Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Milanote Review

Today Milanote released its software to the general public, I sat down and took a few moments to evaluate the application. Milanote claims to be better than Evernote due to its unique visual organizational structure which works differently from other applications because you can arrange your notes like a virtual desktop.

Initial Thoughts

By double clicking the screen you can quickly create cards ideas and then arrange them any where on the screen. Each card has your standard basic formatting tools like Bold, Italic, and checklists. You can also create cards for images, quotes, and links.
If you want to organize your cards you can arrange them in columns, where you can drag and drop the cards in any which order you like. It looks very similar to Trello, especially when you have multiple columns on your screen.
You can also add lines to visually demonstrate the work flow process of one stage to another.
If you want to go more in depth on different subject, you can create a board, and add as many cards and columns there as you like. You can also nest boards within boards, or create a column that has your boards grouped together.

Looks Familiar, doesn't it?

Unique Features

In terms of organization, Milanote is intuitive and flexible, and doesn't get in the way of the creative process. It's organizational structure is easy to understand straight out of the box, and you can quickly make nested lists in a matter of minutes. I would recommend Milanote for:

             Working on a Project.
             Collecting Ideas.
             Researching a paper or writing a novel.

In terms of sharing you can also collaborate with others and send links to other people, as well as export your data in multiple formats including Markdown, Word, PDF, or Plain text format.
In terms of long term storage I wouldn't recommend Milanote due to the free storage limit of 100 notes. But if you decide to upgrade to the paid plans then storage limits shouldn't be a problem.

Research in Milanote


Milanote is currently web based, and while there are mobile apps in production, users are currently limited to using the mobile web browser on their smart phone to access Milanote on the go. The application does work on a smart phone, and everything you enter into the mobile browser does sync via real time, however the full suite of features that you can access is limited, and I did notice some minor formatting errors. This is not very encouraging, but considering the application was just released from beta, I'm sure that the developers will sort out the bugs in no time.
Another feature I noticed is that while you can drag and drop images into the app, or insert quotes and hyperlinks, I didn't see any other method for importing content into the app. Currently there is no Chrome Extension or way to send content via email. Both of these features would be very useful in future releases. Being able to attach documents would also be nice.
It would also be a nice feature that you could fuse cards together as you type, this would be a boon for writers who like to consolidate and organize their content.


Currently Milanote is free to use up to 100 notes, images, or links. For unlimited storage the price is $12.00 per person billed annually, $15.00 when billed monthly. Professional plans for 2 or more people run $10.00 per month or $12.50 when billed monthly. As far as pricing is concerned, I would say its a relatively inexpensive pricing plan, and pretty reasonable when compared to similar products on the market.


Because of the limited support for mobile apps, I unfortunately can't recommend Milanote. The 100 note limit can also be a problem for some people who like to do a lot of creative work. Overall I think its a great idea though, and going forward I can't wait for the mobile apps to come out. This is definitely a promising start to an intriguing new application. You can set up an account for free at http://www.milanote.com/

Thursday, January 19, 2017

How Google Keep Can Be Adapted to the GTD System

When it comes to using Google Keep, most people wouldn't necessarily consider Keep to work as a task management system. Sure, its great for setting up basic checklists and writing down quick notes, but to use as a basic to-do list manager? Not really. Well today I am here to show you that with a few small tweaks it can be very easily done.  
Color Categories 

There are currently eight colors that you can use to organize your notes in Keep. While you can organize your notes anyway you please, I would suggest using the following color configuration for implementing the Getting Things Done (GTD) system into Google Keep:

White - this is the basic default color. I would suggest using this as your default Inbox for all of your new content.

Red- Priority/Hotlist items. These are items which have to be done immediately.

Orange - Next Actions items.

Yellow- Waiting on/Pending list. Items that are pending or waiting on someone else to get done.

Green - Appointments, deadlines, recurring tasks. Anything with a due date goes here. This is basically your tickler file. 

Cyan - Projects. Anything project related goes here. 

Blue - My lists. This is the free list, you can use it for whatever you like, for example, I often use this list for shows that I want to watch or books that I want to read, or  interesting things that I want to check out later. 

