The 5 app guide to streamlining your life

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on September 3, 2013

From The News Desk

My first few weeks at PandoDaily, I thought I was going to suffocate under the mountain of emails, phone calls, interviews, story deadlines, and networking events that got thrown my way. They never ended. Every day I'd wake up to 40 new emails. And if I responded to them, people would just respond again. Fail. Meanwhile I'd have story deadlines every few hours, and the to-do list would grow higher and higher over my head. I bet I've still got hundreds of unopened messages buried in the wasteland of my inbox. I know for a fact my phone's got 20 voicemail messages I haven't yet checked.

But one of the best parts about being a tech reporter is that I come across loads of apps to make my life easier. Slowly but surely, I've acquired a handful of them that I couldn't survive this job without.

If you've got a busy schedule, with lots of meeting coordination (and dreaded conference calls), here's my five app guide to streamlining your life:

1) End the dreaded conference call dial in. MobileDay

MobileDay was the first of the apps to brighten my world. It synchs up to your calendar and extracts any phone numbers listed there. Then, when it comes time for your call, 30 seconds before a bright green button pops up for a one click dial. Even for conference calls. You'll gleefully listen as it dials the number, and then punches in your room access code for you.

No more balancing your coffee in one hand with your laptop in the other while trying to swipe onto the bus and simultaneously memorize the conference call access code and dialing the number. Phew. No more sitting alone in a phone conference room for awhile, before realizing you entered the wrong access code and no one was coming to find you. Hallelujah.

2) Schedule meetings without 20 coordination emails.

If I had to pick only one of these apps to keep, would win. It's reduced the email clog by half. synchs up with your calendar, and lets you pencil in your "office hours" for meetings. You then direct people to your booking URL, and they can see where their availability and yours match up. They write themselves in and voila! Back-and-forth email relay game dies. isn't particularly pretty, but it gets the job done. It's an adequate replacement for, which shut down after being acquired by Blackberry.

3) Survive the email flood. Mailbox

This is my latest app, recommended to me by the lovely Erin Griffith. I hate answering emails on my phone, but Mailbox makes it easy. It walks you through a quick tutorial where you learn to swipe left or right to archive emails, trash them, or schedule them to show up later. It also lets me reply to people when I'm out of cell service commuting on the train. It just stores the messages and sends them automatically when I'm above ground. I think I'm in love.

4) Manage your to-do list. Omnifocus

Omnifocus is a pricey app that you can put on your phone for $20 or your computer for $80. Ouch. But the company can charge that much and still survive because the app's just that good. My mother -- who's a K-8 school principal -- spent an hour convincing me to try it. What would a to-do app help me with that I couldn't do in Evernote? To-dos are just lists of items after all.

Not in Omnifocus. The magic to the app is that it lets you classify your to-do items in a few ways: either as contexts (like office, home, errands) or projects (like 'get more organized at work' or 'eat healthier'). Ever have a couple minutes of downtime at home, and know you've been meaning to get around to something but just can't remember what? This makes it easy to pull up the home list in a second and see what was niggling the back of your mind.

At the same time, if you want to work on a specific project and can't quite remember what the next step should be? You can pull up the project to see an entire list of items to be done. One item -- like "buy a wrench" -- could be in both the 'project' of home improvement and the 'context' of "home," making it easy to find depending on how much time you have.

5) Get creative, brainstorm, and outline. Inspiration

Inspiration allows users to brainstorm by typing ideas and connecting them in a bubble map. Then, you can click a button and switch to seeing your brainstorm in an outline format. The outline is incredibly easy to manipulate, dragging certain idea chunks above or below others, dividing and reorganizing at will. No more messing with the Word bullet point format, with its tricky formatting. And when you're ready to write, the outline can be viewed and edited in Word.

6) Organize your contacts really easily...OH WAIT THAT APP DOESN'T EXIST

There is one app that I have been sadly and desperately hunting for to no avail. This is my siren song to the world: please someone send me a good contacts app. I've downloaded Plaxo and Smartr and Evernote Hello and they all suck. For my needs at least. I don't want some magical app that synchs up Linked-In/Facebook/Twitter and every other social account.

All I need is an app that works on my phone and computer, and lets me tag people with different classifications. I'd prefer to organize contacts on my desktop if possible, but on mobile when I'm on the go. And major bonus points if I can take a picture of a business card and it inputs the information automatically.

Is that so much to ask?

If you know of an app that does this, I will be forever in your debt if you let me know. And if an app like this doesn't exist, can someone please get on it?

[Image via Things Organized Neatly]