Tool of the Trade: What Apps, Gadgets, Tools and More Are You Loving Now?

We recently did a story over at CorporetteMoms about the best online backup services for your computer, but we haven’t had an open thread like this in a while, so let’s discuss: What apps, gadgets, tools and more are you loving right now? What makes your life easier, or more enjoyable?

Picture credit: Death to the Stock Photos.

For my $.02, my new favorite toy is my Chromebook — it’s so much lighter weight than the clunky old laptop we use (and has a great battery life), but it feels like it does so much more than my (clunky, now outdated) iPad. I mostly use it for lounging in front of the TV at night, though, or for working somewhere else than my desk to try to better focus on work (WiFi permitting), though.  I’m still a fan of my Bluetooth keyboard, particularly for typing on my iPhone when I’m traveling or at a conference; I sometimes bring it along if I expect I might be waiting in a doctor’s office for a while, too. And, like I wrote about a few weeks ago, I still really like the Siri productivity functions of late. I still love all of the apps I mentioned in our last roundup of the best apps for working women, in addition to Pepperplate for shared recipes with my husband. I’ve also bought Stylebook, the closet organizing app that I keep seeing readers raving about, but I haven’t gotten set up with it yet. Online focus-wise, I still use the Chrome extension Morphine all the time to improve focus; the Kill News Feed extension has also been pretty powerful for me. (I use it just for focus, but it would also be great if you’re trying to take a partial social media break.)

Over to you, ladies — which are your favorite apps, gadgets, or tools of the moment? 


  1. I remain an Evernote devotee but use it for both work and personal stuff which gets confusing. I’m thinking about switching to onenote for work and Evernote for life stuff.

    • I love Evernote too. I just keep a lot of different notebooks to separate work and personal. Then if I am working at home I can access work related to do lists, or if I am at work and have a minute to jot down something personal, I can access it from my phone or laptop.

    • cat socks :

      Another Evernote fan. I use it just for personal stuff. I keep my work to-do list in spreadsheet.

    • Marshmallow :

      I also use Evernote but keep intending to switch away from it now that they are jacking up the subscription costs so much. I just can’t get used to OneNote.

  2. I recently switched from a tablet to an 11 inch Lenovo Yoga 2-in-1 for meetings where I need to have access to documents (without printing a gazillion pages). I can now remote to my office computer or just use it like a laptop and have multiple documents open at the same time. It is touch screen, which I really like as well, like a tablet.

    • I love my Lenovo Yoga 2-in-1 for the same reason. I love that I can use it as a regular laptop when I have to write a lot and then flip the keyboard back to use it as a tablet. A regular laptop seems so outdated now.

  3. Sloan Sabbith :

    1. My iPad. I rarely use my laptop at home.
    2. Goodreads- I’m trying to read 52 books this year, and being able to quickly scan books I want, add them to lists, and update my progress has been hugely motivating!
    3. Fitbit- Being able to quickly add water, weight, etc. and track my steps each day is huuuuuge. I have the fitbit alta and love the reminders at 50 after to walk 250 steps! I bought one of the metal bands that makes it look more like a watch.
    4. Alexa. I honestly use it most for “Alexa, what time is it?” and “Alexa, set an alarm” and “add to my shopping list,” but it’s useful.
    5. Fantastical. I love its ease of use and that I can see my work and personal calendars all at once.
    6. iCloud drive. All of my docs from my laptop save to it and I can get them at work. It’s saved my a** a few times.
    7. Mint. Ugh. But at the same time, so useful.
    8. Amazon Basics iPhone cords. Cheap enough I can buy a bunch of them, and incredibly durable.
    9. My Google drive spreadsheet that tracks the Popsugar reading challenge, book ideas for each prompt, which book I read for each prompt, and whether I own the books I want to read for a particular prompt. It’s color coded.
    10. IFTTT. I have a few “recipes.” When my Alexa alarm goes off, my bedside lamp turns on. When I haven’t reached my step goal by 6:30 PM, I get a reminder. When I enter the area around my apartment, my bedside lamp turns on. It creates an activity summary each day on a Google doc for Fitbit, tracks when I enter and leave work in a different Google doc, saves NYTimes articles with a few saved phrases to my Pocket (another app I like), and I can ask Alexa “where’s my phone?” and it will call it.

    And, my old standbys: Pomodoro Technique, headphones with a volume button and mic, and obsessive file organization in my digital life.

    • What kind of hardware do you use with IFTTT to make your lights go on? We’re thinking about switching to smart home stuff but I don’t know where to start.

    • SLOAN SABBATH IS CORRECT! I also LOVE my new IPAD. I just gave my old one away to my neice, and got a new I-9 chip with 128 Gibabyte’s of MEMORY and am loading it up with all of my ITUNES songs so that I can just listen to it when I am in court. I do NOT need wifi to play Itunes if I have all of the song’s loaded on there and that is why I UPGRADED my ipad b/c the memory is cheaper now then it used to be. I also have MS WORD loaded in there so I can work on my BREIFS ANYWHERE.

