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Productivity Apps

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In a recent post Philip Lamb discussed the potential of linking science with app creation to create better, more informative science using new technologies and innovation. This very topic has been discussed in depth recently, at a seminar series put on by UEA’s E3i Club. But what about those apps and larger programs that are currently on your App Stores ready to use right now? How are these relative simple apps helping take science to the next level?

During this short post, I’ll highlight a few of the apps that I use on a day to day basis, and they help me organise and conduct my research, as well as a few that help me in my day to day life. I think it’s important to stress that these are in no way strictly scientific apps, there aren’t any included here that we specifically designed for data collection and analysis, like those discussed in Phil’s post. These apps are just tools that I find very useful, and in some cases, would be lost without.

So in no particular order…

1. 2do

There’s no denying that work life gets hectic, regardless of what you do or where you work. Staying organised is the key to being productive, and without 2do I wouldn’t achieve half as much as I do currently.2do is my go to task manager, and is available on both Mac and iOS. I’ve tried countless task managers, Things, Omnifocus and Clear to name just a few, but 2do has landed as my firm favourite.

For a start, the UI of 2do is appealing to me, it’s simple to use, yet has support for numerous advanced features. The easy access to different lists via sidebar links is particularly useful for me. I work on a number of different projects, be it my own research, Science-Envy material or other writing matters, I can easily see an overview of outstanding tasks without having to change lists. The number of to-dos are shown in black, where as the number of overdue tasks (which happens on shameful regularity) are shown in red, allowing me to prioritise my workload accordingly.

On other task managing softwares, entry of new tasks can be a painstaking process. This is absolutely not the case with 2do. Entry is as easy as a few taps. Each time you enter a new tasks, you can easily add detailed notes about your task in the notes field, and chose a due date simply from a calendar or suggested shortcuts. The ease of this means that I can add all of the outcomes from supervisory meetings in real time, and quickly jot down potential eureka ideas throughout the day.

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2do also features a handy Apple Watch partner app, showing you your due tasks today, and which list they come under. This is one of the Glances that I use most frequently.

2do is currently available at 50% on both the Mac and iOS App Stores.

2. Fantastical

On the topic of staying organised, and simple user experience, it’s time to talk about my other managing essential, Fantastical. Fantastical is what every calendar should be. But why pay for an alternative of what you already have built in to your computer or outlook account?

Well, I’d recommend Fantastical over all of the alternatives. Visual appeal is always a big factor for me when buying software, and the UI of Fantastical is spot on. Combine this with the menubar shortcut and support for the latest in both iOS and OS X multitasking and you have a recipe for success. Flexibits Developers have won numerous Apple Design Awards for their work on Fantastical.

Furthermore, as well as being a superb calendar, Fantastical also integrates your reminders into your schedule. It reads these directly from the reminders app, or you can toggle just one switch when it comes to entering your event to change it into a reminder. This is particularly useful as it allows you to look at both what you have on and what you have due in the coming day, week, or month.

The killer feature with Fantastical however, is natural language recognition. To enter an event, I can simply type into the quick entry field ‘Meeting with Supervisor 2PM tomorrow in the Office’ and hit enter. Fantastical will recognise what I want, and add the event to my calendar across all my devices. Compare this with the clunky entry into competitor calendars such as Outlook, and the difference in quality becomes abundantly clear.

You can take Fantastical wherever you go, with apps for Mac, iOS and Apple Watch. The Apple Watch app features an excellent complication for your watch face, showing your upcoming meetings as well as allowing quicker access to future events.

Fantastical is available for Mac for £34.99, iPhone for £3.99 and iPad for £7.99.

3. Day One

Day One is a handy journalling app for both Mac and iOS that I use on a daily basis. Where it was designed with replacing a personal diary, Day One fulfils a slightly different purpose for me. I use Day One to record what I have done each day, or any equipment faults that I may fall victim to in the lab.

