The CAD Geek's Productivity Tools for 2018 productivity tools

The CAD Geek's Productivity Tools for 2018

One month into the New Year, and hopefully your resolutions are still intact, and 2018 is poised to be everyone's best year yet. Even if your resolutions have waived some, the start of a new month is a great milepost to check yourself and make any necessary adjustments to keep on track. With that in mind, today I've chosen to focus on the all-too-common resolution of productivity.

It's been a while since I pulled back the curtain to share some of the non-Autodesk software I turn to on a daily basis. For the purpose of this post, I have omitted the usual suspects like Microsoft Office and instead focused on the other productivity tools I use most. Though there's no lack of productivity tools on the market today, here are the tools I've chosen for myself.

Todoist [Free - $29/yr]

Todoist Task Manager

 

When development ceased for my former task manager, I found myself on a quest for a replacement. Little did I know how long that pursuit would be. From Asana to Trello, Toodledo, and Wunderlist (among others), I tried nearly every task manager I could find. While all fulfilled the basic criteria of being a task manager, all had something missing, and my usage of each waned rather quickly.

That process repeated itself until I discovered Todoist, and it quickly became my go-to task manager. So what made Todoist stand out for me in an otherwise crowded field?

The interface is what first caught my eye. Todoist's minimal interface is not only a joy to navigate, but its many tools and functions are intuitively placed within it. Although good looks make for an attractive tool, the tool itself isn't genuinely valuable unless it excels at its core function as a task manager. Todoist certainly does that.

What I found most impressive about Todoist is how many platforms its available. From PC to Mac, iOS device to Android, and even Microsoft Outlook,  your tasks are available wherever you're working. Though other task managers accomplish a similar feat, what Todoist does exceptionally well is implemented a consistent interface across all platforms. If you know how to use Todoist on a PC, you know how to use it on your phone.

Grammarly [Free - $29/mo]

grammarly-spell-grammar-check.jpg

From this blog to the numerous documents (even emails) I author for my job, writing occupies a significant portion of my day. You're probably familiar with the spell and grammar checks built into applications such as Microsoft Word.  Though each of these has seen appreciable improvements over the years, they still don't pick up the many nuances of the English language. This is where Grammarly comes in.

Grammarly is what I wish spell and grammar check inside Microsoft Word would be. It brings a polish to your writing that no other spell and grammar check I've tested can. The free version will work inside your browser and provides several checks to let you try out the tool. As wonderful as these checks are, my biggest regret with Grammarly is not upgrading sooner.

Beyond the critical grammar and spelling checks included within the free version, the premium version adds a wealth of additional features such as the ability to specify the type of document you're authoring (business, technical, casual, among others), and offer genre specific punctuation and vocabulary recommendations.

TextExpander [$4.16/mo, $39/yr]

textexpander-writing-macro.jpg

Speaking of writing, there's a lot of repetition in what I write on a daily basis. Think about it, how often do you type something like "Bob, Thank you for your email" on a given day? If your email inbox is anything like mine, the answer is roughly equal to the number of emails you send each day.

The basic idea of a tool like TextExpander is you can define any number of snippets that will automatically expand as you type them. For example, typing "xtfe" will automatically expand to "[Clipboard], Thank you for your email." You can create any number of snippets to automate just about anything you write.

Although I initially began using TextExpander to automate the repetitive things I write, an unexpected use case for me is the ability to more easily paste the contents of my clipboard as unformatted text. I copy things from many different places, but typically prefer pasting without any formatting. To help me achieve that, I've configured the snippet "xpst" to paste my clipboard as plain text.

TechSmith Snagit [$50]

snagit-screen-capture.jpg

Much of my day is spent supporting CADD Microsystems clients with their Autodesk software. On a given day that support will range from a simple screenshot calling out an overlooked setting, to something as complex as a howto video. In all of those scenarios, the tool I turn to is Snagit.

There are undoubtedly other tools that let you take a screenshot, but where Snagit stands out for me is how easy it is for me to capture, edit, and share the images and videos I take. The Snagit Editor is like a lightweight Photoshop with essential tools for editing screenshots. Tools to annotate, highlight, and moving the on-screen cursor are each at your fingertips. Once edited to your liking, the next big differentiator of Snagit is its integration with Screencast.com, another TechSmith product.

Though a paid version of Screencast.com is available, I've found the free version entirely sufficient for my needs over the last decade. By choosing Share on Screencast.com, Snagit will upload my edited image or video online, and place a link on my clipboard. If I'm chatting with a colleague in IM, I can just paste the URL into the chat thread to show them a portion of my screen.

Beyond my day-to-day use, Snagit is also the tool I used to capture all 1,000+ image assets in each of my six books (AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT: No Experience Required). I question just how I could have accomplished that feat without Snagit and the library it maintains every screenshot you capture.

