Folder Marker

One of the things I love about working with Mac is that I can use colour-coded tags to identify specific folders and files. For example, I have various income streams and I prefer to keep all documents related to each income stream together in their own folder. However, I use a grey tag to identify all of the receipts and documents I need to complete my income taxes. When it’s time to gather all of those items, I simply search for all of the files with the grey tag and upload them to my accountant’s secure server.

I like colour-coding. It helps keeps me organized. This is why I find it frustrating to work on a Windows computer because I do not have the ability to colour-code or tag files and folders.

However, a software program called Folder Marker was recently brought to my attention. It easily integrates into Windows Explorer allowing users to right-click on any folder to change its colour. Folder Marker also allows users to mark files (and folders) by priority (high, normal, low), by degree of work complete (done, half-done, planned), by work status (approved, rejected, pending). You can also integrate your own icons to assign to folders and files.

Folder Marker has a free version that is likely all basic computer users would ever need. Families and home business users could upgrade to the Home Version which provides more options. for would need. Small businesses sharing a common hard drive or server should upgrade to the Pro Version to have access to all the options. Compare the options here.

Would you benefit from colour-coding your digital files folders? Do you do it now? Are there any pros and cons you would like to share with other readers? Chime in with a comment below.

One person’s cool tech tool is another person’s clutter

Watching Olympic figure skating on the NBC Olympics website, I saw a huge number of ads for Amazon’s Echo Dot at a discounted price. But the ads didn’t convince me that I wanted to buy one — and if someone gave me one as a gift, I’d give it away. For me it would be clutter.

I know that devices like the Dot can be very useful to those with disabilities, but I’m fortunate enough to not have any such disabilities at the moment. I also know people with small children who say devices like the Dot provide their kids with endless entertainment, but I don’t have children.

And much of the other functionality that comes from the Dot (and its connectivity to other “smart home” devices) is simply not an issue to me as it is to many other people:

  • I have a small home, so I don’t need the Dot to control smart lightbulbs — I can get up and turn on any light in the house with just a few steps. Similarly, I can easily get up and adjust my thermostats, so I don’t need to use the Dot to adjust a smart thermostat like the Nest.
  • I order very few things from Amazon and I don’t even have Amazon Prime, so being able to say, “Alexa, re-order paper towels” isn’t a benefit to me as it would be to other people.
  • I don’t play music when I’m home, and I don’t subscribe to any streaming music services, so voice control of my music — a big deal to some other people — is irrelevant to me. Similarly, I don’t listen to audiobooks, so I wouldn’t use an Echo for them. And I read the news rather than listen to the news, so the Echo wouldn’t be useful to me for that purpose, either.
  • All Alexa accounts come with a shopping list, so you can tell the Echo to add something to your shopping list and then use the Alexa app on your smart phone to see the list when you’re in the store. I can see how this could really be helpful for some people, including couples — one person could add to the list that the other person would be using to shop later in the day. But for me, the Notes app on my iPhone is really all I need.
  • I’m perfectly happy using my smart phone as my alarm clock and my timer. I don’t need another device to provide those functions for me.

I’m not at all trying to disparage anyone who has an Echo (or a Google Home device or an Apple HomePod). If these make your life easier or bring you joy, that’s great! And I very much appreciate many new tech tools. I’m just suggesting that we all consider our own circumstances before we decide to buy the latest tech gadget, whatever that might be.

Erasing old cell phones as you unclutter them

If you have a fairly recent cell phone that you want to sell or donate, it’s pretty easy to remove your personal information (address book, messages, photos, etc.) from the phone before disposing of it. You can get the how-to information from your cell phone manufacturer or cellular provider, or you can find information online from various other sources.

In general, the steps will involve removing any SIM cards and SD cards, doing a hard reset (also known as a factory reset), and setting up encryption if needed (especially on Android phones). To be even more secure, you can load junk data onto your phone and then do another factory reset.

But what if it’s an old phone and you don’t have the charger, you don’t know the password, or both? These phones tend to get shoved into drawers or boxes to be dealt with at a later time — which never comes.

