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One of the advantages of working as a freelance consultant is being able to work from anywhere. This allowed me to live and work in Munich last year, and my favourite spots nearby now include the table outside the pub downstairs, a nice cafe down the road, and the magnificent reading room of the British Museum.
And, because I don’t want to always drag my laptop (or even my netbook) around with me all day, life often involves working across a range of devices, including mobile phones and iPads.
And while working on my iPad has certain limitations, if the job is something reasonably simple, then an iPad, along with the Tuffluv – one of the most practical cases / stands on the market is a great, very enjoyable way to work.
After wallowing in iPad heaven when it first arrived, knowing I wanted to do at least some work on it, my next challenge was finding the right software that works across all devices, which are PCs, the iPad, a BlackBerry and an HTC Android phone. And trust me when I say I have devoted weeks on end scouring the app store, searching on google and asking around – and then trying out probably around 100 before settling on the set up I have now, which works well.
Here are my top eleven* tried and tested apps and software that have transformed the way I work. Some will be immediately obvious to some people, but I mention them purely to sing their praises. *It was meant to top ten, but I remembered one at the last minute.
Skype doesn’t need much explanation. Make Internet calls for free. Handy if you’re working abroad to catch up with the folks, and for those weekly update calls with clients overseas. Admittedly, I must have looked a plonker using it in a Munich coffee shop – looking as if I was talking into a big silver steak plate, but nobody ever said the freelance life was going to be easy.
Incidentally, there’s a shiny new kid on the block offering free calls between subscribers using Android devices or iPhones, take a look at Viber.
10. Voice Recorder
I have a voice recorder app on my phone, which is handy for recording those random, ground-breaking thoughts that pop into your head when you’re on the go, arms laden with important documents and executive gadgets, eg “buy milk”, “record It’s Me or the Dog”, etc. I also have one on my iPad which is handy for discreetly recording high-powered executive meetings or finding out what colleagues are saying about you when you pop out to the loo.
9. Google Maps
Navigating to meetings in unfamiliar areas has been transformed thanks to google maps, just stick in the address, and then look like a numpty as you tentatively shuffle 50 yards down the street, staring blankly at your iPad, only to realise you’ve walked the wrong way out of the tube station and have to double back. Mine was especially useful for adventuring around the streets of Munich, both for work and at the weekends. Just don’t drink one too many Augustiner Bräu Pils, leave the iPad on the table in a bar, realising when you’ve strolled ten minutes up the road, having a panic attack so severe you think you’re going to evacuate on the Große Straße.
If you’re not familiar with Evernote, then give it a go. It’s ideal for recording ideas on your mobile when a thought occurs to you staring at magazine shelves in WH Smith® (That Actually Happened to Me!) Everything syncs to the cloud, so you can then either stop at the nearest cafe and expand the idea on your iPad over a Choco-latte-babba-rarra-coocoo-dada, or wait until you get home, and write the full piece with the luxury of a keyboard that actually moves when you touch the keys.
It also allows you to create a number of ‘notebooks’, with many individual notes within each, so I have one for each client, and another book specifically for noting down client blog topic ideas while out and about.
I have to admit I’ve only recently come across CamScanner, thanks to a client in San Diego. Remember the days when you had to “fax” documents to a “fax machine”? No, nor me. Well, since fax machines no longer take up a third of one’s home office, I’ve found contracts, NDAs, project confirmation forms – basically any documents that require you to sign them and return them, a bit of a pain. Having to *print out* documents, *sort them into the right order*, *sign them*, *take them to the funny little Internet Place Over the Road* and *PAY* to have to send them – sheer madness!
Now, you don’t even need to bother reading contracts, just print out the last page, sign it, scan it with your phone, email it, and Bob’s your Uncle. To save time, I just scan my signature, send it to all of my clients, and they can insert it in the appropriate box and they don’t have to bother even telling me the document even exists! Great stuff!
Our Dropbox, which stores files in heaven,
Handy be thy name.
Thy files down do come,
And editing be done,
In the pub or in office the same.
Then saved can they be,
With a press of a key,
And, then resurrected – praise be!
Be you on bus, on bike or in plane.
But deliver us from email.
For thine is the server space,
Interface, and technology,
Share for ever and ever.
5. Documents To Go
Dropbox and Documents To Go® go together like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga a dong. In a nutshell, you can open and edit Microsoft Office documents on your mobile device (mainly my iPad). My only niggle is that it lacks the ‘track changes’ feature in Word – which I use on an almost hourly basis, and often the format preservation as it goes from one device to another isn’t great. But now I know that, so if I am planning to work on a flash looking PowerPoint, *insisting*, as I do, on using Comic Sans font and lots of lovely bright colours on every page of my 9pt presentation, I just know to take my laptop instead.
