It’s perhaps sounds a little hyperbolic to suggest that software could change your life. But if you use a computer for hours every day, the right apps can certainly enhance things!
In this podcast, we discuss five pieces of software that can seriously enhance your professionalism and productivity. Several of them are completely FREE.
We’d love to encourage some audience participation with this podcast. If you try one of our recommendations and like it, please get in touch and let us know!
A always, a full transcript is available below.
Included in this podcast:
- Save masses of time with typing using TextExpander or TypeIt4Me (1:20)
- Organise yourself with Trello (4:20)
- Improve your writing and avoid embarrassing mistakes with Grammarly (7:43)
- Find out how much Skitch and Greenshot can improve your productivity (10:05)
- Why we have a lot of time for Office 365 (12:47)
- Why experimenting with new software is important (18:40)
Supplementary Links and Information
The Software we Recommend
Other Suggested Links
We have edited some repeat words and unclear passages to enhance readability.
ALEX: Welcome to the HomeWorkingClub podcast. I’m Alex.
BEN: And I’m Ben.
ALEX: Today we are talking about software that changed my life. Not my life, but your life Ben.
BEN: Yes, indeed. And that might sound a little bit over the top… that I’ve had my life changed by software!
But, as someone who spends probably at least 10 hours every single day staring at a laptop, I would say, yeah, life-changing is what some of these programs are for me.
ALEX: So we are specifically talking about software with reference to freelancing and working from home. The areas we’re going to cover, I don’t think there are any spoilers…
BEN: Well, it is. The reason for it is I’m a Mac user. We’re not gonna get into the Mac versus Windows debate. Let’s just not even go there.
So, in the case of a couple of these things, I use something that is only available on Mac. So I’ve provided an alternative for Windows users for each of those things.
ALEX: Good stuff, good stuff. So, first of all, let’s dive straight in. TextExpander and TypeIt4Me. You’ve told me about this before. I’ve not actually seen it in action until just now, it’s pretty cool.
BEN: It is. I think everyone finds that they type the same stuff over and over again. Even if that’s only really small things like saying “Best wishes, Ben” at the end of an email.
I currently use TypeIt4Me on my Mac. I’ve also used TextExpander on Windows. They both do exactly the same thing.
ALEX: And what is it that they do?
BEN: So, what they do is they allow you to set up snippets of text which you trigger just by using a small shortcut. So, for example, on a very simple level, I type BWB and “Best wishes, Ben” comes up on the screen. But I also, as another much bigger example, which is what I showed Alex just before we started recording…
I have lots and lots of people email me and ask about starting a freelance writing career and there’s a whole set of links from the HomeWorkingClub site that I like to send them.
Well, I wouldn’t want to be typing all of that explanation out time and time again. So I type ASPRNG, which is short for aspiring, and then it says “I get lots of emails from the aspiring freelance writers…(and so on).” It’s essentially an entire email just constructed by typing those few keys.
Then I’ve got a number of different things like that that can just be triggered with keyboard shortcuts.
ALEX: So TextExpander is on the Mac, TypeIt4Me is the Windows version?
BEN: No TypeIt4Me is Mac. TextExpander is actually available for Windows and for Mac. I’ve not reviewed TypeIt4Me yet. I have reviewed TextExpander, and I will put a link to that review in the show notes.
ALEX: Just, obviously, going into my usual role on the podcast as an idiot: How do you get TextExpander in? It sits in Word?
BEN: It works system-wide, so it works absolutely anywhere you are on your computer. So whether you’re typing an email, whether you’re filling out an online form. One good use of it is if you’re filling out a lot of forms. Now, something I used to use this for a lot was when I was applying for a lot of jobs on Upwork.
If you want to know about Upwork, we’ve got a podcast on that which I’ll put in the show notes.
When I was applying for a lot of jobs… obviously I don’t support sending out lots of boilerplate applications, which I’ve talked about before, but there are things you say time and time again. Like “If you wish to view my portfolio, here’s the link.” So you can set up little snippets for all the things you say over and over again. Then you can construct your applications without having to type stuff over and over.
ALEX: So is it like predictive text on say iPhone or something like that?
BEN: Very much like that, but it can be anything from a small phrase right up to a huge chunk of text that you use again and again.
ALEX: So what you’re saying is I can annoy my missus on her computer as well as on her phone by putting “Alex is awesome” every time she types “Alex”?
