original image from http://blog.compuseum.de/gruppenfoto/
I absolutely love gadgets and have been addicted to them since I was a kid. I distinctly remember getting in trouble with my 8th grade math teacher because I was trying to write down class notes into my Palm Pilot (Personal, 1st edition) instead of in a normal notebook. My love for technology has never waned, but I do find that now instead of just buying products because they’re the latest and greatest I try to find ones that make my life more productive and enjoyable.
I’m often asked what are the apps, tech, and products I use regularly to be more productive. I decided to take a cue from my friend Omar Shahine and write up a post that lists out the top apps and products that I used throughout 2014. Similar to Omar, this will also serve the selfish goal of serving of being a look-back list at the end of 2015 to see what stayed in use and what fell to the wayside.
For reference the post is broken up like this: Devices, Products at Home, Desktop Software & Services, Mobile Apps, & Other.
Let me know if you have any questions about any of them. Thanks!
MacBook Air – This is my main laptop and what I use all day at the office. It’s the 11” version and is light and perfect for traveling. The battery lasts forever, and since 95% of my work is done inside Chrome I upgraded to 8gb of RAM. The 250gb SSD drive is perfect since the only thing I store locally is Google Drive and Dropbox for offline access. At the office it’s docked to a 24” Dell widescreen monitor, and when traveling I put it in the awesome Sling Sleeve by InCase.
Dell Inspiron – The computer in my home office is a Dell Inspiron workstation running Windows 8 that I bought several years ago. It’s Core i7 with 12gb of RAM and 1 TB Western Digital 10,000 rpm hard drive. It’s the “oldest” piece of technology I have and is likely going to get replaced by a new 4k iMac this year. It’s mostly been fine to use for the last two years since I spend most of my time in Chrome when working from home, and for personal tasks it just has to handle scanning and managing documents, and organizing photos and videos (but not editing, I’m not a big photographer).
iPhone 6 – I work at a mobile app company so I actually have several devices I cycle through, but the iPhone 6 is my daily driver and it’s an awesome device. I have the 64gb version in black and unlocked (better resale on Gazelle.comlater) from AT&T. The battery and camera are fantastic compared to the 5S. See more about what apps I use later in the post.
Nexus 5 – My primary Android device is the Nexus 5 which I love for two main reasons: it runs Google’s Android OS “naked”, without any of the crazy OEM customizations that happen to other provider’s devices, and the Google Now integration is incredible. Just have it notify you once of how a train delay is going to impact your travel time to a meeting on your calendar and you’re hooked. This make Siri and iOS 8 notifications feel like very immature.
iPad Mini 2 – The iPad is the primary way that Amy and I watch movies on airplanes when we travel. A long time ago I ripped our entire DVD collection to disk, so between those movies and what we rent from iTunes we have a ton of options to choose from. I also have it fully synced with all my work and personal email, so often when I’m around the house or traveling I’ll use it for most personal and work computing tasks. I take lots of work conference calls via Skype, Join.Me, and GoToMeeting using their apps. I used to read a lot more on it before I bought a Paperwhite.
Kindle Paperwhite – I forgot the last time I charged my Paperwhite and I use it every night. I was a long-time owner of the original Kindle (the one that had built-in lifetime 3G support and a keyboard), and finally upgraded to the PaperWhite last year. It’s super-readable, doesn’t need an external light, and the UX is very responsive. I actually use the highlighter functionality a lot when reading business and tech books. I average about 2 books per month.
Products at Home
Synology DiskStation DS411+11 – Despite its overly-complex name, this is a super-simple appliance that I’ve had for three years and serves as our home’s primary data storage for photos and videos. I bought it when Microsoft discontinued the Windows Home Server product line (which I *loved*). I have 4 x 3TB hard drives in this right now, giving me 6 TB of redundant storage, and I plan on swapping out two of the drives for larger sizes soon.
