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Five Free Tools that improve my Productivity and Performance Everyday – Happy in the Now

Five Free Tools that improve my Productivity and Performance Everyday – Happy in the Now

One of the greatest and simplest tools for learning more and growing is doing more – said Washington Irving.  And doing more with less of everything (time and resources) just makes this journey more interesting. Delve into the online world for any area – be it collaboration, time management, social media – and there are so amazing tools available that can help improve your business productivity as an organization or as an individual. After a few trial and error cycles, there are a few tools/apps that I have come to depend on extensively over the last year, after I went solo, which go a long way in helping me save time and organize my work-life better. I have meant to write this post for some time now as a “thank you” to all the smart creators who not only build great products but also give access and support for basic versions in the “freemium” model. I would also love to get your inputs on the tools that you have found useful and cannot do without on a day-to-day basis.

Here are my five favorite desk-top tools that increase my productivity, reduce stress and are fun and easy to use:

Productivity Tool #1: Evernote – this is my virtual notebook, I carry it with me across the four or five devices that I do my work on every day.  I use it just like I would a notebook – to-do lists, meeting minutes, blog ideas, thoughts that need further thought…. I use the web clipper extension to save articles, pdfs, audio while browsing to come back to later. I have created different notebooks in Evernote to organize my data into research, to-dos, posts from my favorite writers (have one for Seth Godin for example). Using Ifttt, I have also created a menu that allows my tweets to be archived into my Evernote through Buffer – sounds complicated but took me 3-4 clicks to get that in place. As Evernote team proclaims, it really does help me remember everything, capture anything, access anywhere and find things fast!

Need more reasons why you need Evernote? Read http://lifehacker.com/5964285/whats-all-the-fuss-about-evernote-why-do-people-use-it?

Productivity Tool #2: Buffer – I am fairly active on Twitter and people ask me where I find the time to tweet all the time there. My secret is Buffer – it allows me to store my tweets and schedule them to be tweeted at different times of the day. So for one hour daily, I browse, read and then buffer my “finds” and thoughts of the day through their Chrome extension and voila – I am all set for the day. I have used buffer over the past year and they have made the product better and better and now offer some nifty analytical stats to help grow my online brand and influence. I remember I had some questions in the beginning (October 2011) and wrote them a mail – and Leo Widrich, the co-founder responded with a detailed explanation within an hour. And they still do that even now – they wowed me through their support and I remain a loyal user and benefit from buffer every day.  They also allow buffering for Facebook, LinkedIn etc and for multiple accounts.

Think Buffer is not for you? Here are some nifty secret hacks and lesser known ways to use Buffer from the team: http://blog.bufferapp.com/top-hidden-buffer-hacks-features-social-sharing?

Productivity Tool #3: Dropbox – I remember the days when you needed ftp to upload and download files to share –  sheer torture. Compare that to what Dropbox offers – it truly is Sharing simplified. Multiple clients, multiple devices, multiple locations, multiple file types – no problem, everything in sync. My files are always available for me (and secure). I have created different folders for clients where I am not on their enterprise network and given them access. A boon for remote workers like me, it helps me to share my work with my customers in a secure way (Dropbox has a great security system). I also use this for my business outsourcing and cloud backup for all my documents in one place – a legal folder, a finance folder, a travel folder and a collaterals folder.

There is a lot that you can do with Dropbox – http://lifehacker.com/5933884/top-10-clever-uses-for-dropbox

Productivity Tool #4: Skype  – At CeBIT, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner revealed that 33% of the world’s voice calls happen on Skype now. Skype is a favorite not just for the money I save for international client calls but for its free screen sharing feature. It allows me to walk through proposals and presentations for my clients, collaborate and work on documents together or hold team review sessions. Group sharing is not free but it is total value for money if you need to work with teams across multiple locations. I can always be available for my clients and team through Skype messaging on all my devices. I also use Microsoft OCS/Lync for screen sharing but have found Skype voice and video quality superior.

More tips on getting the best out of Skype here: http://www.businessproductivity.com/how-to-save-money-using-skype/

Productivity Tool #5: Google Chrome – I am still undecided whether Google is a productivity saver or killer for me. Every time I get into Google, I lose track of time – and sink into the Google ocean. But I don’t dare provoke the Google gods (after all, I owe the growing popularity of this blog to them) so I got to list them here. Google Chrome has changed the way I browse – I find it far more superior to Internet Explorer. The reason I list this as a tool that improves my productivity (apart from the simplicity and speed) is because of its easy sync-ability (I can carry my browser with my customizations across devices), extensions (like Buffer and Evernote) and apps (go search google chrome productivity apps – there are tons and you could fall in love with a couple).

