I was honoured to be asked to deliver a keynote at this year’s Internet World expo, and for those who attended here are the links I spoke about (as promised). Thank you so much for coming along to my session if you did, and if you didn’t I hope you find these links useful anyway!
I think most people have trouble remembering faces when they meet a lot of them – and if you’re in a job that involves networking it’s reckoned you are likely to make over 1 million new acquaintances in your lifetime. According to British anthropologist Robin Dunbar there is a cognitive limit to how many people we can maintain a social relationship with – known as Dunbar’s Number this sits between 100 and 230, but is typically said to be a comfortable average of 150. It’s why social network Path launched in 2010 with a limit of 150 connections you can make.
Personally I have trouble remember my own mother’s name when put under pressure in a social situation so it’s useful to have some kind of contact management system setup right from the start. You never know when you might need the advice or input of an expert you’ve met at some point in the past – but which drawer did you stuff their business card into? Most phones now have detailed address book options built in (provided you remembered to transfer the details), but if you want more control and flexibility in how to access them there are plenty of great free cloud services to record and store all of your interactions. Some even let you add context about how, why and where you met, which could be very handy for finding your way back to their offices in the future.
Card Cloud is a free app for Android and Apple mobiles that acts as a virtual business card you can swap with other users. If your contact doesn’t want the Card Cloud app to read your information you can send it via email or through the mobile site. In this instance their details can be entered into your contacts list by hand. The neat trick here is using the location marker and comments to add important context about where and why you met so you needn’t be embarrassed about forgetting who they are.
With Google’s Gmail being such a widely used service there are oodles of great browser add-ons that give you a more personalised and streamlined email experience. Rapportive is a plugin for Firefox or Chrome that joins up all the dots by letting you see your Gmail contacts’ social connections, pulling up a photo, location and job description beside every incoming message. Connect your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts for maximum impact; you can even keep notes, perhaps warning a ‘future you’ about a bad exchange you had with a person, or if they were slow to settle your invoice.
One of the downsides of having so many ways to connect with the world is it can be easy to fragment your contacts list across multiple devices and online sources. Soocial lets you sync all these up into one safe, searchable storage vault. The free account syncs from 3 sources (including Gmail, Outlook, Windows Live and most smartphones) to a maximum of 250 contacts, after which there is a small monthly subscription for a premium account (which you can try free for 30 days when you first register).
http://www.truecaller.com/ smartphone app iOS/Android/Windows Phone/Blackberry/Symbian
Its crowd-everything these days online, and Truecaller is no exception with a crowd-sourced global phone directory app and online white pages that lets you look up unknown phone numbers and match them with names as well as revealing when spam callers are trying to get through. The call filter feature, which lets you block certain numbers, will be a real blessing if your number has found its way onto a spammers list and you’re being plagued by random calls at all times of day and night, although ethics of sharing your entire contacts list with a site like this a matter of hot discussion online. You’ll have to decide for yourself where you stand on the privacy matter but remember that sharing contact details is 100% opt in and the site provides a way to unlist your number if someone else has given it to them. You can also link social accounts to get the latest updates from your friends as they are calling. The app is free across all smartphones including Symbian, and you can search for numbers through the browser version.
Sometimes you already know everyone you need to know… An interesting new trend beginning to emerge is networks that connect virtual contacts in the real world. Get Lunched uses your LinkedIn contacts and lets you browse through the registered users on a map to see if anyone local has the skills you need. If you see someone you want to connect with you can offer to buy them lunch – you have the option of suggesting they pay, or that the bill is split 50/50 if you think it’s more appropriate – and the site will even help you find a discounted restaurant or suitable venue close by, though you’re not obligated to choose their suggestions. Now hopefully that accountant you vaguely know through LinkedIn can be persuaded to give you a bit of tax advice for the cost of a £30 lunch? You might even make a new friend and ally too.
I’m a bit of a list person; it’s the only way to keep on top of everything when you’re juggling several contracts. But have you ever felt overwhelmed as you scan through your list about the number of upcoming deadlines? List managers are all about filtering out that noise so you can give 100% to the job at hand without being distracted by the future. There are lots of them popping up on the web right now with dozens of different twists and dimensions on the same basic principle; managing your to-do list. It’s important to choose a service that’s simple – a list is designed to make your life easier, not more complicated after all.
Nozbe is an organisational hub for you and your team that lets you share lists and tasks from whatever smartphone or desktop platform you’re using. The apps even work offline, so if your connection drops you still know what you need to do. The concept here is very simple; start a project then add scheduled tasks, inviting collaborators to interact with the lists alongside you. Collaborators can add comments and updates to the tasks, like a simple notice board attached to each thread. One of the intelligent time-saving features here is the ability to add context to each task – you only get five projects and five contexts to play with in the free account (and 1MB of storage) but if you find it useful enough to want more there are various monthly subscriptions you can upgrade to. A context could be where you need to be to complete a task, such as at home on your computer or on your mobile in town. So next time you have half an hour to spare in town, Nozbe will let you know straight away what you could be doing to use that time productively, without cluttering your mind up with all the things you can’t do right now anyway. It also integrates with a few popular online tools like Twitter, Google Calendar, Dropbox and Evernote.
NirvanaHQ is much the same, although the interface here looks a little more business-like. As with Nozbe you can group your tasks into projects and invite collaborators to interact with you through comments and updates. There are no limits here on projects or contexts, which in this case are just simple ‘responsibility’ labels you can set up however you like. Everything here is free to use, though you’re limited on platform with only browser access and iPhones currently supported. To compensate they give you a personal email address to use if you want to add tasks on the fly. You can also set a to-do list to be emailed to you on designated days, keeping the mental clutter to a minimum just the way I like it. Another nice addition here is the ability to categorise tasks based on how much energy they will require, so you can dial up a list of things to do that’s suits a particular mood.