ScanSnap 300m – We’ve been totally paperless at our house since 2010 when I got this awesome sheet-fed scanner. When we first started I used a bulk-scanning service to get through my filing cabinets quickly, and then the ScanSnap has kept us current moving forward. Anything that arrives in the mail that needs to be saved gets scanned, as does receipts, documents, etc. The items then get shredded and thrown away.
Xbox One – I was a pretty big gamer growing up and have owned (and been addicted to) every major first-person shooter since Golden Eye, and had multiple Nintendo systems plugged into a single TV growing up. Did you know that if you plugged a normal controller into the first port of an NES (with the gun plugged into the second like normal), that you could control the birds in Duck Hunt? Can you tell I was addicted to Nintendo Power too? I digress… The Xbox One is our main media streaming system, and we our cable and sound system connected through it. My wife and I have become pretty reliant on the voice control provided by Kinect and often use it instead of the remote for main navigation tasks. My fav phrase is “Play Music” and in three seconds we have music when we sit down to dinner. I game on it occasionally nowadays, mostly FIFA so I can chat with my buddies in Seattle, and we occasionally Skype with some folks.
DropCam Pro – We changed pet-sitting services right before a recent trip to Jamaica, and the DropCam was perfect for providing us with a piece of mind that the sitter (a) didn’t steal anything and (b) arrived daily and spent the allotted time at the house. I have it set to only turn on and record when I leave the house (via location on their iPhone app). One feature I wish it had would be to pair with two or more devices, so that it only turned on when my wife and I both left the house. Instead I have it on a schedule so from 9am -5pm it’s not on (my wife works from home). I also have the 1-week CVR plan.
Harmony One Remote – We’ve had the Harmony for several years and it’s been the only remote on the coffee table until the introduction of the Xbox One into our home entertainment setup. Amy and I still use it for *almost* all tasks, but will frequently just use voice to navigate between things like music, netflix, or TV. The OneGuide on the Xbox is not good and can’t access any of the OnDemand services from our cable company, so we had to bring back the cable box’s native remote specifically to access those features when watching TV. I’m in the middle of creating custom activities on the Harmony to try and get us back down to one remote (no pun intended). Stay tuned.
Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal Vacuum – Yes, I’m posting about my vacuum. 🙂 I’m a clean-freak (says my wife) and this is like the Mercedes Benz of vacuums. It’s super-powerful (I’m always nervous about sucking up one of my cats) and the reusable HEPA filter is sink-washable. You can practically take apart the vacuum via the ingenious red tabs they put on all the parts, which is useful in the rare times something gets stuck in it. The top attachment is great for cleaning the couches (our cats love to lounge there).
FitBit One – I’ve been a FitBit user for years. The data junkie and super competitive athlete in me loves seeing my step count, and now that the service has Challenges with friends its even more fun. I doesn’t do well for tracking anything related to Crossfit (unless we’re running) and also sucks at tracking cycling, but it is still a good reminder to try and get my 10,000 steps every day.
Desktop Apps & Services
I use more software than just the items on this list, but these are the ones that get daily use or higher.
OneDrive – I have 200gb of OneDrive space and it’s where all of files are stored (expect pictures and videos). Our ScanSnap outputs directly into it, and I’ve got every I’ve ever created (back through high school) stored here. It’s simple, syncs well on my home Windows desktop, and accessing files via the web is a breeze. The iOS client is pretty good too, expect I stopped using the picture backup before it never wanted to finish.
Chrome – Chrome has been my browser of choice for years and is basically my “operating system” given that 99% of my work and personal tasks happen inside of it. The extensibility is excellent and the support for multiple users is great when you need to constantly switch account contexts. This happens a lot when you’re in a small tech company and have to manage and test multiple user personas throughout the day.
Gmail – Keep in mind that I helped build Outlook and Exchange for over eight years while I was Microsoft, so my choice of email service is as personal as my type of shampoo. I’ve had a personal domain (www.michaelaffronti.com) for over ten years and my personal email has always been mapped to that. For years I was using Hosted Exchange (via an employee beta program), and stayed with it when it became Office 365. When I joined Klink in 2013 I had to make the switch to Gmail for personal email. The biggest reason? Klink is a Gmail shop, and I discovered that sharing calendars and email between Gmail accounts is WAY easier than trying to do Gmail and Office 365. That and the terrible native support by Android for Exchange-backed email (I was using the Nexus 5 full-time for 2013-14) made me jump ship and point michaelaffronti.com at a Gmail account. There are LOTS of things I miss from being in Outlook all day for email (that’s a separate post that’s coming up shortly on MEATS).
