Favorite Productivity Tools for 2012

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I added two productivity tools to my arsenal in 2012, Writemonkey and Trello.

Writemonkey

I can't live without a simple text editor that understands markdown. I have shifted over this last year from proprietary note taking application such as OneNote and Evernote, to simple text documents saved in the cloud. I used markdown for taking notes, specifications and blog posts. If I have an idea I usually start with a new markdown document followed quickly with a card in Trello (more on that in a moment). Writemonkey is a great markdown editor for Windows. It is a portable application. No need to run an installer. I keep in SkyDrive and have it available on all my machines.

What I like:

  • Lightweight - takes less than 11MB of disk space.
  • Clickity-Clack - I know is seems silly but ability to enable keyboard sounds is pretty nice.
  • Distraction Free Mode - I don't use this often. But being able to put the editor into full screen mode is quite nice.
  • Auto Save and Backup - You can configure Writemonkey to auto save and the ability to have a backup location. I save the majority of my documents in SkyDrive and have Writemonkey backup to Dropbox. Nice extra insurance.
  • Export as HTML - You can configure CSS templates if you want to preview your writing, send the document to Word, or copy the text as HTML using CTRL-SHIFT-H
  • No auto spell check - This may sound like a missing feature to some, and based on my poor spelling it may be. But I found that having my text editor constantly telling me a word is spelled incorrectly is distracting. I'd rather run spell check at the end of my writing reducing the distraction.

Improvements I'd like to see:

  • Default file type - I'd like to be able to configure the default file type to be markdown. Currently it defaults to txt. Which is fine but I find myself aways changing it back to markdown when I create a new file.
  • Win8 App - This might be much to ask, but if the makers of Writemonkey were able to produce a high quality Windows App Store application I'd buy it is a second.

Trello

Finding a system to keep my life in order has been a journey the last several years. I have several practices on how I handle email and reminders. But one area that I never felt that I had a great solution was keep track of all my projects and tasks that I need to organize on a regular basis.

Trello can be used for many things since it has a three simple concepts, boards, lists and cards. Cards live on lists, lists live within boards. You can create a simple set of lists such as to do, doing, done. And each task you want to track moves through those stages. You can order the tasks to give you a better idea of what you should do next.

Currently I have a few boards to track work going on specific projects, then I have a board where I keep track of the majority of my work tasks. Currently this work board has five lists, To Do (my backlog), This week, Today, Waiting on others, and Done. How I got to this process is worthy of a post on its own. And I am sure I will continue to tweak the process.

What I like:

  • Really simple - There are no rules within a Trello board, I can make it bend to my needs. If I want to add an extra list to a board to try something out I can, and if I later change my mind I can archive the list or delete it all together.
  • Keyboard friendly - It is satisfying grabbing a card and moving it to the done list, but being able to do it with the keyboard is even better.
  • Available everywhere - Well almost, you need a network connection, but I am adding things to my board all day, reminders to setup a meeting, task to check on the status of a project. Being able to do this when I think of it is key for me to not lose the idea.
  • REST API - Trello has a nice REST API making it pretty easy to integrate into Trello.

Improvements I'd like to see:

  • Offline support - Not that I find myself without access often, but having offline support would help enable me to add tasks at any time.
  • Keyboard shortcut to generate card links - Getting a link to a card is really powerful, I usually add a link into a markdown document for a card that I am working on. But right now it takes a few clicks to pull out a URL to the card. Having a keyboard shortcut would be a major improvement to my work flow.
  • Display number of cards within a list - Being able to see how many cards I have in a list is helpful to figure out if any one stage has too many items. There are a few nice Chrome extensions (see below) to do this, but they don't work when you have filters enabled.

Bonus add-ons

Markdown Link Generator - Since I write just about everything in Markdown being able to pull a hyper link from a site and have it formatted in markdown is great. This simple Chrome extension makes grabbing link very easy.

CardCounter for Trello - Mostly solves the lack of being able to quickly see the number of cards within a Trello list. The only downside is that it does not work if the list is filtered.

Conclusion

This is was pretty light year for adding new tools into my process. This may say something about the tools I picked up this year. I pretty much live in these two tools. And of course Outlook, now if I can figure out how to write all my emails in markdown I think I would be set.

In 2013 I will be looking for more of my tools as Win8 Apps to support my Surface. Trello already has a Windows 8 application in the store. There are a few markdown text editors in the store but nothing that is as good as Writemonkey.

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Written by Mark Groves

Mark Groves is a program manager and agile practitioner, currently practicing lean and striving towards continuous deployment. If you like what you read please subscribe and follow Mark on Twitter