There are lots more that you can do with Google:  10 great Google tools you need in your business workflow – http://www.continu-it.com/google-productivity-tools-small-business/

Bonus Productivity Tool:  Wordpress.com of course – it is that simple and easy that even I could become a blogger.

Anything you can do needs to be done, so pick up the tool of your choice and get started ~ Ben Linder

Have you used these tools? Have you used them any differently? Which desktop tools do you use every day to improve your productivity? I would love to hear back and learn from you

Pic Courtesy : http://www.flickr.com/photos/markop/1441643371/

Be Sensible, Be Kind – Five Things Not to do on Social Media during an Impending Tragedy

Be Sensible, Be Kind – Five Things Not to do on Social Media during an Impending Tragedy

India and the world are holding their breath waiting for the super-cyclone Phailin to hit land. The storm has strengthened at one of the fastest rates ever recorded, going from a tropical storm to a category 4 cyclone in only 24 hours. On Friday (Oct. 11), it became the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane—the strongest on the American scale—with sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph). That official wind speed has tied Phailin with the devastating 1999 Orissa Cyclone which killed more than 10,000 people—currently India’s strongest storm ever. Cyclones in India are the same as hurricanes in the United States — different words for the same thing – as reported by ‏@EricHolthaus Lead Meteorologist & Weather Editor for@weathermob & @qz.

In Twitterverse, #Phailin is trending and I have been following this hashtag since the last two days. I am from Orissa – the state which is expected to bear the brunt of this cyclone. I am at a distance from all of my loved ones back at home and thanks to Social Media can get live updates from people on the ground and the experts. Social media has expanded our worlds allowing us to access firsthand accounts, share worries and express our faith and solidarity in the face of tragedies. Smartphones and platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow us to “be there” while not being there. It becomes important then to be more aware of our roles and words on these platforms – to be responsible world citizens.

As I read through all the tweets and posts (most of it useful), what strikes me and makes me angry is the sheer stupidity and insensitivity of some of the tweets. Tragedies are personal and it could be difficult for some people to “get that” sitting at a distance. We saw this happen during the Tsunami in Japan and other major events since social media became popular. Though this post, I want to spread the word to be kind, be sensible, be sensitive and be responsible in the way we use social media in the face of such events. Since I am more of a twitter user, I take some tweets from the past 48 hours as examples of what not to say or do during an impending crisis:

1)      Rumour Mongering: It is scary enough already, do you really need to add to the stress ?

2)      Callous Humour:  Humour is good, but seriously ? Talk about bad timing

3)      Politicize: Now is not the time to add politics to the mix, definitely.

4)      Heckle and Hate: I hate you, too, thank you. Please stop this nonsense.

5)      Advocacy and One Up-Manship: Yes, we know you have a Cause. But can you please get down from your platform for now ?

To sum it up, if you don’t have something useful to say or share – Don’t. Let’s cut the noise and allow the information to filter though.

My thoughts and prayers with the people on the east coast of India. And gratitude for the administration, army and volunteers braving it on the ground for crisis management. Let’s hope this will indeed turn out to be a zero casualty event and not a tragedy.

Picture courtesy – https://twitter.com/EricHolthaus

Five Takeaways on Blogging from my First Five Posts

Five Takeaways on Blogging from my First Five Posts

Blogging is very new to me. I have done a lot of business writing (large proposals, analytical reports, endless information forms and long emails) but had never actually sat down and written for myself. I got introduced to this whole new world when I became active on Twitter – and with a little bit of push and a whole lot of support from my Twitter Fairies, I plunged in.

I have now written one post a week for five weeks and here are a few things that I have realized :

Takeaway #1 : Writer’s Block is a Myth – Even for someone like me for whom writing does not come naturally, the key is to get started and keep going. Decide a topic close to your heart and let the words flow. As Seth said :

Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better. Write like you talk. Often.