Boomerang – I’m a big believer of email-based productivity workflows and hacks (see upcoming post on MEATS), and Boomerang has helped me keep my Outlook Flag-and-Follow mojo going in a Gmail world.
Asana – The development team at Klink uses JIRA to keep track of their tasks, and when I joined we had nothing to keep track of the (quickly growing) list of Product, Design, and Biz Dev tasks and follow-ups. About half-way through 2014 I asked my team to join me in using Asana, the product I had been using since I joined to keep track of my personal tasks. We don’t really use the collaboration features (comments, etc.) as much as the product wants you to, but its a great way to keep track of various tasks and especially with some people being in our remote office.
Evernote – I stopped using OneNote for note taking and switched to Evernote when I joined Klink, mostly because I needed a native Mac client to write notes in (I take a LOT of notes). I have this running on all of my computers and use the mobile app all the time to take pictures of whiteboards and sketches and get them directly into Evernote. Searching is amazing inside the app, and the Chrome extension for clipping content works super well.
Skype – We use Skype all real-time collaboration at Klink (video, audio, screensharing), and probably have between 5-10 group chat rooms that we use through any given day. There are lots and lots of things we need but don’t have (productivity-wise) with Skype, but we do a significant amount of international collaboration and it works very well for that, so for now we’re ‘stuck’ in it.
LastPass – I’ve been using LastPass for about five years to manage all of my personal passwords, and now many of my work ones. The Chrome extension makes using it an easy part of my day and the iOS app finally got TouchID access (sweet!). If all of your passwords are the same (or variations of the same word), spend the $1 a month and start making things safer with LP. I would also suggest upgrading some of the security settings (increasing time-out values for retries to prevent brute force attacks), and definitely turn on two-factor authentication.
Join.Me – One collaboration experience I sorely missed when I left Microsoft and joined a startup was the ease with which you could screenshare with audio and video via Lync conferencing. Join.Me is a close second in terms of experience, ease of use (just send the URL) and integration with the Gmail calendar for scheduling meetings. Another startup presented to my boss and I a month after I joined using Join.Me and the experience was incredible. We bought a subscription right after the meeting.
Docsend – I send *so many* PDFs working at Klink and rely on Docsend to make sure that anyone I send a deck to can open it without issues, and that I know when it’s getting passed around inside a company. I don’t use the slide-by-slide analytics as much as I could, but the control over the security and history is fantastic and is my primary use case. The team collaboration functionality is new and super useful. Russ (CEO) and Dave (CPO) are awesome guys and always open for feedback.
Parallels – We build a version of Klink for Windows. This lets me run it on my Mac, and also occasionally to reminisce by booting up Outlook 2013. The integration and support is seamless and fast, even on my MacBook Air with 8gb of memory. The virtual hard drive tends to occupy a bunch of space and on my small SSD that can be an issue, so the only setting I changed was to keep virtual disk to a fixed size.
Tumblr – This is what I host my personal blog on (http://blog.michaelaffronti.com). I switched to this from WordPress about a year ago because I post such a mixed set of content, and the Tumblr interface requires very little work to make all of it look great.
HootSuite – I’ve been reading and sharing tech content with my teams since my first year at Microsoft. It started with the “Neato” newsletter I sent out via email and has continued on for over 11 years. Now I use HootSuite to queue up #neato posts when I do my tech reading (at 4am, that’s another post).
Pocket – Easily the best way to clip articles from the web for reading later. I use the Pocket app to read stuff that I clip when I’m on the subway.
