If you’ve heard Best Friend and I’s story, you know that spreadsheets brought us together. We LOVE anything related to productivity, efficiency, and frugality and are constantly sharing related new’ness with one another. Because so many people ask for our opinions in these areas, we thought we’d get all formal about it in a blog post and share our favorite online tools with y’all.
We agree that gmail for your email client, chrome for your browser, and google maps are no-brainers and thus don’t even make the lists cause they’re above the lists.
In order of “OMG, I would DIE if you took this away from me!” to “OMG, I would die a little bit less but still DIE if you took this away from me!”, here are our Top Nine Can’t Live Without Online Tools.
Sidenote: this was a really good (hard) exercise in paring down; our lists could’ve been fifty-deep.
Side Sidenote: we’re Android with our phones and Mac with our computers. Some of below may only be for those platforms. If that’s true for one you like and you’re iPhone and/or PC, google “PC version of TextExpander” or the like and you should be able to find something compatible.
Side Side Sidenote: there are tons of options for many of these tools. The password manager we like isn’t the only password manager out there. We do a lot of playing around with the various options and eventually settle on ones that are, for us, easy to use, pleasing to the eye, and make economical sense. If you try one of the versions we suggest and it doesn’t sit well with you for whatever reason but you like the idea, we encourage you to google around, e.g. “online password managers.” Lifehacker is a great source for tool-comparison.
UPDATE: so so sadly, Sunrise Calendar was discontinued and by the time you read this, others may have sunseted as well (see what I did there?). For the most uptodate list, head to my FAQ page and check out the “Make Life Easy” list. You can also take my productivity class (if it’s not listed, that usually means it just happened; sign up for my e-list to be alerted to the next one) or my productivity webinar.
A password manager and oh so much more!
At the basic level, Lastpass (LP) keeps all your username and password combinations accessible wherever you are so you never have to remember another password (save for your LP password, of course). LP curbs you from using the same password over and over because you’re scared you won’t remember “@tz*DL%QF5mn92f” and “aJUrU$Ki1^C1Tgc” and “yI*fmes8O6lrx9D” and… who would remember those? No one. With LP, you don’t have to.
You also don’t have to wrack your brain to create new passwords. Site your parameters — how many characters, letters only, at least one symbol, etc — click “Generate Secure Password”, and a ridiculous password will be created.
You can use it to fill in fields like name, address, and credit card info, as well as store other highly-sensitive information that you may randomly need access to (e.g. driver’s license number, tax information, lock combinations, and insurance information).
You can upload images; I love having copies of my driver’s license, birth certificate, and passport available to me should something like a stolen wallet occur, especially when traveling.
Best Friend and I hold dearly that you can share notes; we have access to each other’s credit card info, travel info such as frequent flyer numbers and known-traveler numbers, and medical info such as allergies, medications, and blood types.
Obviously super super important to take tons of security measures with any password manager — make your password ridiculously hard, install a two-factor authenticator, make sure it auto-logs you off after being idle for a short-time, don’t use on public computers.
Free and paid versions. I pay $12 a year. Use this link and get a month of free Premium.
See more on His List.
2. TextExpander @TextExpander
There are words, phrases, and images we use all the time, why spend time typing them over and over?
With TextExpander (TE), turn custom keyboard shortcuts into frequently-used text and pictures. When I type “;tmnc”, I get “Mac & Cheese Productions℠”. “;esret” expands to “Life of Yes℠ Sleepaway Camp >> Pack your bags!”. “;wfe” expands to “https://macncheeseproductions.com/offerings/fear-experiment”. And on and on.
I have hundreds of “snippets” as they’re called in TE. Most of them I’ve memorized over the two years I’ve been using TE but in the case of brainfarts, there’s an easily accessible drop-down list in my toolbar that I can reference. I’ve learned the key is to categorize them and then make all of the ones in a category start the same, e.g. all of my Email Subject Lines start with “;es” where the semi-colon keeps words from expanding incorrectly — if I want the word “shower” but have the snippet for my name as “sh”, as I start to type “shower” it’ll expand into “Saya Hillman”; so I start every snippet with “;” (you can choose any non-letter) — and the “es” stands for email subject.
Whether it’s an email address, a comment, directions to your house, a word you misspell all the time, or the web address of your twitter account, TE will dramatically cut down on time spent thinking, searching, and typing.
Free trial. Otherwise $44.95.
3. Google Drive @Google
It’s Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint)+, in the cloud, thus accessible anywhere.
Besides normal individual document, spreadsheet, and presentation creation, the collaborative tools are awesome, making sharing and editing with others a snap.
I use Google Forms personally and professionally, from asking people to RSVP for a party to ordering t-shirts to applying to one of my offerings to filling out a survey.
