LD Staff Writer
In the internet age, average folks have access to more information than anyone in history. It’s an incredible luxury to have the entire spectrum of human knowledge at our fingertips, but it can feel more than a little daunting…
Paradoxically, this information overload means that we often find ourselves at a loss when trying to remember things, organize life, and make simple decisions.
What were we supposed to get at the grocery store, again?
Science tells us that when humans are presented with too many options, we become paralyzed, unable to make a choice. It also tells us that we can only truly remember and keep track of so many things in a given day – but the speed of life isn’t waiting for our low-tech brains to catch up.
Thus, busy folks (like the employees at LongerDays) have taken to a number of apps and devices to help keep track of our lives and plan for the future. There are a variety of ways that this seemingly simple goal is accomplished, but a common thread is that they let us “capture” our thoughts at a moment’s notice, saving the information for the future in some actionable way.
Because technology is not without a sense of irony, there are a confounding number of options out there…
That’s where we come in. We researched, polled the office, and put on our thinking caps to come up with a short list of the very best choices when it comes to “capturing” software to help streamline and organize our lives. Let’s take a look.
We all have our mobile phones with us around the clock, so the most obvious avenue for help should be through the little screens in our pockets. These pieces of software all have their own unique features and limitations, so it’s important to pick one that fits your priorities. We narrowed our list down to the apps that are most used on a daily, practical basis.
One great thing to note is that many mobile apps have desktop or browser counterparts, allowing you to keep your life on track no matter what screen is most convenient at a given time. Thanks to cloud-saving features, information saved on one device will automatically update the equivalent app on your other devices.
Once you’ve experienced this convenience, you’ll never want to go back.
Evernote is the grandaddy of modern life organization apps. What began as a simple way to set reminders and take notes on a smartphone has evolved into an entire ecosystem of interlocking parts designed to manage your life. The huge number of productivity features can help you manage your ongoing tasks, curate your planned events, save articles, photographs, and more for later – and of course, take simple notes. Automation features are quickly becoming a must for many power users.
Perhaps the only downside to Evernote is that it might be too all-encompassing for some people.
For starters, the wealth of features can feel intimidating for a first-time user. Also, the app itself, on desktop or mobile, is rather hefty in its memory requirements. It’s understandable that, for many people seeking to streamline their lives, a simpler app might be a better choice.
Still, if you want an all-in-one solution to organizing your work and personal life, Evernote could be just the ticket.
The first and most obvious reason to give the Keep app a try: it is fully integrated with the Google ecosystem that you’re probably already a part of.
As part of the Google suite, this means that notes taken with the app can integrate with important tools like your calendar. Say you need to quickly jot down a time for a meeting next week… Once you’ve saved it in the Keep app, it’ll automatically be placed on your Google calendar, with the requisite reminder set to go off beforehand. The value of this kind of seamless integration cannot be underestimated.
Keep is also the go-to app for many people here at LongerDays because it is one of the simplest interfaces around. Pop open the app to see tiles showing all of your notes, lists, recordings, and more – and just tap along the bottom of the screen to begin recording. Text, voice, photos, and so on can be turned into notes, reminders, checklists, and more.
Thanks to its Google integration, Keep will sync across all of your devices and even your browsers. This means you can log into your email on any computer, using any browser, and have access to your notes.
Moving even further down the simplicity scale, we come to Simplenote. This app has an interface so easy to use that virtually anyone can get a handle on it within minutes. The app allows you to take notes and sync/share them across a variety of platforms, including Android, iOS, Mac, Kindle, and any web browser, which is a boon for those using multiple devices throughout the day.
The focus is directly on note-taking, which makes it perfect for users who need exactly that.
The free app does have some downsides, however. Its relentless focus on simplicity means that it lacks some of the useful features found on Keep, and doesn’t even try to approach the broad set of features found on Evernote.
To put it as plainly as possible, the app is perfect for making text-based notes and reminders, and not much else. If that sounds like your cup of tea, and you don’t need further help keeping your life in line, give it a try!
Siri is the most well-known voice activated app on the planet, thanks to ubiquitous Apple ads – and the people around us constantly asking her to look things up, find directions, and yes, set reminders. There’s a reason for this: Siri really works!
Apple made a smart move by adding a personality to its devices, giving people an emotional connection to the software that nobody else has been able to match so far.
So how does Siri help organize your life? The software is deeply integrated with the entire Apple ecosystem, including iCal, its signature calendar software. In this way, Siri can be as involved in your life as Google Keep, provided you rely on Apple devices across the board. For many folks, this is exactly the case.
