4 Free Tools To Get More Out of the Web

The Internet is an awesome and mighty force. It is an creative engine that powers great progress and imagination, but it’s can also become a distracting dead weight that plugs up your work flow.

Due to the nature of my job, I very often need to be on a computer writing, researching, or communicating. I’m always a click away from the infinite reaches of the internet. It’s easy for a quick tangent to become a lengthy absorption, eating up precious time that was intended for work.

Luckily there are new tools created almost everyday to help us tame the vast power of the web and make our time online work on our behalf.  Here’s just a few of my favourites time-saving productivity tools:

Chrome Nanny/LeechBlock

How did you get here?

You sit down at your desk planning to get some serious work done. Three hours later, and you can’t remember how you ended up watching YouTube videos of cats wrestling with ferrets. That’s a big chunk of day that will you never ever get back…

Chrome Nanny (Google Chrome) and LeechBlock (Firefox) both solve the same problem: They keep you from wasting time!

These simple browser extensions allow you place fully customizable limits on what websites you have access to during any given time of the day. Do spend too much time reading the latest gadget reviews? Are you sacrificing your most productive hours of the day to news sites and celebrity gossip?

Chrome Nanny or LeechBlock will block out your favorite sites for certain hours of the day or even certain days of the week. I block all my favorites Monday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm and after 9 pm.

And if that feels too restrictive, you can merely place a cap on how much time per hour or day you are allowed on a certain site.

Although I love Twitter, personally I find it can become an endless time-suck, a virtual black hole for productivity. I set Chrome Nanny to only allow me to be on Twitter for two minutes each hour. That gives me just enough time to update my status or share a link, but not enough to get close to the event horizon.

This can save massive amounts of time, so just try it!

Read It Later

Often times I’ll come across a great looking article, but it looks a LONG read. Longer than I have time to spend at the moment. What do I now? Having too many tabs open makes me start to feel overwhelmed. If I e-mail myself a link, that clutters up my inbox and adds to the stress of sorting through my e-mail.

It’s time to use Read It Later.

Saving the page to Read It Later quickly stores the page to my Read It Later list (which I conveniently export as an RSS feed). Later on when I’m on Google Reader and have more time, it will show up in my reading list with the other blog feeds I follow. Easy as pie.

It’s a very simple free way to keep track of articles online. Read It Later works in almost any browser and is especially convenient when using mobile devices.

And it does exactly what its name says. I like that.

Readability

Have you ever started to read an awesome article and then suddenly a wave of unnecessarily large ads start invading the screen, dancing across the page and completely ruining the reading experience?

Or perhaps you find a very thoughtful and intelligent blogger with amazing ideas, but unfortunately her blog design hails from 1999 and is loaded with distractingly ugly GIFs matched only by the blocky, unreadable fonts?

Let me introduce you to Readability.

This savvy tool scours your current page and strips away all the unnecessary fluff and add-ons bringing you an incredibly smooth and simple reading experience. If you like, you change the background colour, make the text larger or small, and adjust the margins all to your liking.

Because it exterminates the ads, you probably shouldn’t use it on your favorite sites (like Technology Bloggers!) but for especially reader-unfriendly pages it’s a must have. We could use more clean, user-oriented experiences like this one!

Remember The Milk

A To-Do list is quite handy, unless of course you happened to have left it at home by accident. Or maybe you keep track of your tasks by an ever-multiplying collection of sticky notes plastered all over your desk?

Although I imagine many people have switched to using digital To-Do lists, not many tools out there offer the flexibility and ease of use as Remember the Milk.

Maybe you are at the store and you remember something that you need to do? With RTM you can update your list from a Smart Phone. If you don’t have a Smart Phone, RTM has a handy feature that allows you to send a text through Twitter’s personal message function to add that urgent task to the list.

You can keep your list with you all over the place. A little browser extension can keep a little track next to your e-mail count. Or, you can install the corresponding Gmail extension that lets you manage your To-Do list right in your inbox.

If you are a forgetful person, you can request e-mail or text reminders for time sensitive tasks. It’s truly never been easier to organize all those pesky assignments.

Those are the free tools that I use to maximize my web time, but I’m sure I overlooked some great ones.

What tools do you use?

The Power of WordPress

So what is WordPress? Well, put simply, it is everything you are looking at right now. This article is WordPress. This blog is WordPress. In fact, over 25 million blogs and websites worldwide are built on a strong WordPress foundation, and WordPress sites receive tens of millions of visitors every single day. It is used by everyone from casual bloggers like myself to celebrities and large businesses. This is one of the main contributions to its power – it’s infinitely flexible.

It is so flexible in fact, that most times you wouldn’t even realise that you are looking at a WordPress powered site. While most casual users will opt for a basic theme like the one you see here, this is by no means fixed. With some clever designing a theme can be manipulated or even written from scratch to produce a totally unique and wholly professional look. The site need not even follow a conventional blog layout. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination… (and coding skills!)

The Official WordPress LogoIf you’re one of those people that runs a mile at the slightest sniff of some PHP or HTML, then there’s no need to worry! WordPress prides itself on its ‘famous 5-minute installation’ and it really is that simple. It requires no coding knowledge whatsoever which is ideal for companies who need a quick, easy to maintain site and for standard bloggers who often have no knowledge of web languages at all. For a WordPress admin, the ‘dashboard’ is their home. From here, they can add posts, edit posts, add new users, approve comments, and even change the entire look and feel of the site in a few simple clicks – with not a scrap of code in sight!

So, you ask me, what’s the catch? How much will this cost me? The answer – nothing. That’s right, WordPress is completely free and open source. It started in 2003 as a couple of lines of code and has subsequently grown exponentially to become the framework it is now. But one thing has remained the same: it was designed ‘by developers, for developers’, and the community at WordPress are happy to help with any issues or queries. After all, your suggestion may help them to improve the project for everyone’s benefit. Everybody is a member of WordPress, and this is its power. It’s globally useful, it’s globally flexible, it’s globally accessible, and it’s globally free.