I also love using Google Drive as backup and storage.
See more on His List.
4. Todoist @ToDoist
I’m old school and love handwritten notes. Until the note you need is at home and you’re at a meeting downtown. Until you lose your note and have to recreate it, if you can. Until you have a pile of notes scattered all over your office. Until you get sick of having recurring events that you need to keep adding to your paper note. I finally came around to the beauty of an online To Do List.
It’s always with me. I can easily set up recurring events like “change the air filter every three months” or “send your newsletter every two weeks”. Organization of tasks and subtasks keeps everything neat and easy to find. I love never having to hunt for paper and pen, whether in the office or out and about armed with just my phone. Adding tasks via the desktop and the app takes seconds.
Free and paid versions. I use the free version. $29/year.
See more on His List.
5. Sunrise @Sunrise
Basically what I said for Todoist.
Additionally, I love having multiple calendar options — from the Bears schedule and holidays so I know when to not plan an event to a calendar for car and home-sharing with Best Friend to the street sweeping schedule to a central place for all of my personal and professional events.
When Best Friend and I plan something with one another, we invite each other via Sunrise so that it gets added to both of our calendars simultaneously.
I love the connections with other programs such as Tripit (see Best Friend’s list for more on Tripit) so that all my trips automatically get added to the calendar, including flight numbers, hotel addresses, and rental car confirmation numbers and Eventbrite & Facebook, so that those events show on my main calendar.
The alert feature is also useful where you can set up to be notified four hours, two hours, 1 hour, 30 mins, 5 mins ahead of something in the calendar.
See more on His List.
6. Evernote @Evernote
My digital filing cabinet! I have gone mostly paperless the past few years.
Evernote is where I keep recipes, receipts, recommendations (travel, books, swag bag items), meeting notes, packing lists, brainstorms, copies of things that’d be useful to have if I lost the hard copy but that aren’t sensitive (those I’d keep in Lastpass) like a United Club Pass or an airline voucher.
The Evernote Web Clipper is so useful!, where with one push of the mouse, I can send a webpage I’m on to Evernote, and add organizational tags while I’m at it.
It can be overwhelming figuring out how to best use if for yourself; I’d recommend reading Michael Hyatt’s posts on how he uses Evernote especially how he organizes it. The basic gist is using the robust and powerful tag system to be able to easily find a note.
If you’re able to spend a bit of cash, we love the scanner that seamlessly works to digitize all your documents and photos, Scansnap (watch this video for the amazingness that is Scansnap!). The fact that I can put a bunch of receipts of varying sizes, some 1 sided and some 2 sided, and have them all get scanned and filed in Evernote within seconds makes me tear up.
Free and paid versions. I pay $49.99 a year. If you use this link, you get to try Premium for free.
See more on His List.
7. HelloSign @HelloSign
I actually don’t use this that often as I don’t have to sign too many documents. So the fact that it’s on the list underlines how much I abhor the old school way of signing a document — download, print, sign, scan, upload, send. ICK.
With HelloSign, without ever leaving gmail, I can insert my digital signature, date, and any other pertinent info and send back to the requestor.
It has a sister program, HelloFax, for those of us who are fax-machine’less and don’t want to run out to FedEx for fax-purposes.
Both are free up to a certain number.
8. Canned Responses @Google
As someone who sends the same thing — directions to my place, directions on how to register for something, polite no’s to “Can I pick your brain over coffee?”, polite no’s to people’s I don’t know Friend Requests, heck yeah! selection notices to one of my offerings — over and over, this Google Lab that you can enable in Gmail is a sanity-saver.
It allows you to save an email as a canned response and use it over and over again without needing to copy and paste into a new window. If someone asks me for my address and how to find me, instead of typing all those details out and instead of having to go copy and paste the details from outside of gmail, I can insert the information without ever leaving gmail.
9. Slack @SlackHQ
Anything that lessens the amount of email I get is hug-worthy!
Best Friend and I now use Slack almost exclusively instead of email both personally and professionally when communicating with one another not via text or voice, e.g. Can you fill up the car on your way home? and Did you get Chris’s bio for Idea Potluck next week? It’s team messaging on top of smart app integrations. All of our back and forths in one place, instantly searchable, available wherever we go. Real time messaging, file sharing, supporting one-to-one and group conversations.
There is a movement in offices to get rid of internal email all together and tools like Slack make that not only possible but fun.
Free and paid versions. I use the free one. From $7/year to $32/year. Use this link and get $100 in free credit.
1. Google Drive @Google
If you use documents and spreadsheets in your life, and if you ever do things with other people, then Google Docs and Google Sheets are for you.
You can create and share, you can have multiple people edit simultaneously, you can simply have your documents stored online so that you can access anywhere, any time.
