Creative LeadershipCreativity

The Apps That Help Me The Most

From time to time people ask me about the apps I use to navigate my life. From writing, speaking, producing, and leading our media production and consulting company Cooke Media Group, I’m a bit of an experimenter. But I’m not a geek and keep going back to simple and easy. Where my brilliant friend Michael Hyatt uses five apps, I use one, so my list will be a lot shorter than his. I’ve tried a lot of things over the years, and here’s a list of some of the key apps that make my life work better:

1. Writing:  When I’m writing books, I use Scrivener. It’s fantastic because of the flexibility it gives you in writing. Scrivener can break up chapter sections, so you start work anywhere in the book. You can easily see the structure of the book, and you can see it in a variety of different ways. You can also add research right into your workflow, so you keep it handy. Then when you’re ready to print, you can export it to a number of different formats. It takes awhile to get the hang of it, but once you do, you’re hooked. If you’re a serious writer of long form material, then you can’t afford not to give it a shot.
As far as other writing, I use MS Word mostly because the rest of the world uses it. Apple’s Pages is easier for reports and presentations because it handles graphics and photos easily – and it’s just simpler to use.  For blogs, I use Notebooks, because it keeps all my posts in one place. I tend to jot down lists of potential titles in Notebooks and then fill them in when I have time later. It’s also a great way to access my posts in progress on my iPad or iPhone.  When it comes to screenwriting, I’ve always worked with Final Draft which has pretty much owned the professional market.  However a number of very good (and less expensive) competitors have emerged.  Here’s a good comparison chart.

2. Productivity:   I’ve tried everything here, but keep coming back to Things. I went with Omnifocus for a long time, but the truth is, it’s simply too complicated. I don’t need to spend my day tweaking my to-do list, I want to be accomplishing stuff. If you get excited about futzing around with your to-do list, the Omnifocus may be right for you. But I want it simple, so I can get to the doing. Things is elegant, simple, and does what I need it to do. It also syncs with all my devices. If I went to a 3rd option it would probably be Wunderlist, but for now, Things gets my vote.  Also – one HUGE productivity app I use is Captio on my iPhone.  All you do is pre-program it with your email address, and then use it to jot notes.  It automatically emails them to you so they’ll be in your email folder to act on.  Really simple, and powerful tool.

3. Calendars:  I’ve tried every calendar on the planet, but keep coming back to Google Calendar. My iPhone has at least 8 calendar apps on it, because I keep looking for the best one on that device (and still haven’t found it). Actually Calendars+ was fantastic for mobile devices until the recent overhaul. I refuse to upgrade because it doesn’t make any sense. Everyone in our company works off Google Calendar so it’s the best choice for what we do at Cooke Media Group. Now that the stupid fake leather trim is gone from iCal, I use that on my iPad, and sometimes as a backup on my Mac.

4. Twitter client:  Tweetbot. Easy and simple. One list on the left side of my screen. I use Tweetbot on all my devices.  For scheduling posts, I use Hootsuite.

5. Presentations:  Keynote. At least I did until the last Mavericks upgrade. I hate what they’ve done to it with a passion. Fortunately they allow you to keep the older version on your computer so you can keep using it. I can’t imagine any serious presenter or speaker using the new Mavericks version of Keynote, until they get the presenters screen more flexible (like previous versions).  So I’m desperately hoping Apple sees the light and adds back all the features it took away.

6 Email:  Mac Mail. Like Keynote, I hate, hate, hate the Mavericks version. So I’ve tried Airmail, Postbox, Unibox, Outlook, Sparrow, Inky, Mail Pilot and others. I keep coming back to Mail because of 2 reasons: I like the keyboard shortcuts, and it integrates well with Things. Outlook is WAY more muscle than 95% of people need. It’s like the Omnifocus of email. All the others are interesting in different ways, but I keep coming back to the admittedly crippled version of Mac Mail. But honestly, I’m not sure how long I can last.  Apple – are you listening?