Dashlane [$40]

dashlane-password-manager.jpg

Passwords are simply a way of life at this point. Of course, we all know that using the same password across multiple sites is bad, but who has a good enough memory to remember unique passwords for every one of our accounts? I know I sure don't, and that's why I turned to a password manager.

The basic idea of a password manager is you have a single master password that unlocks all of your other passwords. Beyond simply remembering all of my passwords, Dashlane will also generate unique passwords for each account, recognizing when I change a password, and syncing the change across all of my devices.

Beyond simply storing my passwords, Dashlane also performs a security audit of my entire portfolio of passwords and alerts me if it's been too long since I last changed my password, if I happen to use the same password across multiple sites, along with an audit of several other password bad practices. Additionally, for a growing number of sites, Dashlane can automatically change your password, forgoing the need to manually visit a site and find the change password section.

Furthermore, an increasing number of mobile apps now support Dashlane, so you can use the fingerprint or face recognition features on your phone to unlock your password vault and sign into your mobile applications and websites. Likewise, password changes made on your desktop automatically sync to your phone and vice versa - automagically.

I certainly have a handful of other productivity tools in my arsenal, but those highlighted in this post are the ones I turn to most. Beyond simply being the tools that see the most mileage, these are also the tools I have personally purchased with my own money. Put simply, this is not a sponsored post, and I have not been compensated in any way to highlight the tools outlined above.

As we all continue striving to make 2018 the most incredible year yet, what productivity tools do you rely upon on a daily basis? Let me know in the comments below.

Using MindManager 2012 at Autodesk University 2011

Using MindManager 2012 at Autodesk University 2011 mm12 heroAutodesk University has long been the unequaled destination to learn from some of the top presenters in the industry today. While such presentations are still a mainstay of the conference, Autodesk introduced a revolutionary new type of presentation to the roster several years ago. The folks at Autodesk like to call this special subset of classes AU Unplugged.

AU Unplugged is celebrated as being an un-conference, or put another way it’s the anthesis of your stereotypical lecture session. Instead of a ninety-minute lecture, AU Unplugged sessions are ninety minutes of thought-provoking conversation. This year I hosted an AU Unplugged session to discuss AutoCAD Plotting. The exact title of my session was “Minute To Plot It: Blueprint to Simple AutoCAD Plotting”. Being a conversation, not a lecture with prewritten a handout, I needed a way to capture the swarm of ideas discussed during my session.

The Solution

To help capture the great ideas stemming from my AU Unplugged session, I chose to use a tool that’s proven to be one of the most versatile applications on my laptop - MindManager. For me its versatility never ceases to amaze me; from managing tasks, BIM documentation, and managing Civil 3D style libraries to name a few applications. Having used MindManager in lieu of PowerPoint for several recent presentations, I began considering it for my AU Unplugged session. My challenge was that it was a conversation I was moderating, not presentation I was delivering. So the question remained - was MindManager up for the challenge?

Session Preparation

When planing my session, I wanted to structure it in a way that would inspire meaningful conversation. Consequently, I knew I needed two things if I was to come anywhere close to achieving that objective; simple and intuitive organization, and thought-provoking questions. To me the primary purpose of mind mapping is to organize ideas, so I knew the first component was easily addressed, but what about the questions?

Using MindManager 2012 at Autodesk University 2011 MapOverview
Mindmap displaying a complete overview of the conversation.

I decided to structure my session into three categories, Challenges, Opportunities, and Timeframe. I was pretty confident we wouldn’t have any trouble identifying challenges surrounding plotting, but what about some of the key opportunities to address those challenges? This is where one of my favorite new features within Mindjet’s newly released MindManager 2012 product.

MindManager 2012 was, in my opinion, one of the most substantial upgrades since I started using MindManager several years ago. For my AU Unplugged session, the new Brainstorming feature was precisely what I needed to help facilitate my Opportunities discussion.

Using MindManager 2012 at Autodesk University 2011 Brainstorm Idea Cards
New Brainstorm Idea Cards

MindManager has included a basic brainstorming feature for some time, but it was really just a tool to gather ideas. On the contrary, the brainstorming feature within MindManager 2012 helps both inciting ideas, as well as capturing them. Instead of simply prompting you for ideas, it also presents you with idea or challenge cards. Several very well written cards are included out of the box, but you can also define your own. These cards help inspire the questions I presented during the opportunities discussion of my AU Unplugged session.

The Presentation

After using MindManager to help plan and organize my session, it only seemed natural to also use it to facilitate it as well. Since this was a conversation, not presentation, I wasn’t completely sure MindManager was up for the task. In addition to walking through my map, I also needed to add things to it based on the conversational topics that came up.

Using MindManager 2012 at Autodesk University 2011 Presentation Walk Through
Using MindManager Presentation Walk Through Feature.

