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Online office essentials

By Gail Z. Martin

            When you’re working on the go, many of the helpful tools you take for granted in your office aren’t at hand.  Fortunately, there’s an app for that.

Appzilla and Appzilla2 are the Swiss Army knives of the app world.  Appzilla comes with 90 mini apps, and Appzilla2 has 120, including a book lamp, checklist, countdown timer, area code look-up, alarm clock, currency converter, date calculator, flashlight, and links to nine Google apps.  Sure, Appzilla also has fun things like a metronome, moon calculator and Morse code generator, but those can be a momentary distraction when you’re stuck in an airport.

Need a dictionary?  Try the Dictionary! app or the Dictionary.com app and have the English language at your fingertips. The Dictionary.com app even includes a thesaurus, or you can grab FreeSaurus on iTunes.

Looking for a phone number?  Before you pay for a 411 look-up, try the WhitePagesMobile app.  Use it to search for either businesses or people, and get maps or directions.  YPMobile gives you the Yellow Pages business directory, plus ratings and event information.

Want to translate a phrase into Chinese or Serbian?  The FreeTranslator app will help you with the important short sentences necessary to get by when you’re traveling.  Can’t remember the source of a quote?  Quotationary probably has what you’re looking for.  Need to know where in the world you are?  Try World Atlas HD for maps and useful details about every country on the globe.  Struggling with a metric conversion question?  Convertbot has the answer.  Not sure when your package will arrive?  DeliveryStatus will get an answer for you.  Need a mirror to see if the lettuce from your salad at lunch is still in your teeth?  The Mirror app turns your smart phone into, yep, a mirror that you won’t lose in your desk drawer.

If you miss your filing drawer back at the office, try FilesToGo, a Cloud-based filing system that gives you access when you’re traveling.  No need to juggle loose printouts on the plane: GoodReader can translate a PDF file into an iPad-friendly format so you can read it from your touchscreen.  Bento is an app that works like a virtual clipboard/database/desktop organizer for either the iPad or iPhone.

When you’d rather speak than use a keyboard, you’ve got several great options.  DragonDictation’s app (and program for the PC)  lets you speak into your smart phone and activate your email or your text messages.  To use your phone to take dictation or just record a message to send later, try Say It & Mail It Pro Recorder or QuickVoice2TextEmail.

Keep track of your time while you’re on the road with TimeMaster + Billing—it’s even got a billing module.  Take your pick: Timewerks, TimeLogger or iTimeSheetLite can also help you manage and monetize your time.  They differ in capabilities, so pick the one that works best for you, and if you work in the office, the use of folding partition walls can be the best choice to organize your office.

If there’s still anything you’re missing from your bricks-and-mortar office, a quick search on iTunes or Android app store will probably turn up several contenders to help you create your home away from home.

Excerpted from 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success by Gail Z. Martin—available now in bookstores and online!


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Recommendations from a Road Warrior—More Cool Mobile Apps

By Gail Z. Martin

Remember those Cloud-based storage programs I told you about earlier in the book?  Most of them have mobile apps, so you can truly access your information no matter where you are or what kind of device you’re using.

This is where the power of the Cloud really makes a difference, because through Cloud-based storage, you can access, edit and share many more documents than your mobile phone or tablet PC could store locally, without slowing down your device or maxing out your storage.  Google Docs, SugarSync, Box.net, and Dropbox all have mobile apps, making it easy to grab your documents no matter where you are.

Many apps also allow you to email documents as attachments, which is a nice back-up storage option.  Be wary, however, of relying on email if your document is large or your WiFi connection is of questionable strength.  Remember, too, that if you’re using a public WiFi connection in a hotel or airport, your data is not encrypted so don’t email or upload sensitive files until you have a secure connection. Also, mobile plans differ in the way they charge for data usage, especially if you’re using your own Internet hot spot, so make sure you understand your phone plan pricing or you could be in for a surprise when your next bill arrives.

Excerpted from 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success by Gail Z. Martin—available now in bookstores and online!

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By Gail Z. Martin

Whether you’re a true road warrior or you just seem to be on the go all the time, mobile apps from your tablet PC or smart phone can make your life much more productive.  Even better: many great apps are free, and others are very inexpensive, so productivity seems sweeter than ever. Since, I’m a writer, my work is pretty much based on the computer and laptop.

What are the basics you need to get work done when you’re not in the office?  At a minimum, you need some good ways to take notes, work on or read documents, store and retrieve files, and access the tools you usually have close at hand in an office or on your laptop.  Fortunately, there are apps for all these needs, and on your smart phone or tablet PC, they’re truly at your fingertips.

