Free applications that have made my life better
I recently became acquainted with the blog 43 folders and the concept of life hacking. At its core, life hacking means finding elegant time- and effort-saving solutions to make the grind of existence a little more easy and the product of said grind a little more bountiful. In researching some of the ways that I can use these techniques to be more productive, I have found several excellent programs which are completely free and have made my life easier. Not all of them are life-hacky, but they’ve all had the cumulative effect of cranking up the amount of use that I get out of my computer time.
PhraseExpress – This program can, with time, become a real time saver. It automatically corrects common (very common only, at this point) spelling, capitalization and punctuation errors, allows you to open programs and websites by typing in commands (say, for example, *goog will open up google), allows you to set up keystroke macros to save immense amounts of time, and is fully and simply programmable. For example, when I turn on my computer I type *go and WordPress, Gmail and Google Reader all pop up in Firefox.
Google Calendar – Google Calendar is the linchpin in my new productivity push. Using Google Calendar, you can make separate calendars for every aspect of your life (e.g. your school schedule, work appointments, personal commitments), toggle them on and off, get email notifications and reminders, notify and invite other people to events by email, share calendars and collaborate on them with others. It’s simple, easy to use, and integrated into Gmail. If you have a Gmail account you can up your organization a lot simply by using Google Cal.
Google Notes – I use Google Notes as a Firefox plug-in. When I need it I click ‘Open Notebook’ in the bottom right corner of Firefox and the little notebook box comes up. When I come across something interesting or useful I can choose a notebook, highlight the interesting passage and either drag it into the notebook or click ‘clip’. I find it helpful to add a tag or two to each note and that way at the end of an hour on the internet I actually have something to show for it. As with Google Calendar you can make notebooks a collaborative effort. Say, for example, you’re working on a group project. Each member of the group could be sending their notes to the same notebook. After you’ve finished taking notes you can export the notes to Google Documents and beyond.
OpenOffice – A full office suite comparable to Microsoft Office in scale. When I bought my last computer I agonized over the decision to pay an extra $79 for Microsoft Office, weighing the pros and cons of Google Documents and Microsoft Works before hearing about OpenOffice. Now that I’ve finally gotten OpenOffice and had a chance to play around in it, I know I made a wise choice. It has all the functions of Office that I use most (Word and Excel in particular) plus it can make pdf files.
DownThemAll – This one I actually stumbled upon in my quest to get OpenOffice. OpenOffice for XP is a 107MB file and so I had serious difficulties downloading it with Firefox’s built-in download manager, so I searched about for a download manager that would allow me to pause and resume downloads. I tried several (FlashGet and Reget and found them both too intrusive (open up in their own separate little program) and difficult to use (i.e. I couldn’t get them to work). DTA is seamlessly integrated into Firefox, the only indication of its existence being a green arrow appearing in the folder icon for my download folder. Plus DTA opens in another Firefox window, reducing unnecessary clutter and downloads files at extra high speed by downloading them in cup to ten clusters. Also, it has a rather funky looking and appropriately titled function called DownThemAll which I may be rather too dense to use, but appears to download entire websites.