Beautiful Productivity Tools

by Tatiana Luna

Minimalism and Efficiency

My search for more efficient productivity tools has become an activity in itself. At times, I think the variety of apps has taken procrastination to a new level, but some apps begin to give me some hope of actually being helpful in making my real, everyday life more efficient and fruitful. What works in a productivity app and what makes the potential of these apps so interesting is how some of these beautiful apps manage to make a connection between cyperspace (and/or least desktop space) and the real world. The “real world” is becoming an ambiguous term indeed as our activities in the cloud change how we think and, in the case of productivity tools, how we structure our day.

So up for scrutiny today are: Feedly, Springpad, and TeuxDuex. These will in no way be exhaustive reviews, just an overview.


Organizing material you’re interested in making it more readable in the process

I first discovered Feedly on the Android marketplace, since I’m always looking for a better or more fun RSS reader to use on my phone.  The phone app is quite beautiful.  The minimalistic design, the beautiful sliding menu, and the colors all manage to make looking through a large number of feeds seem more manageable and fun on the small screen.  Then I discovered that I can use Feedly as a Google Web App, so that solved my dissatisfaction with Google Reader as a Reader and not just a collection of RSS feeds on my laptop.

I hate clutter in real life and it turns out I hate it in cyberspace also.

I have terrible eyesight and I can be ADD when I’m exploring the web.  So I’ve been trying to find an RSS reader or some other system to try to increase my efficiency in reading through a wide variety and large amount of Internet content.  The overall design of Feedly is gentle on my eyes and my ADD.  It reduces the feeling of clutter I get from Google Reader and many other websites (plus, you can customize or get rid of the sidebar widgets, which I often find distracting, not helpful) and it thus draws my attention to the right place: the content.

The way an article expands when you click on the title in Title View, the option for different views for different feeds, and the “What’s New” section that culls out content from your favorite feeds and puts it in “magazine-like” form all contribute to the beauty of Feedly. And the sharing options include everything you could want (except Springpad, which I talk about next). I’m still learning how to use Feedly most efficiently, but I already feel more excited to read my feeds.  If you already use Google Reader, or if you already read a lot on the Internet and you want to have a more efficient and more streamlined experience, or if you just like to find some of the most interesting content on the web, check out Feedly.


Organizing your Brain

Evernote seems to be the fad note-taking application, and I agree that its capability to capture almost anything anywhere is pretty awesome.  But it felt cluttered to me.  Too many extensions, too many different ways to organize, too many windows on the web application.  And it’s heavy, at least here in China where the Internet connection is too slow.  Maybe if I start school again or I start a big dissertation-like project, I’ll try Evernote again.  But for now, I don’t need all its capabilities, so I will marvel from afar.

I’ve been using Springpad for a few months, and now that my Stuff is accumulating, I can see the beauty of it.  I love dropping an article or a bookmark or a To Do list in a Notebook, either manually or using the handy dandy Web Clipper.  Then you zoom out to see Everything in the Notebook and you see a very attractive view of everything you’ve collected that fits in that category or theme or project.  And you can have a different view for every notebook if you want.  It’s very satisfying.  The chronological view is like a reminder of all the previous thoughts I had on that topic; It’s essentially a fast timeline of my activity on everything “Open Source” or “China.”

You can also use springpad kind of like a mindmap or tree of information.  Within one note you can “attach” other notes or media or bookmarks, so that you have notes within notes.  I love this.  It feels a little like writing notes in the margins.  It’s an excellent way to collect information on one specific topic that fits into the broader Notebook, and you can always add to it later.

Probably the most unique thing about Springpad is the Board feature within each Notebook.  The board looks and works like a Bulletin Board.  You can add any note from that notebook to the board, plus you can create labels to organize things on the Board.  While Springpad is in all other ways more rigidly structured than other note-taking apps like Evernote (which is what I like about it), this feature allows for total freedom in how you organize the space.  With this feature you can create an actual mindmap and visually it’s a lot of fun to look at.


Return to the Simple To Do

I just discovered this app, so I haven’t used it very much yet.  But I immediately recognized that this web app satisfies a desire that I’ve had for a while:  a simple to do list app.  When there are so many task managment apps that do the same things with different configurations, simplicity is a virtue.  TeuxDeux provides you a place to keep a daily To Do list, and that’s all it does.  Awesome.  I think To Do lists clutter other otherwise organized note taking applications, because we want to use the To Do list just like we use pen and paper and post-its.  Teux Deux provides the beautiful openness of a piece of blank paper, while being malleable and infinite.

The simplicity and minimalism is beautiful.  And I know I’m going to love the “Someday” List where I can drop any task that doesn’t fit into a time frame or any project idea that hasn’t quite formed yet.  TeuxDeux will help me keep my Springpad less cluttered than it already is.  Instead of the clutter of post-its the real world, TeuxDeux is a clean, highly malleable slate where one can organize the everyday life tasks that should be simple.  As soon as it comes to Android it will be perfect.

The multiplicity of productivity apps available has begun to capitalize on different kinds of information that we use to organize our minds during everyday life and when completing projects or any kind of task.  The possibility of increasing one’s efficiency through organization is very real using some of these helpers well.  But learning to use many of these apps efficiently is a large project unto itself, and it shouldn’t be.  That is what’s beautiful about the above apps: the design does the organization work for you, and you provide the content.