I’m a big advocate of recording your progress and doing it day by day makes it much easier to write reports of what you’ve been doing and what’s gone wrong, which may prove priceless when it comes to applying for additional funding down the line. I don’t record any results digitally within Day One, simply what I set out to achieve that day and whether or not I managed it.

There are programs out there, such as Findings that look to act as a digital lab notebook, which is something I am keen to try and discuss in more detail at a later date. But for my current needs, Day One does a stellar job.

Day One is available on iOS for £3.99 and Mac for £7.99

4. Papers

Papers is my answer to the inevitable job of organising academic literature in a functional, easy to access manner. Papers is the software I use to file the papers relevant to my literature, and the means by which I export references in the correct format, all at just the click of a button. Papers can also directly export references to it’s sister application Manuscripts.

There a number of features that made me choose Papers over other alternatives, such as Mendeley and EndNote. In fact, during the first year of my PhD, I even attended a training course on referencing software - where Papers was not featured. Therefore, to still land on Papers as the software for me, is a testament to it’s quality.

Organisation was the main factor in swaying my decision. Not only is Papers equipped with meta-tagging features, to easily label the key topics within a paper, it also has an excellent capacity for forming collections. I can file away my papers by research area, and there tend to be a lot of those in the early stages of a PhD. Articles can be highlighted within software, with highlighted text then appearing in a column next to the main article so you can easily recap important points without having to re read the entire piece.

A further feature - and perhaps the killer feature at that - is that Papers can come with you anywhere. With full dropbox sync support, your research library can be seamlessly accessed and kept in sync across all your mobile devices, with a free iOS app.

In addition to portability, if other researchers in your group have Papers for Mac, or any other device (Papers is also available for Windows) you can share articles via the ’Reading List’ feature, helping to keep everyone up to date.

5. Manuscripts

Manuscripts is one of the newest editions to my suite of apps, and it’s already worthwhile mentioning. I plan to write a more in depth review of this software, due to the fact that I think it can revolutionise the paper writing experience.

The aim of manuscripts is to simplify the way we write papers. No matter how many updates come to Microsoft Word, it will never be a dedicated writing suite for every field. Manuscripts, is just this for the science industry. It comes equipped with handy structural features, with a clear overview in a side bar. It will give you warnings if you exceed a word limit, help you format your work to specific journal types, as well as allowing easy reordering of sections if you need to adjust the flow of your article.

All of these amazing features are packaged into a clean UI, with a intuitive interface, which for me, makes Manuscripts the best scientific writing app I have ever used.

To be in with a chance of winning one of three copies of Manuscripts, sign up to our Newsletter by December 11th 2015.

6. 1Password

For me, 1Password is absolutely essential if you have more than one account for anything ever on the internet. Having the same password for everything is a real no-go, and most sites and particularly academic institutes required a more complex password. 1Password comes with a built in password generator, to help create unique and complex passwords at the touch of a button.

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Complete with an iOS, Mac and even a handy Apple Watch app, 1Password can come with you everywhere, so you’re never in danger of forgetting your login in details. As well as creating and storing passwords, 1Password on the Mac has a handy menu bar plugin in, allowing you to quickly access your data without having to change windows. Combine this with displaying a window of ‘favourites’, 1Password is one of the simplest apps to use, and is perhaps the app I am most reliant on on a day to day basis.

Security can’t be underestimated, and if you’re looking for an easy to use, but powerful password manager and personal data storage facility, look no further than 1Password.

1Password is available as a limited free app on iOS and for £39.99 on Mac.

7. Copied

Copied was a late addition to this article. This was simply because I never realised how useful this little app is. Copied is your clipboard in the cloud, allowing you to sync text, images or other media that you copy on one machine, and paste it on the other. I didn’t realise how handy being able to do this would be. Where the sharing of articles you find interesting has become much easier with recent focus on social media, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s easier to communicate from one device than another.

