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10 Online Tools to Boost Productivity and Help Organize Your Life

Whether you’re a procrastinator or you were that guy in college who finished his final project a week before it was due, all of us could be a little more productive sometimes. For me, the Internet can be a crazy time-suck of procrastination, yet most of the work I need to do requires that I be connected to the web. So what’s a girl to do? Luckily, the Internet is also rife with tools to help us organize our lives — whether that means making to-do lists, taking notes, breaking through writer’s block, or filtering out access to websites that we use to procrastinate.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a few online tools worth trying that should help boost your productivity and get you a little more organized:

To-Do Lists

To-Do Lists

Google’s Various Products

Cost: Free.

Google, in its never-ending quest to sneak into all facets of your Internet life, offers a variety of tools that can function as to-do lists. Google Calendar helps you keep track of your appointments and other important dates and also lets you set email reminders. What’s more, you can sync your calendar with others — making it easy to coordinate get-togethers with friends or plan meetings with coworkers. Google Tasks is an app for simple text lists that’s accessible from Gmail, Google Calendar, iGoogle (your personalized Google homepage), and via mobile. And if you prefer just typing up tasks in a Word doc, there’s Google Docs. Your document will be accessible anywhere you have an Internet connection, plus you can invite others to see and edit it.

Remember the Milk

Cost: Free; $25 per year for Pro account (includes mobile access).

Remember the Milk is a fairly comprehensive to-do list app. You can set due dates for your tasks, prioritize them, search them, set reminders for them, and attach them to map locations; they can be organized in list format or by tagging. Once you create your to-do lists, they are accessible from pretty much any platform you can think of — Gmail, Outlook, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and iPad, to name a few. And of course, like any app these days, you can share your tasks with fellow users.

Tjeklist

Cost: Free.

Another to-do list program, Tjeklist offers a clean, straightforward interface. Tasks can be sorted by lists, tags, and date, plus you can color-code items, include notes, and add subtasks. The program is fairly easy to use and doesn’t even require a sign-up if you don’t want to save your list for later. If you do sign up, you just link to an existing account (such as Google or Facebook) instead of creating another username and password.

Note Taking

Note-Taking

Evernote

Cost: Free; $5 per month for Premium account.

Evernote is all about storing notes, ideas, images, audio, and even full web pages all in one place. You can organize these snippets in virtual “notebooks” and further categorize them with tags. Storing entire web pages is possible through Evernote’s browser extensions, which let you keep a virtual snapshot of all the text, images, and links on that page. The Premium version grants extra data storage and offline access to notebooks, among other things.

Diigo

Cost: Free; $20 per year for Basic account; $40 per year for Premium account.

Diigo’s mission is to improve the process of saving bookmarks online. Besides storing all your links in a searchable online account rather than in your browser, Diigo also lets you highlight passages and create sticky notes that appear directly on the web page when you revisit it. You can also extensively tag your bookmarks and sort them into lists, creating a highly useful knowledge base for groups doing research or even just for personal use.

Writer's Block

Writer’s Block

Write or Die

Cost: Free on the web; $10 for desktop version; $9.99 for iPad version.

Whether you’re a writer, blogger, student, or you just need to finish that memo for your boss, we all suffer from writer’s block now and then. Write or Die forces you to quit dawdling and write, doling out consequences if you stop typing. Consequences range from a gentle pop-up reminder to an “unpleasant sound” playing (so far I’ve encountered babies crying, a loud car horn blaring, and Hanson’s “MMMBop”) to the program actually deleting what you’ve written until you start typing again. The purpose of the app is to force you to put words down on paper, so to speak, and override the desire to edit or procrastinate.

Written? Kitten!

Cost: Free.

If positive reinforcement is more your thing, then there’s Written? Kitten!. Write 100 words, get a picture of a kitten! What more do you need?

Time Tracking

Time-Tracking

Rescue Time

Cost: Free; $6 per month for Pro account; $8-$15 per user, per month for Team account.

Rescue Time keeps track of how you spend your time on the computer, whether you’re browsing online or just using a program like Word or Photoshop. Idle too much on Facebook when you should be tackling tasks on your to-do list? Rescue Time will put your computer usage into graphs and charts so you can see just where your time goes. The Pro version gives you even more options, like specifying “focus time,” which blocks you from visiting distracting websites. You can also set alerts that will remind you to get back to work or congratulate you on a job well done. The Team version appeals to businesses and large groups who want to track everyone’s productivity and see trend reports.

These are just a few of the many productivity tools available online. Have you used any before? I’m sure you know of more, or have other tips and tricks to share for staying organized and productive. Don’t be shy — leave your suggestions in the comments!

