Thoughts

Tools That Help Me Work

I have a lot of articles "in the pipes," but I've been finding it hard to get into the rhythm of writing again, so I thought I'd start with an easy post to get the juices flowing. This sort of post is obviously something plenty of people have done before, but I usually find them interesting. Since it's been done before, I thought I would concentrate on some of the smaller things that make my life better/easier, instead of the normal operating system (OS X Leopard)/text editor (Coda) writeup.

Versions

Versions is a Mac SVN client that works very, very well. I had been using svnX, which never really gave me any problems, but after using Versions for about a day, you wouldn't really be able to convince me to go back. Versions has the polish that Mac users have come to expect, both visually, and interaction-wise. I'm able to group all of my repositories in different folders, and working copies show up under their respective repository. All in all, a very nice app that I take for granted now because it works so well.

TextExpander

Most text editors these days have the idea of "clips," or something similar, in which you build a library of code snippets, and them access them in different ways. What TextExpander does is take that functionality and build it into the operating system, so that you can just type a certain code word, and it automatically replaces it with the given text.

This is not only useful for work (I type "rreset" to have it spit out Meyer's CSS reset), but also for normal, everyday typing. I have my address saved, so that if I type the numbers from my address, it replaces it with the whole thing. Same with city ("bll" becomes "Bloomington"), email, lots of things. I use it without thinking, and every time I type the same thing more than a few times, it goes into textExpander. It keeps track of the time it saves you, and I'm over two hours now. Two hours is a lot of typing.

Billings

Any freelancer needs to have a setup that they're completely comfortable with for tracking time, creating/sending invoices, and tracking clients/payments/etc. There are tons of great tools out there, and I've used a number of them. Up until about a month ago, I had been using OfficeTime for time tracking and invoice creating, and a plain spreadsheet for tracking client payments.

A month or two ago, I found Billings 3, and tried it out. Like Versions, Billings is a much nicer app to work with than OfficeTime, which attracted me from the beginning. However, Billings is a much more comprehensive tool for organizing your business than officeTime is. I need to try hard to be organized, so anything that helps me do that is a plus. Billings makes staying on top of the business end of things much easier on me. I can track estimates, time, clients, payments, personal projects, and a lot of other things, all in one place.

Billing's invoice/estimate templating engine is also very extensive. I've been finding it a little difficult to get into it to build custom templates from scratch, but changing small things on one of their many built-in templates is pretty straight forward, and creates nice-looking results. They also export into pdfs, instead of rtfd's (which is what OfficeTime used). All in all a great tool that has already helped me be more comfortable keeping track of things.

Evernote

Put Evernote into the "tools that help dan stay organized" pile. Their slogan is "Remember everything," which is nice for me, because my unofficial slogan is "I forget everything." I use Evernote constantly. I keep article ideas, work notes, javascript tricks i'd like to try sometime, and lots of other stuff in there. It searches instantly, and can capture all sorts of stuff. I've been using it for a couple months now, and have over a 100 notes stored, mostly work-related. Also, like most of the other apps on this list, it has that nice Mac "feel" to it.

Evernote is also useful because it has an iPhone companion app that syncs with your desktop account, so I can take a quick note when I'm away from my computer, and then file it when I get home.

Firebug

If I had to get rid of every app that I use in my business but one, I would keep Firebug. I can't even begin to estimate how much time Firebug has saved me while developing websites, and there really isn't anything that compares. I could write a whole article on it, but I'm just going to leave it at this: if you build websites, you should be using firebug.