My Essential Productivity Tools

Do you have a set of productivity tools that you consider essential? I do and here I’d like to share them with you. But, to prevent the post from being all over the place, I limit the scope only to programs that I install on my computer (which is a Windows machine). I don’t include any web application here.
Of course, the tools that work for me don’t necessarily work for you. But I hope that you will find something useful here.
I’m not the kind of person who likes to change my tools whenever something fancier comes out. Once I find a tool that works, I usually stick with it unless I find a very strong reason to move to something else. That’s why I’ve used most of the tools below for years.
Here are my essential productivity tools:
1. Firefox
Firefox with its add-ons has become an integral part of my online life. I often don’t realize how important it is until I come across a computer that doesn’t have one. I feel powerless when I use such a computer. I can no longer do things that have become second nature to me. That’s why the first thing I do when I use a new computer is to install Firefox and my favorite add-ons.
Here are the add-ons that I consider essential:

  • Scrapbook
    Scrapbook has been my reference system for years. There are already thousands of articles and clips in my Scrapbook library.
  • Alexa Sparky
    When I come to a site, I usually take a quick glance at its Alexa rank to have an estimate of the site’s popularity. Alexa shows the traffic rank of a web site, so the smaller the number is, the higher the traffic it has. Alexa is far from perfect, but it serves as a rough estimate for me.
  • SEO Quake
    Being a blogger, I often need to do an online research about other sites or certain search engine queries. SEO Quake has become an indispensable tool for this. It makes my research way easier to do.
  • Xmarks
    I often bookmark interesting sites I come across. Xmarks backs up my bookmarks and synchronizes them across different computers.

2. Microsoft OneNote
OneNote has become an “extension” of my brain. Getting Things Done states that you need to put everything out of your head into a trusted system. OneNote is a core component of my trusted system. I put practically all of my notes and ideas there. I also use it to manage my to-do list.
I especially like OneNote’s collapsing and expanding feature since it helps me see my notes and ideas in the level of detail I desire. When I want to see more details, I just need to expand the node. When I want to see the big picture, I can just collapse it. This feature has helped me tremendously over the years.
On a side note, I’m currently exploring Evernote. I recently bought a Mac and I need something that works on both my Windows and Mac machines. Evernote fills this need nicely because it syncs data automatically between machines. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have OneNote’s collapsing and expanding feature (or perhaps I miss it?). My primary note-taking tool is still OneNote, but I might expand my use of Evernote in the future.
3. Microsoft Outlook
I use Outlook to manage my calendar, not my emails. I actually hesitated to include it here because it’s easily replaceable with other alternatives (such as Google Calendar), but I decided to include it anyway because calendaring system is an essential part of my productivity system. I use Outlook simply because it synchronizes with my cell phone.
4. Cool Timer
There are many benefits of using a timer. In essence, using a timer helps you become more productive. I use timer a lot in my daily workflow and Cool Timer has become my timer of choice for several years. It’s a simple timer that you can set to function either as a countdown timer or as a stopwatch.
5. WinKey + MemoKeys
I’m a fan of using keyboard shortcuts. WinKey allows me to set shortcuts for commonly used programs and files so that they are only one keystroke away.
On the other hand, MemoKeys gives me shortcut keys for commonly used text. For example, I have a shortcut for my email address. Whenever I need to give my email address in an online form, I just need to press the shortcut and it’s done.
6. Everything
Have you ever forgot where a file is in your computer? Perhaps you have to create a report and forget where a file you need is. I often found myself in such a situation and it was frustrating.
Everything solves the problem for me. Unlike many other desktop search tools (such as Google Desktop) that searches the content of all files, this tool searches just the names of the files. That’s exactly what I need. Furthermore, since it works only with file names, it’s also way lighter and faster than other desktop search tools.
In addition the the tools above, there are other tools that aren’t directly related to productivity but which I consider essential. Here they are:
1. Microsoft Money
Money is the tool I use to manage my personal finance. Though I miss some transactions here and there, I’ve been recording my financial transactions in Money for years. Money makes it easy for me to see where my money went in any period of time. It also helps me see how my investment portfolio performs.
Money is now discontinued by Microsoft, so you might want to use other programs like Quicken or Mint to manage your personal finance.
2. KeePass
If you want to have a secure online life, using good passwords is important. Moreover, you should use different passwords for different sites. This way when someone stole your password for one site, he wouldn’t be able to use it to attack your other online accounts.
KeePass is the solution I use for this. It helps me generate good, strong password for every site I ‘m interested in and store them in an encrypted file at my local computer. I need to remember just one password, the one used to open the KeePass file.
3. DropBox
Isn’t it nice if you have all your important files backed up automatically without you even being aware of it? That’s what DropBox does. DropBox is the newest tool in my toolbox. I now save all of my important files in the DropBox folder so that they will always be backed up to an online storage.
4. iTunes
This tool is essential for me not because of its music playing capability but because it helps me find a lot of great content. I love to learn and iTunes has become an important source of materials in the form of podcasts and lectures.
These are the tools that I use practically every day. What about you? What tools do you think are essential?
Photo by flattop341


