My Productivity Tools and Apps [Part 1]

Tim Brister —  April 5, 2013 — 14 Comments

Recently, I asked folks in my social networks about their favorite productivity tools and apps. Instead of mentioning mine, I decided to go with this post, which I’ve been meaning to write for some time. I do not consider myself a productivity expert, but I do like working hard and smart at the same time.

So how do I get things done? Here are my primary productivity tools and apps, meaning I use these on a daily basis. Note: there are others I’m exploring, and this list is likely to will change in the future. However, here’s the list as it stands at this moment.

Tools & Apps I Use on a Daily Basis

Dropbox - BlogDropbox – I started using Dropbox several years ago and have loved the ability to share files with dozens of people. I have used it in various ways, from working with teams, to sharing images from mission trips, to providing public folders for folks interested in my research and writing. Most recently, I decided to make Dropbox my primary file storage and management center, meaning I now save very little (if anything) on my laptop anymore. By saving everything to my Dropbox, I can access the files from my iPad and iPhone at any time. Lastly, I use Dropbox to back up photos from my D-SLR as well as iPhone, providing a centralized storage place for all my images.

basecamp - blogBasecamp – The majority of my work is decentralized, so collaboration is key. The best collaboration tool I’ve used is Basecamp, which allows me to manage 10 projects at a time (I currently manage six). I get a daily briefing on all activity, and Basecamp centralizes discussion threads, task lists (with delegation assignments and deadlines), file uploading, and project scheduling. I’ve used Basecamp for everything including launching a website to planning conferences to starting group blogs to organizing mission trips. AND, most recently, Basecamp launched their own iOS app, bringing all this collaboration goodness to the iPhone and iPad.

MILES ADVISORY GROUP, INC. EAHELP LOGOEAHelp – I have the privilege of having a “virtual assistant” working alongside me for almost a year. I lead two startups and serve as a pastor of a local church. Last year, I realized the work that only I could do, I didn’t have time to do, and the work I was doing, I could train someone else to do it. I took Michael Hyatt’s advice and got a virtual assistant. Colleen is a phenomenal help. She does everything from managing email, scheduling appointments, planning trips, assisting in research, following up with correspondence, processing documents, moderating comments on blogs, building social media accounts, etc. To say that she’s been a huge help would be an understatement. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of EAHelp and virtual assistants.

iThoughtsHD - BlogiThoughtsHD – I don’t know if it is because I’m a visual guy, or that my brain needs an outlet, but mind mapping has been perhaps the greatest creative outlet I’ve experienced. If I can’t have a 8 foot whiteboard with me everywhere I go, the next best thing is to have a mind map app, and the best app by far is iThoughtsHD. Very easy to use and quite powerful, I usually end up mindmapping some facet of ministry or mission on a daily basis. The maps can be converted and shared in numerous ways, including Dropbox, email, and social networks. I use iThoughtsHD for sermon construction, task management, project development, and a host of other ways. It is where inspiration meets perspiration and vision moves from 30,000 feet to my hands and feet.

Textedit - BlogTextEdit – I know this may be a surprise to some, but I use TextEdit all the time, if not more than Word or Pages. This is because I need a clean, lightweight tool for taking down quick notes, making lists, and keeping up with information more than a post-it note but less than a detailed document. Moreover, I use TextEdit for plain-text editing which is critical for populating content online. We have all seen online content jacked up due to proprietary code incompatible with other platforms. Having a plain-text editor is essential for online content, and because I’m a Mac user, I go with TextEdit.

iAnnotatePDF - BlogiAnnotatePDF – This is another iOS app that I love. Since I’ve gone virtually paperless, I need a way to mark up documents, and iAnnotatePDF is a great tool to do that. I am capable of highlighting, underlinging, writing over, making captions, inserting typed text, and about anything you want to a document with this app. I especially like the ability to sign digital documents with a stylus and send via email. What used to take several steps I can do in a matter of a few minutes. iAnnotatePDF also syncs with Dropbox, allowing you to access all files there and allows you to edit other formats (Word docs, Pages, etc.), not just PDF’s. Bottom line: if you need/want to mark up digital documents, this is the app to use.

