Photo by Johan Larsson
It’s been well over a year since I first wrote about the digital, paperless tools I use to be more efficient around the home. It’s time for an update.
It’s easy to feel absolultely overwhelmed when you look for a tool or useful website online. There are hundreds of choices, and sometimes, it feels like they’re all pretty similar. There’s a theory that in this age of information, our range of choices — from toothpaste flavors to online calendars — stress out our bodies and our minds to the point that we’re actually less able to make sound decisions. I know I feel that way sometimes.
Here are my favorite digital tools I use around the home.
Gmail is my email client of choice, because I can check all my email addresses in my one inbox. And I love the labels and archiving system — a quick word search, and I can find most any email I need.
I also “star” emails that become my online to do list, and I frequently use the chat feature for online meetings.
The key to successful email sanity is to only check your inbox at a few set intervals throughout the day. For me, once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening is plenty. I get a ton of email, so if I kept it open, I’d be tempted to pop over to my inbox anytime something came through. That’s a recipe for stress.
And just like I don’t always answer my phone when it rings, I only open an email when I have enough time to give it a quick, five sentence or less response. If I don’t have that time, then I don’t open it. It can wait.
If it requires a longer than five sentence response, and I can devote the time for an appropriate answer, then I’ll write it immediately. If I don’t, the email gets a star. That means I need to make time to give it a complete response in less than 48 hours.
2. Google Calendar
I click on my Google Calendar from my Gmail inbox, and I host a wide number of calendars on one screen. I’ve got our basic family events calendar, my husband’s work calendar, our menu plan, my writing schedule, our homeschool routine, the advertising schedule for my blogs, and the Book Club schedule.
My husband and I share our family appointments and work calendars, so that we’re always in synch with each other.
We’re a music-playing family. We’ve got plenty of downloaded songs in our iTunes account, and with their recent home sharing feature, my husband and I can now share mp3s for both of our iPods.
But last.fm is our daily radio programming of choice for background music. It’s free for 90 days, but after that, it’s only $3 a month. I get my money’s worth and then some, in my opinion. Here’s my profile, if you want to see what we listen to around our house.
It’s similar to Pandora.com, but Last.fm is available anywhere in the world. Pandora is available only in the U.S.
You simply enter an artist or type of music you enjoy, and it will play a “station” of similar music. If you really like a song, you can “love” it, and it will play it more often. If the song is atrocious, you can “ban” it, and it’ll never play for you again. You can also just skip a song if you don’t necessary hate it, but you’re not in the mood to hear it, either.
Last.fm has been my book writing sanity.
4. Pear Budget
I’ve written about Pear Budget a lot — it’s where we handle our family’s budget and accounts. It’s got a great interface, and it’s incredibly simple. For a bit more on what I’ve written in the past head here.
It’s a classic. Delicious.com (formerly del.icio.us) is one of the oldest bookmarking sites, but it’s incredibly useful and easy to use. I have the bookmarklet in Firefox, so anytime I want to bookmark a site or URL, I simply click on the tag button, enter my tags, and save.
When I need to access my account (which is several times a day), it’s just one click, and Delicious opens in a separate tab. I keep my recipes, book research, website coding helps, and much more here. This is where people can send me links that they want me to consider sharing on this site. My husband and I also send links to each other from here when we’ve got something we need the other person to see.
6. Spark People
I’m working on losing a little baby weight, so I’m currently logging my food intake and exercise habits on this free site. Spark People worked well after my first birth, so I’m confident it will do the same again.
There are a plethora of things this site will do for you — almost too many. It’s easy to get distracted from its main purpose of food and exercise logging, but because it’s free, it’s still a great resource. It also saves the nutritional information on your own recipes, and it’s easy to record the basic things you eat often. I also like that I can map out and track my jogging routes from here with Google Maps.
There are tons of recipe sites, but Recipezaar is my favorite. It has thousands of recipes, and almost every one I’ve tried is good. It’s easy to search for recipes by ingredient or meal type, and for the designer in me, I love how these recipes print. Very streamlined and easy to read.
We store all but the blurry and redundant family photos on Flickr. It’s a breeze to share with grandparents, and the tagging feature and the ability to create sets, it’s easy to find photos.
Wishpot is the perfect place to store gift ideas for grandparents or events. With the bookmarklet for Firefox, all you have to do is click a button when you’ve found something you like, and it’ll toggle a pop-up screen where you can enter the item in a wishlist, along with pertinent information you need. Here’s a few of our wish lists, along with a few recommendations for kids I’ve created as a Wishpot “expert.”
It’s also a great way to create a wedding or baby registry, so that you’re not limited to a few select stores. You can store anything found online.
Skype has been our sanity saver. This is the way we keep up with the grandparents as we live on the other side of the world, and with a small annual fee, we’re able to have a US-based number so that anyone stateside can call us for nearly free.
This is where I also have a host of business meetings, either by phone or by chat. Skype has truly made the world a much smaller place.
Finally, we’re a book-loving family, and Audible is a great resource of audiobooks. Since we live overseas, this is a frugal option for “reading” new books, and as I’ve mentioned before, an audiobook is a good entertainment choice for a child’s daily quiet time. Audible Kids has a wonderful selection.
These tools are about all we use for everyday personal use. I’ve got another slew of digital resources for book writing and blogging, but they’re not terribly useful for productive home management.
Now it’s your turn — what are your favorite digital resources for your home life?