No matter what you do, managing the numerous tasks and distractions in life is time consuming. Thankfully, technology has provided apps and tools that help manage our tasks, our time and inevitably our lives.
Below are some tools that I use every day to manage my life. I have included some tips on how I use them, and for the nerds, how you can leverage some of the documented (and undocumented) features to utilise the tools to their fullest potential.
Email Management via Gmail/Inbox
My world revolves around Google. I use android phones, Gmail, Google calendar, hangouts, photos and recently wrote a post on how Google+ is not a failure. I have used plenty of other tools, such as Outlook, Hotmail, Skydrive, Apple etc, however I find the mix of integration and features doesn’t compare.
I have utilised Gmail for nearly 10 years, and still have the first email I received on the account. Gmail offers massive space, easy to use interface, and a powerful search ability that you would expect from Google. In May, 2015, Google launched Inbox by Gmail. It’s aim is to increase the productivity of email by grouping messages by category (promotions, social, updates, etc) and by allowing you to snooze emails and mark as done.
- Unread emails first – Keep your unread emails at the top of your inbox. This can be done by going to Settings -> Inbox and choosing an inbox type of unread first. Another strategy I adopt is not to mark an important email as read until I have actioned it… that way, all my important emails are easily accessible.
- Filters – I utilise filters predominately for marking routine emails (such as system notifications) as read or automatically applying labels (Gmails folder structure). The benefit is that you can easily ignore low priority emails until you have more time. To create a filter, type what you want to filter by in the search bar and click the arrow on the right to display filter options.
- Categorise emails – categorising emails into tabs by social, promotions, updates and forums. Click settings -> configure inbox and choose the categories to view. Categorising prevent distractions from unimportant or digest emails, such as Facebook or forums.
- Desktop Notifications – displays a little popup in the bottom right of the screen each time a new email arrives. Possibly a distraction, but if you like that feature, enable it via Settings -> General -> Desktop Notifications
- Smartphone App – Get the Gmail app from Google Play or App Store.
Google offers a powerful API for accessing inboxes and sending email. Check out my article on using the Gmail API.
Another way to send emails externally from Gmail (such as a third party email app) is via SMTP. Read our article on configuring GMail SMTP.
Manage Important Events via Google Calendar
Maintaining a calendar of important events is one of the key tasks for managing your life. Knowing where to be and when is critical to effectively managing your time. Due to it’s connectivity with GMail and ability to have multiple calendars, I utilise Google Calendar.
An important feature of a calendar is to be accessible from multiple devices. That way you know what you have on, no matter where you are. Google Calendar works natively with Android devices and chrome.
- Keep all your events in one place – If you have multiple calendars (such as work, personal, etc), share them with your primary calendar. That way, you can have a single view of everything you have happening. To share a calendar, click Settings -> Calendars and click share this calendar.
- Utilise a shared calendar between you and your partner – This way if either of you are trying to organise dinner with your friends, you can easily see when you are free. Simply create a new calendar and share with your partner as above.
- Utilise Lotus notes for work? Download AweSync to sync your work and personal calendars together. If you have a good sync tool for MS Outlook, let us know in the comments below.
- Desktop Notifications – Like Gmail, Calendar displays a little popup in the bottom right of the screen each time an event is close to occurring. To enable, click Settings -> General -> Gentle Notifications
- Smartphone App – Get the Google Calendar app from Google Play or App Store.
Google has a powerful and well established API for creating, reading, updating and deleting Google Calendar entries. Click here to view our story on utilising top Google Calendar API.
Task Management via Any.Do
We all have stuff we need to do. Be it jobs for work or choirs in our personal life, tasks can quickly start to mount up and managing them all can be a nightmare. Any.Do is an app that allows you to quickly record your tasks, add sub tasks, categorise set reminders and share tasks with others.
Any.Do has a free and a premium plan. Up until recently, I utilised the free program and it was more than enough for my needs… and I was using it heavily. I opted for the premium plan in order to have recurring tasks and sharing tasks with friends – both of which are available in the free plan, but at a limited capacity.
- Create a Today’s Tasks category and move 5 tasks a day into this category. These 5 tasks should be what you aim to achieve by the end of the day. Once the day is over, review what you didn’t get done and start again tomorrow.
- Utilise Any.Do for those things to get done, such as paying bills. Utilise Google Calendar for those events you need to attend, such as meetings.
- Smartphone App – Get the Any.Do app from Google Play or App Store.
Although Any.Do doesn’t have an official API for manipulating data, there is an API that is utilised for the Chrome extension. This API allows for Create, Read, Update and Delete of tasks. Read our story on how to utilise the Any.Do API. When combined with the Google Calendar API, you can do some cool stuff, like setting a schedule to add your tasks to your calendar.
Time management via Toggl
This is a relatively new addition to my toolset. Toggl allows you to track what you are spending your time on. Simple enough, but when you are accountable (albeit to yourself) you tend to be more efficient with your time. For example, you have a task that should take an hour. You might get bored halfway through, check your emails, get a coffee. Before you know it, you have spent 2 hours. If you track that time, you are more likely to realise you took longer and can make improvements next time.
- Utilise the chrome extension – Toogl has a chrome extension available on the Chrome Store that lets you track time with a single click from many apps on the internet, include Gmail and Any.Do. This means that when you start work on one of your tasks, you click the Toggl button to start the timer. Once you mark the task as done, you stop tracking time.
- Smartphone App – Get the Toggl app from Google Play or App Store.
Toggl has a free to use API that can be utilised with a variety of programming languages. Read our story on the Toggl API for more info.
Reduce Procrastination via Pocket
Pocket is a little app that lets you share stuff with yourself to read later. For example, this article can be shared with Pocket. When you have more time, you can log into your Pocket account and read everything that you have shared.
The benefit of this is that your are not tempted to read articles when you should be doing other things, such as work, or driving (don’t use your phone while driving).
- Chrome Extension – The Save to Pocket chrome extension puts a convenient button to the top of your screen, allowing you to save any website (such as this one) to your pocket for later consumption.
- Smartphone App – Get the Pocket app from Google Play or App Store to be able to share and view your pocket on the go.
These are the top 5 tools that I use for managing my time. Let me know what you use! Let me know in the comments below.