One last task manager I wanted to show you has been around as a smartphone app for a while and has now made itself available through a browser in the form of a Chrome add-on with a web app promised soon as well. It hooks up with Facebook so no need for a new account and this makes sharing a natural part of the experience too. This app definitely works on the premise that less is more when it comes to lists, and I’m inclined to agree – they are a necessary evil of a busy life and that last thing we need to do is clutter them up too. The app is more fun to use on the smartphone, with voice recognition note taking and just a few taps to set reminders and attach folders for sharing with other people. All this is provided free of charge so you can see for yourself if it is the right task manager for you.
Tracky takes the social web and gives it another twist, providing a ‘to-do’ list platform where you can track conversations and build a network out of your contacts to collaborate on specific projects. This is productivity tooled down to the bare minimum, so it should suit those who just want a quick and easy way to be more organised.
Once you’re thoroughly hooked on letting the Internet manage your lists it’s just a simple step to letting it handle whole projects and the teams that are working on them.
This site is a newcomer to the field, but linked to the ‘Getting Things Done (GTD)’ brand, which has gained a lot of traction in productivity circles in recent years. As well as providing lots of apps, tools and storage for completing day-to-day office chores it has all the ‘Getting Things Done’ productivity features integrated with the dashboard, so you won’t even noticed how organised you are until you’re sitting at your desk wondering what to do next. There are mobile smartphone apps and the registration process steps you through adding popular email providers, which is handy for managing your email through one single dashboard if you have more than one account.
Wunderlist is another great option that lets you manage all your tasks through a central dashboard that supports most computer and mobile platforms. The layout is a little less formal than the other tools we’ve looked at and there are some neat social features that let you share a list publicly through the CloudApp feature.
When it comes to overseeing your team IQTell and Wunderlist are brilliant for making sure everyone is being productive without appearing to be too intrusive. You can assign and monitor tasks through one central hub, so everyone can see what everyone else is doing (or not). Peer pressure could be your most effective weapon in the fight against office lethargy –after all if someone on the team isn’t pulling their weight, it rarely affects only the boss.
At the other end of the spectrum, Basecamp is very business-like and formal. One of the longest standing and most popular team collaboration platforms, it’s not free, although you do get a good 45-day trial to decide if you want to start paying monthly. It contains everything you could need to run team projects from the cloud. Because it’s been around so long there are also quite a few useful third-party applications that integrate with it seamlessly, which can be a big time-saver if you really take to the cloud.
Running a chaotic team can be like herding cats, but thankfully there are plenty of tools online to help you throw a net of productivity over them. Skylight It is a good all-rounder if you have a project or team to manage and want a central command station. You can assign and track tasks for multiple projects, manage everyone’s calendar, billing and budgets, upload files to share and keep an eye on resources. There is even a messaging system and shared contacts database, so no more bothering each other for somebody’s mobile number and wasting fifteen-minutes chatting about last night’s TV while you’re about it. I realise that makes me sound like a bit of a despot, but I’m not suggesting for a minute that you suck all of the fun out of the office. In fact if everyone is working more efficiently you should be able to relax a bit more about the occasional long lunch break, or fifteen-minutes spent shopping online for the perfect outfit for an upcoming occasion. Life happens, and people will always prioritise the things that are important to them personally. If you use the Internet to provide an environment where staff can get their work done and still keep on top of living their lives, you will find you have a much happier and more productive work-force. The free account has limited storage and only handles two projects with two collaborators, with the obligatory cash-upgrades for more people, projects and storage space.
TIP: Collaboration platforms like this can be the perfect place to start working seriously on a business plan without having to meet up constantly. Seeing each other tick tasks off your to-do list can also really drive momentum, and if you suspect somebody isn’t pulling their weight it will be plain for all to see.
So that’s the traditional and obvious platforms covered, but in my years of scouring the web I’ve come across some really unusual tools that can be a huge help when running the day to day operations of your business. You wouldn’t even know to look for this stuff online – I mostly just come across it pretty randomly, or get it suggested by one of my wonderful social media followers…
If you’re sending a package with any of the leading parcel delivery services have Twitter act as your personal assistant by tracking the delivery for you, reporting to you proactively in the form of a tweet when it reaches its destination safely.
If you’re working on a project you need to keep up to date with what’s developing in terms of new tech/news/competition… and with the web changing so rapidly it is impossible for one person to stay on top of things. Trap.it lets you build a ‘trap’ around a particular subject which it will then diligently keep updated with all the latest news and posts on the topic, stashing anything interesting in your feed so you can catch up with it when you have time. If you give the site some feedback, saying which links were useful and which were not, it will continuing learning about what you like making the content it suggests ever more focused to your taste. Trapped articles are delivered in a nice looking interface that uses a very ‘now’ boxes design with integrated sharing through Twitter & Facebook.
It’s always good to know who is talking about you so set up a Google Alert for your business or product name. You can do this by checking on the Alerts site or have an email sent to you at intervals you specify. It also makes sense to schedule an alert for the first line of your home postal address, as finding this on a page where it doesn’t belong could be the first warning sign that your identity has been compromised.
Gmail was the leading email provider of 2012, with over 425 million users worldwide. If you’re one of them you can get the inside truth about what’s coming into your inbox with LazyTruth, a free Chrome browser plugin that’s become an essential component of my communications loop. Made by the people at MIT Media lab, once installed the plugin will serve up verified information about any marketing or chain email you ask it to investigate, letting you see instantly which ones are full of bunk. A very simple but highly effective tool that should help people avoid any spam traps.