Episode: My Must-Have Apps for Productivity
Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.
Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.
Michael: And this is Lead to Win, the weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. In this episode, we’re going to open the tech toolbox and show you our favorite virtual tools for maximizing productivity.
Megan: You and I are a little different on this whole idea of the toolbox. You are not only a geek, but tech is a hobby for you.
Michael: I’m an enthusiast.
Megan: You are an enthusiast. You love, love, love technology. You love trying new things all the time. You’re always experimenting. It’s just kind of what you love to do. I’m a little bit different. I also like technology, but I’m more utilitarian about it. It’s sort of like I love it inasmuch as it enables me to be more productive, but I’m not going to be the first one rushing to try new things. I’ll let you do that and then let you curate the list for me. So that’s what we’re talking about today: your curated list of your favorite tools.
Michael: Would it be fair to call you a technological minimalist?
Megan: Probably not quite a minimalist, but some people limit their wardrobe so they have fewer choices and less decision fatigue. I feel like I do that with technology. I have a handful of things I love and use every day, but I’m not always looking to find a digital solution to every part of my life, which I think you kind of are, in some ways.
Michael: Yeah. Although I would hasten to say that I think, in some ways, your position is better, because you’re less likely to get distracted. But as long as I can think of it as a hobby and keep it as a hobby and not let it distract me too much, I think I’m good. At any rate, as usual, we have Larry with us today, who’s going to guide us through this discussion. Larry, good to see you again.
Larry Wilson: Hey, great to be back with you guys. I like this topic. I love digital technology, and I love the apps you share, but I kind of position between the two of you. I’m not quite an enthusiast enough that I want to go out and try all of these things myself. I enjoy listening in on your occasional briefs on technology so I pick up some good ideas and add them to my toolbox, so I’m excited about today.
Larry: We have a good list of technological tools we’re going to share with people. The idea is…to be productive in a digital environment, you have to have good digital tools. Michael, let’s open up your tech toolbox. The first one I want you to talk about for us is Backblaze.
Michael: This is a great little app. I know Megan uses it too. In fact, everybody on our team uses it. It basically backs up your computer into the cloud incrementally every day without you even knowing about it. It’s one of those programs that you just set and forget about it.
Megan: It’s so cool.
Michael: It is. You like it too. Right?
Megan: Well, I like it because I was one of those people who was constantly feeling shame and guilt because I could never remember to plug in my backup. I knew I was supposed to do that, and I never did it. So this enabled me to quit having to worry about it, and I still feel like I’m in a secure position because all my data is backed up. It’s just not manually having to be dependent on me.
Michael: The important thing here is it’s not just a backup. I’m kind of one of those guys who wears suspenders and a belt.
Megan: Thankfully, not literally.
Michael: Not literally, but I like backups of backups. I always run the Time Machine backup on my Mac computer so it’s backing up locally. In addition to that, I do a carbon copy clone, which is an exact clone of my hard drive, where I can go retrieve files more easily than Time Machine. The problem is if my house burned down and those were the only two backups I had, everything would disappear…unless I’m backed up off-site, and that’s the beauty of a cloud solution.
Backblaze is pretty cheap. It’s $5 a month per user. It’s available for Mac and PC, and, again, it’s a cloud-based computer backup system that’s stupid easy. That’s the word Larry had in our notes. It’s stupid easy to use. You just set it and forget it. Larry, do you use it?
Larry: I do. I didn’t use it before I came to work here at Michael Hyatt & Company, but I love it. I was in the same boat with Megan. I knew I needed to back stuff up and just didn’t want to figure out a solution. This really is stupid easy to use, as witnessed by the fact that I’m using it.
Michael: By the way, why it’s so important is that you’re going to have a computer crash in your future. Your hard drive is going to stop working. The computer is going to crash. Something is going to get damaged. It just happened to me the other day where a computer file was damaged. It’s inevitable. If you don’t have a backup system in place, you’re really jeopardizing your future. You’re risking your future and a lot of hard work.
Larry: So, Backblaze is a really simple solution for cloud-based computer backup. Let’s talk about another tool that is on your favorites list, one called Bartender. Now, are you trying to tell us something, Michael, about your use of off time?