Copied allows me to copy a link from the web on my Mac, and send it, or share it, from either of my iOS devices within seconds and vice versa. Say I find a paper from twitter on my iPhone while having lunch, just copy it into Copied and I can access it quickly and easily when I’m back at my computer. Copied runs silently in the background, and is accessible from a tidy menubar shortcut.

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This is hardly a life changing app when it comes to overall productivity, but its use has become almost habitual in the short time that I’ve been using it, so I’d thoroughly recommend giving it a shot. There are alternatives, such as symbolCmd-C, but in my humble opinion, Copied is a cut (and paste - high-oooooooh) above the rest.

Copied is available for £5.99 on Mac, and as a universal iOS App for £1.49.

8. Tweetbot

Social media is paramount in almost every industry today, with science and academia being no exception. The most prominent form of social media used within science is Twitter, and it’s become almost an essential tool when it comes to communication. Twitter has the advantage of being direct to an audience that is interested in what you have to say. It’s a powerful networking tool, that directly connects like minded parties and opens up a world of collaborations.

For those of us like myself, who write for a number of sources and has both personal and more professional twitter accounts, Tweetbot is one excellent time saver. It supports multiple accounts within the same app, changeable by just a tap in the iOS App or a click in the Mac App.

It’s not just the multiple account support that sets Tweetbot apart from the plethora of twitter clients on the market. The strongest string in Tweetbot’s bow is the UI. Unlike the official twitter client, Tweetbot has a clear and concise UI, with sensible gesture controls within both Mac and iOS apps. It’s customisable, with interchangeable shortcuts in the base menu of the app, meaning you can tweak it to make your twitter experience more productive.

In the recent iPad update and release of Tweetbot version 4, the app was optimised for iPad displays. My iPad is where I do the bulk of my basic computing, it’s portability and constant internet access are invaluable to me. The update displays your menu options, timeline - but perhaps most usefully your activity log - in 3 clearly define columns.

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If twitter plays a big part in your communication, which it arguably should, Tweetbot is very much a must have tool.

Tweetbot is available for £7.99 on Mac, and as a £3.99 universal app for iOS.

9. Editorial

Editorial is my one stop shop for everything writing. I’d like to go on record and say that I have only really scratched the surface of everything that Editorial can do. It’s capable of performing complex automation tasks, through interaction with the equally brilliant Workflow App.

I use editorial for writing and formatting blogs using the markdown writing language. Markdown has the advantage of allowing quick formatting of text layout, hyperlinks and text manipulation through keyboard shortcuts. It may sound pedantic, but it allows me to write more completely, as my hands never have to leave the keyboard. It helps me stay in the zone when I’m writing, rather than having to flit to and from the trackpad to make things look that way I want to.

Editorial can then export my markdown text into HTML format to upload onto Science Envy, and the other sites that I currently write for, such as MKEN.

Editorial is an iOS only app, so when I’m working at home I tend to use iA Writer for my markdown creation. I then save the articles to editorials folder in my dropbox and open them on my iPad to export and upload.
If you’re interested in the more advanced features of Editorial, as I am, then check out the book written by Frederico Viticci of MacStories.

Editorial is available on iOS for £7.99

10. Carrot Weather

It’s not just environmental scientists that need to be concerned about the weather. For me, there isn’t a better weather app than Carrot Weather. Not only can you get incredibly accurate location data, but the app has real personality. Carrot, is the AI robot inside the app, who simply loves to throw a healthy amount of abuse at you on a daily basis, which I think is great for some perspective.

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Not only does Carrot give highly accurate location data, such as letting you know how long the current torrential downpour is going to last for, so you can plan a dry escape from the offer, it will also give you really useful information about fictional locations. Take Mount Doom for example, if it’s a particularly hot day, and you want to know if the extreme heat you’re experiencing is similar to that of Sauron’s fiery lair, it’s just a tap away.

Carrot Weather is available for £2.99 on iOS.


Seth Author

June 2016
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