I love great apps and am always on the lookout for new software that can help me save time and make me work more efficiently. This is the list of the indispensable tools that I use to run my site and that I highly recommend.
Majority are free. I am a fan of the open-source philosophy and use open-source tools when possible. I use a Mac as a laptop and Android as a mobile platform.
It’s not all about the tools, it’s about ideas
Something I need to stress on first. One of the misconceptions that newbies have about writing and blogging is the importance of and the focus on the tools of the trade. Seems like people are prepared to spend money of getting the tools that their blogging idols are using. This is probably in hope of getting a shortcut to the high levels and is an unrealistic hope to have.
Nobody can tell you what equipment is best for you. It is not about the tools, it is about the ideas and the inspiration. What makes a great writer is not the tools he uses, but how the person uses it.
Great ideas and inspiration can come to you no matter where you are or what tools you are using. It is very rare that you get the great idea only when you are sitting on a fancy new computer or when you have that brand new camera to work with. There is no correlation between owning the cool tools and having great creating ideas. You cannot compete by having the great tools, you must compete with your unique personality, your drive and ideas. This cannot be mechanized.
The best tool you have is your brain. A fancy tool is nothing else than that. It will not help you become better. You do not need to have a brand new laptop and expensive software to start writing something. You will still take crappy pictures even with that great new camera. I use some quiet basic and mostly open source tools as you see in my list above. No matter what the tool you still need to experience it, learn about it and improve your own skills.
Laptop and mobile device
- MacBook – I’m a Mac. The new Macbook (2015 version) is my primary workstation. It is very light, tiny, fast and it just works. Perfect for a digital nomad.
- Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – When I’m on the road and want to travel very light I use a mobile for everything. I used to have an iPad but since the “invention” of phablets I no longer have a tablet. The 5.7 inch screen has more than enough space for me to work on. When on my mobile I focus on research, marketing and editing rather than creation of content. The mobile has a good camera and a good mic so it is perfect for recording of videos and podcasts.
- WordPress – I just love WordPress and use it for all my content publishing needs. I do all my writing within the WordPress post editor. WordPress is simple to use, yet a very advanced tool too. See how to get started with WordPress. I use several plugins to help me add extra functionality, and here’s the full list of plugins I like.
- Google Analytics – For tracking visitors and content data. I check analytics daily to measure how my content and my marketing routine are performing. Piwik is the open-source alternative to this.
- Quill Engage – For weekly email reports that give me quick overview of my blog stats and the performance trends.
- Twitter Analytics – To find out how many times a tweet has been retweeted, shared, and how many people you have reached in a given period. It’s a great and simple tool that shows you several things about your account including growth of followers, more details about your followers but also things like click stats on the links within your tweets and number of impressions your tweets get.
Social media and news
- TweetDeck – I prefer TweetDeck for my Twitter use. Once you do get your social communities built up with respectable followings, you’ll likely find that managing all of those users and their daily experience becomes your main focus, and this is the perfect time to take advantage of Tweetdeck. A social media management tool gives you the ability to manage your content posting, conversations, and other social interaction all on a single dashboard. Using this instead of Twitter.com saves you the time and hassle of working from within multiple accounts, leaving you to focus your time where it counts most.
- Nuzzel – I use Nuzzel for all my news. It gives me a quick overview of content that is shared the most by the people who I follow on Twitter. Saves me a lot of time and surfaces great content.
- Feedly – For subscribing to RSS feeds and following different sites. I don’t subscribe to many sites anymore, but for a handful of sites that don’t publish very often or that I don’t want to miss anything from I check Feedly.
- Tweriod – It is important to tweet when your followers are online in order not to send messages in vain. This app produces reports that will allow you to find out if your followers are online mostly in the morning, afternoon, evening, or on weekends and not during weekdays. Knowing when the largest number of users is online will help you maximize the impact of each single tweet, both in terms of visibility and click-through rate.
- Twibble – Tweetdeck allows you to schedule your posts on several social media platforms. Another interesting tools for post scheduling on Twitter is Twibble. It allows you to add your blog’s RSS feed and the tool then automatically publishes any new article added to the feed onto your own Twitter profile. It even adds the featured image from your post so it is automatically embedded and displayed within Twitter interface. For Pinterest a great tool is ViralWoot and offers Pinterest scheduling and analytics. See more here on how you can automate and schedule your blogging.
Wellbeing and productivity
- Time Out – Staring at the screen for long hours does not feel too good. I use Time Out to take 20 second breaks from the screen every 20 minutes. I try to close my eyes for those 20 seconds or look at something that is not a screen and that is far away. This is the 20/20/20 rule.
