As a small business owner, you’re likely constantly on the go — whether it’s in the air, on the road to clients, or even just making the rounds in your own office setting. You may already have a smartphone with you at all times, but are you getting the most out of it? Now that every mobile platform has an application store, your constant companion can do a lot more than keep you up-to-date on email. Taking even a small amount of time to zoom out and assess, re-assess or experiment with new tools can make all the difference in your workflow, saving you both time and frustration. Let’s take a look at some of the types of tools you might want to consider running on your mobile device.
Whether or not you’re an aficionado of David Allen’s popular Getting Things Done system, getting your current tasks out of your head and onto paper (or in this case, digital storage) is most likely a high priority. Luckily there’s no shortage of suitable task manager applications no matter what your mobile platform of choice may be, although some trial and error to find the best match for your needs may be in order.
One thing to consider when shopping for to-do list apps (and indeed, almost all of the app categories we discuss here) is how much data syncing is important to your workflow, if at all. Some applications will sync with desktop programs on your computer when you physically connect your phone, while others may sync wirelessly with the cloud and give you seamless access to your data via the web or via desktop app when you’re at your computer again.
Some to-do list applications worth checking out include Toodledo for the iPhone, which syncs with Toodledo.com for web-based task management as well. The Things iPhone app syncs with the Things for Mac desktop task manager for a highly streamlined to-do list setup for Mac users. Windows folks who use Outlook might consider the Outlook Mobile app for task syncing with a Windows Mobile device. Android users might want to check out either Astrid or TooDo, a full-featured task manager with reminders and an option to sync with Remember the Milk or Toodledo.
Many mobile platforms have some sort of note-taking application in the default app set, but it’s worth shopping around to find something more full-featured if you do a lot of idea capturing on the go. One thing to think about when considering apps is whether or not voice notes are important to your workflow; some apps will include support for both text and voice built-in, or you can consider two separate apps if you prefer to hunt for more specialization.
One of my favorite cross-platform note-taking apps is Evernote, featuring a robust cloud-syncing platform with Mac and Windows desktop apps, web-based access, and mobile clients for iPhone, BlackBerry, Palm Pre, Windows Mobile and the Sony Ericsson X1, with an Android client available in a beta version. Evernote also supports voice memos, along with post by email and even via Twitter options.
Though it’s getting a bit long in the tooth, Microsoft OneNote is still a worthy option for Windows Mobile users and will be getting a refresh in early 2010. Android users might want to check out Notepad, Note Everything, and AK Notepad for text notes, and try using the VoiceText app as an input method for almost any of the other notepad apps to convert voice notes into text transcripts.
You may or may not have the luxury of an assistant who helps keep you on track and get you to the meeting on time, but regardless you’ll want some way to stay on top of your own busy schedule. There are a number of full-featured mobile applications in this category both included by default with various platforms and available from third parties.
If you’re an Android user, the seamless integration with Google Calendar will likely be right up your alley for cloud-based calendaring. BlackBerry users can easily sync with gCal also. Apple iPhone users enjoy native syncing with the iCal application, which in turn can be synced with Google Calendar as well. Users of the iPhone 3GS can also take advantage of Microsoft Exchange sync for calendar, email and contacts support from Exchange servers. Windows Mobile users enjoy great native integration with Outlook for calendaring, and Palm Pre or Pixi users can get one-way sync with Google, Exchange and Facebook calendars.
While note-taking applications are great for jotting down ideas and even drafting longer documents, you’ll probably sooner or later have a need to at least view if not edit larger documents on the go. Your mobile device is also well-suited to taking all types of files with you, especially as internal storage on your phone these days can often dwarf the size of hard drives we had in our desktops less than a decade ago.
Users who need a full-featured document solution should check out Documents to Go, which supports versions for the iPhone, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and Palm webOS; the app is priced variably depending on which features you require. Windows Mobile users also have MS Office for Mobile directly from Microsoft as another full-featured option, and iPhone owners might want to compare with Quickoffice’s Mobile Office Suite.
In the file sharing department, iPhone users might want to look at Air sharing and Dropbox. Android users might look at GoAruna or On Air, which can allow Mac, Windows and Linux machines to connect to your phone via Wi-Fi connection.
We’ve given you some ideas for both categories and applications to get started from in this feature, but ultimately you’ll want to do your own experimentation to find which apps have the features you need and are most suited to your workflow. Other categories you might want to think about to flesh out your productivity arsenal include contacts management, news reading, document scanning, voice over IP, and other needs specific to your business or industry. Keep in mind you don’t need an advanced IT degree to seek out productivity tips and tricks to get the most out of the apps you already use, and perhaps find some convenient methods of integrating or connecting different tools to improve efficiency.
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