Greatest Productivity Booster – Pain?

There are a million productivity boosters out there, and a gazillion books that tell you the ultimate secret to improve your productive life (including this blog. See, I am sneaky).

The end affect – zero, nada, zilch.

You end up with the same “I know everything that there is about productivity improvement”, “I am a bit more productive than where I was yesterday”, “It takes time..”.

No, it should not work that way.

That gets us to the greatest productivity booster of all times – pain, and beyond administered by your smart watch like device.

Behold – the Pavlok.

pavlok productivity booster

Pavlok is a new device being funded right now on IndiGoGo. The device works on a simple concept – it offers the other end of the stick to get you to do what you plan for yourself. See, there are too many “YOU”s, the product must be good.

Pavlok will pair with the app on iPhone or Android to appeal to your baser instincts (err.. get away from the pain), and make you get back on the track.

Say, you want to hit the gym for 1 hour, and you don’t do it. What will Pavlok do – zap you with static electricity. You did not meditate today for 10 minutes? Again, zap. You texted your ex – ZAP!

There are hundreds of other potential zaps out there including browsing time-wasters (not this website!), sitting near your window day-dreaming, and so forth.

Say, how about leaving the damn device at home – get a message on Facebook about your most recent bad behaviour, or even deduct money from your account.

You can also use it in a variety of other ways..

  • Improve your golf swing
  • Avoid nail biting
  • Avoid stepping into McDonalds
  • .. and so on. Read the IndiGoGo page for more information

Pavlok can also cause other things too – it can post to your Facebook page, beep loudly, or function as an emergency device to rescue you from frozen planets when you say “Beam me up, Scotty”.

(ok I admit, the latter was my feature request to the product owner)

pavlok monitors you to improve productivity

You got that idea. Pavlok is a lethal combination of responsibility and accountability infused in you, with the fear of pain, embarrassment, and financial loss.

Take my money already.

 

But no matter how powerful, Pavlok may not make you popular as the below video did for CEO Maneesh Sethi.

 

Boost your productivity by postponing web reads

Internet is good, and bad at the same time.

There is so much to read for any topic of interest that you will hardly notice team while doing it. Although good for knowledge acquisition, that is bad for productivity.

You take up any work, search for some related solutions that lead to other topics, and suddenly 6 hours will be gone in browsing the web. You will be left bewildered at the power of the “content chaining”.

I find “read me later” apps invaluable to exercise self control – without the fear of “missing out on what is happening”. I can simply bookmark things, and go back to them at a fixed time. Batching what to read also makes me a quick reader, and an effective isolator of good from the bad.

As you would know by now – there are a zillion bookmarking apps out there – excellent, good, and not go good. I use pretty simple guidelines to segregate what I want to use –

  • Get work done in minimum number of clicks
  • Really nice interface that works without glitches
  • Application runs fast
  • Support for multiple devices – for me this would mean Chrome/Firefox on desktop (preferably an extension), directly on the web without need of any extensions, and Android

 

Pocket

Pocket has been one of my go to apps for “read me later” use, and for general bookmarking after Diigo became too high-handed for my use.

Pocket is supported on web browser (Chrome extension has saved my life a couple of times), on the website, or on your mobile device.

using pocket in Chrome browser

 

The biggest benefit of Pocket for me is the ability to tag  as I bookmark. That keeps my bookmarks well organized, and easy to locate.

pocket organize bookmarks increase productivity with read later

 

 

You can view your bookmarks as a grid/list, instantly search for tags, add/modify tags, or add new bookmarks on the Pocket website.

Pocket has been on the forefront to support most devices, operating systems and platforms out there. And, I don’t mind that at all. I can easily use the same Pocket at my home, while travelling, and while at work.

Pocket is free. You can bookmark as many links, use it in as many devices, and not pay a single dime.

For $4.99 per month you can get the premium version of Pocket. Premium lets you enjoy better search (search anything not the tags alone), save the copy of web page/image rather than storing a bookmark alone, and you get tags suggested by other users automatically tagged at the time of bookmarking pages.

 

Instapaper

If you always looked at all the “who’s who” out there praising Instapaper but could not afford the $3, here’s some good news – Instapaper is now free for Android.

Instapaper can also be used on Android, using a browser extension, on your phone, or simply on the website. The app looks cool, is fast, and simply to use.

The bookmarking experience is slightly different though. You cannot pretty much do anything apart from clicking a button to bookmark. This has made me push Instapaper to the second spot.

using Instapaper in Chrome browser

Instapaper website looks good, is functional, and get the job done.

instapaper bookmarking read me later

There are three noticeable differences in Instapaper as compared to Pocket apart from the bookmarking difference.

  1. Device support: Instapaper lags in device support. But as of today, this is not an issue for me.
  2. Lack of search: There is no search, you should get premium for that.
  3. Instapaper has a highlight feature to err.. highlight things on the web. This is limited to 5 per month in the free version

Along with these, the subscription also gives you website recommendations based on your behaviour.

