[SoG] 🛠️🛠️🛠️ Tools of the Trade

🛠️ 🛠️ Tools of the Trade

Hello hello!

In this one, I will talk about all the tools (apps, things, etc etc) that I use in life (to do or not do) things. The criteria of including things in this list are thus forth...

  • I should've used it for a while (at least 1 month) to be able to make an informed decision.

  • I am clubbing these into categories per work, play, etc.

  • Some links here are Amazon affiliate links. In case you buy any of these and if I am lucky, I get to buy chewing gum.

So here we go...

I am a knowledge worker. This means that I deal in bits and bytes (and not in atoms and molecules). And thus a lot of what I do is dependent on having the right gadgets. I need these gadgets to offer me familiarity, speed, reliability, convenience, ruggedness, value for money (my definition of value could be different from yours), and ease of replacement. In that order.

Having said that, I am not a nerd when it comes to gadgets. I just want things to work as expected. If they are designed well and with some thoughtfulness, even better!

So with that, here's a list.

  • An Apple MacBook Air (buy here). I don't agree with others that want to work on tinier laptops, tablets, even iPads, Chromebooks, and all that! The thing with an MBA is that its lightweight, it is a workhorse, it is fast, it looks great. Of course, it is steeply-priced but the speed that I have come to develop on it (shortcuts, access, personalization, etc), I don't think I can move to anything else anytime soon.

  • An additional screen to extend the laptop. I discovered this during the lockdown and I think I will never go back to not have an additional screen. Even if I choose a different lifestyle! I have hooked a 42" LG TV that I was not using. Hot Tip: I use Magnet App to organize the workspace on these screens.

  • A Logitech Bluetooth mouse. While I sense that a MacBook Air would be a 100X better with a touch-screen capability, I think using a mouse is also efficient! The mouse has to be among the best UI invention since the beginning of time!

  • Airpods (buy here). Or any other Bluetooth, wireless earphones or headphones. For me Airpods work great - they are tiny, offer solid performance, and are super functional. I use the first-gen ones that I bought in 2018. I am in need of an upgrade. Let's see when I get those. I also want to try out noise-cancellation, on-ear headphones but again, I need to wait it out.

  • Wireless charger for the phone. A friend gifted one to me and I think it would be the best gadget I have at home! Hot Tip: If you can afford, buy multiple chargers for your laptops and phones and place these in each room where you work. Even in your car if you have to. The freedom that comes with you not carrying chargers is phenomenal.

  • An iPhone. I have an X. I am clearly an Apple fanboy. I am sure there are better ones available but to me the cost of "learning" how to use Android OS it a challenge. And thus no port.

Apart from "work", I spend a lot of my time writing and reading. Between the two, writing is more important to me, to be honest (allows me to create and open more doors, compared to reading). So I want to invest all I can to ensure that my writing is not compromised.

Here are my tools for writing.

  • I use notepads to note everything I come across. I use Matrikas bulleted journals (available on Amazon). These are A5-sized, have 250 pages. And the best part? They are numbered! This alone makes it worth the money you pay for those.

  • To write with hands, I use a Kurutoga Roulette (Amazon). I am being indulgent but any other "clutch" pencil should do the trick.

  • I use Pilot pens. I have both the V5 and V7. You choose what works for you.

  • Mindmapping. I use xmind (free version) as the tool to make mindmaps on everything. In fact, I start all my writing pieces with a mindmap and then type the piece out.

  • When I need to port my work on to a computer, to be honest, I don't use any fancy writing apps. I am happy with writing into a Google Docs. But I have heard a lot about Hemmingway. You may want to try it.

  • Grammarly App. While they offer an, may I say, expensive paid edition, I use the free version and it works well for me. This one is a lifesaver.

  • For research, I rely on my notes in my Roam (described in the apps section) and a simple Google search. My work is not academic and hence I don't need citations and other things.

I love the idea of walking. One of my ongoing rants in life is that India as a country does not offer a lot of walking opportunities. But even then, I find my way around. Here is what I use and recommend.

  • Nike shoes and Crocs flipflops. I have this thing that you HAVE to have good walking gear. Your feet literally take a load of your body the entire day. You better give them a cushion they deserve. Though Crocs start to slip after a while, till that time, they are the best thing ever for your feet! I do want to try Birkenstock. Again, let's see when I get to those.

  • Kalenji quick-dry tee and shorts (bought from Decathlon). Love their black. Love the texture. They are durable. They are functional. They look decent even as evening wear at a market. So, there!

  • I am either on the phone, or I listen to podcasts while walking. I use Pocket Casts as my podcasting app. Though there are some podcasts that are walled inside Spotify. So I use that as well.

The other large thing I am a part of is The Podium, a network of podcasts. To run it, we use the following services...

  • Zencastr to record conversations with guests.

  • Captivate for distributing our podcasts.

  • Otter.ai to record meeting notes and transcribe

  • Unnati to hire people. Owned by my partner at The Podium.

