Tiny Stuff I Love

5 Little Apps I Use Daily

You’re reading the Wonder Tools newsletter. I’m Jeremy Caplan. I post about useful digital things. In a tumultuous period, I hope this provides a brief, useful respite from other news.

Big software gets lots of attention. Word. PowerPoint. Chrome. Photoshop. 

Every day I rely on super-handy little things.

Here are 5 tiny tools that make my work a little bit simpler.

Time Out = Reminds me to take breaks

This free Mac app is like a little friendly bird sitting on my shoulder. It pulses onto my laptop screen every 20 minutes to remind me to look away from the glowing monitor at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. (That’s the 20-20-20 rule).

I switch my gaze to a plant, a picture, or my messy bookshelf. Or look out a window.

Time Out also pulses onscreen hourly to suggest a body break. That reminds me to stretch, breath deeply, and drink some water. 

You can adjust the break timing however you’d like. And you can postpone any of the breaks if you’re mid-thought or mid-meeting. 

Alfred = Saves me time on copying and pasting

If you copy and paste stuff frequently, get a clipboard manager. I use Alfred throughout every workday. It keeps the last 100+ things I’ve copied in a neat list so I can paste anything I've used recently into a browser, document, or wherever else. 

This is super-handy when I'm copying and pasting things repeatedly from one place to another. Sometimes I’m moving a bunch of stuff from a document into an email. Or putting several links or notes into a Zoom chat window.

Lots of tools do something similar. I also like the Copied App, $8 on the Mac App store. It has a companion iPhone app

Alfred (again) = Saves me time on stuff I frequently type

Alfred can also expand little snippets of text I type into bigger blocks of text.

To create a snippet, I type out the full phrase or text block I want to use repeatedly, and assign it a code word. From then on, whenever I type that code word, the text I want appears onscreen. 

Here's an example: let’s say I want to share directions to my CUNY office with someone. Rather than typing out the full set of directions, I just type a tiny code word I made up: "ccuny.”

Using double letters at the beginning of a code ensures that the system only expands things that you intend for it to expand. (I wouldn’t want it to expand every time I type CUNY.) Doubling the starting letter tends to make codes to remember.

I also use text expansion for email signatures, sets of links I share repeatedly or anything I find myself typing over and over. For many years I used Textexpander. Now it requires a subscription. I’m switching gradually to Alfred, a multipurpose tool.

See past Wondertools posts

Toby = Save and share my browser tabs

I'm addicted to tabs. Not the old cola. Browser tabs.

Unfortunately, they often drag my attention away from the work I'm focusing on.

Tabs can be distracting and slow my browser, so when I’ve got too many open to manage, I use the free Toby for Chrome to save a session of tabs for later reference.

A good alternative is the free OneTab, which is similar. Both tools let you share batches of tabs with a link, so whenever you have collections of research or reading or YouTube links, you can use these tools to share them quickly.  

Instapaper = Save and organize stuff to read later

At least five times a day I encounter something I'd like to read but don't have time for. So I tap the Instapaper bookmarklet in my browser and the story gets saved in my reading queue for later.

I can access my reading list on any device, but I most often end up reading saved stories on my phone, especially when commuting or traveling. (Back when I did those things). 

Instapaper strips out the visual ad clutter, which makes reading a nicer experience. It also provides reading time estimates and lets you save things into collections. 

I also use Instapaper to highlight passages for my notes and to share stories I like through Twitter.

Raindrop = Save and share Web bookmarks

This is a new one for me. I use it to save Web sites in batches that I can share with others. Example: Here's a collection of services for hosting live remote events. 

Raindrop is $30 a year, so unless you're a heavy bookmark collector and organizer, you're probably fine using the built-in bookmarking in whatever browser you prefer. I loved Delicio.us for saving bookmarks way back when. Remember that era? Raindrop is the closest thing I've found since then.

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P.S. No app for this…

None of these services solves the backlog problem.

I save so much digital stuff that I have an ever-growing list of stuff to look at later. Saved articles in Instapaper. Podcast episodes in Castro. Videos on YouTube. Browser tabs from Toby. Bookmarks in Raindrop. Not to mention Tweets, notes, Netflix, etc.

There’s always so much new stuff that it’s hard to prioritize the backlog. Trying to keep up with the mass of saved stuff feels like chasing my tail. Ignoring it is hard too.

If you have a tiny tool that you rely on regularly, I’d love to hear about it. Or if you have a solution for prioritizing the stuff you save for later, I’d love to learn from your approach. Hit reply, or email me at jeremy at jeremycaplan.com anytime.