Michael: When I first heard of this, I thought, “That has to be one of those apps that has drink recipes in it.” Right? That’s what you’d think.
Megan: That’s what I thought.
Michael: Bartender. But it’s not that. It has to do with your menu bar, and it tends the little apps that are the helper apps on a Mac. (This is only available for Mac.) You know how sometimes you might have Google Drive, you might have Dropbox, you might have a gazillion little apps that are loaded in the background, you know, your Bluetooth notification, if you use something like TextExpander, Alfred? All these love to put their little icons on your menu bar, and if you’re not careful, before long it becomes really cluttered and becomes overwhelming.
Well, all Bartender does is lets you decide what you want to have appear on the menu bar and what you want to have appear on the Bartender bar, which has to be invoked with a mouse click. So it keeps your menu bar really clean and…get this…gives you the illusion that you’re a lot more organized and have less digital clutter than you actually do.
I love this. This is one of the first apps I install on every computer I set up, and it’s $15. For some people, they’re going to consider it totally unnecessary, but if you like to create the appearance that things are neat and organized, this is awesome. Nick, our producer, is sitting right here. Are you laughing because you think you need this?
Nick: Well, I have 17 icons up there. It’s literally running into the menu on the side. It really is. We’re getting so close.
Nick: It sounds like Megan does not care.
Megan: I was going to say it way more diplomatically than that, but you’re right. I’ve never felt this problem before. Sorry.
Michael: I’m trying to think of a metaphor for this, but this is for the people who might buy a custom hood ornament for their car. The rest of us go, “What? Who needs that?” But if you’re that kind of person…
Megan: It sounds cool.
Michael: You know who you are.
Megan: I don’t really feel a need for it, but it’s okay.
Larry: Well, for the hyper-organized among us, there is Bartender, which will organize the icons in your menu bar. Let’s talk about another solution. This one is also Mac only, but there are similar solutions for PC. It’s called CleanMyMac. What does this do for you, Michael?
Michael: This program basically scans your entire system on some kind of regular basis (I have mine set up to do once a month) to remove junk files, viruses, free up memory. It basically optimizes your hard drive and your system so your Mac retains its original speed and performance. Again, I set it up to automatically run once a week. It notifies me, and then I run it. It keeps my system clean and functioning like it needs to function. The interface is really beautiful.
I’ve had this program since they started, maybe five or six years. It just keeps getting better and better, faster and faster. I wouldn’t think of trying to use a computer without this. The last time I ran it manually, it scanned and cleaned my entire system in about three minutes and removed 14 gigabytes of junk. I think most of us don’t realize how many junk files, how many duplicates, how much malware, even on a Mac, can accumulate. Shadow RAM that happens, where your RAM… Most people reboot to do this, but you can actually…
Megan: What did you just call this?
Michael: Shadow RAM.
Megan: Shadow RAM? I’ve never heard that.
Michael: Somebody who knows it more technically will probably correct me on this, but programs don’t shut down correctly, and they leave either cached files or parts of their programs in memory, and they occupy space and keep you from using it for other programs.
Megan: Okay. So, I have to tell you that I’m not using this, although I think, as a company, we’re using something a little bit similar to this. That’s intriguing to me. I like to clean things.
Michael: I know. Even your mother uses this. I sold her on it, and she loves it too.
Megan: Okay. So you’re one and one.
Michael: Okay, good.
Larry: So, CleanMyMac, a speed-up solution for Mac. Michael, did you say the price on that?
Michael: I didn’t, but it’s $39.99 a year, which as apps go is pretty expensive, but I think it’s a small investment for a clean digital environment.
Larry: So that’s CleanMyMac. There is a CleanMyPC solution from the same makers, although we’re all on Mac here at Michael Hyatt & Company so we can’t comment on the effectiveness of that, but there are other solutions for PC users. Michael, I have a problem in that I am constantly clipping files or clipping text and losing them. Do you have any idea how much time that can waste? I wish there was a solution, and I hope this is the perfect softball for you for our next bit of software. Can you help me with losing clipped files?
