Gone are the days when your personal time management and productivity tools have to be ruled by corporate guidelines or the limitations of your chosen computer. We live in a time when free, safe and supported software you can run within your Web browser may often be better for your personal organization needs than programs you had to run on your desktop and pay for just a few years ago. No matter what part of your life you’re looking to streamline, there are now likely several choices for free and inexpensive tools to assist you. Below are four options that range in price from free to $24/month that can help you reclaim minutes and hours of unproductive time and bring better balance and harmony to your day.
- RescueTime – Where does it all go? Ever suddenly snap into consciousness after an afternoon fully absorbed in free roaming the Internet from link to link to link? From the website: “RescueTime sits in the background and measures which application, web site or (optionally) document is actively being used. What and when you track time is up to you. You can pause tracking, set up automated scheduling, or selectively delete tracked data.” It’s a desktop-based application for both Mac and Windows that allows you to automatically track your time spent on various projects and activities, and even set it up to help you commit to spending a certain amount of uninterrupted time with the task at hand. There’s a free version and a $6-$9 version for individuals. And no one says you have to show the reports to your boss at work ;).
- Backpack – This web-based application is a sleek, minimalistic Swiss Army knife for your personal and professional organization needs. It has a simple, sharable to-do list app for getting tasks out of your head and into a safe, unified location; a milestone calendar that you can integrate into the calendar of your choice; a place to create and organize pages of information; the ability to store files; and shared writing spaces for collaborative work. The $24/month basic version is a perfect place to hold on to anything and everything that’s currently clogging notebooks, post-it notes, hazy memories, scrawled scraps of paper and napkin backs. And you can invite others to share parts of it with you – that could be a family member, a friend or a collaborator. Note: If you’re looking for something cheaper or free but still would like a great and simple task management app, take a look at the five apps chosen by the readers of Lifehacker.com.
- Mail To The Future – Have you ever wanted to leave a note for the future version of yourself who will be waking up in the morning and likely forgetting to take out the trash and the recycling? Mail To The Future allows you to do just that, via email. You can compose emails and set them to be sent to you (or anyone else) at a specific day and time in the future. Now that email is retrievable on most phones, it makes for a great self-reminder system when strings on your finger, rubber bands on your wrist or post-its by the mirror aren’t cutting it.
- Google’s Apps – If you haven’t looked at Google’s tool set in a while, it’s worth another visit. Gmail alone has grown into a powerhouse productivity application that lets you manage to-dos, read news from Web sites, text and video chat, send SMS messages, create documents and manage your calendar, all in the same place. With the addition of the free Rapportive Gmail Plug-in, you can also get a heads-up display of current info about the people you are communicating with. Google Calendar has undergone countless iterative improvements and now speaks the language of just about every other calendar around via the also free Google Sync Services platform. Google Voice, now out of invitation-only mode and free for everyone, performs countless acts of magic to save you time and energy in managing your phone communications. You can get it to send you a (wonky but usually useful) automated transcription of your voicemails and the audio itself via a playable mp3 ss_File. It can serve as your administrative assistant/gatekeeper, alerting you who is calling before you pick up and allowing you to decide whether to answer the phone, defer it to voicemail or simply hang up. You can even set preferences to handle each incoming phone number differently.
Have you found any particularly outstanding Web-based tools for juggling all of the components of your life? Or do you prefer good old-fashioned paper and pen? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.