Easy access, easy collaboration, easy sharing.
See more on Her List.
2. Evernote @Evernote
Have you ever forgotten something you wanted to remember? Than you should use Evernote. It’s a better brain than your actual brain.
Make notes, record ideas, organize notebooks for planning projects–an upcoming trip, a new venture, anything. And notes can be handwritten paper, documents, photos, audio, and more.
See something interesting online that you want to remember, or that you might want to reference a few years from now? Use the web clipper to save it to your Evernote. Then, even if that website is no longer around in a few years, you’ll still have it, tagged and organized and fully searchable.
Evernote’s search is robust–it can search handwriting, search within pdfs, search text in a photo you took of a business card. Digitize your entire life and get rid of all your paper documents.
See more on Her List.
3. Lastpass @LastPass
Make and remember one very secure password, and never need to remember another password again.
Lastpass will generate complex, unique passwords for every website/app.
It will review all your passwords and tell you which aren’t secure enough and prompt you to update them.
Nothing is perfectly secure online, but Laspass has increased my security by 1,000,000%.
Use this link and get a month of Premium for free.
See more on Her List.
4. Sunrise (or Google Calendar) @Sunrise @Google
Most people use an online calendar. You get it.
Keep your time organized.
Your calendar is accessible anywhere.
Add the location to events to make directions automatically appear on your phone when it’s time to leave.
Add reminders if you’re not the best rememberer like me.
Invite others to your events and even create shared calendars so that your family/team/friends are all on the same page.
See more on Her List.
5. Feedly @Feedly
A lot of the internet has moved on from RSS feeds, and now get their news/updates from Twitter or some other new shiny web toy. Not me! I love my RSS feeds.
I love having all the content from every website/blog/writer that I read with any regularity delivered to me in one place. It’s organized, and I can get through all those articles/information at warp speed.
6. CamScanner @CamScanner
CamScanner is a phone app. Take a photo of your receipt. CamScanner auto-crops the photo, enhances the contrast to optimize legibility, converts it to a PDF, and then uploads it to Evernote.
I can keep track of business and personal expenses, and I don’t have to hold onto my receipts. It’s especially helpful when traveling.
If you use this link, you get a free month of Premium.
7. Tripit @Tripit
Keeps track of travel itineraries. When you get a travel email–your itinerary from an airline, a booking confirmation from your hotel or AirBnB, your rental car confirmation, etc–you just forward the email to Tripit. Tripit extracts the information and orders all the elements of your trip. You can then just go to Tripit for all the information–dates, times, confirmation numbers–for your trip.
8. Pocket Casts @PocketCasts
I like podcasts. Pocket Casts makes downloading, organizing, and listening to podcasts very easy.
Pocket Casts cost me $4, which is great value for the hundreds of hours of podcasts I’ve listened to with no hassle.
9. Online storage — Google Drive for photos, Google Play Music for music, Dropbox for business docs, Microsoft OneDrive for large video files, and Box for redundant online backup @Dropbox @Google
Online storage/backup of your files is a no-brainer. My choices maximize convenience (and price) for me.
I take photos with my Android phone, and Google Drive gives free unlimited storage for uploaded photos (there is a file size restriction, but it’s definitely high enough for the photos I take with my phone).
Google Play Music allows me to back up all my music online for free (I think I’ve uploaded over 50GB).
For file backup, I split up where I store things based on how much free storage I get with different services. Microsoft OneDrive doesn’t limit how big a file can be, so I store old videos there (which can be several GB each). Dropbox was the first file storage/synchronization service I used, so I have lots of old stuff and professional documents stored there. Then, I once found a promotion for 50GB free storage with Box.com, so I use that as a secondary online backup.
Use this link for Dropbox, get 500MB of bonus space.
Hope our lists are helpful for you! If you end up using any of the tools, let us know. That fuels us to continue sharing and learning, learning and sharing. Also, twitter and instagram handles are included above; if you’re on either platform and you use one of our suggestions, let the company know how you heard about ’em via a share like “Trying and loving @Lastpass thanks to @sayahillman and @goteampete! You should try it too!” Maybe they’ll send us all on a trip to the Four Seasons Maui (who happens to be @FSMAui) for being rockstar users. Life of Yes℠, right?
Onwards and upwards, friends! To efficiency and beyond… How’s that saying go? “The couple that Slacks together, stays together”?!
What’s on YOUR list?
Because I get asked so often about the tools and philosophies I use to manage the various projects and people in my life, I include many of my suggestions on my FAQ page as well as teach a Productivity Class. If you’re interested in learning more about above as well as the ones that didn’t make the cut, my last class of 2015 is coming up in October — join us!
NOTE: some of the links above are referral links which means we may get a perk if you sign up via the link (so, Thank You!)