Image credit to Sharon Drummund.


Rachel Hamsmith

When not writing for the blog, Rachel is a data entry specialist at QLP. She spends most of her free time consuming a variety of geeky TV shows, movies, and books, as well as funny cat videos and other Internet oddities. Otherwise, she moonlights as an editor for a literary magazine and tries to spend as much quality time as she can with friends and family. You can also connect with Rachel on Google+.

Comments

  1. Candice J.

    I like Written? Kitten! The best! Probably because i’m not an avid writer but who doesn’t love a picture of a cute kitten! Kitties, puppies, and babies always makes a person smile! Great tools Rachel!

    • Rachel

      I agree, kitties make everything better! It’s too bad the program doesn’t give you a REAL kitty after writing 100 words … but I guess I can dream. ;)

      • Katherine

        I’d say I feel the same…but I have enough kitties already! :P

  2. Jeff Porretto

    Rescue Time??? More like shame and guilt you into getting stuff done! I already feel enough shame and guilt naturally, none extra need apply.

    This is some COOL stuff though! I’m going to have to try the task list thingys. But I can’t let my wife know, otherwise I could end up with a ridiculous “Honeydo” list!

    Nice post Rachel!

    • Rachel

      Yeah, I’m afraid to try Rescue Time, honestly, because I’d really rather not know how much of my time at home is totally wasted, haha. Kind of like counting calories — I know I eat too much of the bad stuff, I don’t need numbers to rub it in! :P That being said, I’ve heard lots of good things about Rescue Time, which is why I recommended it. Definitely a useful tool if you’re looking for that sort of thing.

      Glad you liked the post, Jeff! :)

  3. amy

    By far my favorite suggestion was the “Written? Kitten!” one, Rachel. I wrote a 100 words to see if it would be worth it, and it totally was! That’ll make writing product descriptions a lot more fun :)

    I’m leery of using Google too much, since they seem to walking a very thin line of helpful and creepy in my daily life. However, it’s always good to have other ideas out there. Awesome post, Rachel! Thanks!!

    • Rachel

      Glad you liked the kitten one! It’s the best. :D And I agree, Google does walk a thin line — but it’s already taken over my life, so I just embrace it, haha. I keep Gmail open pretty much constantly when I’m at home, so Tasks and Calendar are especially helpful to me because I’ll get the email reminders as soon as they’re sent and see (or willfully ignore, haha) the to-do list whenever I check my mail. But it’s all about what works best for you, of course — no point in using the Google stuff if you’re not a Google fan! Hence the alternatives. :)

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    Great round up of tools, Rachel! I tried to use Write or Die once, but it proved to be too stressful when they started deleting my words. Though I’m sure that’s a great motivator for other people.

    Also, Written? Kitten! is a lie! :( I used it and it never showed me a picture of a kitten. There’s a flaw in their design, if they want to motivate me to write, they shouldn’t interrupting my groove to approve the kitty pictures. (That rant aside, I’ve been assured that it does, in fact, work. Just make sure that you don’t ignore the permission on the side of the screen, or you’ll be out an adorable kitten picture.)

    • Rachel

      Write or Die is very stressful! A lot of people respond well to that pressure, hence its inclusion on my list, but I prefer the positive reinforcement of kitties. :) Luckily Write or Die does give you the option of choosing which level of consequences you want, so you can go for a pop-up reminder or for an annoying sound instead of the deletion of words. But yeah, seeing my work get deleted because I stopped to think is so terrifying! I feel ya there.

      Yup, you’ve got to X out of that little blurb that comes up on the screen, because if you don’t the kitty won’t appear! A small but important thing to remember. :) I hope you get to see a kitty next time you try it!

  5. Jenna Markowski

    These are all really useful tools, Rachel! The Written? Kitten one is my favorite. I will most likely be using it for ALL of my papers for school from now on. Because let’s face it, KITTENS RULE. Although, it might be more of an annoyance than a help to have to copy and paste words from that site into a word document. Who knows — I’ll experiment tonight and let you know how it goes! :)

    I really need to start looking into some of those to-do list sites, and EverNote sounds AWESOME. Excellent post!

    • Rachel

      Kitties make everything better! According to a note that pops up on the Written Kitten screen, some browsers do support local storage, meaning that if you closed the tab you’d still be able to recover your work. But yes, copy and pasting into Word is the only way to REALLY save it. That’s the price you pay for pictures of cats … ;)

      EverNote is pretty cool! I’ve used it sporadically for a few years, and I do like that I can jot down a note or copy and paste something interesting I see all in one central place. The to-do lists are great, too. Tjeklist is especially awesome if you don’t have the time or energy to sign up for a new account or learn a new interface; it’s very simple and useful. Hope you find something that works for you!