Despite not being a presentation, I actually found the Walk Through Presentation tool to be the perfect fit. Since attendees had a consistent snapshot of where we were in the conversation, the mind map actually helped keep the conversation on topic. Similarly, since even in the presentation view, I could append the map, it also served as the perfect canvas to capture the wonderful ideas shared by the audience.

Summary

New features such as the Brainstorming tool only extends the versatility of a platform I already considered among the most versatile on my desktop. After seeing how well the Brainstorming tool helped me facilitate conversation during my recent AU Unplugged session, I’ve already begun to find plenty of applications for it as well as the other equally impressive enhancements introduced to Mindjet’s MindManager 2012.

A First Look at Mindjet MindManager 9

mm9-logo Several years ago I stumbled upon this concept of “mind mapping”. Frankly I really didn’t see the point of mind mapping when I first discovered it. After all it reminded me of those brainstorming maps my English teacher made me create in the 3rd grade. Not exactly the type of thing you expect someone in a business setting to create. Nonetheless, I started using it for managing simple tasks, which compounded into more complex tasks, and before I knew it I was mapping everything from major business projects to my packing list for vacation.

Five tools for Easy Screencasting

image You’ve seen great how-to-videos here on The CAD Geek and many other blogs on the net, but how do we create and produce professional quality videos? Like most things in the tech world, you’ve got lots of options; each ranging in price from free to a few hundred dollars. Which tool is best for you will be a function of the type of screencasts you plan to create. Today I’ll share a some popular and up-and-coming tools of the screencasting trade.

Visual Project Dashboards with MindManager

Over the last several months much of my time has gone into writing my first book; tentatively titled AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT: No Experience Required. You can look for it in bookstores in June of this year (2010). Those who follow me on twitter have heard me talk about what it’s like to write a book. While I’ve never climbed Everest, I’d compare writing a book to climbing Everest. It’s an experience fellow authors (climbers) will tell you is incredibly tough, but just how tough isn’t truly known until you begin writing (or climbing in the case of Everest). Of course getting to the summit makes the entire journey worth it in the end.

Project Dashboard Overview
Project Dashboard Map inside MindManager
MindManager-Topic
Changing the status of an editorial phase

Before becoming an author I certainly knew books went through an editorial process, what I didn’t know was how extensive that process was. To summarize, there are five stages to every chapter I write; initial manuscript submission, developmental and technical edit, a copyedit, and then first and second proofs. Oftentimes I’m writing one chapter, reviewing the comments from a copyedit of one chapter, and reviewing comments from the developmental and technical edit for another chapter. Needless to say, keeping track of which chapters need my attention can get a little confusing at times.

My solution has been to develop a project dashboard using MindManager. A colored icon represents each editorial phase; M for manuscript submission, D for Technical/Developmental edit, C for Copyedit, and 1 and 2 for first and second page proofs. Gray means not started, yellow in progress and/or pending, and red for overdue. I’ve certainly used my share of project dashboards created in products such as Microsoft Excel, but for me the visual nature of MindManager makes it easy to know what’s happening with every one of my chapters in a single glance. Likewise, using a series of custom icons, updating the status of an editorial process is as simple as clicking on the icon, and just like that the status changes.

Using MindManager for CAD/BIM Documentation

image My sincere apologies to the faithful followers of The CAD Geek Blog.  As you probably gathered from my last post (way back on May 30th), I have been focusing just about all of my energy on finding a new job.  Thankfully it seems all of that hard work has paid off, and just today I accepted a position with Education Reseller, Ronald A Williams, Ltd.  So with that weight off my shoulders I can begin catching up on all sorts of things like blogging, and reading my favorite blogs.

Robin Capper’s latest post at RobiNZ CAD blog did catch my attention. Documenting technical processes can be a challenging task, but Robin shares how he makes the task a little less tedious by using MindManager in his latest blog post:

Rapid and flexible CAD/BIM documentation using MindManager Map Parts

A MindManager user myself, I was intrigued by the way Robin uses the program to document and present various processes within his company.  Over the last several years I have become a HUGE fan of MindManager, especially as a technical documentation tool.  Back in November I made a post discussing how to use MindManager to Track and Document Civil 3D Styles.  If you’re not already a MindManager user, you can learn more by visiting the Mindjet website.

Using MindManager to Track and Document Civil 3D Styles

image Back in May I made a post titled “Some Nifty Tools” where I mentioned a very handy tool from Mindjet called MindManager.  Since then the tool has become an absolutely indispensible part of my daily workflow.  The power of all mind mapping software, MindManager included, is it’s versatility. Frankly there’s no wrong way to use the software, making it’s potential uses almost endless.

Some of my favorite applications of MindManager have included note taking in meetings to on-screen presentations, and even strategic planning.  Of course one area which has proven especially helpful for is is tracking and documenting my companies Civil 3D Styles.