Feedly2 - BlogFeedly – Because Google Reader is shutting down, I had to make a switch for my RSS aggregator, and based on online consensus, I went with Feedly. I am relatively new to Feedly, but I have customized my categories to get the news and blogs I need with efficiency. You can spend hours browsing the Internet and burn a lot of time, or you can target your reading and get the sites to feed to you. Feedly is a clean, customizable RSS reader that meets all my needs for aggregation and works nicely across all my iOS devices.

Fantastical - BlogFantastical – This is a little misleading, because I really use Google Calendar as my primary scheduling manager, but since I’m on the go so much, I really need my calendar management to be on my phone. Fantastical is the calendar app that iCal should have been. It’s great, and I have six calendars synced into it with ease. I can view appointments or activities in various formats (day, week, month) and stay up-to-date with future plans as well. I do use iCal and Google Calendar, but these calendars really feed into Fantastical in, well, a fantastic way.

Photoshop - BlogPhotoshop – I am not a PS whiz. In fact, I would venture to say I probably can do less than 10% of what Photoshop is capable of doing. However, I do love photography, and I do need the capability of editing images quickly for upload on the Internet, especially for my blogs. I have other photography tools for editing images, but at the end of the day, Photoshop is the way to go. By the way, there is a Photoshop version for iOS and Android devicies as well.

ESVBibleOnline - BlogESV Bible Online – I know, I know. Why am I not giving props to Accordance or Logos Bible Programs? What I am about to say here is more about me than the Bible programs, but I am rather simple and need a simple tool to access Scripture online, do basic searches (concordance style), and past texts into documents and sermon manuscripts. The ESV Online Bible recently announced a major upgrade, and the developers are actively working to make it better. I bought the Greek/Hebrew add-on, as well as the Study Bible notes, which has been a nice feature. Again, I’m simple here, and as much as I would like to be more proficient in high-powered Bible programs, ESV Online Bible does it for me.

Evernote2 - BlogEvernote – I jumped onto the Evernote bandwagon three years ago, but I never really integrated it into my workflow until recently. I, along with my assistant, are working through a lengthy Evernote Essentials e-book that is proving to be a great help to integrating Evernote deeply into my productivity habits. And given that it works across all platforms, that almost every app is somehow connected to it, and that I am dedicated to working paperless, Evernote is a no brainer (even though I have neglected it for so long). Seriously, if you want quick access to your notes and be able to integrate your work on other apps to a central hub, then Evernote is the base station for digital productivity.

GoogleHangoutsLogo2 - BlogGoogle Hangout – Over the past year, I have gone through a myriad of video conferencing options, including GoToMeeting, Facetime, Skype, TinyChat, ooVoo, and Google Hangout. I have landed on Google Hangout because it seems to be reliable and stable (a must for video chats), and it has several features I really like, including the integration of screen sharing, Google Drive, and embedding video chats on YouTube. When I’m mobile, I still use Skype, but given that I use Google apps so much (chat, GMail, Drive, calendar, etc.), Google Hangout has become my default video conference, and a nice compliment to my online communication strategy with regards to micro communication and group collaboration.

Kindle - BlogKindle – I have a Kindle but don’t really use it anymore. Instead, I’ve opted for the Kindle App for the iPad. Since I’m already using the iPad for just about every other aspect of my workflow, I figured it made sense. Over the past two years, I’ve moved 80% of my reading to the Kindle, and the nice thing about it is I can share important excerpts of what I’m reading with those on my social networks as well as those who are following my Kindle feed. With all the great deals going on for e-books these days, it is crazy not to get the Kindle app for your iPad. Whether it is devotional reading, personal development, or reading for ministry purposes, the Kindle app has been a great asset for productive self-feeding.

