3 Tech Tools to Better Automate Your Life
As a media company CTO, it's my duty to be progressive when exploring new technologies. At the same time, I need to make sure I don't become overwhelmed by the many options to manage my data consumption.
Everyone who works in the knowledge-based economy depends on email or office productivity software to get through their daily operations. In addition to email, my day-to-day revolves around creating, managing, and accessing files or documents. Any tool that improves my ability to do this has a major positive impact on my efficiency.
The projects and tasks that I am responsible for in a given day dictate the files I will need. Keeping close tabs on my daily tasks in a central, trusted system helps me manage my workflow. And, any tools or services that can ease the burden of information overload are hugely beneficial. Technology should be used to help eliminate distracting noise from dragging down your productivity.
Here are three tools I employ on a daily basis to help access documents, track what I'm doing, and automate my life:
1. Store documents with Google Drive, Dropbox, Skydrive and Box.
If you're a technophile, hopefully these are obvious and you can skip this section. If not, and you haven't started relying on these services as your file storage solution, this is absolutely critical for you. Stop storing your files on laptops, desktops, tablets, or mobile phones. The mantra that I live by -- and consistently push in my role as CTO -- is access to data from anywhere, at any time, using any device. If your files are stored on your laptop, which you left at home, you can't do that.
Google Drive is my personal and professional data hub. Dropbox, Skydrive, and Box all provide the same functionality. I don't store any data on my devices, thus eliminating the fear of losing the device, breaking the device, or leaving it at home when I need some files from it at work. The beauty of cloud-based data storage is that I always have access to it.
The argument that these services may go down or aren't as secure are weak and myopic. We are talking about companies like Google and Microsoft who have thousands of the best engineers. They invest billions of dollars into their infrastructure. I'm pretty sure that your in-house system is far less secure -- no offense to your IT team.
2. Track daily tasks with Todoist.
There are plenty of ways to keep track of your daily tasks, with the most tried and tested being the sticky note on your monitor. But, since you're an entrepreneur and innovator, you need something digital that's accessible from anywhere.
The solution I heavily rely on is Todoist. I don't need anything fancy, I just need something simple, clean and functional. Todoist is a web service, accessible via any browser. The interface is simple, intuitive, and uniform across all devices. I can now create, check, and update my tasks on my Macbook, Chromebook, Android phone, iPad, and Nexus 7. The best part is email creation of tasks. I used to mark emails in my inbox with the label "to do" or "follow up." Now I forward it to my Todoist email address and a task is created for me to track.
3. Automate your day-to-day with IFTTT.
IFTTT, whose name rhymes with "gift," is the unsung hero of my personal digital ecosystem. I only recently started using it and, in a short time, it has become indispensable. IFTTT is an acronym for "if this, then that" and the simple explanation is that it acts as your digital Swiss Army Knife. For example, when I update my Facebook profile photo, IFTTT will automatically change my Twitter profile picture to the same new photo. I can also set it up to automatically save every email attachment in Gmail to Dropbox. Or, how about receiving an email or text when the weather report says it's going to rain. If I lose my phone in my house, I can send an email to IFTTT triggering a service to call my phone. You get the picture.
The power of this service is the extreme flexibility of creating and using any number of "recipes" to custom tailor solutions to your specific needs. There are currently over 70 "channels" to use, including Twitter, Facebook, email, phone, New York Times, SMS, and more. If you're not using this service, you need to start today because it's going to improve your digital life significantly.
The digital information weighing you down grows exponentially each year, but the tools and technologies to help you manage are also evolving at a rapid pace. Leveraging the right tools is critical to your success as an entrepreneur
Tom Cochran is the deputy coordinator for platforms at the U.S. Department of State. In this role, he is responsible for the global infrastructure supporting U.S. embassy web sites and a network of 700 American Spaces for public diplomacy and engaging foreign audiences. His most recent previous positions have included chief technology officer at Atlantic Media and director of new media technologies at the White House.