How many old phones do people have laying around? To get an idea, look at what Daniel Otis reported in the Motherboard website:

According to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, which advocates on behalf of the industry, 62 per cent of Canadians have an average of 2.1 phones that they’re not using. That equals more than 47 million unused cell phones collecting dust.

If you’re dealing with phones like this and you’d like to finally unclutter them, the following are a few suggestions.

Missing the password? Try the default lock code or just do a factory reset.

Leaving a default lock code in place is a bad idea, but enough people do it that you might as well try it. Many years ago, the person who used the phone might not have been as security-conscious as most of us are now.

The default code on many Nokia phones is 12345. The code on some LG phones is 0000 (four zeroes) and on other LG phones it’s the last four digits of your phone number. Other phones might use 1234.

But the easiest option might be to do a factory reset (which should be possible even without the password), since you want to remove all of the data on the phone, anyway.

Missing the charger? See if someone else has one.

A vendor’s store may have the charger you’re lacking and might be willing to charge your phone enough that you can follow the standard steps for erasing your phone. Or ask around on sites like Nextdoor, where you might find someone who would be happy to lend you the charger you need.

Still stuck? Physically destroy the phone.

If you can’t get into the phone to erase the data, you can always resort to physically destroying the phone. Some people distrust the software erasing process and prefer hardware destruction, even though it could mean a perfectly usable phone gets destroyed. It’s all a matter of what data you have on the phone and how you evaluate the risks of having that data stolen.

While you could attempt to destroy the phone yourself — if you know what you’re doing — many people will find paying a reputable service provider to shred the phone to be the wiser choice.

Some local shredding companies will shred cell phones, including companies with certification from the National Association for Information Destruction (NAID). You can search for a company through the NAID website, although there’s no way to identify which ones work with cell phones as opposed to just paper and storage media such as computer hard drives. Alternatively, you could just use your favorite search engine.

For example, the following are a few companies that provide cell phone shredding services:

Tech tools for keeping New Years’ resolutions

As January yields to February, many people find themselves sliding on their commitment to New Years resolutions. Five years ago, I wrote an article on technology to help you keep those goals active. Since technology evolves at such a rapid pace, I thought an update was in order. Back in 2013, I wrote, “When deciding on a resolution(s) for the new year, keep three things in mind: acknowledge your feelings, have a plan, and take your time.” Resolution needn’t be written in stone by January first, so don’t stress if you’re still working on it. (I know someone who makes Groundhog Day Resolutions.)

As for your feelings, do your best to stay positive. Identifying a good support team can help immensely. An action plan will work wonders and help decrease feelings of being overwhelmed. I recommend breaking things down into small steps.

Some of the most popular resolutions are:

  • Get healthy
  • Earn more money
  • Become an active citizen
  • Travel

Here are some current examples of hardware and software to help you achieve each of those goals.

Get Healthy

Every January, millions of people vow to improve their health by either losing weight, adopting a healthier diet, or exercising regularly. For improving physical health I love Couch to 5K. Available for both iOS and Android, this effective, great-looking app can get you running five kilometers in just nine weeks. As a former couch potato, I can confirm that it works.

As for mental well-being, I’ve fallen in love with Headspace. It’s a great introduction to guided meditation in everyday life that is very beneficial. You needn’t be a cloistered monk to meditate effectively, and Headspace is proof of that. Just like Couch to 5K, Headspace is available for iOS and Android.

Earn More Money

Who doesn’t want a few extra dollars? I won’t dive into organizing your finances in this article, but I will recommend Betterment for helping with long and short-term investments. Betterment was founded in 2008 and it’s a quite nice product. They have low fees, a great app and, in my experience, great advice that’s always available.

Become an Active Citizen

This often gets overlooked, but it’s great for your community and sense of self-satisfaction. Countable keeps you up-to-date on what’s happening in U.S. politics, from bills to news from your local representatives. You can call your reps, share video messages with elected officials, read non-partisan news summaries, and prepare for upcoming votes.