Michael: Oh my gosh. Okay, get prepared, because your head is about to explode. Megan, yours is especially going to explode. There’s a program called Copied. It’s $7.99. It’s for Mac. It solves a big productivity problem that dogs many people, where you copy something to the clipboard and either write over it or you have use of it again or you want to use maybe the last five things you copied to the clipboard. Copied retains up to your thousand last copies. Megan is cracking up over here, like, “Oh. Big deal.” Maybe she doesn’t have a need for this, but I have a need for it all the time.
You can even name those clips. For example, I have affiliate links for my books, because I’m copying from those. I can open up Copied, search for that link, and pop it right into some social media link or something else I’m doing, and it syncs across devices. So if I copy something on my Mac… By the way, supposedly, the Mac OS has this in, a system called Handoff. I found it enormously unreliable, but Copied is 100 percent reliable. So if I copy it to the Copied clipboard, then I can use that same clip on my iPhone, my iPad, wherever. Have you started using it, Larry?
Larry: I have not. I really would love to get this loaded. I’m just one of those people who never takes the time to do the things they should do.
Michael: Well, I showed it to Joel, Megan’s husband, let the record show, and he was super excited about it.
Megan: Oh, he copies everything, so yeah, he would love this.
Michael: So this doesn’t appeal to you either?
Megan: I’m going to say probably not.
Michael: Oh my gosh. If that’s the case, I’d say you’re probably typing too much.
Megan: I don’t know.
Michael: A lot of our work is repetitive text that we use.
Megan: Okay. This is a big thing for you. Like, TextExpander, now we have Copied. This is a whole genre that I honestly just don’t think about. I don’t really feel like I’m not productive because I’m typing a phrase. This feels like micro-micro-micro-productivity. I guess I’m looking for big head exploders.
Michael: So when I look at you, I see the person you could become with some of these simple tools.
Megan: .05 percent better.
Michael: All right. Let’s keep moving on.
Larry: So that’s Copied, which is a solution for keeping track of things you copy to your clipboard and managing them. Now, Megan, here’s one I know you do use and is very accessible, and it’s still on Michael’s list of favorites: Google Drive and, a similar app, Dropbox.
Michael: Yeah. I love these. I couldn’t live without them.
Megan: I love them too.
Michael: Literally, I have no files stored locally anymore, or probably a few, but not much. Once I started using an iMac and a laptop, and I’m going back and forth between the two of those all the time… Because all of my documents and everything is in the cloud in Google Drive, it makes it so much easier. If I start a project on my iMac and then I want to go to a coffee shop and keep working on my laptop, the file is right there.
So Google Drive is our solution. There are free versions of it. You can pay a little bit to upgrade the storage you have there. We also use it as a team solution. We have something we call our digital asset repository (DAR), and what we do is we store in that all of the files we need as a team. We have a team of about 31 or 32 now.
Michael: Really? Okay. I wonder who snuck in since I slept. At any rate, we have everybody accessing a common hard drive, a server, in essence, but it’s housed by Google. The only reason we mentioned Dropbox… Dropbox is a good solution too, and I use both of them. Sometimes I find that it’s easier to share a link in Dropbox.
Megan: I actually use Dropbox for all of my files. Anything that is shared company-wise I use Google Drive for, and then anything personal I use Dropbox for. I don’t even really know why. Shawn Lemon does all of our tech setup, and that’s kind of how he set me up, and it has worked really well. It was a huge breakthrough when I started using more than one machine. If you’ve ever done that before, gone between a desktop and a laptop, you instantly realize you don’t have what you need everywhere, and it’s super frustrating. So to be able to have access to everything no matter what device I’m on…iPad, phone, iMac, laptop, whatever…it’s great.
Michael: By the way, Shawn’s URL is thedigitalorganizer.com.
Megan: What he does is helps people set up their Apple devices for optimal productivity. He’s fantastic.
Michael: He’s awesome. Full disclosure: he’s my son-in-law.
Megan: He is, but we’d use him anyway.