Takeaway #2 : Discipline, Discipline, Discipline – Setting small goals and sticking to them helps. I decided to post once a week come what may. I see a lot of abandoned blogs (with excellent posts) and it makes me sad – enthusiasm needs feeding and discipline is a great way to keep the enthusiasm alive.

Takeaway #3 : Little Rituals set the Mood – Develop your own rituals to get you into the writing zone. I keep aside a favourite diary and a pen gifted by my dad for writing my blog. I write in lists of five to keep me focused. Rituals do help in channeling creative energies and act as triggers for inspiration.

Takeaway #4 : Creating vs Curating Content – Curating content is interesting but creating your own content and seeing it shared and discussed gives a BIG high. If I find something of value I love sharing it, but sharing my own content gives me immense satisfaction – it is so much more fun.

Takeaway #5 : A Blog is another window to the World – This is one of the biggest benefits that I have got from my blog. Through comments and shares, I have met people with common interests and different views. It is a great conversation starter and a pointer to wonderful people and writing that I would not have otherwise stumbled across.  What better way to improve writing than by reading what has been written?

So, what I have realized in my blogging journey so far is simply that much like anything else in life, in writing too – you get what you give. It is best captured in the quote below (I love quotes :)) :

“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.”

— Harlan Ellison 

Please do share your experiences on blogging – what prevents you from starting to write, what inspires you to write, what keeps you going, how has blogging changed your world ?

Five Paths to Personal Growth through Twitter

Five Paths to Personal Growth through Twitter

I don’t run a business. I am not a social media consultant. My day job has nothing to do with Twitter. Nor am I a very social person.

So, why then am I on Twitter?

Reason #1 : EXPLORATION : It all started with the thought that triggers any journey – to do something new, to  add to my experiences and charter a bit of the unknown. There is a veritable trove of treasures in Twitter – so many things to discover and so many people from different parts of the world to meet. Every day, I am amazed with the possibilities uncovered for me.

“Let your mind start a journey through a strange new world. Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before. Let your soul take you where you long to be…Close your eyes let your spirit start to soar, and you’ll live as you’ve never lived before.” ~ Erich Fromm

Reason #2 : PASSIONS : Our Passions are the winds that drive our ships forward in the journey – what is your passion ? Whatever it may be – Twitter can enrich you. Reading and leadership development are two of mine and Twitter fans the flames every day. I have found so many fellow readers that I can share and discuss books with, get the best book recommendations through #Fridayreads and connect with some of my favorite authors. You can get to meet the best thought leaders in the industry through Twitter too – participate in leadership discussions, links to the best blogs(I love Achieved Strategies Blog  by Shawn Murphy and the Catalyst blog by Ted Coine – they have now joined hands at Switch and Shift). Access to wisdom that fuels your passion – all in 140 chars.

Chase down your passion like it’s the last bus of the night.  ~Terri Guillemets

Reason #3 : INSPIRATION :  Twitter is a living source of wisdom, inspiration and motivation. There are many amazing people, quotes that touch you and thoughts that make you reflect. Just tap on to this huge energy and truly see your life and perspectives change. Through the #JustForToday initiative (started by Gary Loper), I have realized that a few words can give a zap to the day much better than caffeine – so much potential for eureka moments.

I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognizably wiser than oneself. ~ Marlene Dietrich

Reason #4 : LEARNING :  There is a world of possibilities out there to enrich yourself-perspectives, blogs and commentaries. So much intelligence and so many mentors to choose from – all the people who you would have loved to meet in your real life, you can through Twitter. Create lists and just latch on to the learning channels.

“That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.” ~Doris Lessing

 Reason #5 : ENGAGEMENT : The conversations that you can have in Twitter through CHATS and replies are incredibly stimulating – exercise your brain cells everyday – and the people you meet can take you to places in your mind that you never dreamed of going.  #kaizenblog (now #KaizenBiz), #cxo, #spiritchat  are a few that I attend regularly to learn, engage and grow.

“We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.” –Jimmy Carter

See what I mean ?

P.S : This is my first Blog post and being the emotional person that I am, I can’t end it without thanking Judy Gombita, Gary Loper, Andrew (Red Type) and Vicki Flaugher. They are my Twitter Fairies – If ever you need a warm helping hand to pull you towards your dreams, just tweet these wonderful people.

If you have just got started on Twitter or are looking to power up your Twitter experience, visit Redge’s  post (@Versalytics) for some awesome Twitter resources.