere. I get so irritated when I have to watch videos at regular speed if they don’t have optional playback speeds. This lets you even watch NETFLIX on double speed, and honestly, it’s amazing.
What are your favorites?