MindManager 8 Released

image Back in May I happened to mention Mindjet’s MindManager product in a post titled Some Nifty Tools.  Back then I was relatively new to the product, but it has quickly become an indispensible part of my daily workflow.  These days I use MindManager for everything from mapping (planning) out my day, planning and documenting my Civil 3D projects (data shortcuts), even down to documenting my Civil 3D Style library.

Microsoft Natural Language Search, pptPlex, & Email Prioritizer

First let me start by offering my congratulatory birthday wishes to the “Between The Lines” blog by Shaan Hurley.  Seeing that most blogs die within a matter of months, reaching the 5-year mark is a monumental achievement.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.  Since switching to Windows Vista in January of this year, I really have found the OS to be rather enjoyable.  One thing I especially like is the Windows Search integration into the Start menu.  Rather than browsing through all of my installed programs, I just type “Word” to launch Microsoft Word.

Some Nifty Tools

A while back I made a post titled 'Free Tools for the CAD Manager/User'.  In it I outlined a number of nifty tools I knew about and/or used in the past.  Over the last several months I have come across a few other tools that I personally find helpful.

Task & Project Organization: Mindjet MindManager ($)

Admittedly the influx of mind mapping software isn't for everyone.  I personally have found it to be quite beneficial for me as I embark on a quest to see a snapshot of a project at a glance.  I keep track of who is working on, and who has access to projects, who I have chatted to, what I need to do on the project and more.  I have also found it to be a stellar tool for taking notes in meetings.

Instant Messaging: Digsby (FREE)

No Digsby isn't a new instant messaging platform, instead it's a single application for all of your instant messaging needs.  Most of my friends are on AIM, and so I have an AIM account to keep in touch with them.  Additionally I have a personal Google Talk account, and a business one as well.  I also use Twitter to make notes to myself, and track what I have done all day (so I can fill out my timesheet).

Digsby does more than instant messaging though, it also can also integrate into your e-mail inbox, alerting you of new messages.  MySpace and Facebook are also integrated, making Digsby your one stop shop for communication.

Application Launching: Launchy (FREE)

Personally, I try to limit the number of icons on my desktop (sometimes I'm not incredibly successful, but I try).  From just an AutoCAD perspective, I have icons for Map 3D, Land Desktop, Civil 3D, Civil 3D as AutoCAD, Raster Design on LDT, Raster Design on Map, Raster Design on Civil 3D, etc.  Point is AutoCAD alone inundates me with icons. Launchy on the other hand makes it so I can keep a clean desktop, and when I want to open Civil 3D, I just type 'Civil 3D', and it launches.  If you're not a keyboard warrior, than this application is not for you, but if you're quick at the keyboard than you will want this little program!

Google Calendar Sync & Sites

image If you have stayed current on your Tech News, you have undoubtedly heard about Google Sites. For those unfamiliar with the Google Site’s service, I’ll provide the Cliff Notes version. Launched February 27, 2008, Google Sites is a wiki platform targeted towards small and medium sized businesses. The service has been made a part of the pre-existing Google Apps service. Google Sites is essentially a re-launched version of JotSpot, which Google purchased in 2006.

What makes Google Sites unique is the way it integrates a wiki like platform with things like documents, spreadsheets ,presentations, calendars, and even video (YouTube). Some have compared Google Sites with other collaboration tools such as Microsoft SharePoint. While both are considered collaboration tools, I personally feel that SharePoint is much more robust than Google Sites. Of course one element Google beats Microsoft on without question is price. A public SharePoint site can prove incredibly costly, whereas Google Sites is FREE. After playing around with the service myself, I’d compare Google Sites to a service more like Central Desktop than I would SharePoint.

My First Week With Vista

 

imageWednesday, January 16, 2008, the day in which I decided to say goodbye to my beloved Windows XP and hello to the monster known as Windows Vista.  Be it press releases from numerous government agencies, or the ever entertaining Apple I'm a Mac, I'm a PC ads - Vista hasn't found too many friends.  Despite all of that propaganda, I decided to roll the dice with Vista.  Vista / Vegas - coincidence?

Much like AutoCAD installations, Vista installations are quite literally defined by the hardware you have backing it.  For me I am actually working on a late Windows XP laptop, a HP Compaq nw8440 to be exact.  Inside of it I have a 2.0 Ghz Intel Centrino Duo processor with 2.0 GB of RAM.  Overall I see my machine as a pretty typical AutoCAD 2008 capable laptop.

Coming from a civil engineering firm, it's only natural we are using AutoCAD Civil 3D and an array of other verticals; Land Desktop, Map 3D, and Raster Design.  We are using the 2008 versions of the products mentioned above.  But enough information about platform, what about usability and reliability?