Travel

Kayak is still my favorite travel app. It is as close to a portable travel agent as you can get. It handles everything from finding a flight to hotels, car rentals, attractions, things to do, and much more. Kayak polls several top travel sites and airlines for flights that match your criteria. The results can be filtered by airline, number of stops, airport, price, and duration. You can also sort by cost, duration, and departure time. The app is available for the iPhone, iPad, Android phones, Windows phone, and Kindle Fire.

There you have it. I hope there’s something here to inspire you to an exciting, fulfilling year. Good luck!

A simple trick for uncluttering email subscriptions

When I was young my parents often decried the junk mail that arrived at our house — catalogs, flyers, local take-out menus, etc. It was a constant influx of clutter that went from the postman’s hands, to the mailbox, to our kitchen, to the trash.

Today, digital junk mail is just as annoying. What is worse is that we invite a lot of it to our inboxes via subscriptions and newsletters. At one point, you clicked “subscribe” and began to receive periodical updates from a given provider. I’ve done it too and I’m often glad I did. But situations change, and those subscriptions become less appealing. They build up and soon the influx of email clutter is out of control.

A couple of years ago I shared suggestions for eliminating unwanted email subscriptions, and I encourage you to check it out. Today I want to share a trick that is so darn easy and effective, I just had to share it with you all. It goes like this.

  1. Open your email software.
  2. Search for the word “Unsubscribe.”

There is no step three. The result is all of the messages that include the word “unsubscribe,” the vast majority of which will let you do just that by clicking the term. Now you needn’t scroll to find them or what for a few weeks as they roll in one by one. Just search, click and they are gone. So easy.

Of course, you can get as involved with this process as you like, which I’ve described here. But this simple trick will save you a lot of time and help get the job done.

Unclutterer’s 2017 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Tech Gadgets

Holiday shopping time is here, and with it comes the opportunity to buy cool tools! Here are our picks for super-cool gadgets that the tech-friendly unclutterers on your list will love.

The iFixit Essential Electronics Toolkit contains unique and essential tools for most electronics repairs like screen and battery replacements. It’s also useful for repairing other electronics and household appliances. It has a great little carrying case with designated spots for each tool so you know where everything belongs and can easily see when something is missing. If there’s a tinkerer on your list, or someone who wants to save money by doing repairs at home, this toolkit is a great gift.

The Automatic Pro is a small device that plugs into a port that most contemporary cars have. Once in place, it provides a whole host of useful information to the companion smartphone app (iOS and Android), including:

  • Diagnostics of engine warning lights
  • Parking tracking
  • Expense tracking for business travel
  • Crash detection and response

There’s even cool collaboration with existing apps and services. For example, have your Hue Lights turn on as you pull into the driveway, set your Nest thermostat to turn the heat down as you pull away or log trip distances onto a Google document automatically.

The KBAR USB charger looks like a power strip but don’t let that fool you. This charger has eight USB ports that intelligently charge up to eight high-power mobile devices like iPads, Android tablets, and full-sized smartphones simultaneously. I say “intelligently” because the KBAR recognizes all of these devices and charges them at their maximum designed speed. Plus, the built-in surge protection helps keep them safe during a electrical power fluctuations.

Finally, I want to mention the PIXNOR 7-piece tweezers set. I seem to always have trouble finding a pair of tweezers when I need them, let alone the right tweezers. This kit offers a variety of sizes, shapes, and weights. Whether it’s removing a sliver from your finger or performing a precision repair, this kit has precisely what you need. At a little under ten dollars, it’s a super deal.

There you have our recommendations for gadget gifts for the organized. Happy shopping. Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Easily save and sort Gmail with G-Save

This is no surprise, but Unclutterer readers are a productive, clever bunch. Recently, a reader wrote in with a project that further reinforced this fact. Kate shared a great Google Chrome extension that she and some co-workers created called “G-Save,” which makes the company’s Gmail service just a little more pleasant to use.

