My favorite productivity tools

22. January 2011 All, Career 0

If you’re like me, you love to be fast. Really fast. One of my first jobs in high school was as a receptionist for a doctor’s office, and one of my responsibilities was mailing out bills. Stacks and stacks of envelopes and papers and stamps and glue. Yuck. So typical Jane created a factory. I would cascade twenty envelopes together so I could run the glue stick down all edges of all of them, for super-fast-sealing. I would put the roll of stamps into a drawer and leave just the end out to create a makeshift stamp dispenser for super-fast-stamping. Anyway, you get the picture.

So when I come across items that make my life a little easier, neater, and more organized…  helping me do my work better, I get really excited. Here are some of my tried and true favorites.


I’d been an avid Franklin Covey fan for my adult life until I discovered Rollabind. Essentially it’s a system that allows you to create your own notebooks through these little discs that bind together sheets of paper/ cardstock/ covers of any size you desire. Although I don’t use it to its full potential (creating presentations, etc), I do use it for my everyday planner/ notebook. I hate ring-binders because they’re uncomfortable to write in. I dislike wire-binders because you can’t remove, add or rearrange sheets of paper as needed. So rollabind is the best of both worlds. It’s the convenience of a ring binder with the comfort of a wire notebook. I think they get you with the puncher, which is somewhat pricey, but unlike most other planning systems, you’re pretty self-sufficient after that. The discs are cheap and reusable. And the beauty of this is you can use any paper, any cover you want. So I forked over about $70 to buy the puncher, a pack of discs (I recommend jumbo), a vinyl cover set and I create all sorts of paper via templates in excel customized to my own needs. Assuming my puncher doesn’t die, which seems unlikely because it’s very sturdy, I am all set for years and years to come.


I absolutely love this neat free app for droids/iphones and other smartphones because of how easily it allows me to organize thoughts, reminders, products, checklists and sync them from my computer to my phone and vice versa. It comes with a cool widget that allows you to scan barcodes, look up items, take pictures right from your phone and send it to your springpad – accessible from anywhere. There are a few little kinks in it but considering that this is free and by far the best productivity app I’ve ever used, I have no complaints. You can create all different types of notes (images, products, texts, etc) and then categorize them into custom notebooks or by tags, etc. Essentially, it’s meant to be customized and played around with to fit your needs. I love that.

Some ways that I use it:
– To store movies, books, and other products I want to try
– To store recipes
– To rate restaurants and wines that I have tried. I’ll “look up” the restaurant, which Springpad will find and store the location of – and then add my ratings of menu items. Or for wine, I’ll scan the bar code and then put my star rating.
– To track my shopping habits: I’ll log each non-staple item I purchase, the cost, and then review my purchases after a month or so to make sure I’m spending wisely
– To create checklists or packing lists for myself
– To store information about vacations or major purchases I am doing massive amounts of research on
– As a journal to log random thoughts and ideas or lists to keep me motivated

There is also a button that you can add to your toolbar called “Spring it!” that whenever you’re on a site that contains information that you want to store (a recipe, a product, a hotel destination), it will automatically connect and send this info to your Springpad. Not bad Springpad developers.

Post-it Tabs

As much as I embrace new technology and cool apps, at the end of the day, nothing replaces pen and paper. So these post-it tabs combined with my Rollabind system above or any other notebook helps me to quickly find and categorize notes. The little stickies are durable, reusable and actually stay on.


Everyone knows what excel is, so I won’t elaborate too much. But I would be remiss to leave it off considering that it falls on my all-time-most-effective-tools list. All I’ll say is that if you take the time to learn it, you can do wonders with it. I’ve created almost-programs through excel to track, review, and analyze a laundry list of items. My favorite and most obvious use for it is to track my finances. I’ve created a weekly cash flow tracking system that allows me to forecast for the next 52 weeks when my checking balance will be too low (spend less or move funds) or too high (move to savings for more interest) based on expenses/income projected to hit that week. I also keep documentation about each payment, i.e. phones numbers, account numbers, conversations with companies who promise to refund or give me a promotional rate through the comments feature. Keeping everything in one workbook precludes me from ever having to scramble to find notes about anything related to money.

Microsoft Outlook Categories

I don’t know what I did before categories were available in Outlook. If you use the 4-D email system: Delete, Delegate, Defer or Do; Categories will allow you to easily access a particular email directly from your inbox. For me, out of sight means out of mind – so if I file an item, chances are I will never think about it again. So if something needs follow-up, I’ll mark it yellow. If something needs to be done now, I’ll mark it red. If something is for leisure reading, I’ll mark it green. If something has been delegated, I’ll mark it purple so I can keep on top of it. Then I sort by categories. Rather than feel overwhelmed by the amount of emails in my inbox, I can rest assured that anything categorized other than red has been addressed and need not cause me stress. The key is to continually check back and file away items as you’ve handled them.

Okay, that’s all for now. I’m sure I’ll think of more, but it’s time for me to attack my day!