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What’s Your Favorite Application?

Rack of screw drivers and other toolsHere at ProfHacker, we’re not shy about professing love for the things we love—especially when they are tools to get our work done. That’s why you’ve seen past posts about favorite browser extensions, your favorite podcast, your favorite underused feature in an application, your favorite academic tools (which for Amy included Google Docs, a small magnetic whiteboard, and a Rollabind notebook), and even your favorite classroom. And don’t forget our series of “5 [Things] I Can’t Live Without (and Why),” which began with a post by Ethan on his five most important applications.

As many applications as you may have seen, there are always more that you haven’t. And while it’s important to be chary of productivity porn, you also never know when someone else’s favorite tool might do solve a problem that you’ve been having. This was on my mind in the build-up to THATCamp Southeast, which I helped organize and happened on 4-6 March. My session proposal for the Camp asked people to come and show off their favorite applications. We had 75 minutes of people demonstrating the tools that make their work easier, and I thought that I would share that list with you here, as well as brief descriptions. As a caveat, I should mention that I haven’t yet tried all of these tools, but I plan to in the near future.

  • Read It Later: The Tivo of reading, this browser plugin, which also has various mobile device apps, is the one that I use every day. Using RIL for asynchronous reading is one of the first things that I covered here at ProfHacker. (Recommended by Brian Croxall)
  • AwayFind: If you’ve ever been distracted from work by the ever-incoming flood of email, AwayFind might help. The service monitors your inbox for you and notifies you when you receive urgent messages. You choose what constitutes urgent and how to be notified: text message, instant message, a phone call (complete with getting your message read to you) or delegating that message to someone else. (Recommended by Sherman Dorn)
  • Readability: Readability is a tool to cut down on the clutter that so often surrounds our web-based reading. Simply clicking on a browser bookmarklet reformats the text of a page into the fonts, size, and layout that you customize. George has covered Readability previously, but it can’t be said enough how useful this tool is. (Recommended by Paul Fyfe)
  • f.lux: f.lux is a tool that adjusts the color of your computer display according to the time of day. This not only helps mitigate the bright-bluish wash of light that you face when computing late at night, but can also help you sleep better (see here and here). Adding icing to this cake is the fact that f.lux works on Windows, Mac, and Linux machines. (Recommended by Ian Thomas)
  • Dropbox: Dropbox is a simple, syncing service for keeping your files shared between computers and backing up that information at the same time. And if you don’t know that we love it around here, you must not have seen our 63 posts that discuss the service. (Recommended by Billie Hara)
  • Storify: As an easy way to pull in information from different social media services and arrange them into narratives, Storify is easy to love. The drag-and-drop interface makes arranging tweets, photos, and videos easy. It’s still in beta, but you can request an invite. And don’t miss Ryan’s discussion of how he’s been using Storify from a few weeks ago. (Recommended by Roger Whitson)
  • DEVONthink: I think it’s rare to ask academics about their favorite and not have someone mention DEVONthink. A database for documents, email, notes, bookmarks, and more, it’s the light AI that makes DEVONthink especially good at organizing. Both Amy and Ryan have previously written about how they use DEVONthink with WordPress and to manage PDFs, respectively in their research. Unfortunately, it’s Mac only. (Recommended by Robin Wharton)
  • Scrivener:If Marshall McLuhan was right that the medium is the message (he was, by the way), then our work is shaped as much by our tools as by what we want to accomplish. Scrivener is an attempt to rethink what the writing process can be. Perhaps the biggest oohs and ahhs came when we saw the QuickReference window, which allows you to write in a distraction-free environment while also being able to look at secondary documents. Ryan and Mark have previously covered Scrivener for Mac OS and Windows, respectively. (Recommended by Lynn Maxwell)
  • 750words.com: If you want to be motivated to write on a daily basis, you can use 750words.com as a private writing space that will automatically save your writing as you go. It is also a relatively distraction-free environment for writing. Plus, it gives you points! Billie’s covered 750words.com as part of our Writers’ Boot Camp, and many ProfHackers find it helpful. (Recommended by David Morgen)
  • Write Room: Continuing the theme of writing without distractions, I demonstrated WriteRoom. The simple green-on-black-with-no-formatting experience isn’t for everyone or for final editing of a large project, but for getting words on a page, it’s extremely helpful. WriteRoom is only available for Macs and iOS devices. (Recommended by Brian Croxall)
  • StayFocusd: Keeping your attention on your work is much easier if you can’t access your Facebook account. Blocking that access or any other site is what the Chrome extension StayFocusd does for you. You can even block specific subdomains, so you could restrict access to Google Reader but still use the rest of Google’s services. I’ve previously covered methods to stop your computer from distracting you, and StayFocusd is a good addition. (Recommended by Moya Bailey)
  • 1Password: If you’ve been online for more than 24 hours, you’ve probably got more online accounts and passwords than you know what to do with. The best way to keep all of that information handy is with a password manager like 1Password. 1Password is available for both Mac and Windows and integrates nicely with Dropbox. I’ll have a longer review of the application in the near future. At ProfHacker we’ve previously covered why you might use a password manager as well as two other managers: Lastpass and KeePass. (Recommended by Brian Croxall)
  • SyncToy: If you don’t want to use Dropbox to sync your materials (perhaps some very sensitive data that your university won’t allow to be stored on Dropbox), you could use Microsoft’s SyncToy. You can easily use SyncToy with a USB flash drive to help keep materials organized between your different computers and with minimal effort on your part. As one might predict, SyncToy is Windows only. (Recommended by Nelson Fredsell)
  • Software995: It can be a pain to convert files or to work with PDFs if you don’t have a full version of Adobe’s Acrobat. Software995 offers a range of free tools for working with said PDFs and file conversions, as well as FTP clients, backup utilities, and more. These tools all appear to be Windows only. (Recommended by Nelson Fredsell)
  • DictionarySearch: While there are plenty of online dictionaries that you can consult if you need to know a word’s meaning, it’s faster if the dictionary is already built in to your browser. The DictionarySearch extension for Firefox provides right-click access to one or more user-defined dictionaries. Just select the word you’d like defined, right-click, and go. (Recommended by Paul Fyfe)
  • Lazarus: If you’ve ever written a brilliant comment to a blog post only to have it disappear once you hit “submit,” then you will love Lazarus. A single click is all it takes to recover the information from a lost form, and it automatically saves what you write in those forms as you type. Although designed for Firefox, the newest beta version includes Chrome and Safari support. Lazarus was mentioned by more than one user in our post about favorite browser extensions, and I’ve been using it with good results ever since. (Recommended by Christopher Ritter)
  • PearNote: One of the session members said she discovered PearNote when she was tapped to take minutes in meetings. PearNote records audio and allows you to take notes, and then keeps those notes in sync with the audio. Clicking on the notes will bring you to that point in the recording, which allows you to find the context for your notes if they are later unclear. George reviewed PearNote in September 2010 and a reader suggested the iPad app SoundNote as offering a similar tool set. (Recommended by [I can't find a name. Wish I'd been using PearNote])

As you can see, many of the tools that were brought up in this session are ones that we have previously covered on ProfHacker. Does that mean that we had a bunch of PH groupies in the room? It’s possible, I suppose. But I think it’s more likely that these are tools that appeal to a wide swath of people, whether they read this our blog or not. And that suggests that they might be worth looking at if you see something here you like.

How about you? What is your favorite application that other people don’t often know about or that helped you get your work done faster? Please share with us in the comments!

Lead image: Tool rack / Lenore Edman / CC BY 2.0

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