Last month before I went on vacation, I wrote a post about spring cleaning your workspace by making it more ergonomic and organized. That post was all about the physical clutter, and in my promised followup, I’ll now go over some strategies for spring cleaning the virtual parts of your workspace.
Physical spring cleaning is in some ways the most straightforward, but more labor intensive as it usually involves hauling out things you no longer need and, unless you’re a DIY superstar, investing money into alternatives. My own spring cleaning experience set me back around $400 after I invested in all of the tools to improve my desk ergonomics and organization of physical items. It also took a solid week of sorting, donating, and putting together all of the components of my improved workspace.
When it came to organizing the virtual contents of my workspace, this was a much faster and cheaper process, costing just a day or two in research and trial and error, and less than $50 subscription services I chose to pay for. Today, I’ll go over some of those tactics in this blog post.
1. Email organization with Todoist.
If you’re someone who loves to use email inboxes as to-do lists, this is a tool you’ll fall in love with. One of the big challenges with using email as a to-do list is that most email programs such as Gmail are not very effective at reminding you about deadlines. Also, when an email has several strings of communications, digging around for one piece of information can be stressful. One of the best solutions is in a free little add-on app called Todoist.
A sleek, simple task manager, Todoist is incredibly intuitive, and its layout is similar to that of your email (check out the screenshots below). One of its biggest strengths is turning your email into an actual to-do list with the ability to set deadlines with reminder notifications, assign tasks to other people, add notes to emails, and set recurring tasks (ie. I set reminders in Todoist to write this weekly blog). It also does a nice job of tracking your productivity and helping you visualize your overall progress using Todoist Karma.
Perhaps the best parts of Todoist?
- It’s FREE (with an optional annual fee to go premium, but totally functional if you don’t).
- It can be accessed and used via a mobile app, desktop computer app, website, and an extension of Gmail. I have Todoist downloaded across all mediums, and it syncs quickly and perfectly whenever changes are made.
2. Event organization with Sunrise Calendar.
Another vital part of keeping yourself organized is using an online calendar. Many people love to use Google Calendar for its convenient ties to Gmail, but there are some flaws with this app, namely in terms of its lack of visual appeal. For those looking for Google Calendar on steroids, Sunrise Calendar is a great alternative.
Also a free service, Sunrise Calendar has been praised for being both gorgeous and smooth in terms of its user interface. The desktop and website version are big and clean with color-coded events, and the mobile app version does a great job of bringing all current events to the front for easy reference. Even better, Sunrise is constantly being updated to tie with other apps such as Google Calendar, Todoist, Evernote, Trello, and even Facebook, so it will automatically sync and pull in calendar items you insert via these other services if you use them. So even though you might input a date into Google Calendar for convenience from my computer, you can still see it if you reference Sunrise Calendar on your phone.
3. Keep track of productivity with Toggl.
How much time do you spend working on one task over another throughout your day? Instead of doing estimations or having to use an old school method like a timer and spreadsheet, check out a simple, free tool called Toggl. It’s quickly become one of my favorite apps and ways to make sure I’m using all parts of my day effectively. Using it simply requires pressing a start and stop button to run the timer, or you can input past hours if you forget to activate the timer. Basically, it takes some discipline to develop this habit, but the payoff is in the beautiful summary reports that will give you a clean, pretty snapshot of your productivity.
Bonus: Since the Toggl timer is visible in your Internet browser tab, it’s also a great tool to remind yourself to break up your workday into chunks and take a quick standing break every 20 minutes or so.
4. Automate mileage recording with MileIQ.
Curious about how many miles you drive on a regular basis? Or perhaps you need to track your mileage for business expense reporting purposes? Either way, the historical way of doing this was a huge pan, involving super manual processes. However, thanks to smartphone technology, even mileage tracking has become an automated process. I recently stumbled upon one such app, MileIQ, and it’s been saving me loads of time when I’m trying to reconcile my the miles I drive for business purposes. Using it is incredibly simple: just download the app to your smartphone, create an account, and let it go! Assuming you have a smartphone that it is compatible with, the app will automatically sense when you’re in a moving vehicle and track and record that distance. All you’ll need to do is sign in every once and a while to classify each drive. Best of all, MileIQ is free (for 40 drives a month), with a fee of $50/year for unlimited drive tracking.
You’re probably wondering about two things: accuracy, and the drain on your phone battery. In terms of accuracy, it’s actually quite spot on. Every once and a while, it will forget to record a drive (if that happens, it’s easy to go in an manually adjust or input a drive), but on the whole it’s accurate. When it comes to taking a toll on your phone, it does hog quite a bit of my phone’s battery, but not to the point where it is unusable.
That’s it! Four extremely handy apps and tools that have helped organize my professional and personal life, making it much more manageable. Do you have any apps or tricks that help boost your productivity? Let me know in the comments below!