When Google released an extension for its Chrome browser that allowed users to block specific sites from showing in search results, it was both an admission of its failure to combat content spam and a giant boost in productivity for people looking for information on the Web. No longer did Chrome users have to push past poor content sites to find the knowledge they needed. If a result was on the first page, there was a better chance it deserved to be. It was the quickest productivity fix since someone thought of putting erasers at the chewy end of pencils.
Now that the search giant has changed its algorithm to push down companies like Demand Media, that little productivity app has become slightly less useful. But there are still plenty more products in Chrome’s app store that help you to squeeze more out of your time, and more out of your browser.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that the 672 most popular productivity apps include plenty that let you make notes and create lists. Fans of Remember the Milk, a tool that’s long been available both on the Web and on smartphones, can stick the cow in their browser too, and a search for an app that will help you to “get things done” produces no fewer than 24 tools that can let you copy David Allen.
Which list-builder/ note-taker best suits you is as much a matter of personal taste as real functionality: a list is a list. But Google Tasks wins points for its simplicity, neatness and the fact that you can open it in a new tab instead of a window so that you don’t have to bring up a new browser every time you want to tick something off or, more likely, type something in. That’s bonus productivity.
Google Tasks is simple. But if you’re looking for an app with a little more functionality, then The Deadline is particularly clever. It doesn’t mess about with dozens of folders or offer ways to mark entries with different colors that look nice but only confuse. Instead, it lets task-makers use Twitter-style hashtags to categorize their entries. So if you had created an entry reminding you to fix the garage door, for example, you could mark it #garage and #home repairs to find it quickly.
You can choose which types of tasks you want to view, and you can even share tasks with others by using the @ symbol followed by the other person’s email address. The first person listed is automatically given chief responsibility for the project, ensuring that everyone knows who to blame if the job isn’t done. All of the participants can also send messages to each other and comment on the task.
Most creative though is the idea that each task is assigned not a date but a deadline. While that might, in practice, mean the same thing, it’s a more accurate way of reflecting how tasks need to be completed.
The Deadline’s main benefit is that it tells you when you have to complete a task by rather than the day you have to do it. But deadlines can be powerful productivity-raisers in themselves. Nothing feels more like a whip across the back than the sight of a looming due date — except perhaps the sight of the hours ticking away on a task that should only have taken minutes to do.
Yast is a time-tracking app that lets you see exactly how long you’re spending on a project. It’s really meant for large organizations that charge by the quarter-hour and have teams of pros writing code or, more likely, poring over contracts.
For companies that need time charts to show to clients, the ability to review work time and to export records could be a crucial asset. For the employees, who are left to feel that they’re being judged every time they stop to sip their coffee, it must be a little like having a boss looking over their shoulder all the time.
But for freelancers who are paid according to the amount of work they’re able to squeeze into a day, it’s a valuable way to see which jobs are taking too long and why they’re slowing down. One commenter noted that after using it for a day, he was already able to see the problems in his productivity.
Checking the time probably helps to reduce the wastage too.
Chrome’s Yast is really more of a shortcut than an app but it’s still effective enough to add to the browser.
Invoicera includes a time-tracking feature too, but this is an invoicing product rather than a time-management tool. You can schedule invoices, set auto-billing, track expenses and even ask for money in eleven different languages and using sixteen different payment gateways. Whether you’ll get the money is another question but no invoicing software can stop a recalcitrant client on his way out of the office.
You’ll also need to pay. You can use it for free with up to three clients but up to 25 clients will cost a monthly subscription of $9.95 — an easy investment to recoup for businesses too small to employ a bookkeeper but large enough to have clients to invoice. An extra ten dollars lets you bill as many people as you want.
It’s possible that the same functions placed in a program rather than locked into an app could be easier to use but if you’re growing accustomed to working in the cloud — and Google wants us to get used to working in the cloud — then Invoicera’s app makes money demands just a little easier.
Like The Deadline, Coolendar uses hashtags for organization and it also takes a new look at productivity, this time at appointments. There are no calendars here and no duration limits (Coolendar calls duration a “poison concept”). Instead, calendar entries are presented as a list that can be organized by priority as well as by “today,” “tomorrow” and by month. It’s remarkably simple — which means you’re not going to waste hours figuring out how to use it or playing with features you’re probably never going to need.
That’s already one productivity win.