TripIt – I’ve been using TripIt to track my travel since they launched several years ago. I never upgraded to TripIt Pro but the normal feature set is great for me. My experience has gotten even better since I moved to Gmail for personal email since TripIt seamlessly parses and finds my travel docs, eliminating the need to do any forwarding.
YNAB (You Need A Budget) – I learned about this a few months ago and dedicated this winter holiday to taking all of the courses and learning the methodology. I’m a total convert and our house is now YNAB powered. My friend Omar Shahine has a fantastic article on his blog reviewing YNAB – I agree with everything he says about it. 🙂
goo.gl URL Shortener – Stop emailing 1400 character Mixpanel URL’s and get this Chrome extension now.
Like many of us I have lots and lots of apps on my phone. These are the ones that are on my home screen, and a quick blurb about why I like them.
- Chrome – If there was a way to set Chrome as the default browser instead of Safari on iOS I would. It syncs with your Google account and allows me to feel like it is an extension of my browsing experience (shared bookmarks, tabs, etc.) everywhere.
- Photos – I need to check out my selfies.
- OneDrive – Access to all of our household files whenever I need them.
- Google Maps – My favorite integration is when I look for a location in Chrome on my laptop before leaving to walk there, and when I open the Google Maps app its the first item in the recent list. Simple, but I use it every day.
- LinkedIn – I open LinkedIn several times day, primarily to lookup people and because I use it as my personal CRM (post on that coming up soon).
- Twitter – Mostly news and lately a fair amount of messaging (via DM’s).
- Phone – I occasionally talk on the phone.
- WhatsApp – I chat with a lot of my international friends via WhatsApp, and my CEO and VP of Engineering, and a few Seattle friends.
- Facebook – The usual.
- Instagram – Checking out other people’s selfies, and occasionally posting.
- Swarm – I’ve been a Foursquare junkie since launch. I used to be mostly about competition for leaderboard positions but now use it remember places I’ve been. Whenever someone asks “Any good places to go in Paris?”, I just send them the list from Foursquare.
- Foursquare – I keep the stand-alone app here since Amy and I use it to find new bars and restaurants to hit in NYC and Brooklyn. We use this way more than Yelp.
- Evernote – Best way to take and update notes on my mobile device. I also love the iOS Notifications integration.
- Klink (Folder) – This folder contains Asana, Skype, Google Drive, Hockey App, Join.Me.
- Competitors – This folder contains all of the apps that either compete with us or that are in our domain. I try to use each of them every day.
- Downcast – The best podcast manager. The UX is not that great but the control over all of the various behaviors is fantastic.
- Spotify – I stopped using iTunes a long time ago and now only stream music via Spotify.
- Duolingo – I’m always trying to learn a new language (with limited success), but right now I’m refreshing my Italian by using this great app.
- Weathertron – I love how simple and elegant this weather app is. I’ve been using it for two years.
- YNAB – Logging transactions on the go.
- Finance (Folder) – Contains a few finance apps I use semi-frequently:Acorns, Square Cash, BoA, Robinhood, Fidelity, Amex, Paypal.
- Personal (Folder) – Contains a few random personal apps I use semi-frequently: LastPass, Starbucks, myWOD (crossfit tracking), Dropcam,Kindle, Tile
- Travel (Folder) – Contains Uber, TripIt, RideLinq, Delta
- Settings – I find that I open this way more than I want to.
- (Taskbar): Messages, Klink (our app), Sunrise (best calendaring app),Gmail
Other Stuff At Work
Standing Desk – I’ve been standing at my desk since 2005. Technically during 2005 I had a physio ball in my office that I would sit on sometimes, but then I ditched it completely when I got one of those fancy motorized standing desks (thank you Microsoft). I cannot advocate enough how much better I feel because of my standing desk, especially when half my day forces me to be sitting in conference rooms for meetings (more so my old job rather than my current one). It’s actually trained me to hate sitting, making me always the guy standing on the subway even though its half empty or pacing in the back of a long meeting because I can’t sit any more. But don’t take my word for it, look at some of the amazing research that shows sitting is killing you.
Oban 14 – My favorite single-malt scotch. I always have a bottle on my desk. So should you