Managing your documents when you’re on the road

Smart phones and tablet PCs are desirable because they’re smaller and lighter than a laptop and easier to carry around.  But that same portability comes with a price: they can’t carry all of the files stored so conveniently on your laptop.  Good news: an ever-increasing array of apps bridge that gap between laptop and mobile device, making it easier than ever to work on the go.

Quick note taking is essential to keep your thoughts organized, especially when you’re constantly in motion.  iPhones and iPads come with a basic Notes app, which while not perfect, is quite suitable for the kinds of things you’d jot on a cocktail napkin.  While it doesn’t sync with other apps and it doesn’t have any security beyond that of your phone’s keypad, Notes is perfect for jotting down something you don’t want to forget and assuring that you won’t lose the scrap of paper you wrote it on.  Not perfect, but it’s free, and there’s a lot of basic function that goes a long way.

Evernote, which I’ve discussed earlier in the book, also has a mobile app.  So if you love it on your other devices, you can bring it along in your pocket with your phone or tablet PC.  A few other note taking apps include Awesome Note, WriteRoom, Simplenote and RememberTheMilk make it easy to jot down what you need to remember, and come with varying additional capabilities, such as being able to sync to other devices or store data in the Cloud.

Pages is very good, basic app for reading and writing documents.  Documents you create in Pages can be emailed in RTF or Word format, and you can email yourself (small) documents in those formats and edit using Pages.  While I find it cumbersome to type documents of any length with the on-screen keyboard or a phone or tablet PC, when you pair Pages with a wireless keyboard, the result is pretty efficient.

For those who want to access their Microsoft Office files from their iPad or iPhone, Quickoffice® Pro HD bridges the gap between Microsoft and Apple.  There’s also a scaled down version, Quickoffice Connect Suite.  With Quickoffice, you can open a Word document, access a PowerPoint presentation, or edit, save and share other types of Office-based files.  Office2 HD is a similar program, offering a few more capabilities for word processing than some of the more basic apps.  Documents To Go® Premium Office Suite not only handles Word and PowerPoint, but it will also access Excel spreadsheets, and it syncs with storage programs including Dropbox, SugarSync and Box.net.

Excerpted from 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success by Gail Z. Martin—available now in bookstores and online!



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Get More Social Media Exposure in Less Time

By Gail Z. Martin

Beyond the main benefits of a social media dashboard (pre-posting, scheduled content, analytics, etc.), several other programs are out there for social media users with more specialized needs.  These dashboards may not be useful for everyone, but they do fill specific needs and it can be good to know they’re out there, just in case you need what they provide.

Threadsy gives you a way to combine social media with your email, and connects with many of the major social media networks.  If you’d rather have a single dashboard active rather than switching between different screens, Threadsy is worth a look.

If multiple people in your organization are maintaining your social media presence, you can bring sanity to the situation with MediaFunnel.  MediaFunnel lets you assign different roles to those in your social media team, consolidates log-in information, and helps you monitor your brand and important keywords.  It incorporates some of the features of HootSuite and the other basic dashboards, such as pre-scheduling tweets and posts and assigning messages to team members to handle questions or issues.  MediaFunnel also has a mobile capability, as well as a built-in URL shortener to make it easier to tweet links.  MediaFunnel offers a basic free level for small organizations, and a fee-based level for larger companies.

MarketMeSuite is yet another all-in-one free dashboard with the ability to manage multiple profiles, pre-schedule content updates, access the program from a mobile phone, and post through Ping.  In addition, MarketMeSuite has a location-targeted capability and interfaces with Klout and PeerIndex to help you determine your online popularity.  MarketMeSuite offers the ability to monitor branding across your platforms and supports use by a team of users.  The location targeting is a nice feature, since it can help you augment your social media connections with real life meetings, or help a local business focus its messaging on locally-based followers.

Regardless of which dashboard program you use, remember that it’s your content that matters.  If you’re creating content that is highly targeted and meets the needs of your ideal audience, then how it gets posted is a back office issue of no consequence to your online network.  Remember also that while these dashboards have the ability to increase your reach, poor quality content will hurt your brand and over-posting with hard-sell copy will lose you friends and followers, and may get your account suspended.  These are power tools; use them with caution!

Excerpted from 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success by Gail Z. Martin—available now in bookstores and online!

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By Gail Z. Martin

“Dashboard” programs provide all-in-one-place control, much like the console of a car or airplane.  Programs like HootSuite, Social Oomph, Ping and TweetDeck make it possible for you to plan your social media campaigns and load content in advance.