Michael: One of the things I also want to mention about Google Drive is that it comes built in with all the Google suite of apps. I don’t use all of them, but I use Google Docs pretty frequently, because that’s the best collaborative word processing system I’ve found. Dropbox has their version of that called Paper, which I’ve not used. I also use Google Sheets, which is their spreadsheet solution. In fact, I try to do everything in Google Sheets because it allows all of us to collaborate on spreadsheets. We use that for our accounting team for our financials, and so forth, too.
Larry: Michael, could you comment a little bit on your preference for the Google suite of products versus Microsoft Word, for example? I know you do use both, but you seem to prefer Google Docs. Why is that?
Michael: Let me just say that I think Microsoft has come back with a vengeance. Their suite of products has dramatically improved in the last couple of years. In fact, I was just listening to the Mac Power Users podcast this morning at the gym, and they had an employee of Microsoft who was talking about what has happened at the company in the last couple of years. It has been amazing.
As I’ve looked at their products, I’ve been really impressed, but the thing I like about the Google Docs is that they’re available on the cloud so everybody has access to them. You don’t have to have the products installed. I can share a spreadsheet or a Google document with somebody who doesn’t even have an account if I use the public link or private link, and I can collaborate with them. I like that as well.
I made myself a note when I was listening to that podcast episode this morning. I want to go back and look at Microsoft’s Office 365. That’s their cloud-based solution, and a few other things. I want to see if it’s easier even than Google Docs, because there are some things about Google Docs and Google Sheets that annoy me in the sharing, and that’s why I still keep Dropbox around, because it’s often easier to share a Dropbox link than to go through and adjust the permissions on a specific Google document.
One thing I also want to mention, Larry, is if you do run Google Drive or Google Docs on your Mac, install a program called Google Drive File Stream. This is a Google app. It allows all of these different files to appear natively within Finder so they look like they’re all local, and you can decide on a file-by-file basis whether you only want it in the cloud or you want it on your local version of your computer. You can still see it if it’s not downloaded. You could have access to gigabytes and gigabytes and gigabytes that you couldn’t store on your local computer, but you can still see that they’re available in the cloud. Again, that’s Google Drive File Stream.
Larry: Let’s talk about a new tool. I think it’s a relatively new tool overall, but it’s certainly new to us around here, and that’s Notion.
Michael: This is an exciting app. In fact, my team has gotten really excited about it because it’s just fun to use. Initially, I thought this was going to take the place of Evernote, it was going to be a place where I could dump information, I could collaborate with my peers. By the way, Evernote still to this day doesn’t have a good collaboration solution, but I’ve heard they’re working on it. Notion allows collaboration. It has the ability to comment on text. I don’t really know how to describe it. It’s basically a way to create content, but it also has some database functionality built into it.
I don’t really know how to explain it other than to say it combines the best features of Google Docs, WorkFlowy, Evernote, and even a task management system like Asana. It’s under active development. I can’t wait to see what this becomes, because I kind of think it’s the future of document management, in many ways. I’m experimenting with it a lot right now, using it for a lot of different projects.
Another way to think of it is it’s like having your own corporate wiki. Think of Wikipedia, which is sort of the whole world organizing and making available information. This is a great way to do a corporate wiki, where there are certain documents you want to be able to share with the entire team and have available to the entire team or even subsets of the team, because you can control permissions down to that level. This is a great tool. Megan, are you using it at all?
Megan: I’m using it a little bit, not nearly as much as you are. I’ve actually been using it more for high-level project management. It kind of works like a Kanban sort of model, like Trello or something else, where you have the little boards, basically. I really like that. To me, it’s very visual. I’m not managing projects down to a task level, except for myself. I’m mostly managing them at a high level that are delegated to other people. It just helps me see at a glance what is in motion without it getting too granular. So I like it for that.
Michael: I’m even using it as my master task list manager. The whole team uses Asana right now, and I’ve decided not to use that. I’m just using Notion for task management. I have a database set up, and I just dump a task in there when I think of it, and that has worked really well.
Megan: One of the things I like about it the most is you can customize the aesthetics of it, so it can be really beautiful. You can drop in photos and other elements you can change to make it really pretty. It’s an enjoyable experience once you get the hang of it.
Michael: Some of our team have really taken off with this.
