Two Tools I Use

Hammer, pliers, and chisel on a workbench

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that I’m always getting excited about one tool or another that is going to be The Greatest Thing Ever to help me be more productive. So at one point I was touting something called a Pomodoro, a little online timer that has you work for 25 minutes without any interruption and then take a break for 5, with a 15-minute break every fourth section. It was supposed to make your productivity explode, as you’d have all these pre-set distraction-free periods. But it didn’t really work for me very well, because if I really got going on something I didn’t want to have that timer going off at the 25-minute mark. And,to be honest, I found the restriction on breaks to be annoying. So I took it off my phone. Other tools, probably too numerous to list, have met the same fate.

I do have two digital tools that I’ve been using on and off for awhile and find to be useful, although, as always, the tool doesn’t do the work. I would like to be more consistent with these because I have found that they really do help me.. Tomorrow I plan to write about an author whom I really like and a tool that she recommends which I’m trying out today.

Evernote—I’ve used this online tool quite a bit when I’ve been gathering material for a specific project and also use it sporadically at other times when I run across something interesting online that I think might be usable later. The app allows you to do two things as you gather information:

1) “Clip” online material via the “web clipper” feature and put that article/picture/podcast/news story in a labeled “notebook.” You install a little browser extension that shows up in the upper right corner of any webpages you visit, and it’s very easy to just click on it when you run across something you want to save. So I have a notebook labeled “blog ideas,” with material that may show up at some point on these pages. I have another one labeled “food talks” and another labeled “recipe ideas.” Those are probably the top three.

2. Write your own notes on virtual notecards (I’m going to stop putting in the quotation marks) with a label at the top just as you would do with a regular notecard. You then put your notecard into the appropriate notebook, just as you would with the items you’ve clipped above.

I’ve found Evernote to be useful and can make it more so if I use it consistently. This morning, for instance, as I was sitting at the table working on a Bible study, I thought of an idea that I could use for a talk I’m giving in a couple of weeks. Did I open up Evernote and fill out a card? No, I scrabbled around for a scrap of paper and scribbled my deathless idea down on that. I seem to generate those little scraps of paper in connection with any project I’m working on, and then I have to go through them and figure out where they belong. It would be much better if I were to just put everything in Evernote to begin with.

As you accumulate material within a notebook it can get rather unwieldy, but you can do sub-notebooks just as you’d have subpoints in an outline. I want to use this tool better, as I do like it and actually understand how it works. I just use the free version. Sound interesting? Go to to get the download. There are all sorts of resources out there to help you use Evernote more successfully. I bought a short, inexpensive ($2.99) Kindle book called Master Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Organizing Your Life with Evernote back when I first got the download. I did look through it when I first bought it, and when I went back to my Kindle library to look up the title and get the link I realized, ‘Hey, I need to go through this again.’ The author emphasizes that you have to have a set organizational system in place for categorizing your notebooks and you have to be consistent in using Evernote. Ha! There seems to be no escape.

SwipesApp–I’m sort of an on-and-off user of this app, but, as with Evernote, I like it and find it easy to use. While Evernote helps you gather and organize information, SwipesApp gives you the ability to generate to-do lists. I also like to use it for my shopping lists, using the “action step” capability for a task. Then I can check off each item as I get it, and the app makes a little “clink” sound. You can, of course, just make a list on your phone in other ways, I’m sure, as I see people checking their phones in the grocery store all the time, and I assume at least some of them are looking at lists. I like the idea of the errand and its components being listed together and my being able to check things off. Before I started using Swipes I’d be trying to decipher a scribbled list and wouldn’t necessarily cross items off as I bought them, and sometimes I’d think of an additional item but didn’t want to fish out a pen and write it down, which usually resulted in my forgetting the item. With the Swipes list capability I can add an item on the phone which I’m checking anyway. The overall to-do list capability is very helpful. You may remember that I had tried to set up a physical checklist for the tasks I want to do daily, but to be honest I never actually used it. With Swipes I can set up recurring tasks, and so I have a “Dailies” task with the “action steps” under it being the things I want to do every day. Again, do I use it? Not all that much—but writing this post is inspiring and poking me to do so. Go to to get the free personal version. I use the “web” version, which means that I can access it from any device. That capability means that I can type lists on my laptop and sync them with my phone, so I don’t have to use that teeny keyboard on the phone.

So here are two simple, free tools that could be much more helpful to me than they are. I don’t need more tools; I need to use the ones I have. More tomorrow about the time tracker I’m trying to start using.

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