      I also have ICLOUD and I make each of my devices attach to the CLOUD so that I can share with myself. It makes it alot easier to have stuff I can just access at home on my MACBOOK AIR, or on DAD’s IMAC. I do have to be carful b/c I do NOT want Dad to see EVERYTHING I have on all of my DEVICES. FOOEY b/c he will not be happy if I share all of my PHOTOS with him. Myrna’s freind’s freind sent me pictures of him and I deleted them b/c they were NOT suitable to share with anyone. FOOEY on her freind’s freind!

    • Sloan Sabbith :

      Wemo switch! Bought it on sale on Black Friday, but being able to say “bedroom light on” is SO GREAT I might buy another full price for my living room lamp.

    • Goodreads ADDICT over here. For me, it’s less of a productivity tool and more what I’m most likely to be doing instead of working :)

  4. Chromebook, Android phone with google fi, and google drive (including photos, office apps, and keep). I switched from all Apple to all Google last year and while the switch itself was a major PITA, I’m really happy I did it. Much cheaper for much better functionality, in my opinion.

    Instapot. Amazingly quick, nutritious meals I have to pay zero attention to after sealing the pot and dialing in the setting.

    Splitwise. Someone on this site recommended it awhile back for splitting shared costs with your SO and it’s really great for that purpose. We have not merged our finances so this is the easiest way to track it.

    The thing I’m thinking about getting this summer is a wi-fi capable thermostat + If This Then That. I think those two things will help accomplish what a Nest can do for significantly lower cost. I’m also considering stylebook or something similar. I’m trying not to shop this year except for replacing essential items that wear out, and could probably use the outfit inspiration.

  5. cat socks :

    I use the Overdrive app on my phone to check out library books. I think there’s also a way to download the books to your Kindle, but I just use it with my phone.

    We got a Samsung smart TV a few years ago. I like using the YouTube app on there to do workout videos.

    I use the Sirius XM app to listen to the radio when I have downtime at work.

    The security cameras from Arlo are good. The mobile app is great for keeping track of things when you’re gone. In my case, I check up on the cats. You can even use the app to speak through the camera.

    • NellyYuki :

      Great suggestion – also use OD and love it. My local library supports Hoopla, which I use for most audio books. Selection is not as vast as Audible, but there are decent picks, and, it’s free!

  6. Marshmallow :

    My iPad Pro is basically my best friend. Third monitor at work, travel buddy, excellent for reading and marking up court materials. Where I go, she follows. I bought a ten-pack of pen/stylus combos on Amazon which is a nice cheap alternative to the overpriced Pencil.

    I use Evernote for pretty much all notes, scans, etc. Scannable is great.

    GoodReader is a fantastic app for reading, marking up, and file storage. Well worth the $5. With appropriate permissions and some help from IT, you can key your GoodReader in to a shared drive at work and download/upload straight from your iPad or phone. I highlight and mark up all kinds of things in GoodReader and then beam them back to our secure shared drive. So much better than emailing back and forth.

    Personally, I do all my fun reading on my Kindle Paperwhite. Small, easy on the eyes, and durable. I don’t use a case with it and have never had a problem. My public library has a great selection of ebooks, and the ability to borrow library books straight from my Kindle means I actually read so much more now.

    Also personally– I love our Echo. We keep finding new uses for it. We recently switched from FreshDirect to Amazon Fresh for our groceries so I’m now pretty sure that I can grocery shop entirely from my kitchen, mostly just using my voice. Can’t wait for the Dash Wand to come out so I can run around like a crazy bride with a registry gun scanning stuff for my shopping list.

    • Shopaholic :

      Can you talk more about the iPad Pro? I have both an old ipad and a MacBook Pro and both need to be replaced, but I’m trying to decide in what order…

      • Marshmallow :

        Yes! I would get the iPad Pro first and frankly, decide if you even need the MacBook Pro anymore. I hardly use my MBP since I got the iPad Pro (the larger size, so it’s basically the same screen size).

        Definitely get the smart keyboard cover. It makes the iPad so much more functional. I use VPN to dial in to my work remote desktop, and with the smart keyboard (or really, any Bluetooth keyboard) the iPad becomes a fully functional computer. Since working remotely on the MBP involves dialing into the same VPN service, and the screen size is almost the same, there’s hardly any advantage to using the full laptop.

        I bought my MBP a few years before the iPad, so I have both because I just already had the MBP. Once the MBP needs to be replaced, I will likely get a lower-end computer or see if I can do without it totally. I do have a (heavy, annoying, PC) work laptop though, which would make going without a personal laptop easier.

      • Marshmallow :

        Longer comment got eaten, but short answer is I’d replace the iPad first. You may have less use for your laptop once you replace the iPad.

  7. I’m super into the outlook and gmail apps instead of one combined iPhone mail app. The outlook app in particular has increased functionality including signatures and out of office messages, and the calendar is in the same app. It has helped me to be much more intentional about checking and responding to work email when I’m not in the office.