Larry: It strikes me that this is a tool that if you like technology you should just get ahold of and play with and see what it can do for you, because our team has already taken it in a bunch of different directions. It’s very versatile, and it may fit a function for you that we haven’t even named here. It might be a good one just to check out and take out for a test drive.
Larry: Let’s talk about a tool called Snagit. I love the name. What does it do?
Michael: Snagit is an amazing tool. I use it for capturing either static screenshots… You can capture a window, a region of the screen, or the entire screen, and you can also capture screencasts; in other words, video of your screen. Anything I want to show to the team or I want to drop into a webinar, I can capture it with Snagit, and beyond that, it has a great editor built into it. I can edit both video and the screenshots, and within the system I can upload it to Snagit’s website, and it’ll give me back a URL so I can share that URL with other people so they can see what I’m describing.
I use this oftentimes when I’m passing off some kind of workflow I have and I want to show people how I’m doing it. It’s a whole lot easier than trying to write it out and a lot more explicit than trying to pass on a written document. I’ll just do a screencast and then pass off the link to the screencast to Jim, my assistant, or somebody else on the team, and they can take it from there.
Megan: I have only used this a little bit, and I found it really difficult to use. I don’t know. Maybe I just couldn’t break through to the part where it became intuitive for me. I definitely see the value of it, and when I have figured it out it has been good, but I don’t feel like I’ve quite gotten there with it.
Michael: Well, some of this stuff is already built into the Mac OS. For example, there are keystroke combinations that enable you to save a screenshot. If you hit “command-shift-3” it’ll save a screenshot. You can also start QuickTime and record the screen, but I find those are cumbersome, and I like this all-in-one solution.
One of the things that has really helped me (and this is across the board with all of the apps I use) is I take a little time initially (maybe I have a natural proclivity toward this anyway) to memorize keyboard shortcuts. So I can invoke a screenshot… It’s in my muscle memory. I can’t even tell you what the keystroke is right now, but if I was sitting at my computer I could do it without thinking about it. Same thing with starting a screen recording. I can do that also the same way.
One of the things I want to say about Snagit before we move on is that for really industrial-strength, professional-grade screencasts I don’t use Snagit. I use another app called ScreenFlow, and that’s really heavy-duty. That has all of the bells and whistles, a full editing suite, professional-grade screencasts. I use that, for example, when I’m doing a screencast of a webinar. If I’m demoing a site or demoing something I want to be able to show in a webinar or even live onstage, I’ll use ScreenFlow to capture that and be able to annotate it appropriately.
The crazy thing about that is I’ve had people come up to me afterward and ask, “How in the world did you get Keynote to do that, where you could be scrolling a website right from within Keynote?” Well, all I had was a video that was saved using ScreenFlow, and I put that on a slide. Then I clicked my button and started ScreenFlow, and it looked like I was doing it in real time.
Larry: Snagit is a little on the more expensive side at $49.95. it’s available for Mac and Windows, but a great tool, especially if you find yourself needing to do screencasts or screenshots quite a bit. So check it out. Let’s talk about an app we use every day here at Michael Hyatt & Company, and that is Slack.
Michael: Slack is the communications program we use for internal communication. We used to use email, and the problem with that is we would end up with these threads that were so unwieldy, and it was difficult to track the conversation. Plus there was no way to let other people into the conversation once it started. If you weren’t on that original copy list on that email, no way you could gain access to the knowledge, the information that was being shared back and forth via email.
Slack solves that problem. Plus it’s just a whole lot of fun to use. It’s much like text messaging, but the interface is fun. The communication is fun, and you’re able to communicate in real time if you want. You could communicate in a synchronous fashion or you could make it asynchronous and only check it when you want to check it. Either way, the conversation is always there for you.
You divide the conversation up into channels. Like, in our case, if we’re talking about the Free to Focus book, that has its own channel. If we have an upcoming webinar, that might have its own channel that’s temporary. Whatever it is, we’re able to isolate those discussions to the people who are relevant to those discussions and keep the conversation moving. Megan, this is one you use, obviously.
