Essential Software

The problem with setting yourself a 30 day writing challenge is that you have to actually write something every day.

Go figure.

The first few days are easy enough but after that the runway starts getting quite short!

So, this is officially my first filler topic that I had in my back pocket just in case I was short of inspiration one day.

Like you I use a lot of different software every day.

But, I got to thinking what bits of software are essential to my productivity and workflows? What would I be lost without?

The list suddenly got a lot shorter.

For example: I use Slack every day. But lost without it?

Nope. I’d use Skype or muddle on with something else.

So these are the things that I would really be lost without.


Fine, roll your eyes.

I actually like using Windows.

No, I’ll just say it and be done: I love using Windows.

It’s stable – it actually is – it doesn’t crash all the time. Blue screens are a thing of the past and everything just works as I expect it to.

Yes it’s annoying at times, but then all operating systems are annoying at times.

If you were to make me use OS X or Ubuntu – I’ve used both extensively – then I’d probably moan for a bit because, well, change and unfamiliarity but I’d also still get stuff done.

However, I’d move back to Windows as soon as I had the opportunity.

It’s my comfortable pair of slippers.

Microsoft OneNote

I am an unashamed fanboy of Microsoft’s biggest secret, OneNote.

It’s a note taking app, yes, like Evernote, but it’s Microsoft’s version.

It uses the metaphor of notebooks that have tabbed sections which themselves contain pages.

I won’t got into workflows – well, I will, but not today – but here are a few highlights:

You can write anywhere on a page

Click anywhere and start typing, or inking if you have a pen. This is nice and feels more natural than writing a document. If I wanted a formal text editor I’d open something else. This is a notebook, I need the ability to free-form.

It has insanely good OCR and indexing capabilities

The thing I like about OneNote is that because the search is so fast and so accurate. Because I know it’ll even index text in screen shots or, magically, my handwriting. I have confidence that what I have written down – or captured to use GTD parlance – I’ll be able to find again.

And that’s a really important point: OneNote for me isn’t a text editor, it’s a brain indexer. I need to capture thoughts, tasks, ideas, things to refer back to.

I want to do it quickly. It must not get in the way but I also need to be able to find stuff later, quickly.

It lets me do that. It’s a trusted system and it’s flexible enough for me to build my own workflows up around it.

It is excellent for creating lists

With really intuitive keyboard shortcuts and a powerful tagging (customised check boxes) system, lists are a breeze.

It’s free for all platforms

Windows, OSX, Android, iOS (both iPad and iPhone) and there even a really good web client.

The most feature rich version is the full Windows desktop version that comes packaged with any version of Office. Then there is the ‘universal’ version which is free on all platforms. It’s got a few bits missing but the basics are all there.

I will say that on OSX it is lacking some of the subtle but important integration features that you get in Windows, but it’s catching up fast.


I wont’ write a lot about this as there’s not much to say.

Sanebox** filters my email. It does it quietly and without fuss. Training it was painless and didn’t get in the way. It occasionally got something wrong – or probably I got something wrong – so I’d simply drag the email into the correct folder and the change was logged.

As soon as I installed it, my inbox became much emptier.

I have 4 folders:

Inbox – new stuff I need to read comes here.

Processed – I drag read stuff here so I can quickly get to Inbox zero, something I do daily.

Later – Sanebox puts things in here that I might want to refer to at some point but if I forget it’s OK. When I have time or I need to refer to it, it’ll be here.

Ignore – stuff you never, ever, actually read.

Sanebox is great software and it’s worth every penny.

** Sanebox Affiliate link


Launchy is a keystroke launcher for Windows.

Alt + Space + start typing name + enter = thing launched.

It’s the first thing I install on any machine. It has worked fine since XP and has never broken on me.

There are lots of customisation options which I totally ignore. I just want to launch the basics, quickly.

If you use Windows, install it. You’ll thank me. Just remember to send a donation to the developer after using it for a while.

That’s it

There are of course many other bits of software that I use regularly, but nothing else that I’d be really lost without.

Lost without Outlook? Hardly. A specific web browser? Nope, there are a few knocking around.

I don’t develop any more so I’ve not mentioned an IDE. I used to use PHPEd and Notepad++, but these days if I need to quickly edit something I’ll use Atom. PuTTY I use a lot less often than I used to but it still knocks about; I could use a different terminal emulator, no problem.

I will  give an honourable mention to Mindjet Mindmanager, but really any mind mapping software would do, I’m just most familiar with that one.

This post is one of 30 I’ll be writing daily during April as part of Marc Jenkins’ 30 Day Writing Challenge. All of my posts for the challenge are publicly available here.

Words: 970

Time: just under an hour. Meh, it was easy enough to write, hopefully it’s useful to somebody but feels a bit utilitarian. I was tempted to veer off wildly into OneNote land but I don’t want to spend hours in front of a screen today. I’ll save that post up for when I have the motivation.

This post is one of 30 I wrote daily during April 2016 as part of the 30 Day Writing Challenge.


One response to “Essential Software”

  1. […] Recently as part of the 30wdc Darren Beale wrote about his essential software I thought as part of my post for today I’d list the software I use […]

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