Favorite Productivity Tools for 2012

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.