Google Chrome Extensions are “…small software programs that can modify and enhance the functionality of the Chrome browser.” Chrome extensions often make a certain website or service easier to use, by adding additional or alternate functionality, etc. There are many extensions available across multiple categories, including productivity-enhancing gems like Papier, which lets you quickly jot down notes and random thoughts, and Taco, which lets you easily enter tasks and other information into the project managers Wunderlist, Evernote, Asana, Basecamp and Trello.

Installation

Kate’s G-Save has a sharper focus. Specifically, it lets you quickly and easily save emails and their attachments to some location outside of you email client, like Google Drive, Drop Box, Outlook…really anywhere you what.

Setup is so minimal it’s barely worth a mention. First, open the Chrome browser on your computer and navigate to G-Save’s home. Next, click the “Add to Chrome” button in the upper-right. You’ll get a confirmation window. Click “Add extension.” That’s it. You’re done. A small, red Gmail icon appears on the right-hand side of your browser’s toolbar.

G-Save is platform-agnostic, so it doesn’t care if you’re using a PC or a Mac. Here’s how to use it.

Use

With installation complete, it’s time to try this out. Open Gmail in Chrome and you’ll see a new button labeled “Save Email” beneath the familiar “Compose” button. To save a message, simply select it in the list and then click Save Email. The message and any attachments it contains are saved in a universal EML file, with any email client can read.

This appealed to me because I’m a huge opponent of using your email client as a filing cabinet/to-do list. G-Save lets you move messages out of Gmail and into relevant folders, be they for a project, reference storage and so on.

When a new email message arrives, you must ask yourself, “What is this?” It sounds silly but it’s crucial. There are three possible answers:

  1. It’s garbage
  2. It’s something I need to do
  3. It’s something I might refer to later

That’s it. Every message you will ever receive will fall into these three categories.

The first one is simple. Spam, advertising you aren’t interested in, messages from old mailing lists you’ve lost interest in, etc. It’s all in the garbage category, so trash it — immediately.

The next category is the action category. These messages require someone — typically you — to do something. For instance, “Call Jane about the committee meeting,” “Forward the presentation to Frank,” or “Ask Faith about the camping trip next week.” Once you’ve identified what the required action is, make note of it in the appropriate place (on your to-do list or calendar) and then delete the message. Unless your company requires you to retain your email for legal reasons, then move it to an archive folder.

The final category is reference material. These messages do not require action, but they do hold information that could be useful someday. Identify what that information is, (sewing patterns, recipes, etc.) store it in the appropriate place and then delete the email. Yes, delete it. G-Save makes this simple.

Do what must be done

This step is a biggie. Just as you don’t pull a hot turkey out of the oven without first knowing where you’re going to set it down, you should’t delete that email message until you’ve identified a trusted place to put its important information. This is what David Allen calls a “trusted system.” Essentially, it’s an obvious, reliable stake in the ground that holds your information.

Congratulations to Kate and her colleagues for creating such a useful tool. Thanks for sharing and I hope you, dear reader, find a place for G-Save on your computer, too. I know it’s on mine.

How do you deal with slips in your projects?

One of the main goals of Unclutterer, apart from helping readers lead a more organized and streamlined life, is to help you create long-lasting change in your routines, habits, and life. Many of our articles revisit similar themes so that you can keep moving forward with your goals, revising what you are doing well, and identify when you need a course correction.

In my case, I am trying to merge my work and home life personalities. At work, I am decisive, productive, proactive, and passionate. At home, I never make decisions, ignore projects, react before thinking, and live with neither ups nor downs.

As regular readers know, I’ve been using the Bullet Journal system to transfer my work personality to my home one. And while the system has helped me keep my head above water during a stressful period at work, I’ve let my passivity to life stay in control and have pretty much converted my Bullet Journal into a solely work-related tracking system.

So, something needs to be done, and I think I’ve found the trick: the Moleskine app for my iPad Pro. One of the reasons I’ve let the personal life slide is because the work list was taking up a full page, leaving me with no room to add personal stuff and I refused to have a single day in two different pages in my Moleskine notebook. Sure it’s an excuse, but it was enough to derail me.