Premium version costs $2.99 per month.

 

I limited the applications here to 2 since these are the only two that you will ever need! Know of any more bookmarking/referencing tools that I should be mentioning here?

Price of Presenteeism

Absenteeism costs the company. You don’t turn up at work – you deprive your company of a few bucks that day.

Did you also know that you can also cause loss to the company by being present?

I am not talking about the managers, executives and no-gooders who are part of any office. I am talking about people who being present may cause more harm than good. The cost of presenteesim is the cost incurred due to forceful attendance of a person who was better left staying away from work.

io9 recently published an article about the cost of presenteeism.

It is interesting to see the cases where a employee is better kept away from work, rather than the other way around.

The outcome recommendation of all this is on expected lines –

  • Be accommodative of human needs, wants and inefficiencies
  • Enable people to work remotely
  • Encourage people to not kill themselves working

Looks all good on paper, but seldom followed by companies.

Why –

  • Organization’s self interest is powerful
  • Managers care more about short term needs more
  • With the best of intent, there are only a few people available to do a given task and the task needs to be done

There are quite a number of professions out there that demand the person to be physically present for work. All those physical jobs that need a no other option but to get the human to the work place. They can of course be kind to that human and respect the need to take off from time to time.

And then, there are jobs that do need your virtual presence. IT is a good example, and I am a live example of what can happen within that environment.

work from home

These kind of remote jobs are despised by anyone and everyone wanting to get some serious work done. No, not be the people doing it, but by the people getting the job done.

There are lot of arguments out there to promote remote working. But, at the end of the day, I have seen face-to-face communications do accelerate the work. This is true especially when there is a need to closely collaborate to resolve the inter-dependencies.

Things easily fall out of control even in this age when Hangouts are common, screen-sharing, and talking to each other is enabled at the click of a button.

But, things do change a bit when the work just involves contribution from a number of individual contributors. It does not really matter where the work gets done from, as long as there are systems to track everything and stitch them together to form the end product.

A good example of either case –

  1. IBM Global Services in India enables work from home, subject to project needs
    Although this is a boon for repetitive work, and for the individual contributors (e.g. architects working on the latest solution), it is not entirely pleasant when you are the project manager of a 30 member development team that works from home.
  2. JetBlue allows its call center employees in-charge for reservations work from home
    Making reservations, and handling inquiries is a repetitive job that can be carried out over and over again. Why would you need someone to be at office, when they can be spending for their own telephone, seat, computer and power?

Whether the company allows remote working, or otherwise, one of the humane things they could do is to allow enough leeway for a person to take time off for whatever the reasons.

What is your take?

3 wonderful free programs to take notes

Note taking is not really new. It has existed for as far as mankind existed, but the poor sods earlier relied on stone tablets, cave walls and other such platforms.

As we progressed in technology we have now graduated to written content on paper, and on phones, desktops and tablets of a different kind. The principle however, remains the same.

You want something to note down your thoughts – may it be hand-written or typed-in notes, clippings, images, and more.

It is essential in today’s world that you will be able to see and edit these notes across devices and platforms. If you can share the notes with others, or collaborate on those shared notes it is all the better.

Today, I present you 3 of my favourite note-taking applications.

 

1. KeyNote NF

I discovered KeyNote about in 2002. KeyNote was a nice introduction for note taking applications on Windows, and I used it to keep track of my learning progress in new programming languages, maintaining bits and pieces of code, and even to track things to-do 10 years down the line (that included writing this post).

keynote nf note taking applications

KeyNote NF (NF stands for new features) is a contemporary version of the older KeyNote. It was created after the original author abandoned the project, but kindly allowed development to carry on.

KeyNote NF differentiates itself on multiple grounds. First, is the fact that it is a high quality application that is available completely free of cost (and is Open Source), without any limitations, and free of any expectations from you.

KeyNote displays a well-laid out hierarchy of notes, and you can use any kind of hierarchy to display notes, related notes to the n-th degree. This enables you to visualise related notes and group them together.

Since KeyNote uses rich text boxes, you can easily add images, web clips, and so forth to make notes more visual.

keynote nf note taking apps for windows

If you have been using Windows, you will be completely at home with KeyNote NF. It is a stable, simple program that can run in portable mode and store all your notes without fuss.

Though KeyNote NF remains my favourite note taking program, I don’t use it as much as I used to..

  • My device ecosystem spans 4 devices across 3 operating systems. KeyNote NF has stubbornly remained loyal to Windows.
  • Sharing notes is not easy. Though you can use DropBox for storing backups, KeyNote NF uses its own format which does not have any programs that support its format (files with .knt extension).

