In addition to being an editor and blogger, I serve a project management role here at Windows IT Pro.Therefore, I'm always looking for ways to be more efficient. Here are 5 easy-to-use tools I've found to make me more productive.

1. Pure Text 

How often do you need to strip formatting from text, either to send in an email or add to some form of report or memo? If you're like me, it's literally 15-20 times a day. Your standard options in this situation are:

  • Paste the text into Notepad first, then copy it and paste into the final destination.
  • Paste the text in your final destination then manually reformat it. (Terrible option.)
  • Just send out emails with crazy looking text.

Well, with Pure Text, you can avoid all of those. Pure Text is, literally, the easiest to use and smartest little tool I've ever used. You can download and install it in about 45 seconds, then all you have to do is configure what hotkey you'd like to be an unformatted paste. In my case, I use Windows key + V, since it's the closest thing to Cntrl + V so I can transition between them easily. Voila—paste into Outlook, Word, or anywhere else, without the mess. Best of all, you can configure Pure Text to automatically open when you start up your computer, so it's like a permanent enhancement to Windows.

2. Snipping Tool

The Snipping Tool is super cool, and it comes with Windows if you have Vista or Windows 7. Since as long as I can remember, people have been going through the cumbersome process of using Print Screen and Paint to take screenshots. Well, you never have to do that again. Using the Snipping Tool, you just draw a box around what you want to cut, and poof, it's done. You can even choose to have it draw a colored border around the snip or not.

3. Xobni 

Be warned: Xobni is a productivity tool, but you can also waste time having too much fun with it! Xobni is an Outlook add-on that compiles the most essential information about people you communicate with via email. It essentially builds your Contacts without you ever having to add a single Contact. Also, you can quickly find email conversations between different people (and it lumps conversations in the same thread, like Gmail), plus attachments that have been sent from a given person.

Outlook's search is so good that you almost don't need Xobni, but if you have ever struggled to find an email, Xobni will save you precious minutes of every day.

4. Google Chrome 

Before Chrome, Firefox was my primary browser, and the startup time drove me nuts. (With how long Outlook takes to open, I can't stand to have any other slow applications to start my day.) Chrome opens almost instantaneously, even after just booting up, and every task runs just that much faster. The Chrome layout is minimalistic and logical, making it super easy to add Bookmarks (just click the star). Every time you open a Chrome tab, it shows all your most commonly viewed sites. Accidently closed a tab? Just open a new Chrome tab, and your most recently closed tabs are right there. Now that's working smarter.

5. A decent image editing tool

I couldn't pin this down to one, but if you don't have Photoshop and don't want to spend $700, please take the time to download at least one decent image editing tool. Paint is terrible, and most people will have at least some situations where they need to resize, lightly tweak, or create basic images. Here are three tools I've used:

GIMP: It's about as close as you can get to Photoshop, but there's a steep learning curve. Check out GIMP if you want fairly robust capabilities but still want something for free. 

IrfanView: Excellent for making changes to images in a batch—for instance, reducing the size or resolution of a dozen images at once. 

Paint.NET: Can't do that much, quite honestly, but it's about as easy to use as Paint and has quite a few more capabilities. 

Well, those are the tools that help save me 10 or so minutes a day on tedious little tasks. Let me know what you think after trying them.