5+ tips for increased productivity in (a multiscreen) 2014

Electronic devices have also been among the top wished for gifts this Christmas. As 2014 approaches people have started to live in a multiscreen world. Yet, people still have not got used to working across devices as I have recently discovered talking to my students in a 1:1 laptop class. Typically a student uses the standard calendar of his/her smartphone and a desktop widget to take down notes (e.g. homework and other tasks). Neither of these tools really synchronizes to other devices which could be useful in many situations.

There are a variety of tools available to get organized both for students and for teachers ranging from free to quite pricey ones. Yet, unless they work cross-platform I find them very limited in usefulness and my hunch is that people often end up buying and installing tools which they eventually will never use. Here are some free Google tools, which I use all the time and which I think are definitely worth trying:

Calendar: using Google calendar does not only provide the advantage of syncing across different devices and platforms, it also allows you to collaborate with others (e.g. on projects) and to add other calendars, such as public holidays or a class calendar. Example: I administrate my school’s calendar together with our secretary. The students and teachers can add the calendar to their own by clicking on the “+” sign at the bottom right of the calendar.

Tasks: Google Tasks is a little known task manager which is integrated into Gmail and Google Calendar. It let’s you easily create lists (e.g. for homework) and reminders which show up in your Calendar. There are also free clients available for mobile devices. One nice thing about Gmail integration is that it provides a very convenient way of managing your inbox by creating reminders that link back to the original e-mail (menu: more>add to tasks).

Google Keep for notes: I keep most other kind of notes in Google Keep, which syncs automatically between my desktop and mobile devices. Typical examples are quick photo notes and lists of my classes (e.g. a list of who of the students who have already paid for a field trip etc.) or a list of announcements.

Google Drive for digital copies: I use Google Drive a lot for digitising analogue materials as Google Drive provides automatic OCR of images. This is useful for things like business cards or passages of text. The Drive app comes with a scanner that automatically crops images (not always reliably, but usually saves some time). Upload to Google Drive and you will find the contents due to the OCR. In case you need the OCR’ed text you can open the image with Google Docs, which will show you the photo plus the recognized text.

Google Now for voice reminders: sometimes when you are on the go and your smartphone is the only device available you can dictate reminders and notes to yourself. Tap on the Google microphone and say
  • Note to self
  • Remind me
  • Set alarm for (10 a.m.)
  • Set timer to (30 minutes)
You can either save a note to Google Now (remind me) or save it to a different app like Google Keep or Google Tasks (note to self).

+ tip: Use Chrome extensions for faster access to your information. For most of the tools mentioned there are Chrome extensions, which make it fast to access all your personal information from within the browser. Extensions are available for Google Tasks (dropdown task manager), Calendar (shows upcoming events and takes you the calendar with one click), Google Keep and Google Drive (saves pictures, downloadable media and web pages to Google Drive).

There are few tools available that are as powerful as this set of tools. Evernote might be the closest and most popular contender. However, many really useful features like offline note (as in Google Keep) and OCR (as in Drive) are only available in the premium version. Microsoft OneNote is another very powerful notetaking application. However, some of the best features (e.g. OCR Scan) are only available on Windows devices, so far.

It can be expected that Google will further integrate these tools. In particular Google Keep might become a serious competitor to Evernote in itself if it will be integrated into Google Drive, Calendar, Chrome and Gmail.

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