Users can simply say, “Siri, remind me about the meeting at 4 pm Friday,” and feel confident that the meeting will appear in their calendar, and thus their reminders, at the appropriate time. Along with access to search engines, email, and other important software stored on your phone, Siri can record voice-to-text, allowing you to take simple notes like the apps listed above.
The only major drawback to Siri is that it’s exclusive to Apple. If your devices come from a variety of manufacturers – say, an iPhone, a Windows PC, and a Kindle tablet – you won’t enjoy the syncing features that make it so useful… But if your devices all have that well-known fruit logo on them, it could be your top choice.
Slack is an app that most people wouldn’t necessarily think of when it comes to note-taking, life-organizing software. Built as a communications tool, it’s become ubiquitous as an office chat app over the past few years, surpassing the venerable Skype at companies across the globe.
Its key advantages are simplicity and adaptability, allowing users to install it across a range of computers, phones, and almost any other device with a screen. Employees can keep in touch at their desks, at home, and on the go.
The chat functions are well known to anyone who’s heard of Slack, but the app hides some powerful software inside that’s just begging to help organize your life. It’s appropriately called Slackbot, and it responds to text commands right in any chat window. It’s as easy as typing a message to a human, although at this point, you still have to choose your words carefully. Users can set reminders, choose automatic responses, and program the “bot” to do a number of useful activities, all within the chat program already in use.
Employees here at LongerDays have found Slack invaluable for far more than its communications abilities. We rely on Slackbot to send company-wide instant messages, task reminders, and more, all via simple text commands.
While the app is primarily a chat software, and probably won’t be as valuable to people who already use another avenue for communications, it can easily take the place of a discrete note taking and reminding app if you’re already using it. The software is adaptable and always getting better via regular updates, so it may become more useful yet.
While mobile and desktop apps are perfectly helpful in most circumstances, technology has finally expanded into our living rooms and kitchens via a new category of hardware. These “smart boxes” allow you to use high-tech, integrated speakers and microphones for interacting, rather than fumbling with a touchscreen or mouse and keyboard. Integration with broader cloud-based systems allow them to perform a wide number of tasks that were previously not available without a computer or phone in hand.
The two major examples on the market both deserve mention.
Alexa is an AI-driven software infused with a personality, not unlike Apple’s Siri. Developed by Amazon, it’s the brain of their Echo family of products. These devices are housed in attractive, sleek black cylinders that can be placed in a common area of the home and used for a surprising range of purposes.
Beyond the showy features like playing music on command – “Play me some Beatles!” for example – Alexa finds its true utility as a “capture” application, allowing busy folks to set reminders, build grocery lists, and even shop without having to stop whatever they’re doing.
A fellow LongerDays employee described how she could simply tell the device to add a specific item to her grocery list the moment she thought of it, avoiding the all-too-familiar risk of forgetting once she actually found a piece of paper to write it down.
As someone who thinks of brilliant dinner ideas and forgets them just as quickly, this is the most appealing piece of the puzzle. Still, the utility goes further: Alexa can help plan your calendar, read notes aloud, and perform many of the functions found on your smartphone, all without even looking at a screen.
Very similar to Alexa, Google Home is a screenless smart device packed with sensors, microphones, and speakers to allow for hands-free interaction in your home. It can also play music, shop for you, set reminders, and perform many of the same tasks that Amazon’s groundbreaking device can. The advantage it offers is full integration with Google, much like the Keep software on a phone or tablet.
This means that you can take notes, update your calendar, create checklists, and do all sorts of productive functions without staring at a screen or even touching hardware in any capacity. In a practical sense, it means that if you’re within range of the device, you can do all the life-organizing functions found on a smartphone without skipping a beat, looking up from your book, or risking forgetfulness while searching for something to write with.
Long gone are the days when we had to rely on pen and paper, wall calendars, notebooks, and other “primitive” means of supplementing our fragile memories.
With the array of software and hardware available today, we never have to let a fleeting thought disappear into the wind. Using the devices at hand or in our homes and offices, we can speak, tap, and type to capture anything for later. We can streamline our schedules, organize our calendars, and even make sure we don’t forget to buy mustard again.
While there are flashier apps and more expensive devices to be found, the simple beauty of the above products are doing the real work toward changing our lives for the better. As the future looms relentlessly, software helps supplement our organic brains, making us de facto cyborgs in a sense…
We’re prepared for tomorrow’s problems by taking advantage of everything available today, integrating our minds with tech with astonishing results… And we think that’s a pretty cool way to picture it!
Want to learn more?
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