7. Photos:  Lyn. I dumped iPhoto last year and am very happy. iPhoto puts all your photos into a single digital file, and if it gets corrupted you’re dead.  I prefer to store my original photos in folders, and Lyn reads them and you can view them like iPhoto. That keeps them original, easy to access, and much safer.

How about you?  Any brilliant apps you’d like to recommend?

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  1. Phil, I’m right with you regarding the new version of Keynote. Where’s the inspector box!?!? I, too, looked up keynote in my applications folder and am using the older version. Thank goodness they provide the old version.

    I also want to mention Scrivener again. I love the notecard feature for organizing the scenes in my fiction writing.

  2. I love Dropvox for rapid capture. Just launch and it starts recording an audio memo, stop and it uploads to dropbox. Best way I’ve found so far for rapidly capturing thoughts and ideas on the go.

  3. You’re too generous to Apple — I’ve switched away from iphone to android, and from mac mail to gmail.
    Productivity – Things seems to be ignorant of cloud technology. I’m not sure how they last. I like Nozbe and Asana, but Doist looks appealing too.

    1. Actually, Things is in the cloud now. I use it on all my devices regularly. Took them awhile, but it works very well. That’s the biggest reason I switched back from the more complicated Omnifocus.

      1. Oh! I stand corrected =)
        BTW our development/fundraising team at Warm Blankets Orphan Care Int’l is reading Unique & loving it

  4. I couldn’t survive with out 1Password for all those login, password, credit card, bank account, passport and corporate details you need to keep at your fingertips – but securely – and it works on iPhone, iPad and desktop.

  5. I use Evernote to store a lot of information. Works on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS (Windows Phone and Blackberry if you use those platforms), and online as well.

    I also use Pocket to save posts and articles I find interesting, but don’t have time to read when I find them.

    1. I LOVE Pocket. I used to use Instapaper, which is good, but Pocket seems to have a little more style. I also used Evernote, but I discovered it changed everything into it’s own file system and was VERY difficult to export it as the original file. I also tried Devonthink, but eventually went back to Finder (on a Mac). It’s not as flashy, but it keeps the original format of each file and still reads everything. I can even put emails in for reference.

      1. Yeah, Evernote does make it “their own,” but you can upload files as part of the notes. When you do a search, Evernote even searches the attached files.

        Evernote has gotten a bit of negative press lately, though.

        1. I used it for a long time, and it does make it easy to organize files and make them available on multiple devices. However, I want to keep the integrity of the original files….
          Here’s my question Chad: I use Lyn for my Photos because it reads the photos from Finder but presents them like iPhoto. Is there an app for other files that would do it and make it appear like Evernote does?

          1. That’s a good question. If you are wanting to sync documents across devices, your best bet might be Dropbox (that’s what I use). There’s also SugarSync. It has more features than Dropbox, but it’s $75/year for the basic account.

            Were these options what you were thinking of?

  6. Phil there is an app called GIVELIFY. Its spreading like crazy in churches because it enables people to give in less than 5 seconds from their mobile device to any church in the country. Its the fastest, easiest way to give. Our church uses it and it was helpful when we had to cancel Sunday service because of snow. We received tithes/offerings the next day. Check out

      1. Let me know what you think about the app. I hope to make it to your event with Bill Winston. Sounds like the information will be very helpful.

  7. I do like Thunderbird for Mail, if only because I can create folders with sent mail that show the recipient and not the sender – and I can chose if I want my signature under a reply or not. If Mac Mail could do those two …

    I like Evernote for cross device idea and note taking a lot.

    For Twitter, Echofon has been my client of choice. One of the best apps I ever bought.

    I hear you on iPhoto. I haven’t made my final pick yet, I liked Picasa on my PC, I might also peek into Lightroom.

    And yes, what was Apple thinking with the iWorks and Garage Band “update”? Terrible, terrible, terrible.

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