One of the central benefits of a dashboard program is the “set it and forget it” feature; the ability to enter content into the dashboard and schedule blog posts, Facebook updates and Twitter tweets to go out over a period of time.  While pre-scheduled content is no substitute for live conversations, dashboard programs fill the very real need of making sure that busy people maintain a baseline, consistent level of content without large gaps.  You can always pop in online to add updates, post photos or jump into conversations in addition to your pre-scheduled content, but you won’t get to Thursday and realize you haven’t posted or tweeted all week.

A caveat: many dashboard programs post content with a source credit that says “from API”, meaning that it has been automatically posted.  Some social media users and search engines view pre-scheduled content as less desirable than live-posted information, regardless of the quality of the actual information itself.  This means that to keep your friends, fans and followers happy and to raise your social media score with ranking programs like Klout and Alexa, keep a good balance of live posts and pre-scheduled posts.  On the other hand, realize that pre-scheduled content is better than no content. Followers, search engines and ranking programs also take a dim view of prolonged absences. I maintain that if the best you can do during a busy period is pre-scheduled content, being present on a consistent basis far outweighs the alternatives.

HootSuite is one of the best-known dashboard programs.  It’s a powerful, user-friendly site that offers levels of membership ranging from a basic free service to a more robust Pro level.  The heart of HootSuite is the ability to enter posts in advance into the dashboard and program when your content goes live across multiple social media sites.  This works especially well if you are using a virtual assistant to help you load the content you’ve written, and it makes it easy to keep track of what you’ve said and where you said it.

For those who want to go deeper, HootSuite also has the capability to do detailed tracking across your sites, looking at follower growth, metrics from Google Analytics, and other indicators.  For larger organizations with a social media response team, HootSuite not only can prepare reports, but enables team collaboration and the ability to assign messages to team members for follow-up.  Other features, such as file upload, follower management capabilities and localization are great for enterprise-level use, but not important for the average small business or solo professional user.  HootSuite also has a convenient mobile app for smart phones, so you can keep an eye on your account when you’re on the go.

SocialOomph, the program formerly known as TweetLater, is another dashboard with many of the same capabilities as HootSuite.  As you’d expect, SocialOomph lets you pre-load and schedule on Twitter, blogs and Facebook, and provides both a basic free level of service and an extended professional level.  You can track keywords, view your @Mentions and Retweets, purge spammy Direct Messages (DM), and monitor multiple accounts from one dashboard.  The professional level offers blog integration, profile filters, and some interesting ways to assess which of your followers might be your most valuable prospects.  While SocialOomph leans heavily toward Twitter with a nod toward Facebook and blogs, it does enable Ping to send your information to LinkedIn and MySpace.

TweetDeck is another of the well-known dashboards.  TweetDeck offers connectivity with Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Buzz, and Foursquare.  It makes it easy to create and manage Twitter Lists and helps cut down on Twitter spam.  Another valuable feature is the ability to follow Twitter Trends, real-time topics and TwitScoop to stay abreast of the most popular topics.  TweetDeck is available for iPhone, Android, iPad and a new Web-based interface, as well as the original desktop version.  At the time of this writing, TweetDeck is free, which is good for a solid, basic dashboard.  However, if you’re looking for a pro version with additional features or you want more analytics, at the moment, they’re not built into TweetDeck, so one of the other dashboards may do a better job if those elements are important to you.

Excerpted from 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success by Gail Z. Martin—available now in bookstores and online!


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Get More Productive with Virtual Calendars and Apps

By Gail Z. Martin

Virtual calendar programs enable you to track your appointments and other commitments via computer, rather than in a manual date book. Scheduling programs make it possible for you to share access to your calendar with others to take the back-and-forth out of finding good times/dates for meetings and phone calls.

Whether you prefer to access your calendar from your computer, smart phone or tablet PC, virtual calendar and scheduling programs mean you never have to say, “I left my book back at the office.”

Virtual calendar and scheduling basics

Virtual calendar programs look and act just like their paper counterparts, with two important exceptions: they are accessible via computer and most allow some level of sharing so that you can “invite” participants to meetings and note the appointment simultaneously on your calendar and theirs.

At a minimum, your virtual calendar should make it easy for you to enter new appointments, change or cancel existing appointments, and block out time when you are unavailable. Many programs also alert you to upcoming appointments via email reminders or pop-ups on your screen, making it less likely that you’ll miss a meeting.

As users take computing on the go, virtual calendar programs have evolved to include smart phones and table PCs as well as laptops and desktops. Some programs can populate all your linked devices with your schedule, while other programs can be accessed online from any device with Internet capability. No matter what device you use to access them, virtual calendar programs enable you to keep your calendar close at hand and update your schedule wherever you are.