BEN: Yeah. You could just do “AIS” – “Alex is Awesome, Alex is awesome.” I might set that up on my machine after we’re done here!
ALEX: As I’ve said, I’ve seen it in operation and it is well worth having a look at. It’s really, really good. I think people are quite used to using those shortcuts on their phones. And it would have saved Jack Nicholson a huge amount of time in “The Shining.”
BEN: Well, I guess so. (Editor’s note: To this day, I have no idea what Alex was on about here).
ALEX: So the next one, moving on, is Trello. Now, I’m fairly familiar with Trello because we use Trello to set up these podcasts.
BEN: We do. We use Trello to plan our podcasts. So, that’s all the various different stages of it from what we’re going to talk about… So Alex and I sort of share the key points of the podcast…
ALEX: Yeah. We do actually plan these.
BEN: Yeah, we do. A lot of work goes into them, surprisingly! It might not sound that that way!
Then, obviously, there is the next stage when they get transcribed, there’s the distribution of them to the podcast networks and stuff like that. And then there are all the other ideas that we’ve got for future podcasts.
So, I kind of set up Trello to be a pipeline for the podcast. But then I’ve also got a pipeline for all the articles I’ve got on the site. And then I’ve got another Trello board for all different future plans for the site and different ways to develop it.
I’ve not actually said what Trello is, have I?!
BEN: So, Trello is a kind of card-based project management system. What’s wonderful about it is it kind of works with columns, lists and cards. You set it up exactly how you want.
So it can be, as we have it, just sort of flowing the podcast from planning stage up to when it’s published. But whatever you’re doing…if you’re planning to write articles for a blog that you own, you can use it to plan them out.
What I love about Trello… I have the app on my phone as well.. when I’m on holiday, I find I’m out walking and I have lots of ideas, and ideas get lost if you don’t make a note of them, so I can even just have a column on a Trello board for things to consider. Put that in one column and then they might actually get dragged further along the board into being actioned and being completed.
Another thing that’s great about Trello is it’s completely free. I think there is a kind of premium version that you can pay for, but I’ve never needed to pay for any extra features or anything like that. So it’s something that is well worth playing with.
ALEX: Yeah, I think it’s really cool. What I like about it is that I’m pretty old school and it reminds me of, like, sticking loads of Post-it notes on the wall. You can move stuff around in a very similar sort of way. If you could see where we’re sat now, I’m surrounded by coloured pens and paper. I love to work on that, but Trello actually sort of mimics that kind of thing. It does feel like Post-it notes on a wall.
BEN: It does. It’s a very visual medium, and you can just drag sort of attachments to it. So images and screenshots. And, funny enough, we’re going to come on to screenshots shortly. But yeah, you can bend it to your will, Trello. It is well worth downloading it and just having a play with it and thinking, “What can I use this for?”
It organises all aspects of HomeWorkingClub and various other aspects of my life as well.
ALEX: I think with a lot of project management software and stuff is that what they fail to realise is that some of the users aren’t going to be as au fait with it as perhaps the person that’s setting the project up. For instance me!
I’ve found myself using all sorts of different project management software, being given stuff by a project manager, and it’s like, “I can’t work my way through this!”
With Trello…immediately, as soon as I had a look at it, I was, “Oh, yeah, there’s the stuff for me. That\s what we’re looking at.” It’s right there. It’s really very user friendly.
BEN: Absolutely, I think the Post-it notes on the wall analogy, that sums it up.
Maybe we should swap over because you’ve explained it far better than I did. So yeah, it is exactly like that.
ALEX: I’m just here to give the idiots view!
BEN: And there’s a web-based view, there’s an app that you can download onto your computer. And there’s a phone app as well. It’s really easy to use. It’s completely free. Get it.
ALEX: There we go, a ringing endorsement for Trello. Next. We’re gonna move on to Grammarly. Now, I know nothing about this.
ALEX: I mean, that’s a shock isn’t it?!
BEN: Well, Grammarly is another one that you can get for free, but the free version has kind of a drastically reduced level of functionality. Or there’s a premium version. It is not very expensive…I don’t remember exactly how much, but Grammarly is very heavily advertised. If you ever go on YouTube…
I see Grammarly adverts on YouTube all the time and they say “if you do any writing on your computer, you need to get Grammarly.”
