Eleven Efficiency Tools (Plus, Why You Need A Roomba)

Time is our most precious and limited resource. We never have enough time for all the things we want to do, and that includes learning. Yet, when we take a moment to improve our productivity, we can gain significant time.

So much of our day involves interacting with technology, and so few of us utilize technology as effectively as we should. I love to uncover better ways of doing things, many of which are fun as well as useful. I’m thankful to have a team of people who are always sharing ideas with me as well.

I have been presenting a seminar on this topic and have heard from many people how useful the tips are to them. This article can’t demonstrate the technology, but it is a collection of the best tips. Use these tips to make yourself more productive while having a little more fun too.

1. Password Manager

It is more important than ever to use unique and complex passwords for secure access sites which unfortunately also makes them difficult to remember and key in. With a password manager, you remember one password and the password manager remembers your passwords for you. Your “master password” is the only password you need to remember. I recommend writing down a part of your master password on a card and securing it somewhere safe. Make sure it is complex as well (numbers, letters and symbols). For example, if your master password is “PPAIExpo2016,” write down P _ _ IE_ _O2_ _6 which will help jog your memory. Store that card (without any other note) someplace safe near your computer.

There are many password managers you can use. I recommend Lastpass (www.lastpass.com) which is easy to use and extremely secure. Once installed, Lastpass will fill in your passwords for any site you visit. It will also generate passwords for you when you need to create a new one.

2. Chrome Extensions

Nearly 50 percent of the world’s internet traffic comes from Google Chrome, which continues to get better and better. In addition to being a great browser, there are extensions that make it even better. My favorite extension is Lastpass.

Adblock (by getadblock) is a must-have extension as well. Adblock makes browsing the web faster and less distracting.

Clearly, a program by Evernote, is a great extension for formatting online articles, such as a page in a book. Clearly strips out all ads and unrelated “noise” and leaves you with just the article. It also integrates nicely into Evernote to store articles.

To get extensions, go to https://chrome.google.com/webstore and search for an extension by name. Once you find the extension you want, click “add to Chrome” to install.

3. Dropbox

Nearly all of us have a Dropbox account, but you may not have turned on Camera Upload from the programs app on your phone. Camera Upload will automatically upload the photos and videos from your phone to Dropbox. To enable, go into the Dropbox settings on your phone and enable camera upload. I recommend choosing the setting to upload via wifi only. Once your photos are on your Dropbox you can delete them from your phone, giving you more space. Caution: Be sure to open the Dropbox app to verify the photos are completely synchronized first. From your computer, you can then move your photos to a different folder to stay within your storage limit.

4. Computer Backup

If you have ever lost personal photos or files (I have), you know how costly and stressful it is. Everyone should have a full backup of their computer and I recommend crashplan (www.crashplan.com) from Code42. For $150, the family plan protects up to 10 computers for an entire year. I recommend turning on both a local backup and using the included online backup.

5. Autocorrect

I never have to type in my phone number on my phone when I want to share it with someone. When I type in “mycell” it replaces it with my cellular number. To add your own shortcuts go to settings and choose General. Then select keyboard and finally text replacement.

6. Voice Recognition

Voice recognition has gotten so good that it is more accurate than typing for most of us. Next time you need to send a text, use the microphone on your phone keyboard and dictate the message. You will be amazed at how much time this saves you and how much more productive you will be.

7. Mileage Tracking

A lot of businesspeople spend a great deal of time tracking their auto mileage for reimbursement. There are many apps to help make this task easier, with more reliable results. For $60 per year, try out MileIQ.com.

8. Evernote

More has been written on the value of Evernote than I can cover in a short article, so Google “Evernote” to read more. For me, it’s my “junk drawer” of articles, travel information and anything I want to store.

9. Use email better

Most of us spend more time in email than any other application. Yet, because we use email so poorly, it costs us a lot of wasted time. Although I have entire articles dedicated to email, here are three core tips that will help you the most:

First, start unsubscribing from emails you signed up for but never read. The amount of junk email that litters your phone and desktop email box distracts you. Get rid of it.

Second, use your email rules and quick steps to automatically filter email. In Outlook, get started by clicking on tools, then rules and alerts.

Finally, create four new folders to help you prioritize your emails:

@NextAction: For emails that you need to work on today.

@WaitingFor: For emails that are waiting on someone else to do something, for which you follow up.

@Deferred: For emails that you want to deal with when you have time.

@Reference: For emails that you may want to refer to in the future. I put items such as reports, trip information and commitments in this folder.

10. Improve Your Personal Financial Management

Managing our money is important and time-consuming. While online banking is great, getting an overview of all your accounts can still be tough. Get a free account at www.mint.com (owned by Intuit) and make it easier to manage your finances.

11. Personal Technologies

It seems we have less personal time than ever so I make the most of it with gadgets that make me more productive. I use Dropcam from Google ($200) for monitoring activity at my home. Dropcam allows me to see and hear what’s happening from wherever I am in the world. I can even talk to the kids and call them downstairs without having to yell. Another great time saver is WeMo (from Belkin) so I can turn off lights in my home from my phone. Even better than WeMo is Nest (from Google). Nest saves me money on my electric bill but also lets me adjust my heat and air conditioning from my phone or computer.

My favorite personal technology is Roomba. With four kids ranging in age from 6 to 12, my kitchen floor needs daily vacuuming. I bought a Roomba to keep me from having to grab the stick vacuum every day. I was surprised when I saw how well Roomba also vacuumed (on a schedule) my entire house. I would come home, and half of the floors would be clean; the next day, Roomba would vacuum the other half. We still use our Dyson from time to time but our house is cleaner all the time thanks to Roomba.

Dale Denham MAS+, is CIO for distributor Geiger and was named to Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders list for 2015.