Calendar sharing and scheduling programs save you time and increase your productivity by taking out the “middleman” when it comes to making appointments. Tired of trading emails with clients or vendors to set up meeting times or phone calls? Using a calendar sharing/scheduling program makes it easy to share a calendar with your available days and times with others and to have them select the best options from your openings and book the appointment. Some calendar programs enable you to share different versions of your schedule with different groups of people, so you could, for example, separate work and personal appointment times.

If you’ve ever spent hours playing phone or email “tag” trying to confirm an appointment, the productivity benefits of a sharable, online calendar become immediately apparent. If you make just five appointments per week and each appointment now takes you an average of 15 minutes to arrange, using an online calendar and scheduling program could save you five hours a month!

Taking a tour of some top programs

There are plenty of online calendars and scheduling programs to choose from, with more being added every day. Here, we’ll take a quick tour of four popular programs to get a feel for what’s available.

Microsoft Outlook® Calendar

You may not realize it, but if you use Microsoft Outlook, you’ve already got an online calendar that’s linked to your email and Outlook’s integral Business Contact Manager.

Access the calendar at the bottom of your Outlook dashboard. You’ll find well-marked buttons that enable you to add an appointment or create a meeting with multiple invitees. You can invite someone to your meeting by accessing contacts in your email address book or the program’s Business Contact Manager, or by entering the person’s email address manually.

You’ll be able to differentiate between all-day events and regular appointments, and to set recurring appointments. If the other people you want to invite to a meeting have shared their calendars with you, you can view their calendars to look for available times and dates before scheduling the meeting, to avoid conflicts and rescheduling.

Because Outlook’s calendar is linked to your email, you’ll get pop-up meeting reminders when you log into Outlook. You can access your calendar when you don’t have an Internet connection, although you won’t be able to invite others. Outlook allows you to adjust the time increments and designate work days and non-work days, for those whose meetings don’t automatically fall on the hour or half-hour, and for people whose “weekends” don’t fall on Saturday and Sunday.

There’s even an easy way to auto-populate your Outlook calendar with the major U.S. holidays at the touch of a button. And if you’ve entered personal details, like birthdays and anniversaries, in your Business Contact Manager, your Outlook calendar can pull in that data so you never forget a special day!

Google Calendar

Google offers a free online calendar with plenty of robust features. With Google Calendar, you can create and share your schedule and view other people’s Google Calendars. Google offers a built-in synchronization feature that enables you to see and access your calendar from your mobile phone as well as your computer, and share updates made on one device with the calendar stored on the other device.

As with Outlook, Google Calendar makes it easy to invite others to meetings and confirm their attendance. It’s accessible for read-only viewing offline, so you can see where you need to go even if you’re in a Wi-Fi dead zone. Google Calendar will send you reminders by email and text message, and it can even sync with some other calendaring programs, such as Outlook.

Apple iCloud

Apple’s iCloud replaces its previous MobileMe virtual calendar. iCloud works with all Apple devices and shares books, photos, music and apps as well as calendar information, email and contacts. The iCloud is a hybrid virtual storage and virtual Swiss Army Knife of sorts, bringing together all of a user’s data to make it location and device independent.

Because all data is stored on the iCloud, Apple takes care of syncing your devices for you. That’s handy if you make an appointment using your iPad and want to later see your schedule using your computer or your iPhone. You can share your calendar with other iCloud users, and any changes will be automatically pushed out to the schedules of all meeting or event participants.

The iCloud is an attempt to seamlessly integrate your online life, so the program also makes it possible for you to access your email and phone contacts, virtual notes, online reminders and Web bookmarks from all your devices.

Tungle, anyone?

Tungle is a stand-alone program (currently free) to share your calendar with people who may not be on the same email program, such as people outside your organization. Tungle is especially designed for setting up meetings without hassle, and promises to help users avoid double-bookings and missed appointments.

The Tungle calendar makes it easy to limit your availability to particular days/times. This is handy if you want to reserve portions of your calendar for other work or events, or just want to control how much of your calendar can be booked by others. Tungle adjusts for differences in time zones, and sends you reminders of upcoming appointments. Tungle also offers a difference between the private and public view of your calendar, meaning that your clients won’t be privy to any personal appointments you book on your online calendar.

Tungle will sync with a variety of other calendar programs, including Outlook, Google Calendar, BlackBerry, LotusNotes, Facebook, and Apple iCal among others. There’s also a handy Tungle app for your smart phone, so you can Tungle on the go.

Other programs similar to Tungle include TimeBridge and Doodle (calendar sharing), and Evite (event/party invitations).

Excerpted from my new book, 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success




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