I’m not going to go quite as hyperbolic as that but it is very, very good. And I do get so many emails where I think, “Someone really should have had Grammarly on their machine.” It will pick up on a basic level. It’s kind of, I described to you before we started, it’s like Word’s spelling and grammar checker on steroids.
It not only picks up basic spelling and grammar issues but it will also, with the premium version, tell you if your sentence is too wordy, if you’re using the wrong spelling of a word like “there” or “their” – which Word wouldn’t necessarily pick up.
I think it’s particularly useful for people for whom English isn’t their first language if they’re going to be working in English. I’ve worked for companies that have enforced the use of Grammarly for absolutely everybody. It works system-wide, similar to TextExpander, so you can actually have it not just working in a Word document but working in a web form as well.
ALEX: So this could be the answer to poorly spelt Facebook posts?
BEN: It could, it could indeed!
And it’s also for something that I’ve done more times than I like to remember… applying for jobs on Upwork where you’re typing your application into a web browser. You hit “Send” or you hit “Finish.”
You’re done. You’ve sent it. You can’t get it back. You can’t edit it…
I’ve spelt “writing” wrong when applying for a writing job before! You know you’re not going to hear back from that client, when you’ve done that. It is just things like that, and it can catch things where you’re going to make yourself look really silly.
I think if you get the free version you’re quite often given a free trial of the premium. So you can try it all out without spending any money. I think Grammarly is well worth a look. It’s another one I have reviewed in full, and I will put a link to that in the show notes.
ALEX: Excellent stuff. We gave a little hint about this one earlier on, so Skitch or Greenshot. Another Mac versus PC thing. So these are screenshotting tools?
BEN: Yes, screen-grabbing tools. Which might not sound particularly exciting, but I’m not exaggerating to say that Skitch is probably the most useful utility I’ve got on my computer.
It’s Skitch for Mac. Skitch is made by the people who made Evernote. Greenshot I’m suggesting because when I was briefly using a Windows machine last year I couldn’t get Skitch. I did a lot of research on alternative products, and Greenshot was the one that replicated Skitch’s functionality as closely as possible. Both completely free.
So what Skitch does… you set it up with a keyboard shortcut, mine is CMD+SHIFT+5 or something like that. You get some crosshairs, you drag it around what you want to take a picture of, and then you drag that file to your desktop.
ALEX: I suddenly realised this is a really bad thing to be talking about in a completely audio medium.
BEN: It’s is not the best. Hopefully, I’ve described it reasonably well.
So let’s think of an idea: Say, we’re planning a podcast. Alex and I, we’re talking on instant messaging and I say, “Oh, look at this tweet.” I literally just draw a square around it, and I drag that snippet of my screen.
You find, after a while, you use it so much. You might want to share a graph, which is a part of a huge web page but you only want to show someone that little graph. I use it for taking screenshots to put images in my posts on the site. You just find that you start using it for everything. You can use it just to crop a little bit out of the middle of a photo and stuff like that. I sound excited about it…
ALEX: You are really excited about it!
BEN: I’m conscious of that, but it’s the kind of thing you introduce to someone and they didn’t know they needed it. I use it at least every hour, I probably use it every 10 minutes. It’s really great software.
ALEX: It is good. You showed it to me earlier on and I have to say, I looked at it and… yeah, the number of times that you hit “Print Screen,” edit it down. I spend a lot of time doing that kind of thing. Just being able to grab something very quickly is really good.
BEN: It is great. Greenshot kind of looks a bit more techie. Skitch is very visually pleasing, very Mac-like. And let’s not go there again! They’re both perfectly good. Greenshot can replicate the functionality of it perfectly. And again they’re both free.
ALEX: I’ll have a go and I’ll obviously find that Greenshot is best. Maybe one day we’ll do an entire podcast of us arguing about Mac versus PC?
BEN: I don’t think anyone will want to listen to it.
ALEX: I wouldn’t want to listen to that but I will have the argument!
So, we have saved, not necessarily the best to last, but certainly the biggest to last: Office 365.
I was very surprised to see that on the Trello board.
BEN: Yeah, putting something from Microsoft. The reason I’m highlighting it… and I mean, Office 365 isn’t free… but Office 365 essentially gets you those classic office applications: Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
It used to be the case, not that many years ago, if you wanted to buy full legal copies of those applications of Microsoft Office, you’d be looking at several hundred Dollars, or Pounds where we are here. They switched to a subscription model, which was controversial at the time, but now you’re looking at probably $8 to $10 a month, maybe less than that, to have full use of those applications. I think on up to five computers. They’re always the most up to date versions.
