I spent years fiddling with my personal toolbox, trying to optimize my work flow and make endless changes to become more productive. Then it sort of dawned on me a few years ago that I was obsessing more about the cup than the coffee I put in it, and I learned to deal with the tools I had available and was using.
Now the focus is simply on making small, kaizen-like changes here and there. My workflow is very tool-focused. The idea is to use the lightest possible tool that will get the job done. Anything heavier tends to drive the user to complicate the task. Sure, if a task is really complicated, maybe Mathematica is the way to go, but most of the time a good scientific calculator and a few notes to myself will do just fine.
The best example is a text editor. On the occasions I really just want to jot down thoughts long enough to organize them, a text editor is all I want. Loading up anything heavier, like a word processor or web browser, invites me to make the task more complicated than it needs to be. Personally, I prefer gVim because I’m a vi person. A co-worker introduced me to Notepad++ today, though, and I’ll be checking that out.
I’ve been a Backpack user for over two and a half years, keeping all my notes and lists there. At one time, I used it for a GTD tool with a page for each context. Over time, that became cumbersome, so I have a list for each context on my home page as well as quite a few pages for notes on spe, cific topics. It’s great for organizing information on my MMORPG characters and projects and keeping track of “lessons learned” for various activities.
Google’s really my main hub in so many ways. Gmail and Google Calendar are the core of how I stay in touch with other folks. I have a personal account (krmaxwell) and another one tied to my MMORPG stuff so that I can maintain some level of separation. Google Calendar also lets my dad, brother, sister-in-law, and me share a family calendar so we know of really major goings-on like trips and so forth. These can also be accessed via HTTPS (as can Google Reader), which is my default at this point.
Whereas very quick documents might be written in a Writeboard via Backpack, anything that’s got any complexity to it at all goes to Google Docs. I use it for writing, tracking data, or anything I might need to write for the congregation that wouldn’t violate confidentiality. For example, I might throw source material for a talk in there, write a quick outline at work, then take time at the coffee shop to refine and “combust” the outline and the source material. Other times I pull stuff into Google Notebook, like when I’m researching the pieces and composers for the next symphony performance we’ll be attending. If required, I’ll then take the printable version of that and put it up on a web server somewhere so that I can easily access it on my smartphone. For saving web documents long-term, I’m more likely to use the Firefox Scrapbook extension.
There’s one key thing about nearly all of these so far: I can access everything from my phone. This is really key, because I’m not always at a computer that I can freely use. I can’t use Google Docs from there, but there are mobile versions of Backpack, Gmail, Reader, Calendar. This last includes texting new events to GVENT or 48368.
Likewise Twitter, which I’m using for micro-blogging. This mainly is so family members can know what’s going on with me at any given time. I don’t get notified of everything done by the folks I follow; checking in the mobile version from time to time meets my current needs.
Other tools I frequently use include Cygwin (some analysis and such is just faster with command-line tools like shell scripts and sed & awk), GIMP, and OpenOffice when I really need something to look nice and presentable. While scp always got the job done, lately I’ve been enjoying WinSCP for secure file transfer as well.
Any other suggestions for good, light-weight tools?