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Soft Skills Part 5 – Improving your Efficiency and Productivity Part II

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Soft Skills Part 5 – Improving your Efficiency and Productivity Part II

[ Edited ]

In this article, I’m going to show you some of the apps I use every day to make myself more efficient.  As mentioned in the previous article, I recommend playing around with different ones to see what works for you – a couple that I use received horrible ratings but turned out to be exactly what I needed.  I need to note that beyond doing some beta testing for two of the apps, I’m in no way affiliated with any of them or any other company that develops apps.  I use them on my Mac, Macbook, iPad, and iPhone and the experience is similar.  Screenshots are taken from my Macbook, and all apps were free at the time I installed them.


To Do List

I tested dozens of “To Do List” type apps, and even tried to get into the habit of using Outlook’s Tasks but couldn’t find anything that really “fit”, until I tried Wunderlist (  Clean interface, easy to use on any device, and the ability to send tasks to / from your inbox makes this an extremely versatile piece of software.  You can add subtasks, something which most other apps charge for, and so this is a definite added bonus.


A screen shot of the interface:




A task that has been added:




The task-specific information:




Mind mapping

I love flow-charts and process maps; as an analyst, they highlight where I need to focus any reports I’m developing, as a database designer / builder it allows me to make a more user-friendly system, and as a user-support prime, they assist me when troubleshooting an issue.  I also use them for mapping out how I’m going to work on a project – it may be something no one else ever sees, but having the ability to visualise the steps makes a big difference to me. 


The “app of choice” for me is SimpleMinds (, and it is highly intuitive, simple, and makes easy-to-understand maps.  The flexibility it gives me allows me to map out papers, talks, or projects from anywhere, and therefore increases my productivity – nothing feels better than mapping out a major project while waiting for a meeting to start!


Here’s what the interface on my Macbook looks like:




A test mapping, and with the exception of the arrow on the left going vertical and the checkbox, all other shapes were generated by the app, including the colours:




Note Taking

If your organisation has purchased a licence for Microsoft’s Office 2013 / Office 365, I highly recommend getting to know OneNote.  It allows you to take your notes to a whole new level, and I wish I had this when I was in university; it would have made classes, studying and papers so much easier!


One of the key features of OneNote are the tabs – if you have this software, you will need to spend some time figuring out the best way for you to use it.  I have set mine up so each tab is a different type of meeting (Leadership, Database, Project A, Project B, Articles, etc.).  You may find another setup makes more sense, but it will take some time to find it. 


Here’s a sample of two tabs I have:




One of the coolest things about OneNote is you have full flexibility and control – clicking anywhere allows you to type, you can create task lists, highlight, attach files, and even embed an audio recording to your document all quickly and easily.


This is showing you a small sample of what you can do; in my tab “Test1” I have created 4 “pages” – Meeting 1, 2, 3 and 4.  It is Meeting 4 that I’m showing below; you can see the To Do list, as well as a piece of text in the middle of the document. 




If you do not have access to OneNote, another note-taking app I like is Evernote ( which has a lot of similar features.  The added bonuses to Evernote include a webclipper, so you can automatically send a website to your Evernote, a “scanner” on your smartdevice so that you can take a picture of a document or whiteboard and have it automatically sync to your account, tags that allow you to quickly filter on a keyword you’re looking for, and both a web-based and installed version of the software.





I spend a lot of time reading PDFs – either medical articles, SAS documentation, or reviewing technical manuals, and so finding a PDF reader that was easy to use but also allow me to annotate (highlight, mark, comment, etc.).  The app is called Cabinet PDF Reader, and unfortunately it is not available on the Mac / Macbook, but is for the iPad.  Here’s a PDF I’ve marked up with some of the more common annotations I use; you can change colour, size etc. to customize to your document.





Finally, the last one I wanted to touch on is a web-based app for computers, and for the iPad / iPhone has a dedicated app and is called RefMe.  Of the challenges I have is keeping track of all the articles I read; RefMe has literally saved my sanity.  After I read an article, it takes me about 30 seconds to add it to the app, which is a huge improvement on having to go back through everything and try sorting through piles of paper and PDFs. 


Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 3.47.22 PM.png


The image above is from the web-based version; adding in a new article can be done manually or by using a search engine like PubMed. You can use any piece of information, but I find the DOI is the most efficient as it takes me directly to the article.  You can then export your list to Word, Evernote, Bibtex, or a number of other options.  RefMe also supports 7,500 different referencing styles, so if you’re submitting a paper to two different journals that require different referencing formats, you don’t have to redo the list – just change the format, and away you go!



Hopefully you're able to use one or more of these - if you're using something different, or using an Android or other type of device, I’m really excited to see what apps / software you use to make your life easier; please post back in the comments!

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