4. Daily Notes
Daily Notes is another note taking and time management app, except it’s not really like any other I’ve ever come across. I suppose the best comparison is to a Filofax of the 1980s, remember them? No, nor me. The most striking likeness is the ‘leather’ jacket in which it is ‘cased’ which might not be to everyone’s taste, but I think it’s very classy indeed.
So, like a Filofax, you can take notes and manage tasks, all split by an infinite number of tabs on a specific day. You have a choice of different views, an excellent search facility, and built-in import, export and back up facilities. But what does this do that the others can’t? I suppose it’s like having a sophisticated diary / journal in which you can section off your life by each day.
So, here’s a possible use: if like me, you were following the lives of those impressive executives in that marvellous businessy TV programme The Apprentice (which, in it’s seventh series is not at all flogging a dead horse and creating a ridiculous pantomime caricature of Lord Sugar), then Daily Notes could be ideal companion to the series.
Each contestant could be assigned a ‘tab’ (which run down the side of the page), all nicely colour coded. Then, as the series progresses, you can add updates on what’s gone on, news on how they’re progressing and any top business tips you’ve picked up (in fact I think you’ll be wanting your own tab specifically for Business Tips from The Apprentice). All of this information is split both by day and by candidate. You can even add in photographs, scans from magazines and email regular updates direct to friends and family.
Each week you could use Daily Notes to commentate on each contentast’s tab individually on whether they are being a shining beacon of business acumen, basking in the glow of Lord Sugar, or a ruthless idiot who deserves the mauling they get when they’re paraded in front of him.
At the end of the series you can export your ‘Apprentice Scrapbook’ as a PDF and have it made into a nice set of table mats by one of those companies, or perhaps give it to a loved one for Christmas.
Sadly Daily Notes does not yet sync to mobile or PC.
3. VoiceText and Enhanced SMS & Caller ID
Joint third place go to the above mobile apps. VoiceText allows you speak your texts – without having to use your hands, so perfect if your hobby involves sexing budgerigars or battle re-enactments. And I must say, the accuracy is pretty good.
The Yang to VoiceText’s Yin is Enhanced SMS & Caller ID. This nifty little app not only announces the name of callers as the phone rings, but can be set to read out entire text messages. Don’t forget to switch to Airplane Mode when you’re in a high-powered meeting if you have friends who are likely to send rude or naughty texts.
Combined, these two apps are perfect for projecting an image of a modern, swish executive about town, as, wearing your modern fangled Bluetooth headset, you drive, jog or cycle, barking out your executive orders and confirming that all-important business meeting in a very authoritative fashion.
I had been searching for a decent task management app for around a year and a half when I finally came across Wunderlist. And, this is the first one that fulfils every requirement: it looks fantastic, it has a clean simple interface. it’s free, you can set up numerous lists and add tasks to your heart’s desire, prioritising them with due dates, etc, then make them disappear with a smug little tick of satisfaction. And best of all, it syncs seamlessly across PC, Mac, iPad and Android making it an incredibly flexible and powerful little app.
It’s very rare that I come across an app that I think is simply too good to be true (with the exception of Angry Birds). But I get a tingle of excitement every time I open up Cube. The strapline is Adding an extra dimension to your productivity, but for me, it has added an extra dimension to my happiness and emotional well-being.
Again, this was the result of a marathon search, dating back to when I first got my iPad…*stares dreamily into the middle distance*.
Keeping accurate timesheets is an essential part of my job, because if a client were ever to question how much time has been spent on a particular project, there needs to be an easy, tidy way of showing them. And if working between a PC, an iPad, a brain, and a nice Moleskine notebook is your thing, then keeping good timesheets is a *major*, *MAJOR* hassle.
But gone are the days of dreading the end of the each month when I have to sit down and plough through notepads, scraps of paper, Google calendar and discarded kebab wrappers to tot up time in readiness for invoicing.
Cube is quite simply bursting at the seams with nifty – and yet user-friendly – features. In a nutshell, it’s a time tracking / timesheet program that, again, can be used across a range of platforms, and also syncs with the cloud. But unlike so many others, it can be used with incredible ease.
Begin by entering the names of your clients, followed by your projects and / or tasks, and you’re pretty much set. It’s then just a matter of inputting the time you spend on each project every day – or whenever you prefer – and, at the end of the month, you literally press one button, and, hey presto, an immaculate timesheet showing a detailed breakdown of exactly how you’ve been spending your time is instantly produced.
Add to that real time project costs, rich interactive charts, the ability to create project teams and assign tasks, a feature where you can tag your data and report, chart and filter based on those tags, and excitement bubbles over.
Another small point worth mentioning, but incredibly reassuring, is that when I was first getting to grips with the software, I had cause to email Cube’s technical support, and was amazed to get a response within eight minutes. All this for under 5 Euro / 7 USD.
Read more about Cube’s features at cubeanywhere.com.
That’s it, my techological executive life is complete, but if you have any other suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments. Posts from individuals working in public relations warmly welcomed if accompanied by mild bribery.