- f.lux – Makes the color of my computer screen adapt to the time of the day. Another tool that helps my eyes.
- Self Control – Sometimes I do find myself mindlessly browsing the web. I use Self Control to block sites that waste my time. Using this has actually made me more focused as I no longer need it that much as I have stopped typing Facebook.com or similar at any possible time.
- Spotify – I love Spotify. I start one of the “in the zone” productivity playlists that keep me focused for the work day. I also love the Discover Weekly playlists that show up every Monday morning.
Visuals and other imagery
- Google Photos – I love Google Photos for keeping all my pictures nicely organized. I use a lot of my own images in my content so this is very nice way to keep track of them all. I love how it helps me find certain images even though I don’t need to spend time tagging and organizing them.
- Preview – For basic image editing like adding notes, cutting and resizing. When saving it also compresses the size of images for faster load on the web. Also helps me merge and rearrange PDF files.
- Gimp – For all the more advanced image editing needs I have like creating graphics and adding text and text overlays to my images. It’s kind of like Photoshop, just open-source and free.
- Flickr Creative Commons – In some posts where I don’t use my own images I use Flickr to find pictures that I am free to use on my site.
- Here’s a larger list of resources where you can find free high-quality images to use on your blog.
Screencasts and other videos
- Screenflow – I use this to record my computer screen when I do instructional videos and other how-to screen casts. Quicktime is a simple and free alternative. It comes with your Mac, does the basics but you might miss a couple of advanced features.
- OmniDazzle – I use this to draw shapes and to write on my screen. Very useful to create better presentations and screen casts.
- Keynote – I’m using this to create presentation slides when I need to present something. These presentation can be uploaded to Slideshare and you can even create screen casts of them. I also use it to create simple graphs and table images.
- iMovie – Simple app that is easy to use but has some professional looking video editing features. I use this when I am editing video footage.
Notes, HTML and text editing
- Simplenote – I keep my notes, book highlights, post drafts and other ideas in here. Simplenote is where I keep my ideas doc.
- Flycut – Clipboard manager that saves and allows easy access for multiple cut-and-paste texts so I never get rid of something by mistake.
- TextWrangler – For editing the CSS of my pages and all the other coding/FTP needs like the IP address block I have on my WordPress install.
Browser and extensions
- Safari – If I’m not using one of the apps, I am usually doing all the work in the Safari browser. Most of my day actually is spent in Safari. The best and most energy efficient browser on a Mac.
- uBlock – This is so good. It blocks all the ads on all the pages that I browse. Even blocks ads like those pre-rolls you see on YouTube. Better and lighter than Adblocker. This is the real banner blindness and everyone should have it on.
- Rapportive – Browser extension that sits next to your Gmail email and tells you more details about the person you are in the conversation with.
- Skype – For meetings (when really necessary) and other video/voice calls online.
- Google Inbox – My emails, contact form submissions and all the other mail communication happens in here. I love how Inbox helps me saves a lot of time by dealing with my emails fast and simple. Polymail is a great Mac desktop app that works very similar to Inbox.
- Telegram – For a lot of my instant messaging with family and friends.
- Slack – For a lot of my work related instant messaging.
- Cyberduck – For all the FTP file uploading needs to my web server.
- Product Hunt – I review Product Hunt regularly to find new tools and apps to try out and integrate into my workflow.
The real master does not need any special tools
No one tool equals success, and the gear that works for one person won’t necessary work for someone else. But people don’t like hearing this. A simple formula would have been easier. Not having all the latest and greatest equipment could be an inspiration. All the constraints could help drive and inspire your creativity. All you need to communicate online these days is an access to a computer with internet connection.
You can even take great pictures and videos with a simple mobile phone. It levels the playing field and allows anyone to bring life to their dreams. You can improvise with whatever tool you have at hand. It makes the idea the central part of your project, it is the idea that counts. It is the idea that will help you spread the word about yourself and will help you reach your goals. The real master does not need any special tools.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look to get the tools that you like, that make you feel comfortable, tools that you prefer to work on. That is fine. You should get whatever makes you feel good and relaxed. This will result in you being more motivated, more creative and harder working. It sometimes also helps to buy yourself a piece of nice equipment that will improve your output.
This can happen as a reward of reaching a goal and should not necessary be the thing you do before starting a project. It’s best to start with a great idea in mind, and use the simple tools you have at hand to try it out and then build it from there according to the feedback you get. There’s no reason to start by investing money into buying fancy equipment and tools.