  6. Kyle

    I haven’t used many of these, but I can say from personal experience that Evernote is beyond helpful! I also like Google Calendar because I can make changes to my schedule from any computer or my phone and it will stay synced.

    Thanks for the great list, Rachel. I’m gonna definitely check these out when I have the chance!

    • Rachel

      Totally agreed on Evernote and Google Calendar! I use both and have had great success with each of them. And you’re welcome for the list! I hope you find some tools that are useful to you. :)

  7. Alex Brodsky

    I love the idea of the “Write or Die!” I’m definitely going to try that one out. I don’t think there’s anything more annoying than pop-ups! Although, the “MMMBop” pop-up might do just as much to cost me time as I would surely be singing and dancing along!

    • Rachel

      The audio consequences, such as “MMMBop,” aren’t popups, actually, but that kind of makes them more annoying because the only way to make the noise go away is to keep writing or to exit the page completely. Definitely a motivator! Unless you sing and dance to the song, yes, haha. ;)

  8. Joseph Giorgi

    Nice rundown, Rachel! Truthfully, I’ve never heard of ANY of these tools — save for the ones by Google, of course. But they all seem useful in their own ways. I’d probably get the most use out of Google Calendar, so maybe I’ll look into that one. :)

    • Rachel

      Google Calendar is great! The email reminders are especially helpful from a productivity standpoint; I have a couple recurring events that I get email reminders for that I would forget about otherwise. I hope you find some other good stuff from this list, too! :)

  9. Jaimie Smith

    These were all some great ideas, Rachel! I wish I knew of these back when I was going to school and could use a little encouragement. I feel as though the Write or Die method would drive me ablsoultely crazy, but I am assuming that is the point so that you can do your best to avoid the annoying pop-ups!

    • Rachel

      Yeah, there were a couple of these that I really wish I had known about in school, too! I did use a bookmarking tool kind of like Diigo while I was in college, called Delicious. It was an absolute godsend when I was doing research for papers, because whether I was using a computer at the library or in my dorm or at home, I still had access to all my bookmarked sources, complete with notes, tags, etc. I can’t recommend Delicious now that it’s gone through a major redesign that’s reduced most of its usability for me, but Diigo is a very strong alternative, which is why I listed it here. In fact, I may start using Diigo now that I know more about it. :)

      Write or Die drives me crazy too, but you’re right, it’s totally the point, haha! That kind of motivation works for a lot of people, but I think I’ll stick to Written Kitten, personally. :)

  10. Jen

    Rescue Time sounds awesome and terrifying at the same time. I don’t think I spend too much time on FB, but in actuality I’m sure I do. It’s like time doesn’t exist when I’m creeping on someones vacation or wedding pictures.

    Cool list Rachel! I’m going to check some of these apps out for sure.

    • Rachel

      Totally agreed on Rescue Time! I’m very tempted to use it, but as I was saying to Jeff in an earlier comment, I’m not sure I REALLY want to know how much time I waste at home. And that’s so true about time flying by while creeping on other people’s Facebook profiles, haha. :D

  11. How Do You Stay Productive in a Noisy Office?

    [...] your work environment is loud and distracting? Do you use sound-proof headphones? Or do you rely on online tools for time management and organization? Do you take a break to meditate or walk around the block to clear your head?Sound [...]

  12. Sarah

    Write or Die SOUNDS good, but don’t do it! I tried it, and you know that thing that laptops sometimes do while you’re writing–how it suddenly highlights a whole paragraph and with your next keystroke, eliminates it all, before it even registers in your brain that it’s happening?

    Yeah, when that happens in Write or Die, you’re screwed, because it’s just a notepad. There is no “undo” button. So all that work that just disappeared is gone forever. Learned that the hard way.

    Just….no.

    If someone comes up with an alternative that works in conjunction with Word, I would love to use it…I’ll pay good money for it. But a notepad with no “undo” button? Um…no thanks.

  13. Pre Wedding

    My coder is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP.
    I have always disliked the idea because of the expenses.
    But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type on several websites for about a year
    and am anxious about switching to another platform.

    I have heard very good things about blogengine.net.

    Is there a way I can transfer all my wordpress posts into it?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  14. Jimmy Wills

    Great rundown, Rachel! For you I have one more tool i.e Proofhub. More info at http://www.proofhub.com

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