I've been using some products over the past several weeks and months that improve productivity, organization and solve real problems. Each of these four products is designed to do just one thing, and all do their tasks well. Products such as these tend to live under the radar and not get the visibility of a new computer, camera or phone, but I think they deserve mention.
Outlining is a powerful tool to organize your thoughts, something most of us learned to do in high school. I find outlining valuable for organizing and planning activities, projects, to-do lists, presentations, talks and lists of any type. While there were good outline programs years ago for DOS computers such as GrandView from Symantec, there has not been a good outliner for Windows. While Word provides an outlining function, it's hard to use and very limited.
An outliner program allows words or phrases to be listed below one another and items in the list to be easily reordered, indented, promoted and collapsed.
An excellent new outliner is available for Windows called MyInfo 2 from Milenix Software (www.milenix.com) of Bulgaria. MyInfo 2 has a simple interface yet powerful flexibility, including the ability to customize columns, fonts and menus. The product was developed over the past five years by Milenix's founder, Petko Georgiev. His goal of making superb outlining software for Windows seems to have been realized. MyInfo 2 is available for a free 40-day trial and can be purchased for $35. Highly recommended.
If you try to travel light, buying a lightweight computer only partially solves the problem. There's the power adapter and all the cables needed to connect devices to the computer, connect the computer to the modem or a network and keep your electronic devices charged and synced.
While computer cables haven't changed much over the years, a company called Cables Unlimited has introduced inexpensive cabling products that ingeniously roll up 2-foot long wire onto spring-loaded reels of about less than an inch in diameter. These products solve the problem of keeping the cables separate and untangled and make it easy for traveling by minimizing bulk. These Zip-Linq cables (www.ziplinq.com) come in dozens of versions for doing all sorts of tasks.
The ones I especially like connect devices to the USB port to charge battery-powered devices such as phones and PDAs. The company offers a single kit for charging most brands of phones from the computer or car. Some of these do double duty and sync the device with the computer at the same time. The products are available at Fry's and Staples and similar stores from about $9.
If you're like me you probably spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find that e-mail, attachment or file that you suddenly need. You try searching through Outlook only to find the searches take a long time and you may need to search among different folders. Often when searching on the name of the sender you find he uses multiple addresses. It can really diminish productivity as well as make you think you're getting senile! Well, there is now a terrific solution called X1 from Idea Lab of Pasadena.
X1 is to your computer as Google is to the Internet. It works remarkably well and does so almost instantaneously. I am now using it dozens of times a day to make finding information easy and quick. It's simple and, so far, has worked flawlessly. As it installs, it indexes your entire drive. This can take some time, up to a couple of hours if you have lots of stuff to go through, but once that's done it automatically updates any new additions invisibly in the background. It can run both as an application and as a toolbar.
You choose whether you want to search e-mail, folders, attachments or contacts, which covers most everything you'll ever want to find. You begin by entering a few letters in any of the fields; as you become more specific the list of possible documents diminishes. It literally takes a second or two to locate what you're looking for.
If more than one document fits the criteria you can view the contents without opening it. It's particularly effective while on the phone and needing to quickly retrieve an e-mail or document to discuss with a customer or client. They'll think you're incredibly organized! X1 costs $99 -- a little steep, but it's effective and hard to live without once you use it. This is one my favorites.
E-mailing to cell phones
And lastly, do you need to send a message to someone's cell phone from your computer? While you can send these SMS messages to the phone address set up by the cell phone carrier, you need to know the particular carrier and their format, so few bother. Well now there's an easier way. You can send e-mail to any cell phone at (cell phone number)@teleflip.com and the message will arrive in a few seconds. It's free, there's no signup needed and the company promises that it's spam-free.
Often the products that don't gain high visibility can make our computing experiences more effective.
Baker has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others. He is the holder of 30 patents and was named San Diego's Ernst & Young Consumer Products Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.