10 can’t-live-without productivity tools


The most helpful productivity tools are the tools that have tools. This has become a lot more visible lately with "App Stores" popping up everywhere; however, the concept of extending an initial framework has been around for a while, often through third-party use of APIs.

My top two production tools are of this variety: frameworks that are impressive as standalone products and extremely helpful when augmented. (Disclosure: much of my equipment is Mac-based though many of the programs I work with are universally accessible).

Here are ten tools (and some extensions) that I find extremely useful in my day-to-day role as VP of product development.

Web-development and web-learning frameworks

It is probably a bit odd to find a CMS on a list of "can't-live-without" tools, but the beauty of Wordpress is that it is what you make it. Wordpress is hardly an emerging technology and yet, due to its open source nature and overall support and accessibility, it keeps emerging.

While eMedia Vitals is a Drupal shop, many add-ons in Drupal also see a Wordpress version released, often beforehand. What makes Wordpress a terrific resource is the simplicity with which I can install and experiment with countless plugins. Most recently, I have toyed with semantic tagging, analytics, video SaaS providers, social commenting and media integrations, and themes and site designs.

This type of sandbox does require a hosted account (Wordpress.com may not be enough). I use Bluehost, which is a SimpleScripts provider. SimpleScripts is a tool that allows me to install and uninstall dozens of products, including Wordpress, within seconds, so I don't have to worry about backend coding to get a site up and running.

Within Wordpress, plugins can be searched for, downloaded and activated with ease. The time it takes using this one-touch capability for setting up a Wordpress sandbox and installing plugins is trivial, allowing me to experiment with different web technologies in a live environment quickly. 

Cost: This is the best $6 a month I spend!


Firefox with extensions/add-ons
Firefox is slow when javascript is involved, so I tend not to use it for office use and opt for Safari or Chrome whenever possible. However, its extensions are phenomenal and I'll be using them until Google enables extensions on the Mac version of Chrome.

  • Firebug: realtime virtual HTML editing, meaning that I can augment a live page's HTML and CSS in my browser just to see how things would work out. Then I can copy that code and make the changes for real.

  • FireFTP: A very robust FTP client built into the browser.

  • Resize windows: instantly changes the browser's size to some very common monitor resolutions.

  • Delicious: bookmarks to Delicious.com instantly

  • Colorzilla: a dropper tool that provides the hex value of a selected color in the browser

  • MeasureIt: measures in pixels an area of your choosing

 Cost: Free

Cloud-based productivity tools

The tools I use for writing and note-taking tend not to be so extensible. Most of us now use multiple devices to stay connected continuously (what do we do that is so important?). To facilitate my dreams of uber-productivity, where my work seamlessly transfers from home computer to smart phone to work computer and back, I make use of a couple of cloud-based synchronization technologies. 

SimpleNote is a very basic text application for the iPhone that synchronizes with the site http://simplenoteapp.com. I write on my iphone and can collect the notes on my desktop and vice-versa. 

Cost: Free now, with ads/Pay option requires annual subscription, which is a different model then when I purchased it.


Evernote is more cloud-based note-taking but with more support for other devices. Evernote allows me to synchronize images and notes taken from my mobile phone or laptop into the cloud and back onto another Evernote software-running device like my laptops. Great for whiteboard presentations that need archiving. It can also archive text notes and recognize handwriting in images (so they say).

Cost: Free/Pay option

Desktop-based writing and coding applications

This is bizarre but WriteRoom is a text editing program that removes all distractions from your computer screen. Your desktop, open applications, IMs, and email notifications all disappear, leaving you with just the words you are typing. It says something about our society that we need to buy something like this to keep us from being distracted but it works very nicely. Wish it was cloud based like SimpleNote. 

Cost: Pricey at $25


From Panic software. A code editing program I use mostly for HTML/CSS but can be used for Java, PHP, and a variety of other languages. Versatile-enough program that does not cost nearly as much as Dreamweaver. Espresso is a another nice app but focused on HTML and PHP only. 

Cost: $99 and worth it

Free Photoshop alternatives

Pixlr.com / Aviary / GIMP
These applications provide robust image editing for free.

Pixlr and Aviary are SaaS without the cost; entirely web-based. Pixlr loads surprisingly fast and works well. It's a good alternative if you don't need all the capabilities of Photoshop. Pixlr does not allow you to save online, but Aviary does. And Aviary has complimentary programs that focus on vector graphics, color editing, and even audio editing.

GIMP is a desktop-based Photoshop alternative. This open source photo editing program is quite powerful, however, is not for the feint of heart.

Cost: all oddly free


Built into the MacOSX, Preview is the most basic graphics and PDF viewer out there. With regard to graphics, the program allows me to resize, level image colors, and crop. I often need very little else.

Cost: Free (included in Mac OS X)

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