Megan: Yeah, I love it. It helps keep your conversations organized so they’re not all over the place or spread between hundreds or thousands of emails. You can keep a continuous conversation going without the cumbersome replying and “reply all” and that whole thing that you get into with internal email. And you can find things later, which is really helpful. Whether that’s documents or just decisions you made in conversations, it’s searchable. I find it very helpful.
Larry: Michael, some time ago I heard you frequently refer to Evernote as your digital brain. It seems like you’re using Evernote a little bit less these days, but it’s still on your list of favorite tech tools. What are you using Evernote for right now?
Michael: I really feel conflicted about this app. I’ve been with Evernote since 2008, and I love it, and I hate it. For a long time I loved it, but I really think Evernote took a left turn and, due to some poor leadership, didn’t keep the app updated. It got way over-bloated. They started pursuing a bunch of stuff they’ve since cut. I am optimistic right now because they have a new CEO, Ian Small, and I spoke with him about a month ago. He requested the call after he was hearing me rag on Evernote on social media.
He wasn’t defensive at all. He just said, “Hey, look. You’ve been a long-time Evernote user. You’re actually an ambassador for Evernote. I just would like to hear from you what you don’t like about it.” So I said to him, “Well, the search is totally broken. I can never find what I’m looking for.” I said, “I used to say it was my digital brain. Now I refer to it as my digital junk drawer.” He winced. It was a video call, and he just winced, and he said, “Oh, I hate to hear that.” But it’s true. I find it’s easy to put stuff into it; it’s hard to get stuff out.
But there are still some amazing things in Evernote. I think it has better writing tools in terms of formatting and all the rest. The tables are fantastic. If they could add collaboration to it, it would be amazing. I think Ian is committed. What he has said to me, and I don’t think he’d say something to me that wasn’t public… They’re basically rewriting the code base from the ground up, because what they’ve had to do is support Evernote on all of these different platforms…iOS, Android, PC, Mac.
As a result, they’ve gotten out of alignment over time, so the features aren’t consistent across the different platforms. So they’re rewriting that so it’ll be the same. I’m really rooting for them. I want them to succeed. I started with Notion, thinking that would replace Evernote. Notion now has a web clipper, which I love in Evernote, so maybe it will replace Evernote, but Evernote needs to catch up. I still think it’s a valuable tool. Do you use it, Megan?
Megan: Yeah, I use it all the time, and I really like it. I write in Evernote. Anything I write, I do it there. It’s just clean and simple. I keep a lot of personal information, scanned documents, those kinds of things, and I love that they’re easy to get to when I’m at a doctor’s office or somewhere related to my kids. It enables me to have all of the things I need right at my fingertips without having to go find them, and it has certainly dramatically limited the things I file as paper.
Larry: We should say that both the last two tools we’ve talked about, Slack and Evernote, are available on multi-platforms, and both have free versions and paid upgrade versions. Well, today we’ve talked about a wide range of digital technology and tools to help you be more productive in a virtual environment. Be not dismayed. If you didn’t hear Michael and Megan talk about a tool you thought they might, I want you to check out the free ebook, Michael Hyatt’s Top 5 Apps for Focus. That’s available in the show notes today. It has five more apps that are specifically aimed at getting you deeper focus in your work.
So, Michael, Megan, thanks for sharing these helpful tools. As we bring it to a close today, what is it that you guys hope listeners will do with this great information we’ve shared?
Megan: Well, I think regardless of whether you’re an enthusiast, like my dad is, or you’re a more utilitarian tech user like I am, there are some great options here that can really boost your productivity and meet some needs you might not have even known you had. So, check them out.
Michael: If you want to go deeper in technology and explore some other tools, my go-to podcasts are the Mac Power Users podcast with David Sparks (and he has a new cohost whose name I can’t remember), The Productivity Show by Asian Efficiency, and Beyond the To-Do List with Erik Fisher. Those are three great sites that I often learn about new tools from.
Larry: Michael, Megan, thank you for sharing today. I definitely learned some things I want to check out, so thanks very much.
Michael: Thank you, Larry. And thanks for joining us on Lead to Win. Join us next week when we’ll tell you what your biggest distraction is (I’ll bet you can’t guess) and how to beat it. Until then, lead to win.