Feb 02, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Free software and websites that really, really, really help me

From time to time, I go searching for a utility, website, or document to help me with whatever I’m doing. It usually takes no more than 15 minutes to find, install, or read whatever I find and implement it towards a solution. The solution typically completely satisfies the need and sometimes goes beyond. Some discoveries, however, go so far above and beyond what I was attempting to do that they integrate themselves completely into my digital life and make me wonder what I did before finding it (which always leads to the now philosophical question, what did I do before the internet). The following computer-based implements have become so essential to me that I would pay good money to keep them. They happen, however, to be completely free.

Syncback Freeware backup software

Get Syncback Freeware back-up software here (click “DOWNLOAD” next to “Syncback Freeware)

Sometimes, with software this useful, I want to direct people to the paid version so I feel better about using the free one but, alas, I serve my audience.

This program makes backing up all of your data VERY, VERY easy. It also makes keeping an up-to-date USB drive VERY, VERY easy. It also makes web development VERY, VERY easy (well, at least a component of web dev. Here’s what I use Syncback for:

A few resources for you:

Dropbox file synchronization

Get Dropbox synchronization software or find out more about it

It’s hard to express in words how amazing I think this software is. It definitely begs a quick description before I start making over-the-top proclamations of how great Dropbox is.

I mentioned before that I use a USB drive (well, I did until I lost it recently). The reason for the drive was that I had 3 computers I used on a regular basis (home desktop, office desktop, laptop) and needed the same data on all three. If I had to work at home, I’d copy the right files to my USB and hope I didn’t forget anything. If I wanted to do write at a coffeeshop, I’d make sure my USB was up to date and take my laptop. Dropboax makes this totally unnecesary.

This is how it works:

  1. Make one folder to hold the documents you want to designate as your “Dropbox folder.” Make a set of folders in there to separate the different files you’ll have (work and personal or different clients or however you’d like).
  2. Download and install Dropbox (you’ll need to create an account). Choose the containing folder as your sync folder.
  3. After you have everything set up, install Dropbox onto all the other computers you want to be synced. All done!

I’ve never had a problem with Dropbox, it’s never deleted files, and I’ve never had a conflict. It runs in the background, doesn’t suck memory, and just makes my life better. It’s a great way to stay productive on different machines but it’s also a triple back-up for the really important files that I’m currently working on. I have copies on three different computers (plus the external back-up).

Dropbox gives you 2 gigs of storage which is quite a bit for what I need. If you’re only working with documents, you won’t get anywhere close to that. Image files and photographs stat to eat up space so you can upgrade to the 50 gig plan for $10/month. I have a lot of different files synced and I’m only at about 50%.

Remember the Milk (RTM) online to-do list

Rememberthemilk icon by moutzouris

Sign up for Remember the Milk

When I first found RTM, I was not too sure about it. Yeah, it worked well, seem intuitive, and had a clean interaction but I just didn’t think I’d ever use it. At the time, I was using my Windows Mobile phone synced to Outlook for tasks and that was working just fine. More than 6 months after signing up, I finally decided to really give it a try and have never looked back.

The best thing about RTM is the level of functionality that it has but does not force upon you. Can create lists of things to do, add locations on Google Maps, add priority, URLs, notes, due dates, everything. It’s a bit overwhelming what you CAN do with the software. But nothing forces you to use any of this. I made a few lists and added a few items and started small, ignoring about 80% of the functionality. Then I started using it from my phone via their mobile web interface which was great. Now, I’m using all kind of stuff with it:

And that’s just the half of it! You can sync it with your phone (part of the Pro account for a measly $25 per month), add pins to Google Maps, add time estimates to help planning, and add tags to help search. RTM has made me a lot more productive but, more than that, it’s really helped me get organizaed and not miss all the little things.

Rambling

Software and websites like the ones above are excellent tools not because they are absolutely essential but because they help automate things that make you successful. Ignore the whole time-saving aspect and think about what these things can help you accomplish and how much better they make you look. A couple examples:

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Tags

Productivity Freelancing

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Feb 05, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Website page titles - how to pick one and what they are for

Sometimes it’s the things you don’t see that make the biggest difference.

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