 

[su_button url=”https://code.google.com/p/keynote-nf/downloads/list” target=”blank” size=”6″ icon=”icon: download”]Download KeyNote NF[/su_button]

 

2. ResophNotes

If you are looking at simple note taking, ResophNotes is the program for you.

simple free Notetaking apps ResophNotes

 

With ResophNotes you cannot add images, cannot create hierarchies (in the true sense), and cannot run the program in any operating system other than Windows. Where it scores is the sheer simplicity of taking notes, and in creating notes that can be shared across platforms. You can tag notes, and see all organized notes in a left pane, while seeing the details in the main window. There are tonnes of shortcuts that make it easier for folks who swear by their keyboard.

ResophNotes also enables you to sync notes with Simplenote. Simplenote app is available both for iOS, Android, and Kindle, and is considered as a good program to keep track of notes on these platforms. By synchronizing notes, you get the power of ResophNotes in desktop, while retaining the power to view/edit notes on mobile devices.

ResophNotes has been featured on LifeHacker [best syncing note-taker for Windows], and AddictiveTips.

 

[su_button url=”http://resoph.com/ResophNotes/” target=”blank” size=”6″ icon=”icon: download”]Download ResophNotes[/su_button]

 

3. Microsoft OneNote

No need to panic. Yes, Microsoft makes great programs. And yes, they offer many of those for free.

Microsoft OneNote is a great note-taker that allows you to create notes from myriad sources on popular platforms. You can create notes, attach clippings, images, PDF documents, and create beautiful paintings (well, you need to have patience) on OneNote. The number of things that you can do on OneNote is a long list, but it is enough to say it competes with the best note taking applications out there.

The problem that I faced with OneNote was two fold –

  • I did not find it intuitive when I got started. Or, should I say “the program looked and acted different”
  • It was only available at work since I did not really buy into Office products. They were expensive

My outlook changed because of Microsoft Office became cheaper (around here in India at least), we had a Home Use Program that made selecting Office products a no-brainer (and prevented me from becoming a Open Office campaigner elite), and then Microsoft OneNote became free. Yes, OneNote was made available to all mortals across devices completely free of cost since March 2014.

And, it had to do a lot with the fact that I learned to use OneNote more effectively. I absolutely love the fact that it can be used as easily from Android as from my desktop. I have all my notes backed up against my Outlook account, and automatically synchronized across devices.

beautiful note taking applications that sync OneNote

 

[su_button url=”http://www.onenote.com/” target=”blank” size=”6″ icon=”icon: download”]Download OneNote[/su_button]

 

In Conclusion

You have seen 3 programs for note taking on Windows, and are now wondering why I did not cover what many consider the king of note taking software – EverNote. Well, it was simple. The free edition comes with limitations since EverNote follows a freemium model – which implies that it makes sense for the company to put limitations in the free edition, and encourage you to move over to the paid editions. With the free edition you can –

  • create a single note not exceeding 25 MB in size
  • only work with 60 MB of data transfer each month
  • do not have any offline access to notes from Android

Since I am perennially looking to save money, it makes sense to have EverNote enjoy its model while I use other “freer” programs.

What do you think? Know of other great free programs for your note taking? Share with me!

Find out times in all time zones while booking meetings

When you have meetings attendees across time zones, you know how difficult is to adjust time. You can take a safe bet that something will go wrong when there are more than two time zones in the play.

One of the ways you try to get time in different time zones while you are speaking to people is to use some time zone conversion app from the web. But, the time zone websites are focused on ads rather than providing useful information with the least clicks.

The solution is simple if you have two time zones to consider. First take a look at what we can do in Outlook.

 

Know time zones while creating meeting requests in Outlook

You can do this in Outlook at the time of booking the meeting is by using multiple time zones in the calendar. Enable two time zones by following these simple steps –

  1. Right click on Outlook Calendar. Select “Change Time Zone”

  1. In the resultant Outlook options box, check the option to show a second timezone. Name the time zone and set it to the right zone.

After you click “OK”, your Outlook calendar will start showing two time zones as per your selection.

Of course this will not take away the fact that you will still have an issue with the third time zone onwards.

 

Going beyond Outlook

If you are in the group of fortunate souls who don’t use Outlook, you can do the exact same activity to add a secondary time zone in Gmail  as well.

You can also go beyond the mail clients. Although the first page of Google is rubbished with websites that are stuck in the 70s navigation, one website stands out. If you have more than a few time zones to synchronize, head over to World Time Buddy.

One of the advantages I found was to create a bookmark with all the custom time zones saved. There after you can simply access the bookmark to show only the time zones you want to see.

For example: http://www.worldtimebuddy.com/?pl=1&lid=8,30,2643743,21&h=8. You can add assorted time zones, and share the link with lesser mortals who need to stay up at 2:00 am for the next big meeting.

Know of any other good solutions for finding out appropriate meeting time across time zones? Comment!