A task as relatively easy as managing email is open to improvement if you use the right software to help you manage different accounts over different providers.
To truly “work smarter,” pick up several important software packages that will improve your workflow.
(1) Personal Information Management
- Many people have more than one email. Make your life easier by using a single personal information management application to collect all of your messages in one convenient interface. Many desktop apps let you import accounts from Web-based providers like Hotmail and Gmail as well as accounts through your Internet service provider or employer.
- In addition to the convenience of a single user interface, most full-fledged email programs allow you to search globally across inboxes and even incorporate one or more separate calendars and task lists within a single user interface — even letting you keep your calendars and lists separate yet viewing them in a single, comprehensive overlay.
- Microsoft Office Outlook currently leads the pack for electronic PIMs, but other solutions, like em Client or the free Novell Evolution for Linux (with an experimental build for Windows) provide similar feature sets.
(2) Social Media Aggregators
- Instead of opening a bunch of browser tabs to track what’s happening on Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Twitter or other social networks, install a desktop app that gives you all of your social networks in a simple, one-screen display. Social media aggregators use custom programming to pull your information from each site into one desktop application. From a single user interface, you can read and reply to messages or schedule messages for future delivery.
- Popular aggregators include TweetDeck and HootSuite. Some applications, such as Seesmic Desktop, add extra functionality like including a person’s Klout score within the message display.
(3) Project and Task Management
- There’s no one right way to manage a project. Some people prefer a full-blown, professional, project-management infrastructure complete with Gantt charts, task lists and resource grids; others make do with simple note-taking tools. Whatever your approach, an application geared to you can simplify project planning and execution.
- For traditional, formal projects, apps like Microsoft Project or Open Workbench keep tasks, timelines and resources in harmony. For less structured needs, task lists like Remember The Milk help keep your individual to-dos in sync across different computers and mobile devices if you don’t have access to a Microsoft Exchange account. Keep your notes tidy using Microsoft Office OneNote or the free Evernote. Both tools empower you to create free-form notes and clippings and access them on different computers or over the Web.
(4) Cloud Syncing
- Advances in cloud-storage capacity mean that storing your critical files on a removable device like a thumb drive is no longer necessary. By using a cloud service like Dropbox or SkyDrive, you can keep specified folders on your computers in parallel, with the most current version of a file available whenever you have an Internet connection. Just store a file in one place, and the service will upload a copy to a central server and make that revised file available to authorized Web users and push it to any other connected devices. These services include small applications that run in the system tray, freeing you from having to manually update or transfer files.
- Build your own private cloud using GoodSync. This software keeps folders on specified computers in sync — but you can set it up so that a copy of your data doesn’t reside on a third-party server. GoodSync works with third-party servers, too, including Amazon S3 and any server that uses the WebDAV or FTP protocols to transfer files.
(5) Collaboration Tools
- Collaborate on documents or projects and bypass the need for face-to-face meetings with an online collaboration application. Software like Microsoft Lync, Cisco WebEx and GoToMeeting help users set up videoconferencing, visually share desktops, perform group edits of documents and engage in text-chat sessions. These applications can significantly reduce meeting time and streamline projects because they reduce the need to travel for meetings and they foster spur-of-the-moment collaboration on documents no matter where the participants may be.