However, with the Moleskine app (available for iOS) I can have multiple notebooks and yet have only one item to carry. The app is free if you want the basic notebooks of Weekly Planner, Plain Paper, Lined Paper, and Grid Paper. You can buy other notebooks for Photos, Recipe Tracker, Travel Journal, and Wine Journal, but for now I have no interest in those ones. If you are an avid cook, travel writer, or wine lover, these journals might come in handy for organizing your thoughts.

By using the app, I’ve created five different journals:

  • Weekly Planner: to schedule my days and know what’s coming up. This planner looks into the future and includes both work and home.
  • Work Journal: to organize all my work-related tasks. I love the color and pen thickness options in the app and can keep track of all my tasks and priorities in a vibrant, colorful way.
  • Home Journal: to keep my personal-related actions, desires, and ideas front and center. This journal is copied from my work one and will hopefully, over time, instill my home personality with the more active traits from my work personality.
  • Connection Journal: to remind myself to connect with my social circles. As an introvert, I could easily go through a week only talking with work mates, but friends and family need to be taken care of or they won’t be there when my introverted self decides it wants company.
  • Time Tracker: to make sure I take time for myself each day. I can easily be busy, busy, busy, from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep without taking even 15 minutes to read, write some fiction, or just stare at the ceiling. This journal looks at what has actually happened each day and serves as a good reminder that without personal time, I will burn out completely and start cutting myself off from the rest of the world, which is the exact opposite of my goal.

Wait a second… Five different journals? Isn’t that a lot of work?

Yes, it is, but the changes I want to make in my life are big and doing any less has proved too easy for my (nearly) 50 years of habits to take control and derail my plans.

I love my iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil — it’s the closest I’ve ever seen to a digital notebook, and now that I can use my favorite notebooks in digital format, I couldn’t be happier. Productivity and perseverance thanks to technology.

What changes are you trying to make in your life? Are you aware of any slips? What are you doing to correct them and maintain momentum?

 

Uncluttering your digital junk drawers

The proliferation of inexpensive cloud services offer near-ubiquitous access to your files as well as something rather insidious: an out-of-sight, digital junk drawer. That drawer in your kitchen with the pens, receipts, batteries, fortune cookies from the 90’s, and who knows what else, is in your face every day. Its presence is a constant prompt to clean, sort, and organize. You tend to it because you see it.

Your Evernote account, however is hidden, just like your Dropbox, Box.net, Google Drive, or iCloud account. Digital files like documents, photos, music, and electronic receipts add up slowly but surely, and soon enough you’ve got a mountain of forgotten stuff just hanging out, taking up storage space.

Typically you’ll know it’s time to organize a digital junk drawer by observing how much time you spend searching for what you need. Instead of finding it right away, you scroll and scroll or use the search function, which may or may not be especially helpful. Suddenly that convenient storage solution is wasting time because it takes too long to find things and wasting money, as the cost of storage increases once you exceed your storage threshold.

The good news is it’s easy to clean out a digital junk drawer, as well as ensure it doesn’t get to a sorry state again. Here’s what we recommend.

Use the delete key

It’s time to get to know the delete key. Do not fear it. Instead, embrace its power and banish unwanted files to the Land of Wind and Ghosts.

I recently started to poke around my Dropbox folders. I found many documents I had not touched in months or years — parts of old projects long abandoned, screenshots I had no need for, old software I no longer wanted, unfinished articles that would never get written, etc. There was so much such stuff just sitting there, acting as clutter, hindering searches, and taking up precious space.

I took the time to go through each document, identify it, and if I no longer needed it, I deleted it. It felt great.

It is possible you’ll find documents that have been stored for a long time that you still need. That’s the difference between “reference” and “junk.” For example, the schedule for my local theatre is reference. It holds information that doesn’t require action, but might be useful in the future. User manuals and some receipts fall into this category, too.