So there’s my daily apps. If I can summarize them by their primary purpose it would look like this:

Dropbox: File Management/Storage
Basecamp: Online Collaboration & Project Management
EAHelp: Administrative Assistance
iThoughtsHD: Process Development
TextEdit: Note Taking & Plain Text Editor
iAnnotatePDF: Digital File Markup & Signing
Feedly: Site Aggregation & Curation/Bookmarking
Fantastical: Centralized Mobile Calendaring
Photoshop: Photo Editing
ESV Online Bible: Bible Reference
Evernote: Digital Hub & Centralized Note Clipping
Google Hangout: Video Conferencing
Kindle: Book Reading

In a follow up post, I will post another dozen additional tools/apps that I use on a regular basis, but not daily or in a primary manner.

What does your list look like? Are there apps or tools I’m not utilizing that you think would be helpful in my workflow on a regular basis? Do share!

Other Related Articles to Check Out:

» Developing a Communication Strategy Online and Offline
» Mind Mapping and Sermon Development
» Sentence Diagramming with iAnnotatePDF

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  • Chris Bonts

    If you are going to go paperless, you need a way to track expenses, mileage, and keep receipts organized. I use XpenseTrkr. Allows you to photo receipts, use OCR, it even remembers your travels and automatically calculates mileage as you enter trips into a log. It also generates and emails customized expense reports when you need it to do so.

  • Stephen Newell

    I’ve been looking forward to this series. Maybe as a suggestion for a future post in this series, you could highlight apps/strategies geared towards someone like me who is new to the whole “productivity” thing. I freely admit to being a smidgen overwhelmed being “the man” right now! 😉

  • I use dropbox as well. I shared this with my wife who is a CEF ministry coordinator. She shares records with a dozen or so team leaders and was driving around to help them use the tools. With dropbox she has each of them get an account where they share the folders with the files on it and she can access their files whether at the office or at home without driving around the counties. Also she has their reports automatically updated in her pc without waiting for them to send them to her.

    I’m not that familiar with Photoshop. What I do use is free and does much of what Photoshop does: There are also several plugins to check if it doesn’t do something you need it to. Gimp is another one that has some features that doesn’t have, although it’s a little more difficult to use. It’s free to use also.

    Something that’s not free that I use is MS OneNote. I share files on Dropbox and use OneNote to compile research and write lessons and sermons. It doesn’t have the formatting tools that Scrivener has, but I find it much easier to use.

    One last tool I use is Google Earth. I use it to plan for and pray for mission trips as well as generate directions for people using the imagery to show people where to park, what entrance to use, etc, for functions at various churches and facilities. Screen captures, edit with, import into a pdf document.

    • Stephen Newell

      I absolutely love but it is not available for Mac. There’s a Mac clone of it that I’m considering called Pinta.

  • Thanks for the post. Of course, in your attempt to go paperless, you haven’t abandoned Moleskine’s yet, right?

    • Oh no! I still have my moleskine system. In fact I keep two on my person at any given time. 🙂

  • What are the rates to use a service like EA Help?

    Also, check into ByWord for a text editor/markdown writer. I love it!

    • The rates vary on EAHelp, depending on how much work you need done. There is also Bookkeeping as well. For an EA, you can go 5, 10, 15, 20 or more hours per week. I plan on writing a future blogpost to explain why/how I use EAHelp as I have been asked about this by several folks.

  • Pingback: My Productivity Tools and Apps [Part 2] | Tim Brister()

  • I am flattered that Tim mentioned me in this post. How awesome is it that I fall into his list of productivity tools?!? And I made the first round too. 🙂 Honestly, Tim makes it easy to do my job, and I can honestly tell you that he is a very Godly man and a great Christian role model. eaHELP may be a great solution for many of you, his readers, to come along and help you with your workload. But, the flipside to that is the fact that they have also has been a Godsend for me and for the other ladies that have been selected to serve as virtual assistance through eaHELP. We are able to use the skills that God gifted us with, and yet be available for the needs of our family. I cannot say enough good about it!

  • Pingback: Working with My Virtual Assistant | Tim Brister()

  • Wow nice list. Complete. These are very
    useful and this review will help a lot of iPhone user. You may like these
    apps too Future Scheduler
    and Location Alerts Productivity apps (Paid).

  • Pingback: My Productivity Tools and Apps [Part 1] | Tim Brister | InKleined-To-Teach()

  • K Lenc

    Can I suggest adding to that list?