    • I’ve done the same thing. My work email is in my Outlook app and my personal is in the iPhone mail app. It gives a nice separation and helps me not miss important messages. I also only have mail notifications on my phone and Apple Watch for work emails, so I’m not as distracted.

  8. A VPN so my ISP can’t look at and sell my browsing data.

    • is this difficult or costly to set up?

      • I use one through school. If you want to set up your own VPN, it will cost you a bit for online hosting, and you’ll need some intermediate IT skills. If you want to use a service, you can probably get a decent one for $10/month but you have to choose carefully – lots of companies bill themselves as VPNs but aren’t, or will sell your data themselves. Articles to get started in reply.


    I’ve combined all my email accounts into a unified inbox there. Rules filter news updates in one folder to read later, shopping emails to reference through whenever I buy something online, one folder for work, and one folder called “FILED AWAY” for all emails that require no further action. I’ve noticed people file their old emails away in different folders based on who sent them or the project, but that leaves you with multiple places that an old email might possibly be if you need to reference it. Much easier to just search one folder!

    My to-do list is organized using the Getting Things Done method on Todoist. I have one list for action items, one for reference, one for “someday/maybe” items, one for home improvement projects, and a “waiting for” folder (waiting for…someone to get back to me, a later date, more money in the bank account). Then I tag them based on where they can be done (home, computer, errands, anywhere). If an item can only be done at home, I will filter out those items when I am sitting at my computer at a coffee shop. I am NOT dividing my personal and work tasks into separate to-do lists anymore, just as I don’t have a separate personal and work calendar, because in the past it always lead to something important being missed. Just one place where I see all of the things that need to get done today.

    This is a pomodoro extension for Chrome. 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break. Every 4 cycles, it gives you a 30-minute break. While you are on working time, it blocks all distracting websites (you can set these for yourself). Since I work mainly from home, it makes me much more productive on housework as well. If I know I only have 5 minutes to get my butt upstairs, grab the laundry, bring it down, load it, and start the wash before I need to be back in front of my computer again, you had better believe I am getting it done with speed. And I’m not accidentally wasting my workday on non-work-related tasks.

    A phone app where you plug in your clients and the hourly rate for each. You click to start the clock and then again to stop it. What I love is it keeps that little red notification icon on the app badge while any clock is running–helpful in eliminating the inevitable “oh shoot I forgot clock out!”

    Instead of bopping around the Internet to keep up with my favorite writers, I have their work come to me. It’s a bonus to have the app on my phone as I can read some business advice during quick idle time instead of checking social media.

    No, it is not cheap, but it is *good.* Plan menus based on the ingredients you already have, put a shopping list together that can also come to the store with you on your smartphone, plug menus into the calendar, move meals around if you unexpectedly find yourself eating at a restaurant one night. I used to use Pepperplate but it was so buggy I finally realized that their tech service team was literally non-existent. With Paprika I never have to enter a new recipe manually as you can just copy-paste the link and it will load it up for you.

    Most people have a hard time reading books because their lives are just too packed. I listen to audiobooks on Audible while driving in the car, working out, and doing housework. I’ve been getting a lot of books in without having to take extra time out of my day.

    Reading The Power of When by Michael Breus is what finally convinced me to dump my habit of sleeping with my phone on the nightstand, checking it anytime I woke up during the night or constantly pushing back bedtime because, while falling asleep, I’d be compelled to check it–“Oh, I forgot–one more thing!” My phone now charges overnight in the next room, and I wake up by a bluetooth lighbulb (screwed into a normal lamp) that slowly turns on over the course of 30 minutes. I had originally paired the light with an alarm clock, but I haven’t turned the alarm on in months, because honestly, the light does its job on its own. I also have it set to turn off at a certain time each night so I am not tempted to stay up all night on that “one last thing.”

    For whatever reason, I cannot get into Evernote. I tried, many times over many years, but it just didn’t click for me. So now I save interesting things from all over the web to Pinterest. I have several secret boards, for everything from home remodeling projects to articles to read later to professional projects to my kid’s education. I think it’s the visual element that really makes Pinterest resonate. It makes it more fun to click around and get things taken care of when you do have the time to sit down and process.

  10. This is a great post and excellent comments. I am looking up Paprika now because my husband and I need to get better about using the food we have and meal planning together.

    I would really like to shout out Pocket. It is incredible if you are obsessed with reading articles. Install the extension on your browser and once you see an article you want to read or save for late, press the button (similar to pinterest) and save it to your account. It also works really well with twietter (facebook not so much). It will also show you articles that you may be interested in and you can follow your friends and what they are reading. It’s wonderful

    My other apps are gmail for iphone, spotify, fitbit, sometimes myfitnesspal if I am being good, mint (though.the user experience needs some help), chromecast and hbogo/hulu/netflix apps. We don’t have cable and its really easy to set this up. Other tools are my crockpot and vitamix (well worth the price considering its functionality)

    I’m definitely going to look into some of these tools!

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