Junk, on the other hand, has no value. That screenshot I took simply to post as a joke on Twitter? I don’t need that anymore so into the trash it goes.

A quick way to identify seldom-touched files is to sort a folder’s contents by “Date last opened” or “Date added.” Doing so gives you a clear picture of which files you use and which are collecting digital dust.

Be ruthless. Find a file, ask what it is, and act accordingly. When that’s done, it’s time to prevent it from happening again.

What’s in a name? Structure.

Many years ago, I came across a fantastic article from PC Magazine that tackled this topic beautifully. It’s about intelligent and purposeful naming. It suggests that file names meet the following criteria:

  • unique
  • indicative of what the file contains
  • in line with how you (or your business) thinks about information
  • “scannable”  (with the human eye) according to how you (or your employees) find information
  • naturally ordered alphabetically (or numerically)
  • consistent

I’ll let you read the whole article — you really should — but I’ll point out a couple of ideas here. First, the second item on the list, “indicative of what the file contains.” Photos are the biggest culprit here. Your camera or smartphone will give images names like “img5468.jpg.” That means nothing when your scanning through a list of files (more on that in a minute). Instead, use something like “201710WineTour.jpg.” That way you know exactly what it is from the title, and sorting is so much easier.

I touched on “scannable” above, but it’s worth repeating. Instead of scrolling while muttering to yourself, “Hold on, it’s in here somewhere,” you can see exactly what you want in an instant.

Also, consistency is key. It may take more time to rename files prior to storing them but it’s worth it when you consider the time saved on the other end.

This weekend, spend a little time with your digital junk drawers, be they a cloud service or even your computer’s own hard drive. It takes time to get sorted, yes, but it’s completely worth it.

Dropmark organizes links and digital files

Two years ago I was lousy at organizing web bookmarks. If I found an article I wanted to read later, a recipe or anything else I couldn’t attend to right then and there, it went into Dock in Apple’s Mac operation system, where it sat indistinguishable and forgotten. What a mess.

Determined to rise above that disorganized mess, I explored four solutions: Instapaper, Historious, Pinboard and Ember. Each has its pros and cons, but I eventually landed on Instapaper. It’s quick and easy. Still, that was two years ago and I thought the idea deserved another look. This time, I’ve discovered Dropmark.

What drew me to Dropmark is that it is a lot more than an archive of links. Instead, it sorts things you’d like to save into “collections.” The collections can be customized however you like. To get you started, Dropmark offers six default collections:

  • Inspiration
  • Recipes
  • Playlist
  • Save for Later
  • Video Que
  • Book Club

Each collection has its own permission settings. You can make it private, available to a select few, or public. Once you’ve created a collection, simply drag and drop something from your computer into a browser window to add it. It’s then listed in a tidy grid. You can increase search-ability by adding tags to any item.

Organizing bookmarks (my personal goal) is easy, too. Simply click to add a new item, choose “Link” and paste the URL you’d like to save.

While I’m just looking for a digital organizational tool, Dropbox can do much more than that. You can form teams for collaboration, and share any collection you’ve got.

Lastly, there are browser extensions and mobile apps for iOS and Android that let you manage your collections with ease. It’s simple, good-looking and available both as a free app and a paid service. The pro version ($50/year) lets you add comments, annotations, and choose from several style options. It’s a very nice service and if you, too, struggle with organizing digital bookmarks and files, give Dropmark a try.

Tips and tricks for Google Keep

About a year ago I wrote a post praising Google Keep, the light, effective note-taking app from Google. At the time I was only a few months into using it but I was already smitten. The fast, lightweight app let me store and find notes easily. Twelve months later, it has become an indispensable part of my day.

Along the way, I’ve picked up some very cool tricks that make it even more useful. If you’re a fan too, I hope you learn something new here. If you haven’t used Google Keep before, consider this your formal invitation to give it a try. It really is useful. Now, the tips.