  1. Thank you for sharing your productivity tools. Many of the tools you mentioned are new to me.
    Let me explore them, and find out if they are useful to me. Let me also see if I can copy your productivity with these tools, so that I can upgrade my own.

  2. Percival,
    I hope you can find something that works for you.

  3. I have to aggree with One Note. I just discovered it last week and I really love it. One of my biggest problems is those dumping ground folders that have articles mixed with snippets of article footers, with text files of ideas and partially written posts. Also I have a folder that is constantly growing called “to read” and have not really done enough with this yet so I can not keep up with my reading that I know I should be doing.
    I have not used scrapbook yet but I do use a pile of extensions which are great

  4. I find that my productivity increases the most when I use Google calendar to schedule my daily tasks in the morning. I sync the calendar to my Blackberry so that it’s easily accessible everywhere I go.
    By scheduling my daily tasks into a calendar that I can see anywhere, it keeps me on track for most of the day and does not allow me to take breaks that are too long.
    I will definitely be trying out some of your suggestions to see how much more productivity I can gain!

  5. Thanks for the great list Donald. It really is so helpful to see what other people are doing and what is working for them. I have heard some really great things about Evernote so you may want to take a look at that since you are now in Mac land. Thanks again for sharing your list.

  6. Thanks for the list. It would be cool to get a mac version of the list though, i saw a couple items you listed that look very interesting, but doesn’t look like there’s a mac version.

  7. Bill,
    OneNote seems like a good solution for your problems. For reading list, I use the Read It Later extension for Firefox.
    That’s a good idea. It’s definitely helpful to have your calendar wherever you go.
    Yes, I’m now exploring Evernote. It does look good. I especially like its multiplatform capability. I still miss OneNote’s expand/collapse feature though.
    I’m a new comer in the Mac world. Perhaps someday I will publish a similar list for the Mac.

  8. […] lists a number of productivity tools he uses in his daily life.  There are a bunch listed here, that I’m looking forward to […]

  9. Hey Donald, Thanks for Sharing these productivity tools.
    Although I’m not familiar with some of these tools, I believe tools like Dropbox has been really useful ones. I would like to mention another tool which improved the way I handled all my emails, messages, calendars and Tasks – Taroby I hope you’ll like it as well.

  10. I’m currently migrating to Evernote because I got tired of waiting for Microsoft to make OneNote accessible for macs, mobile devices, collaboration and to sync online correctly (it looks like they are working on this but I thought that 2 years ago and I’m fed up.) I even bought MobileNoter for it and my iphone but it just wasn’t quite cutting it. I haven’t finished migrating to Evernote though. There are things I’m loving in Evernote that OneNote doesn’t have but there are things I’m missing that OneNote has that Evernote doesn’t. If I could sync the two programs I would be amazingly happy.
    Also, I have been a Keepass advocate for years but I recently switched to LastPass because of some added features like securely share passwords for collaborating on projects and it also speeds up my work because it can be set to auto fill passwords in firefox (and other browsers.) Super secure as well.

  11. Amazing, amazing, you’re amazing, I read your article on friendship and was so impressed I had to read more on you, this also reminds me of the theories on the law of attraction…exciting challenges are easy to accomplish but I’m not sure if all challenges can be entirely exciting as that would be like saying one decision opens the doors to euphoria, perhaps as you move through levels within one course the choices can become more exciting, may be : )

  12. Nice List! I think, online collaboration tools like Taroby , Dropbox can also be added to this list! I’ve stumbled upon another cool tool which enables unified communication & collaboration – – All messages at one place – Coming soon!

  13. What about I’m using this as my personal and searchable brain dump.

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