I just think it’s such an affordable entry price to start using it. You could be cynical and say that over the course of five years you end up spending more than it used to cost to buy outright. Yes. But after those five years, you were using a five-year-old version of that software.
ALEX: Very true.
BEN: I think it’s a bit simplified. I don’t mind the subscription model because I think it allows people with much smaller budgets to get software that might have been out of their reach before.
ALEX: Yeah. Again, as I say, I was quite surprised to see it but then as you explained it, I think it’s a really good point because that almost happened without me noticing it.
I think I’ve got the licenses and…I put it on my mum’s computer a few years ago, I’ve got a couple of machines. That ability just to be really flexible with it and, as you say, it’s always updating, you’ve always got the fresh versions. You don’t have to suddenly go, “Oh, no! I need to go and spend another few hundred Dollars on something else.” I hadn’t really thought of it.
Interestingly, we haven’t really touched on how good the software itself is or how easy it is. It’s so universal and actually, for those tasks, we won’t get into the Mac versus PC thing. I’m a very heavy user of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
BEN: I think so. Another debate which is one that I could get into, probably not with you but certainly with a lot of readers of the site…whenever I say anything about Office 365, somebody brings up OpenOffice, which is an open-source free office suite, which is largely compatible with the Microsoft packages and is completely free.
I can see the attraction of OpenOffice. However, I think, especially if you are freelancing, people have a certain expectation that you’re going to have the software you need.
I’ve got a very recent example of this: I got some work, completely out of the blue, at the end of last week from a client in Australia who I had not worked with for several years.
They said: “Can you edit this enormous business case document for me?” It’s a 15 page, 5000 or 6000-word document, all in Microsoft Word, which all had to be marked up in “Track Changes,” and I had to put comments on it.
Well, I couldn’t have done that on OpenOffice. So here’s a client that comes along and says “Can you do this bit of work and do it quickly?” I wouldn’t want to be the freelancer who goes, “I’ve not got Word on my computer.” That just to me doesn’t sound enormously professional.
I think when you’re talking about a handful of dollars per month, just to ensure you’ve always got the most up to date stuff… that’s why Office 365 has made it onto this list. It’s not something I’d ever want to be without. It’s not exciting but it’s still nice.
ALEX: But I think that’s brilliant. It absolutely deserves its place… I mean, at the end of the list, but best till last perhaps.
All of these have something in common, I think we talked about this…it’s about saving time, it’s about being convenient. Obviously, money is a factor in it as well but you said something really interesting, which is, actually it’s about the quality of the work as well.
BEN: Yeah, I think so. I mean, as an example, say you’re preparing something from a client. You’re using Word so you’re not sending a file that might have slight compatibility issues, which, believe me, can be a thing if you’re using Pages on a Mac or using OpenOffice… you can have little issues with compatibility, even now.
Then Trello to organise yourself, TypeIt4Me or TextExpander so that you can write stuff quickly and be more efficient, Grammarly so you don’t spell “writing” wrong on the application for a writing job!
All in all, they are just all things that can make you better and more efficient at what you do. Which is what it’s all about.
ALEX: I just get the impression that you’ve not actually typed a full sentence for about three years. It’s just all shortcuts.
BEN: Well, I have a lot of shortcuts and that’s something that I like to do… anyone who contacts me directly through HomeWorkingClub, I like to give 99% of them, at least, a personalised response.
If I had to type all of these things out in full every time…I must send out the one with the snippets of the links to writing-related articles dozens of times every month. I wouldn’t have time to do it if I wasn’t using TypeIt4Me.
ALEX: I think what’s really interesting is that in none of these have we actually been able to go, “Well, it’s kind of like this, but for typing.” You hear a business idea and someone goes, “It’s like Uber but for bikes.” These have very much found their area, there isn’t really anything that does it similarly. They’re pretty much their own thing.
BEN: Well, I mean, there are various other things that you could do the same things with. I mean, for Trello… there’s a lot of software like Trello. There is Asana and I think there is one called Monday, that’s quite recent. So there are alternatives, and I’m sure people have got their own favourites.
