January is always a good month to start something new: a soon-to-be-ignored gym membership, a holistic-detox-cleansing diet you’ll realize is nonsense by Day Three, or, trying new productivity software, sites and services to save you time and headaches.

Here are my suggestions for a few worth adopting and sticking with all year long:


Evernote is my digital shoebox. I use it to store voice memos, websites, web snippets, emails, links as well as posters and business cards I shoot with my iPhone. Once captured, I can access them on the web or via any iOS device I own. Works on Windows and Blackberries too. It is my secret weapon (well, okay, no so secret now). Seriously, it is the best tool to adopt if you want to keep on top of the stuff you want to save. Best feature? It will do Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on an text you photograph and toss into it — the iPhone app rocks and the browser plug-ins work quickly and effortlessly.


Delicious is a social bookmarking website. Rather than just stashing your favourite websites or web stories as bookmarks in one browser on one computer, why not store them in a place where you can get to them no matter what computer or browser you use. And, why not share some of your discoveries with others and learn from what they have found valuable? That’s the idea behind delicious.com. Using a simple bookmarklet (it’s like a bookmark in your browser menu bar, but actually runs a little program) you can easily bookmark a site. You can also add notes to your “clipping” and, best of all, you can add one or more tags to each bookmark so you and others can easily find it.



ifttt stands for If This, Then, That. The site is a great tool for interconnecting your social media, software tools and services. Suppose, for example, you want to send a story to Evernote every time you star it in Google Reader. Or, what if you wanted an email sent to you anytime it is due to snow in your locale tomorrow. ifttt.com allows you automate those tasks simply. The syntax is simple. “IF starred item in Google Reader THEN send story to Evernote”. You can set up tasks like that using a simple, graphic interface. Once you set it in motion the task will run automatically until you tell it to stop. For example, I have a task set up that checks the RSS feed for new news items. If a new story moves on the feed, the ifttt.com task notices and sends a copy of it Evernote in a notebook called ifttt.


Dropbox is a free remote file storage service. When you sign up, you can toss gigabytes of stuff from your computer onto the Dropbox server. That means you can get to those files no matter what computer you use as long as you log into your account. You can also share specific files or folders with others and those shared folders automatically update when files are added or removed. So, dropbox.com is a great way to share large files with friends, clients or family. Bonus tip, Dropbox Automator is like ifttt.com for Dropbox. You can teach it to automatically resize photos you drop into Dropbox folders and tons of other tricks.


Scrivener is a remarkable writing tool for long, complex projects. It uses an index card metaphor that makes it easy to break huge writing tasks into manageable and malleable parts. And, it does a great job of divorcing content from presentation, so you can concentrate on writing and organization while leaving formatting for much later in the project.


Longform writing isn’t dead online, but it is sometimes deadly to read there. Too many ads, too much distraction. Instapaper cuts through that. If you find a story you want to read you can just use the Instapaper bookmarklet and the story will be saved to your Instapaper account when we can read it distraction-free and beautifully formatted, any time you want – even on your iOS device or Kindle. You can even read the stories on your mobile device off-line, so it’s a perfect commuter tool.

That’s it, just a few new tricks. Hope you find at least some of them invaluable by the end of 2012. And seriously, detox diet, really?



Wayne MacPhail

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years. He was the managing editor of Hamilton Magazine and was a reporter and editor at The Hamilton Spectator until he founded Southam InfoLab,...