If you’re a dev, you are a power user. Below are 7 digital tools that are indispensable, and not necessarily for coding. I don’t know if they share any common characteristics, except that when I don’t have access to them, I grunt in frustration.
Distraction is a huge productivity killer. For me, it’s the #1 issue in ‘getting things done’. I’m an info junkie and I have low self control. Me, making a living at a computer, is like being a recovering alcoholic and working at a bar. Except I’m not Sam Malone. I’m not even close. Buying a box of cookies and just ‘not eating’ them doesn’t work. What does work is not buying those cookies in the first place. That’s harder to do when working in a cookies factory.
I love to read about a wide range of topics…current events, personal finance, urban planning. So, I’ve got to lock myself away from Facebook, reddit, twitter, washingtonpost.com, wsj, vox, 538, slatestarcodex, Mr Money Mustache, Bogleheads…well, you get the idea.
But having access to those during work hours is majorly counterproductive. The solution? Browser add ons. I use one on each of my three browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari).
These little utilities block access to sites of my choosing during certain hours. Very configurable, they lock away the liquor until it’s after hours.
JumpCut is handy little utility keeps track of your clipboard history. It ‘buffers’ your clips, keeping a history of up to 99 items that you can access and paste.
Say I want to copy and paste four separate items, pieces of code, from a website to a Data Viewer. By default, that process is: copy, navigate to the Data Viewer, paste, navigate back to the website, repeat 3 more times. With JumpCut, it’s copy, copy, copy, copy, navigate to the Data Viewer, paste, paste, paste, paste. It’s one of those things you *have* to try.
I’ve configured JumpCut so cmd-shift-V brings up the clipboard popover, then arrow keys move through my history. I use this shortcut at least 10 times every hour, every single day.
Boomerang is an app that integrates with Gmail and does two very cool and very different things: schedule emails and bounce emails back.
Scheduling e-mails is great. I use it in two situations.
If I’m emailing at 2 in the morning and I want to reply to client, but I don’t want to look like an workaholic nutjob. I use Boomerang to actually send the e-mail at 7:30am instead, looking like an industrious, early rising professional.
The other situation deals with that feeling when as you hit ‘send’ and you think ‘Oh, crud, that wasn’t right’. Gmail has a great ‘Undo’ feature. Start with that. But the max time is 30 seconds. If I’m sending an email and I’m not sure if my choices around tone or content are the best, but I need to move on, I will schedule to send it in 30 minutes, allowing me to ‘let go’ but leaving open the option of revisiting it if I realize I should have rewritten.
Your smile when you use boomerang
Bouncing e-mails back is super helpful. I’m a fan of Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero. I use my inbox as a To Do list. If it’s in there, I need to deal with it.
*For the record, at the moment my inbox has 12 emails, and I never let it get above 50.
Some tasks, however, need to come back on my to do list. For example, I’ve got to get credentials from a client in order to work on their solution. I’ve emailed them but got an autoresponse that they’re away for 3 days. I don’t want that task sitting on my to do list, because I’m waiting on someone else. So I set the email to “Boomerang” in 4 days. The email will leave my inbox and pop up again in 4 days if I don’t already receive a response from the client. Brilliant!
MBS has produced the Amazonian rainforest of FileMaker plug-ins. With over 4,500 different functions, it’s an entire ecosystem, packed to the brim with medicinal plants. It’s well worth the $149 price. More awesomely, there’s two incredibly useful developer tools built into the free demo version: The ability to search scripts and the ability to search the relationship graph.
Install it, you won’t know how you lived without it.
LastPass or any password manager
If you’re not using a password manager, you’re being unprofessional. LastPass is the one I use. I haven’t tried KeePass or OnePass or any of the others, I’m sure they’re fine. Pick one and use it. Use a super secure master password (try the Correct Battery Horse Staple method with some of your own modifications), then let your encrypted password store of choice do the rest. I’ve got about 600 entries in my LastPass account, so “the rest” covers a lot ground. I don’t use the un-encrypted EverNote, no I use LastPass. With it I:
Generate random 16+ character passwords.
Updated all my sites so I’m not using the same P455w0rD on each.
Create random 6 letter pronounceable passwords to use as the answers to security questions.
Store credit card numbers, including the CVV code.
Store configuration details for FM Servers.
Attach a copy of SSL files to my client’s ‘note’.
Store the VIN of my car.
Store the make and model of my lawnmower.
Like most of humanity, financial security is important to me. One of the cornerstones to financial understanding is creating a budget. Whether you think budgets are prescriptive or descriptive, you should see where your money is going. Mint collates all your financial data in one place and allows you to assign income and expenses to categories you define. I have been using Mint since 2007. I check it at least twice a week, sometimes more.
The human brain is a complex organ. There’s growing evidence that using a screen before bed can interfere with sleep, in large part because the screen emits blue light. f.lux adjusts the color temperature of your screen based on the time of day so that at night, your screen shifts red, encouraging better sleep. Now, you shouldn’t be using a screen in bed, but if you’re using it at night, use f.lux.
I recommend all of these tools without reservation. Not that they’re perfect by any means, but they are indispensable.