Photo by David Joyce
As I mentioned before, I use both paper and plastic to manage my home – both have their beauty and place in the home. There’s no right way to use the plethora of resources available, but as I implement the trial-and-error method to refine my productivity, I’ve learned what works best for me.
Here are the online apps, tools, and sites I use on a daily basis.
I love Gmail. Up until a few months ago, I had been using iMail for several years, the standard email client on my Mac. Switching to Gmail was a breath of fresh air, and I haven’t looked back.
Just a few perks:
- You can both read and write from a ton of email addresses. I didn’t have to switch any email addresses to use the Gmail platform.
- It has a stellar “search” function – it will retrieve emails that contain any keyword you search for. I have yet to misplace an email.
- It uses labels instead of files. You don’t file away emails, you label and archive them. Sounds confusing, but it’s really much more streamlined than a filing system, where you cross your fingers and hope later to find an important email.
- It uses filters. If you want certain emails to bypass the inbox all together, you can simply set up a filter and tell Gmail what to do when you get an email with a certain subject, from a particular email address, or whatever. For example, I have all my email notifications for my ebook sales immediately archived with the label “ebook.”
- If you use Firefox, there are also tons of add-ons for customizing your email experience.
How this makes my job easier: There are a myriad of ways that Gmail helps – one is that I “star” any items that need more of a two-sentence reply, and I archive it. My inbox remains empty, and when I sit down to do my correspondence, I click on “starred items” – there are the emails that need my reply.
The main reason I use Remember the Milk, an online to-do list program, is because of its Gmail add-on. I’ve set up a to-do list on the right-hand side of my inbox, so when I remember something I need to do on the computer, I can quickly jot it down in my email inbox and move on. I can also tag items, link email addresses to tasks that involve one, and prioritize jobs in order of importance. It’s simple and easy-to-read. And it kindly tells you when something is overdue.
How this makes my job easier: I keep my Remember the Milk list exclusively for computer-related tasks. I don’t put “go to the grocery store” or “laundry” on this list. This is for things related to blogging, online home management, and email correspondence. I still use paper for my master list, so when I have a list of tasks in Remember the Milk, I simply jot down a reminder to check my online list.
You already know how I use Google Calendar to plan out my meals a month at a time. And when I find recipes online, I bookmark them in my Delicious Cookbook, using their handy tag system. Lots of recipe sites have their own bookmarking system, but I like using Delicious because I can put every recipe I like from the internet in one place.
How this makes my job easier: With the handy tag system, I can quickly look up recipes by ingredient, meal, ease, or whatever I choose. And with Google Calendar, I can request an email sent to my Gmail account to tell me what’s on the docket for that evening’s dinner. Oh, and because Firefox is my browser of choice, I use the Delicious toolbar, making bookmarking a snap.
The majority of our banking is with ING Direct, an exclusively online bank. They have excellent interest rates on both checking and savings, and they are extremely friendly on the phone and easy to work with. We still have our brick-and-mortar bank, but most of our funds are transferred to ING.
How this makes my job easier: I can have an infinite amount of savings accounts with ING. This means we have a savings account for Christmas, giving, vacation, and more. I have funds automatically transferred from our checking to these separate accounts, making maintaining our sinking funds a breeze.
It’s no secret that I love Pear Budget. There are a number of online budgeting tools, but Pear Budget is my personal favorite for its ease of use and its pleasant-looking interface. Plus, I love supporting cottage industries, and this budgeting software system is run from home by a great couple with three little kids.
How this makes my job easier: In short, it’s not a pain to budget. And that’s a big deal. Pear Budget also uses a handy tagging system, so that you can enter in multiple accounts, stores, or types of purchases (cash or debit, for instance). And you can run reports and print off master budgets.
This has been a weak point of mine lately, and I hope to get back on the ball with this. Food tracking is an excellent way to maintain a healthy diet (and to lose baby weight). I’ve used My Food Diary in the past, as well as Spark People. Right now I’m testing out My Daily Plate, and it’s okay. I wish there was a system out there that made it easier to log in food. Know of one?
How this makes my job easier: When I use it effectively, food tracking keeps me accountable to healthy eating and exercise – two ingredients for a well-balanced mama.
I love playing the “radio” online via Last.fm (and my user name is simplemom, in case you want to friend me). Simply enter in an artist or a genre of music, and it will play a station of music similar to your request. Playlist is also good for making, well, playlists, and of course, iTunes is wonderful for downloading music to keep. I also listen to some of my favorite podcasts by downloading them in iTunes.
How this makes my job easier: I can listen to all kinds of music without commercials, Last.fm usually picks music I like, and if I don’t, I can simply hit “next” and move on. And because I live overseas, I can keep up with music trends a bit easier. And I love playing music in my home.
Skype is our lifesaver, mostly because we live overseas. But it’s still a ridiculously handy tool for keeping up with anyone at a distance. My husband and I talk with our parents at least weekly, and it’s almost as though we live in different parts of the U.S., instead of different parts of the world. I love that I can call my mom with a quick sewing question, and it hardly costs me a dime.
How this makes my job easier: We have a US-based phone number, which comes in handy when we need to call American companies, hold transcontinental business meetings, and show the grandparents the latest art project.
This is a decent summary of the digital tools I use on a daily basis. There are many more options – almost too many, because it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few and feel satisfied. I’ve found contentment by selecting those few tools that truly make a difference in my productivity, and then sticking with paper and pen for the rest. I’ll share what I use for that in my next piece.
What about you? What online tools do you love for home management? What about apps that work for you away from the computer – anyone use an iPhone, a Blackberry, or a simple PDA for taking care of your home? I’d love to hear all your ideas.