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Tip: Productivity Tools 2.0
A second look at tech tools to keep organized in your work as a professor...
Last summer I shared a list of productivity tools that I found helpful in my teaching, scholarship, and service work. This list is an update, with some clear winners from the options I previously shared, and some new ones to explore.
COLLABORATIVE WRITING/STORAGE APPLICATIONS
Last summer I wrote about my preference for Google Drive versus the agony of emailing drafts to collaborators:
There are so many ways to collaborate that work better than emailing files back and forth. If I could make just one productivity/collaboration change to my work, it would be to stop using email as a collaborative tool, because it’s just not effective.
Over the past year of teaching and working remotely, I’m only more impressed with how working collaboratively with students and helping them to work with each other is made easier when the tools are designed for that purpose. If you use the new search function on the Tips homepage, you can search for all the posts about using Google Drive over the past year, of which there have been many!
Canvas still has my vote for communicating with students. Not the Canvas Inbox, which has terrible functionality, but the announcement and chat functions. For colleagues, I’ve experimented with/been forced to use Slack and Teams. I do not love either option, although I would hands-down take Slack over Teams. A new one I’ve just started exploring is Basecamp. These limited uses aside, most non-email conversations with colleagues over the past year have happened via text or other messaging services.
EMAIL MANAGEMENT SERVICES
Here’s one place where all my recommendations from last year got thrown out the window because I found a solution I love: Mailbird. I did a whole write-up here, and it’s honestly one of the best tools I’ve adopted over the past year. It works well for me because it pulls all my email, social media accounts into one place, and you can connect many other applications as well. If you love being able to manage your email on the computer in the same application on your phone, you may not love this. I have to use Outlook on my phone and duplicate my signature, rules, and other personalization pieces from
Last summer I shared how I use IFTTT (If This, Then That) and then in November I shared a new tool, Phrase Express, for creating custom text and keyboard shortcuts. It’s been a game-changer for me. Now I can type short combos of letters and numbers and a chunk of text (complete with formatting) is inserted into whatever I’m typing.
The biggest takeaway here is to pick a tool that will do what you need without too many bells and whistles. This is why I still use a simple Google Doc for notetaking, particularly for projects with recurring meetings.
Each new meeting would begin at the top of the doc, so that the most recent past meeting is always at the top. This works for me because I am a linear-thinking, outline-embracing type. Trying to use more mind-map style organization tends to frustrate me, because I spend time organizing and making it look nice.
There’s a time for beautiful docs, and there’s a time for plain text. If the fancy options for organizing and formatting are a distraction, rather than an enhancement, perhaps it’s time to find a simpler option.
RESEARCH & REFERENCE MANAGEMENT
Here’s another tool I just started using last summer, and it became another favorite new find: PowerNotes. PowerNotes works within your browser and
lets you highlight sections of anything you’re reading online and save it to a project, flagging the clip to a sub-topic and annotating the clip with whatever notes you want to add. Later, you can export the saved annotated clippings to spreadsheet or document files, and source information will be preserved.
I use it extensively for reading and taking notes online, and it has worked well enough* to use PowerNotes for notetaking and Zotero for reference management.
*I have not been able to get the download of an .ris file from PowerNotes to import correctly into Zotero. I’ve imported BibTeX files, so it’s not entirely a user error or Zotero problem, but if you’ve found a solution, please let me know!
Calendly is still by far the winner here. I do wish they had a cheaper paid version - the jump from free to $8.00 a month is too much, so I stick with the (somewhat limited) free version.
Once I got hooked on Mailbird, I have been using Todoist because it integrates right into the email window and will float there, waiting for me to add to the list. It’s not a perfect solution because I basically just use it as an electronic version of a handwritten list, rather than having it give me pings about due dates or more sophisticated integration options.
There’s my list of tech tools I find helpful - I would love to hear about others I’ve not tried or “low-tech” solutions to managing the professor workflow!