  • Canva to edit images. Lately, we've been trying to make audiograms and videos on Canva. So far, no success.

  • Asana to manage tasks etc.

  • Substack to send out our newsletter. The irony that my personal newsletter is on Mailchimp (which I am thinking, I will shift to Substack)

  • My team uses various cables and mics (I will probably write a post on that soon) but I speak into my MBA and that works well for me. Though the edit team hates it!

And of course, a lot of WhatsApp to coordinate tiny things.

Talking of podcasting and WhatsApp, lemme talk about "some" of the apps that I use. I must have some 1000 apps on my computer/phone. And I don't know how to humanly make a list. So, these are the ones that are at the top of my head. And why. This is going to be such a long list and that's why kept at toward the end! So, while I try to control my emotions with the apps, here is a list.

  • As my primary browser, I was a big advocate of Chrome until a few days ago. Since then I have moved to Brave after I saw this tweet from Naval.

  • Roam - my primary note-taking application (apart from pencil and paper). Over time it has become an extension of my brain. I can't imagine my life without this anymore. At USD 15 a month, this is expensive but I think it's worth it!

  • Google Documents Suite. Every piece of work I do, document, sheet, etc starts as a gDoc. And then I figure where I go. The only exception is PowerPoint. I am yet to move on from it.

  • Evernote - my third-party content storage system. Not note-taking. Apart from my docs in Google's system, I save PDFs, presentations, and other documents from other people into this app. Other alternatives are Notion, One Note, and even Dropbox (I've never understood why Dropbox exists!). I use this in combination with Roam to organize my documents.

  • Asana. My GTD system. I love it so much that I have mandated anyone who wants to work with me to be on this. You may want to look at Trello as well if you like KanBan based systems.

  • Pocket. To save bookmarks, things to read, etc. I am told readbetter.io works like magic but I haven't tried it and thus no personal opinion. Oh, am sure you know of that joke that Pocket is where links go to die!

  • Whatsapp for all communication. Lately, I have been active on some Slack, Discord, and Telegram channels even though I hate em!

  • Spark as my email client. It allows me to see all my inboxes in one place and works well. Decent speed. Hogs less memory. I also use tools like GMass, Unroll, and others to manage the clutter.

  • Zoom. Every other video conferencing software sucks IMHO. Of course, they are better, faster, hog less bandwidth but since I am used to the UI and navigation, I don't think I am switching.

  • Headspace. For meditation. I have tried Aura and Calm. Both work well as well. But I like Headspace more.

  • Forest App. To stay focussed. Lol!

These are other things that I use that I think have helped me with my productivity.

  • A writing table. I bought this in Feb of 2013. It's a Teak wood (if I remember it well) and was among the most expensive pieces of furniture I've ever bought. And more importantly, retained. I believe in not carrying assets with me. And this is the only piece that I've stuck with. Your work will require you to sit for long. And you better get a functional writing table!

  • An iPhone stand to keep my phone vertical when I am working. I use this one. Made of metal, sturdy and stable. Super purchase.

  • A foldable laptop stand that sticks to my MBA. I use this one. This props up the computer at an angle and reduces the load on my neck. Plus it is as thin as cardboard. So when I don't need to use it, I just fold it!

  • An egg boiler. I did not even know that this thing existed until I saw it at a mall in Dubai. And since then, I've had the best eggs always! Though I am yet to master the art of using the boiler.

  • Unpopular Opinion. I do want to recommend a Kindle even though I don't use it. I like to hold onto physical books. But I've heard that people that read on Kindles are very very happy!

Finally, what tools do I want to acquire?
This is a wish list of some of the apps that I want to acquire once I have access to some capital.

  • A smartwatch to measure my health. Probably an Oura. Or an Apple Watch. I had a Fitbit at a point in time to measure the steps but I don't use it anymore. In fact, a simple band from a Chinese manufacturer could do the job as well. But then like I said, form and function. In fact, I want to acquire a whole host of things around health - blood banking, DNA testing kits, a chef-on-call, etc etc. I want to live for long and I want to be at the cutting edge of science! If you are a longevity nerd, please do tell me what all could I read.

  • A chair. I haven't been able to afford one. I'd love to have a Herman Miller chair. But let's see where. Just like shoes, this is an important purchase. Either you are standing, sleeping, or sitting. And the shoes, the mattress, and the chair are critical! Now that I have mentioned a mattress. I'd like a smart one, you know :)

  • I want to learn content marketing and thus I will at some point in time get to keyword research, SEO, and other such topics. Let's see when.

  • A good twitter client. Tweetdeck is great but there is something missing. I can't pin what is wrong with it but there is something amiss!

Ok, I am exhausted. There are way too many things I use. I probably need to find a tool to manage this :)

Anyhow, when I started out to write this, I wanted to list tools that have made a 10X improvement in the quality of my life. When I reviewed the post after I wrote it, I realized that its anything but that. So, I will let this be. And probably write a smaller version sometime.

Lemme know of your stack and the tools you use! Would love to improve this!

Till then, over and out!


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