What apps, tech, tools, and services do you rely on to make your life easier and more productive? In this episode, I share a few of mine.
I’ve always been interested in finding ways to make my life easier and more productive. Sometimes that means finding tools that will help make the necessary tasks easier and more efficient, leaving time for pursuing my goals or just for the fun stuff.
When it comes to productivity tools and systems across the spectrum (business, personal, household, etc.), I like hearing what works for other people. This week, I thought I’d share some of mine – some apps, some tech, some tools, and some services that help make my life easier, more productive, or just a bit more fun. Several of these are tools I’ve discovered in the past few months, while others I’ve used longer.
Apps I rely on
This app allows me to track anything that’s supposed to be delivered, whether to myself or to someone else. Simply add the tracking number and a note about what it is, and it’ll update you as the package progresses to you (or wherever you’d sent it). It is nice for the holidays if you send gifts to out-of-town family.
It is available for the iOS – iPhone, iPad, Mac & Apple Watch. I found a link to an Android app with the same name, but I can’t be sure if it’s the same app. I haven’t tried this one, so I cannot vouch for whether it does the same thing.
Also if you are using the United States Postal Service, check out the USPS Informed Delivery service. It provides a daily email with photos of mail to be delivered that day. I will talk more about it below where I talk about services I find helpful.
Babbel is one I’ve discovered recently. They are not sponsoring this episode, but they have sponsored a recent episode. It is a language learning app that provides a variety of learning techniques in short bite-sized lessons, allowing you to study from the device of your choice.
Babbel is not a sponsor for this episode, but if you’d like to get 50% off your first three months, visit Babbel.com and use offer code TPW.
An alternative to Babbel is Duolingo, which I believe is free. It is available on iOS, Android, and Windows.
This is a recipe management available for Mac, iOS, Android, Kindle, and Windows. I like it because it syncs among my devices, so I can save a recipe on my computer and have it appear in the app on my iPad, which I can prop up on the kitchen counter to follow while cooking.
It has a browser feature that lets me find any recipe online, then download it and have it formatted – photos and all – in the recipe format. I also have it on my phone because it has a grocery list feature that I can sync with the app I use for grocery lists (Apple’s Reminders app)
This is a note-taking app. I use it to take notes at meetings or conferences with my Apple Pencil (which I mention below), and also to outline my podcast episodes by hand if I’m stuck.
There are benefits of handwritten notes. It feels less “official” or intimidating than typing and allows for better retention, so the app would be great for class notes. Also, you can draw shapes, write equations, and other things that would be difficult or impossible if typing.
Notability allows you to share the notes via email and save them as PDFs, annotate PDFs, and mark up photos. Your handwriting is searchable and can be converted to typed text. However, it is available for iOS and Mac only.
Tech I depend on
- External battery
When I’m traveling by car or plane, I spend many hours away from an outlet but need to use my iPhone for GPS directions, talking, or listening to podcasts, or my iPad to take notes. I’m dependent on my devices and don’t want my battery to go dead, so I keep an external battery and charger handy. I’m currently using My Charge which I bought at Target for about $40. It’s slim, fits in my purse, and I can get several charges of phone or iPad before the need to recharge the My Charge itself via micro-USB. They have several models available to choose from. I’ve also used chargers I bought from Monoprice, which is a great source for tech accessories like cables and chargers. The ones I purchased from this site were on sale for under $14 when I was outlining this episode.
I use the iPad and Apple Pencil together for work multiple times a day. Obviously, I can check e-mail, but I use it especially for my work as a lawyer to review and mark up PDFs or to take notes in the Notability app. It’s great to get away from my desk, sit somewhere else (outside even if the weather is nice) and still get work done, and it all syncs back to my computer. I have the 12.9” version, which I like because the screen size is almost like full-sized paper so I can see the entire document, and I can also easily zoom in if I have to. You can use it with a keyboard to type even faster and can use it as a second screen when I’m working on my laptop. On the personal side of things, I use it on the treadmill to watch YouTube videos or Netflix to make time pass while I exercise.
I mostly keep mine in a portfolio-style folder made by Moleskine which is only sold at Apple. It looks like a portfolio for a legal pad so it’s is easy to carry. It has a loop for my Apple Pencil and a slot for papers, and the cover folds back to let me hold on my lap to take notes.
Of course, there are many alternatives for the 12.9″ iPad Pro. There are smaller versions of the Apple iPad. My husband, Mike, has the 10.5” version and uses it to write music and hold his song list when he plays with his bands, as well as email, social media, web surfing, etc.
There are non-Apple products such as the Microsoft Surface or the Samsung Galaxy. I haven’t personally used any of these products, so I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have.
I found an article from PC magazine rating “The Best Tablets of 2018,” which might be a helpful resource if you’re in the market to purchase one.
