Productivity Boosting Tools (for Windows): First Week Rundown

It has been a week since my first post on here, so I thought I would do a summary of how things have progressed, in order of how much I liked/used the tools.

One week later…

Desktops V2.0

This has been the most used tool this week by far. I have no idea how many times I’ve used the keyboard short-cuts to switch desktops, but it’s definitely a lot. When I initially looked at it, I was excited about the prospects it offered, but I didn’t realise just how much it would improve my workflow.

More than anything else, it keeps things simple. No longer do I have to cycle through open applications using Alt+Tab, I just Alt+2 to check out emails and Trello, then Alt+1 to go back to my main task. When someone interrupts me with a new task, Alt+2 to put it in Trello and then Alt+3 to start working on it if it’s urgent. I can change the keyboard combo if I want, but I’m really quite happy with that set up.

It’s very simple, there’s no flashy business and it’s very fast. If there were some lag between switching screens then I might not find it as appealing, but the switching is almost instant.

I tried out some of the competition, Dexpot and VirtuaWin, but found Dexpot a bit slow and VirtuaWin wasn’t as immediately accessible in terms of usage and the icon kept flashing. Neither of those problems seem to afflict Desktops v2.0, so the only issue remains with applications that want to launch only a single instance, like Chrome.

This still isn’t a problem for me, as I don’t need multiple browser sessions open when I’m at the office anyway, it would mainly be useful at home. I think that maybe some sort of tab management within Chrome would be better than having individual sessions really, but as I’m more of an Opera user at home than Chrome, it could be a while before that bothers me enough to look into.

XYplorer

This was a surprising entry in this week as I started off by using QTTabBar with the standard Windows File Explorer and then found myself switching to this because I liked the features of QTTabBar, but it appeared to cause the file explorer to run slowly sometimes.

Switching to XYplorer meant that the features I wanted were native and didn’t slow anything down, in fact XYplorer may even be faster than the standard file explorer, but it’s at least close enough that any speed difference isn’t noticeable.

I’ve yet to use any features besides the tabbed interface to be honest. I was excited about getting the Paper Folders™ feature, but I just haven’t had any cause or time to try it much. The tree view is nice to have although I’m still getting used to it and mostly keep it in “mini-tree” view. It does make navigating folders much easier than it was before and I’m sure that once I am used to the different interface it will really come into it’s own.

I’m still a little way from always using it over the default explorer, but I am definitely using it over QTTabBar.

Whether I stick to only XYplorer is the next question for me as it is quite different visually from the default. I mentioned Directory Opus before and I am also leaning towards trying out either TotalCommander or FreeCommander, so I might be posting about those in the future.

PhraseExpress

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this tool in the last week. The most I’ve used it is for tricky long words (which is super useful) and using code words to enter some tricky phrases. I’ve probably used it less than ten times a day in total, but it has reduced errors and shortened typing time on long words, so it’s doing it’s job so far.

The biggest opportunity for this one is in simplifying my emails. I have some templates that I use and other small but frequent emails that I don’t send often enough to clog up my template library with, but I do send often enough that having them to hand would be useful. If I do create some text blocks attached to codes with this tool, I fear I would need to keep a dictionary of the codes, although as a geek I would find that a bit cool, entry angry1 for irritating emails, using the sender’s first name as a variable.

We’ll see, I’m pretty happy with it so far, a little disappointed at how many steps it took to get auto-complete turned on though, would like that feature suggested at install or first launch.

As with XYplorer, I am not completely sold on this one yet. I like the text expansion ability and the idea of macros with variables that allow you to have semi-custom blocks of text, but there are alternatives out there that I think I might have to give a shot in the future. I’m glad I picked this one up and it has definitely helped, but if there’s one with a smoother user experience, I’d prefer to ease myself into the world of text-expansion with that first and then come back to this one as a ‘power-user’ later.

Other stuff

I mentioned a couple of other things this week such as Inbox Zero and Deadlines.

I’m still exploring methods of organising emails and it’s a really tricky one to implement for me. There are many different methods with people advocating their favourites for all kinds of reasons. I don’t feel great about how my emails are organised at the moment, but I think it’s getting there. I definitely have a lot less to worry about with regards to my emails since I started storing tasks in Trello, but I feel like I could be responding better with emails and I think that part of the problem is not setting myself reminders, although I suppose in a way they are deadlines.

Deadlines are my new friend in work, I’ve made a lot more progress on the work that matters the soonest from requesting them. It’s unfortunate that I can’t use them more at the moment, because I just don’t have time to work on other projects. I am prioritising better even without being set deadlines, and I think that is related, so I’m really happy with how things are going there.

I’m not sure if I will be testing out any new tools this week, maybe only continuing with the current ones, but I will write my findings as I go along and explain any reasoning behind switching to alternate tools.

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