February 09, 2010

Making your iPod Touch a useful productivity tool

Over the festive season I treated myself to an iPod Touch. There were basically two reasons for this:

1) I don't want to have to spend the additional amount per month for a phone contract for the iPhone when I already have a perfecttly good phone.
2) I had enough American Express points accumulated to receive one as a reward.

The reputation of these gadgets are that they are little more than game's machines that you can play your music on, but having now spent a couple of weeks working with it, I find it an extremely useful tool from a productivity point of view and I wanted to let you know my working methods for how I use it.

The Touch, remember, is effectively a stand-alone system with no connection to the internet unless you are within a wi-fi zone. Therefore it cannot be defined as 'always-on' in the same way that the iPhone can. However there are enough apps and tools to make that almost an irrelevancy.

Here's a typical day for me on the Touch:

My house is wi-fi enabled so I use my time in a morning to make sure I have everything I need on the Touch before heading out.

1) I use Appigo's To-Do ($9.99/£5.99) to manage my task list. This links in with the  Toodledo web app.(free or $14.95/year)  I can load my to do items on either of these apps but before I leave the house I hit the synch button to ensure the Touch is up-to-date.

2) Simplenote (free or £2.99/year). This is the favourite tool for the Touch. It is a simple note taking application which will instantly synchronise with a web site to ensure that both Touch and 'cloud' version are kept up to date. If I need to remember something or jot some important information down (Ideas for blog posts etc) I can either drop them onto the web app or into Simplenote on the Touch and they are synched with each other as soon as a connection is made. This is useful if I have information I need to take with me everywhere because it doesn't rely on having a connection to work. I can drop, for example, Paid wi-fi passwords onto it and use them when I need to connect in a cafe or something.

3) In the morning I check the web. I use Morning Coffee on Firefox (free) to pick up a list of web sites I read regularly. There are usually one or two pages on there that I wish to read later so I hit the 'Read Later' bookmark which automatically downloads them into my Instapaper account. The Touch has the Instapaper app (free or £2.99/$5.99) loaded and these two synch together to ensure I have those pages available for reading off line. Further more Instapaper (pro version) has a twitter and email function which means I can take a web page from Instapaper, read it, select text I like, and create an email based on that text. I can send the email to my Posterous account and it will be automatically posted whenever I reach a wi-fi connection. The Twitter function works in a similar way by storing the tweets up until you go on-line. This effectively means I have mobile blogging.

4) DropBox. I have the DropBox app (free or $9.99/month) installed. If there is any attachment or anything that I have received from my email that I want to save and read later I can save it into my Dropbox account. I then use the Touch Dropbox app to favourite that entry and it is downloaded onto my Touch for off-line reading. (Note: if you are wanting to read a PDF it is also useful to install the Aji Reader app ($0.99) which will allow you to select a PDF from the web, download it to your Touch and have that available for full zoom-in-and-out rotatable reading later on).

5) Evernote (free or $45/year). All my notes and various things are loaded into Evernote. Again with the 'favourite' option I can physically download the ones I am interested in onto the Touch and use them offline. Of course I can also add new ones while off-line and they will be automatically synched when I get a connection again.

6) Email. I use the inbuilt Touch Email app which is great because it is synched to my Gmail account. In the morning when the wi-fi is attached I can download all my mail from the Google server to the Touch and I'm ready to go. The mail app works equally as well without having a network connection and all mails are kept on the Touch until the connection is remade and it can synch them all back up.

7) NewsFeeds. I have 111 feeds that I read on a daily basis. They are stored in the Google reader account that I have. Using MobileRSS I can synchronise them all in the morning and have them on my Touch when I am off-line. This does rely - of course - on having full feeds from your sources and not just summarised one- or two-liners.

8) If I decide I am ready to post a blog entry I can write it in BlogPress (free or £2.79/$2.99). The lite version supports Blogger only and the paid version supports other platforms too. This is a streamlined blogging application which can create posts, schedule them and publish them. If you are off-line you cans save them in a draft form on the Touch and then publish them when you get back on-line.

I also run an iTunes synch to update any apps and ensure that both my calendar and contacts list from the Mac have been updated to the Touch and I'm ready to go. I use Plaxo to manage my calendar and this is set to automatically synchronise to iCal which then synch's to the Touch. Contacts are managed in Google which also synchronises via Plaxo to the Mac Address Book.

So, using about 5 to 10 minutes of time in the morning I can identify the main pages I want to read on the web, the Dropbox files, email, Evernote entries and feeds that I wish to have, synch them all while at home and then head off to work with enough material to read on the train that I don't have to worry about not buying a newspaper.

On the train (or plane, or anywhere I have a few moments) I can read my email. If there is something in there that requires an action I can either create an entry on ToDo directly or - using a fabulous e-mail in function - I can email the details to my Toodledo account and an entry will be created automatically. As soon as I hit a wif-fi zone the email will be sent and I can then synch up my ToDo account on the Touch.

Using Instapaper I can read those web pages I identified earlier. If I find something I want to keep a permanent record of - such as useful website -  I can open Evernote, create a new entry and tag it. If there is a piece of information I wish to use directly - something which sparks the idea for a new blog posting, for example - I can make a new Simplenote entry there and then or mail it directly into my posterous account or create a draft post in BlogPress.

When I next hit a wifi zone I can synch up Evernote, Simplenote, Instapaper and ToDo and make sure I am completely up to date.

The result of this is that I can emulate an 'always connected' paradigm whilst only being connected for a short amount of time. As long as I can get 5 minutes of wi-fi connection to enable synching up there is no reason for me to be connected 24/.

How do you use your Touch? Have I left out any important applications?

(Costs are for either the free option (where available) or the cheapest paid option if more than one exists. All prices are accurate as per the iTunes store at the date of the posting)

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