These are wireless earbuds from Apple, and I love them! They’re wireless, comfortable, and very low profile, and you can use them one at a time or together. The case charges quickly and fits in your pocket or purse. They provide good sound quality for calls or listening to music and pair easily with the iPhone, iPad, or computer. I’ve used them when jogging, synced with my Apple watch, and I have had no trouble with them falling out.
There are many other wireless earbuds available on the market. I haven’t used a lot of others, but check out the article rating “Best Wireless Earbuds” if you’re considering purchasing some.
These are excellent headphones for any purpose, but I only use these when I fly and I never fly without them. You can plug them in to listen to in-flight entertainment, or just use them to block out the plane noise. It makes the flight more restful so I can relax a bit more. I’ve had mine for about 10 years. Mine are the “cans” style that covers the ears, but Bose offers newer versions that are wireless and also have more earbud-style noise-canceling headphones. I’ve never tried any others, but check out this article on “The best noise-canceling headphones 2018” on TechRadar to see their recommendations.
Household tools I love
I LOVE the Dyson V10 cordless stick vacuum cleaner I bought this summer! We previously used the big upright Dyson vacuums and loved them, but this is a game changer. It’s lightweight, powerful, maneuverable, and makes it easy to vacuum hard surfaces, carpets, rugs, and also furniture, corners, crevices, even walls and ceilings with the easy-to-change-out accessories it comes with. It’s not cheap, but it was worth every penny. I believe I purchased mine for a little over $500 at Target. Watch for them to go on sale. I’ve seen them at Walmart and on Amazon as well.
There are other models of the Dyson cordless. We recently bought the V6 for our son in his new home for graduate school. There are also other brands on the market, but I haven’t tried them. For other recommendations, please check out this Consumer Reports article about the “Best Cordless Stick Vacuums.”
This is another household appliance that has been a game changer for me. It’s a programmable pressure cooker that allows cooking all sorts of food in much less time (up to 70% faster, according to the website) than a crockpot. You can cook several chicken breasts in about 10 minutes. I have the 6-quart size, but it also comes in 3-quart and 8-quart.
Some recipes I love to cook are Chicken Cacciatore, Beef Stroganoff, chicken and rice, BBQ short ribs, and hard-cooked eggs (even the fresh eggs our chickens laid are easy to peel!). There are tons of recipes available online. Simply google “Instant Pot recipes for chicken” or whatever kind of food you want to cook. I add the recipes I find onto my Paprika app. There’s also an Instant Pot community on Facebook.
Using my Instant Pot I can have dinner ready in about a half an hour or so, even if I didn’t decide early in the day what I wanted to cook, and it’s easy to clean up. I bought mine on Amazon on sale for $80, and I’ve also seen it for sale at Walmart and Target.
Check out these reviews by independent testers to see which model would suit your needs best. The crock pot is an excellent alternative if you plan ahead and get things started early.
- Label maker (My favorite DYMO Labeler)
My label maker is so helpful in getting organized. I use it to label files, notebooks, food containers, and storage boxes.
I own a couple different ones, but my current favorite is this DYMO. It operates wirelessly (plug in to recharge) so I can carry it around to where I need it. It is easy to pop different label tape cartridges in and out depending on the size or type I need (black on white, black on clear, etc.). It operates through a Bluetooth connection to the app on my phone to create the labels with exactly the font and size that I want.
This is a microfiber mop on a telescoping handle, and bucket with a spin wringer that uses centrifugal force to get as much of the water out as you want. It uses a foot lever, so I never have to bend over or put my hands in the water. It works on any surfaces and has made it so much easier to get my wood floors clean with minimal backache and trouble. Since the wringer gets so much water out, it’s better for my wood floors.
Microfiber cleaning properties make the mop excellent for getting the floor very clean, even without product (or minimal amounts of product). For the product, I use the Method Squirt & Mop wood floor cleaner. I buy from Grove Collaborative; you can get free products if you order from Grove using my affiliate link. (To find out more, read the announcements below.) Of course, you can also buy it on Amazon or Target. Just squirt a little on the floor and mop.
Services I count on
This free service is offered by the United States Postal Service. Simply enter your zip code to see if the service is available in your area. Sign up to receive a daily email containing photo previews of incoming mail and notifications on any smartphone, tablet, or computer. Apps are available for Microsoft, Google Play, and the Apple App store, and there’s also a useful online dashboard when you log in on the web.
In addition to alerts about incoming mail, the service offers other options I haven’t yet tried, including delivery instructions for when you won’t be home, tracking packages, and scheduling a redelivery if you missed one.