Transcribe notes from pictures

I learned this trick from Tech Republic and it has become my favorite. If you take a photo of written text with Google Keep, it can extract the text in the photo and turn it into editable copy in a note. Just follow these steps:

  1. Take a photo with the app
  2. Tap the three dots in the upper right-hand corner
  3. Select “Grab image text”

That’s it. Keep will find the text in the photograph and paste it into the body of your note. Super cool.

Drag and drop notes from Keep into Google Docs

Here’s something I tried on a whim. Much to my delighted surprise, it worked. Just follow these steps.

  1. With a Google Doc open, click “Tools” from the menu bar and then “Keep Notepad.”
  2. A list of your notes appears on the right.
  3. Simply drag the one you want out of that list and into your document.

The cool thing here is that the formatting in the note is retained. Drag an ordered list, and you’ve got an ordered list in your doc. Drag an image and it’s an image. Text is text. The lesson here is always poke around the tools menu.

It’s great for social media drafts

Sharing isn’t limited to Google Docs, or course. Open a note on your smartphone (Android or iOS) and hit the three dots or Share Button to send the contents of that note to Twitter, Facebook, Slack, etc.

Create reminders

I only discovered this recently. You can use Keep to send you a reminder. To begin, just create a note and click the icon of a finger wrapped in a string. From there, create your reminder. That reminder will automatically appear on your Google Calendar, the Chrome browser (if it’s signed into Google) and your Android device.

As you can see, Keep is for much more than jotting down shopping lists (though it does that, too). I’ve grown to love it and I bet you will, too. Give it a try.

Software to help organize your thoughts

When I was young, a phone was a communication device attached to the kitchen wall. Curly wire, a rotary dial, that whole thing. If you were lucky, the wire was long enough to reach the closet for a private conversation (and create an annoying obstacle for everyone else in the house).

A modern phone is more than just a glorified walkie-talkie. It is a camera, game station, note-taker and bane of many a parent’s existence, among other things. For now, let’s look at the phone as a note-taker.

I use my phone to jot down information that would have been relegated to paper a few years ago. My phone is always with me, making it convenient, and often a decent paper substitute. From creating a simple list to managing a full-on brainstorm, there’s an app for your note-taking needs. Here’s a look at some of my favorites.

When I want to brainstorm a new idea or project, I create a mind map. (I’ve written about mind mapping here before). It’s a more formal way to get the flood of ideas down, creating a nice visual that depicts the relationships between each thought. Yet, it’s still unstructured enough to not interfere with the process.

For me, the best option is MindNode. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the Mac and iPhone. If you use those platforms, go and grab this app. It syncs across devices almost instantly and is very easy to use. It also features easy import/export options, so getting your information out is as easy as getting it in.

If you’re an Android user, I recommend MindMeister. Like MindNode it’s easy to use, and makes collaboration easy, so members of your team/group/family can contribute.

Next up is Google Keep, which I’ve talked about it before. I’m happy to report that I still love it. Keep is lightning fast and feels streamlined and unclutterered. It syncs between the mobile app and a browser almost instantly and lets me jot things down nearly as quickly as I do with paper and pen. Plus you can categorize, tag, color-code, and share. It’s a real keeper.

Meanwhile, I know a lot of people who swear by Notebook by Zoho (available for iOS and Android), Notebook – Take Notes, Sync across devices on the App Store. What’s nice here is it lets you sort notes into “Notebooks” with custom titles and covers, making it very easy indeed to find what you’re after.

Dropbox Paper is a direct competitor to Google Docs, (which is in competition with Microsoft’s Office 3650. Like the others, Dropbox Paper goes well beyond simple note-taking and offers a suite of online productivity tools, aiming to be a way to create and share text documents.

It will be overkill for many, but if you’re looking for an alternative to those larger suites, give Dropbox Paper a try.

Is digital better? Yes and no. The near ubiquitous access is nice, and sharing is a lot easier. But I think paper is faster, plus it won’t crash or succumb to a dead battery or weak Wi-Fi connection. For more on the paper/digital debate, check out Reconciling paper and digital productivity and organizing tools.