Six Fabulous Free (or Nearly Free) Tools for Unleashing Your Productivity and Creativity
As a consultant and the owner of a lean small business, I am all about finding the best tools to boost the productivity, creativity, and the quality of my efforts. Here are my favorite six free, or nearly free, tools for getting stuff done.
So here’s the scenario: you’re writing something and you need to look something up, so you consult The Google or another search engine of choice. Suddenly, you look up and it’s been 45 minutes. If you’re anything like me, your browser history should probably be deleted, and you’ve maybe written your name (Again, just me?). Those days are over when you use OmmWriter, a program that eliminates distractions on your desktop so you can write. It covers up your entire desktop with its peaceful gray background. While it doesn’t disable programs, it definitely makes it harder to go hit your browser. As if that isn’t enough of a selling point for those of us who become distracted easily — nay, SEEK distraction, it plays this peaceful Zen-like music in the background. It is a text editor, so there’s no fancy formatting options, which is perfect when what you need to do is get ideas from your brain into your computer. You can save as a .txt or .rtf file and open it up in Word later on for more formatting. Download it at http://www.ommwriter.com/. They accept contributions.
On those days when you’re working alone, have a laundry list of things to accomplish, or find yourself letting your mind wander too much, TimeBoxed is a handy little tool that helps keep you on tack. It is a timer that runs on your computer that will talk to you at intervals of your choosing. I find every 20-30 minutes helpful. I tell it to ask me questions about my work, such as “20 minutes have lapsed. How is your proposal coming?” If I’ve strayed from my work, it reminds me to return to it. Or if I’l slacking, I can ask it to give me motivation, “10 minutes have lapsed. As soon as you finish your proposal, you can go play in your garden.” Today, it’s Alex and he’s reminding me that I have other sh*t to do (yes, you can give it a potty mouth too!). Choose the voice – male, female, whisper, spooky, sexy, annoying. It’s just like a boss or coworker that lives on your desktop, which I realize sounds better in theory. Find it at http://download.cnet.com/TimeBoxed/3000-2124_4-10912418.html. There’s also a PC version.
Brainstorming is a necessary part of work for small business owners and consultants. We’re always dreaming about our next big idea, either for ourselves or our clients. But at the front end of the project, sometimes your ideas just need to be put on paper, which is rarely a linear practice. That’s where Xmind comes in — a mind mapping software that let’s me get all of my ideas out “on paper” without my worrying too much about how it is organized or how it flows. It is an excellent tool for mapping out a web site, business plan, proposal, project plan, or just to brainstorm. I typically start a work place using XMInd to get the ideas out there, and then further develop the concept into a proposal, cost estimate, web page, or document and export to PowerPoint, Excel, Word, PDF, and HTML with a simple command. FreeMind is a free version of mind mapping and is a good way to try out this technique to see if it works for you. A free version of XMind is available. I’ve gone ahead and bought the Pro version because of all of the extra capabilities. It’s been well worth the $99.
I’ve tried a lot of distance meeting/collaboration tools and have to say that the simplicity, functionality, and price puts Freeconferencecall.com at the top of its class, especially now that it includes online meeting capability, in addition to it’s signature product – a free conference call. It is free up to 25 people, and includes a “meeting wall” where you can post meeting documents and links for participants. You can also make other people the meeting boss, and give them the reigns to present slides or what have you. I’ve also been a GoToMeeting user, but I find that some people have trouble with the interface – it is not completely intuitive, so when you are working with a diverse group of people, you have to plan in time to troubleshoot technology at the front end of the meeting. Don’t have to do that with freeconferencecall.com. It is pretty much low tech distance meeting at its best. And did I mention that it’s free?
Coming up with names for projects, companies, or products is hard work. I’ve spent many a day trying to come up with the perfect, most meaningful name for one of my ventures or a client project, and sometimes the results as, scientifically speaking, very silly. Enter Wordoid, an awesome web site that helps you invent new words and check for domain availability all at once. Once you create your list of words, enter them one at a time into Wordoid’s search tool and set the parameters (how long a word, whether your key word is at the beginning, middle, or end, language preference, and so on) and it spits back pages and pages of catchy words that don’t mean a thing, but follow common rules of phonetics – perfect for your new venture. Completely free. wordoid.com.
I am a huge fan of Dropbox, the cloud-based file storage and sharing system. There are so many reasons to love Dropbox as a small business owner. Let’s start with version control. No longer will you have multiple versions of a powerpoint file living on different computers. If you use Dropbox as your primary file management system, your powerpoint file will sync across all of your devices, and keep you from editing an old version. Automatic sync is another reason to fall in love with Dropbox. Once you set up dropbox on your devices, your files will sync automatically. You will never forget to sync because you never have to remember to sync. Dropbox makes secure file sharing incredibly easy too. Just right click and send a link to your file to your recipient easy-peasy. Dropbox is free up to 2gb of space, and you can earn free space.