This service has been a game changer for me. I order online when I need to and schedule the day and time I want to pick up (1-hour window). They let me know in the app and/or via text when my order’s ready, and I tap a button in the app to check in when I’m on the way. Through GPS they know when I arrive and a couple minutes later a courteous employee brings my groceries out and loads them into my car and I’m on my way. So far, they’ve been ready 15-30 minutes earlier than scheduled every time. It’s fast, easy, and efficient, and I don’t waste time or money in the store or on impulse buys. And the service is free!
They let you know if something wasn’t available or if they substituted, and you have the right to refuse a substitution. Once I’ve made my order, I can change or add things up until almost 2 a.m. the day of. I can mark frequently purchased items as favorites, which is helpful for quickly ordering again.
I keep a couple big reusable shopping bags in my trunk and they put the groceries in those as they load, so I have fewer things to carry when I get home.
Other stores offer the same pickup service, so check your favorite grocery store. There are also delivery services available such as Instacart, Shipt, and Amazon Fresh. Order online and they will deliver to your door. It’s an awesome service if it’s available in your area but there is usually a fee. Check out this article comparing the 5 most popular delivery services on The Penny Hoarder.
The annual fee is currently $99/year, but it’s going up to $119/year starting February 2019. I’ve been a member for many years, and it’s paid for itself many times over.
Amazon Prime membership benefits include free 2-day delivery on most things sold on Amazon, plus some free next-day and, depending on where you live, 2-hour delivery with Prime Now. Below are a few other perks included with your membership.
– Whole Foods Market shopping discounts
– Prime Video, Prime Music, etc. – Free streaming movies, TV shows, music, etc. (also additional options for an add-on fee)
– Prime Reading – You can “borrow” a certain number of Kindle books for free.
– Amazon First Reads – a free pre-release Kindle version of certain featured books each month
– Prime Wardrobe – a “try before you buy” service
– Tons more services I haven’t tried yet
I use YouTube for entertainment, education, inspiration. Almost anything you want to know how to do, you can find videos on YouTube. I like those that offer home or room tours and decorating ideas because I’m not terribly creative. I also like bullet journal videos (to get ideas for mine) and organization ideas. Watch “clean with me” videos sometimes for a little motivation. Comedy videos for stress relief. Below are some of my favorite channels
– Hermione Chantal Victorian Home Renovation DIYary – this British woman and her American boyfriend are renovating a very old Victorian house in England. I love watching the slow transformation of this house, which was in terrible shape, into their dream home. She shows lots of DIYs for both the renovation and decor.
– Crystal Tara – Crystal is a mom of 4, including 2-year-old twin boys. Her channel features lots of days in the life and “clean with me” videos but also DIYs (she repainted all their kitchen cabinets!) and various other types of videos. I get a kick out of watching her clean house or do her DIY projects with the twins underfoot.
– Momma from Scratch – this YouTuber is very real and open, and she shows lots of DIYs that she does, which inspires me to try my hand at some DIY projects.
– Sunshine & Stationery – this is the YouTube station of an American living and studying in Europe; she does lots of bullet journal videos.
What do you think?
Resources and Links
- Babbel (and use offer code TPW for 50% off your first three months)
- Paprika 3
- Big Oven
- MS One Note
- My Charge External Battery
- iPad Pro
- Apple Pencil
- Air Pods
- BOSE Noise-cancelling headphones
- Dyson V10
- (Dymo MobileLabeler Label Maker with Bluetooth Smartphone Connectivity)
- O’Cedar spin mop – Easy Wring Spin Mop and Bucket System
- Grove Collaborative – Follow my Influencer Link for freebies!
- The Best Tablets of 2018
- Best Wireless Earbuds
- The best noise-canceling headphones 2018
- Top 5 Grocery Delivery Services
- US Postal Service Informed Delivery service
- Walmart grocery pickup
- Amazon Fresh
- Amazon Prime
Announcements & Reminders
- Special offer from Grove Collaborative: Try the excellent non-toxic cleaning products (and more) from Grove Collaborative. I’ve enjoyed their products and their service so much I’m working with them as a Grove Collaborative Influencer. What’s great about that is I can share special offers with you. Right now if you’re new to Grove Collaborative you can get a special collection of three excellent Mrs. Meyers cleaning products in your choice of their limited edition fall scents. I use these products every day–and love them. If you use my link (see below), you’ll get the full-sized Mrs. Meyers dish soap, hand soap, and multi-surface spray cleaner in the fall scent of your choice, plus a scrubber, for free when you sign up via my link and spend $20 on anything else on their site. Shipping will be free, too. If you’re already a Grove Collaborative customer, you can still use my link and you’ll get a little something special added to your cart, too. To sign up and get your free products, use this link: influencer-tracking.grove.co/SF2tl
- Thank you to our sponsor FreshBooks for offering their 30-day, unrestricted free trial to TPW listeners. To claim it, visit FreshBooks.com/WOMAN and enter THE PRODUCTIVE WOMAN in the “How Did You Hear About Us?” section.
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