ALEX: Well, that’s actually one of the things that we were going to say. I imagine, as with any list, that you will have your favourite pieces of software and we would absolutely love to hear from you on anything out there.
This is kind of the point of what we wanted to do. This is really to kick off a discussion.
These are the ones that you found. But I’ve probably discovered…certainly Grammarly and Greenshot I’m going to go and put on to my machine straight away. I think that the point is you’ve always got to keep looking and you’ve always got to look for the new thing to help.
BEN: Yeah. I think, also, if you’re using a computer and you just think, “That slows me down every time I do it.” There are apps for everything. As they always say, “There’s an app for that.” Well, find that app!
That’s what led me to stuff like TextExpander. It’s just like, I’m typing “Best wishes, Ben” an awful lot times every day. Well, let’s find something that prevents me from having to do that. Whatever job you do, or whether you’re applying for jobs, there’s always bits of text you type over and over again.
So, yeah, I hope that from this people might go ahead and try some of these things. Obviously, I’ll put the links to everything in the show notes as well.
ALEX: I think the thing is… if you think that there’s something that’s slowing you down, that’s making life difficult, look for something out there. If there isn’t something, then you might have just discovered a multi-million dollar tech unicorn.
BEN: In which case just email us!
BEN: We’ll do our best to try and make it happen.
Well, the other one we were talking about…I’m a very heavy user of WhatsApp and you’re not a massive fan, are you? Basically, I’m the only person you communicate with on WhatsApp.
BEN: Pretty much, yeah. I think that people do develop their favourite things, and I think that’s why it’s important to be open-minded.
Alex just showed me how he uses WhatsApp and I think…I mean, I’m a techie and I do internet type work and it is something that people laugh at me for… the fact that I don’t really use WhatsApp very much. So, I think if Alex goes and looks at Grammarly and Greenshot, I will return the courtesy by putting WhatsApp on my computer as well as my phone.
ALEX: But I think the one final thing, actually you hit on this as well, is, particularly when we’re freelancing, you will have different clients.
The reason I started using WhatsApp is I started working with a company where they did everything on WhatsApp. The Chief Executive was never at her desk. If you sent her an email it would get read at 2 o’clock in the morning when she gets online.
But actually, if you want attention, you want something to get through, WhatsApp is the way. Don’t know where she is going to be in the world, don’t know what’s going to happen, what the response is and because of that…We worked with India and it’s huge in India. The email is so saturated that it’s huge there.
You find, actually, that different people, different companies, different countries that you work with… that the people have their own ways of doing. So, it’s always a good idea to be fairly familiar with stuff that’s out there.
BEN: Yeah, I think so.
Very similar for me with Trello. It was a particular client who wanted everything on Trello. They actually used Slack, which we are not talking about in this podcast, that’s a sort of instant messaging system. Anything immediate was Slack, anything more long-term was Trello.
Email was pretty much forgotten about in that company. Email was barely used. I remember us kind of feeling we were being forced on to Trello and then it only being a question of a week or two before we think, “This is so good. Why weren’t we doing this before?”
As I said, be open-minded to these things because you never know how they’re going to, well, change your life.
ALEX: So, we will put links to all of these in the show notes. I say we…Ben will put links to all of these in the show notes!
In conclusion, it’s always worth finding something that can give you, what they call in sport, “marginal gains.” I think, with your work, if there’s anything that can save you time and improve the quality of the work that you produce then it’s got to be worth a little bit of research.
BEN: Absolutely. Funnily enough, I’m asked about software recommendations through the site far more than I ever expected to be.
When I was planning this podcast, I had to think, “Well, I hope this will be interesting enough for people.” Hopefully it was and hopefully at least one of these things will actually change your life in some small way.
Do please, like, subscribe and share the podcast, and we’d really love it if you wrote a review as well. Obviously, better if it’s a positive review, but it doesn’t have to be. It does help other people find the podcast.
What we’d really like with this one is, in the review, if you could include your own game-changing software as well. That helps us to find it for ourselves and the other people listening as well.
If I could add, I’m always happy to take direct feedback on the podcast as well. If you just want to email me.
ALEX: Thank you very much.
BEN: Thank you.
Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com – Ben has worked freelance for nearly 20 years. As well as being a freelance writer and blogger, he is also a technical consultant with Microsoft and Apple certifications. He loves supporting new home workers but is prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.