Gray- Someday/Maybe List. This is for items that I plan to do someday, and little notes/snippets that I want to save.

Reference - Any reference items I  save to archive which can be accessed later.

This can also be done using the

Category Tabs for Google Keep Extension, which allows you to create custom categories for each list color.

The best part is when you click on each category it takes to all the items with that color, even the archived items. Pretty neat, if you ask me.


Labels can be used as contexts to refine each list to a specific subcategory. For example, you can use contexts to define where a task should be done, liked @home, @errands, etc.

Assigning tasks to others is  easy, all you have to do is add a person to a note and any changes that you or the person make to the note are updated in real time. Another nifty little trick is that when you add a hashtag to an item in a checklist, it automatically assigns that label to your note. 

Customized Search

Google Keep also has a search feature which enables you to easily find your notes based on color, reminder, shared lists, and labels. They also have added general categories based on things like Travel and Music. It is very quick and easy to find the note that you are looking for. 

Additional Productivity Tools

With the Google Keep Chrome Extension, you can save links and images from your computer to Keep to be reviewed later. On your Android phone you can write notes by hand or transcribe text from an image, and the voice recorder capabilities are great. Not only can Keep easily record your thoughts, it also is smart enough to recognize when you want to create a new list or add items to an existing checklist. Keep lets you set reminders based on time or location, all of which sync automatically to Google Calendar. Keep also has recurring reminders. You can also use the pin to top feature to add notes to the top of your list for easier viewing. 

Keep easily integrates with other apps like Inbox, Google Calendar, and Google Drive for additional functionality like emails and document storage.  You can get 15 gigs of data for absolutely free, and it is easy to link shared documents from Google Drive to Google Keep, and thanks to the sharing features already built into Google Keep and Google Docs, it is easy to share notes with colleagues and collaborate with others to get things done. Plus thanks to the Save to Google Drive extension, it is now very easy to save articles to Google Drive which can be linked back to a note in Keep for reference. 
Obviously in terms of Google's history of killing apps, this is a major concern for some people.  But for many, Google Keep fits the bill, and it's free. If you looking for something more advanced, there are plenty of other options out there like Wunderlist, TickTick, Any.Do, or Todoist. But if you are looking for a simple, easy to use productivity and note taking system, I would have to say that Keep stands out as a strong contender, and shouldn't be overlooked. 

How I Evaluate Productivity Apps

When evaluating productivity apps, here is the system that I use. First of all, when I look at an app I try to figure out what kind of app it is. There are some apps that go without explanation like Email, Cloud Storage,  Calendars, Office Suites, etc., but there are other apps and services that are a little less well-defined. For these I have assigned the following classification categories so you can get a better idea of how to find the app that best suits your needs. Now there may be some slight overlap here and there, but generally speaking I have found that most productivity apps can be broken down into the following categories:

Bookmarking - apps that collect and manage bookmarks, articles, videos, multimedia, etc.

Task Management - apps that manage your daily to-dos.

Note Taking - anything from basic text notes to mega behemoths that can collect and organize pretty much anything.

Outliners - Apps that let you create simple nested lists.

Project/Database Management - Apps that let you manage multiple projects or databases of information either by yourself or with a group of people.

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, here are some of the criteria that I look at when evaluating a productivity app:


I think it’s important for people to know how their information is being stored, and if they can trust the services that they are using to handle their personal data confidentially. Most companies have a very clear policy with regards to how they keep your data on their company website, and I have based my recommendations for apps on that. As a general recommendation it is always best to be careful of what content you are posting, especially if it is stored in the cloud. If you have any doubts, probably best not to save it there.


When it comes to app pricing, some app developers give away too many features for free or they try to restrict everything behind a paywall in order to stay in business. And I understand that.  But it’s not very fun for users when you can barely use any of the features of the app, or worse, a feature that was free suddenly gets removed, and now you have to pay a fee to use it. For those of you who can and want to purchase those extra features, I say go for it. It’s important to support App Developers and their hard work by helping to keep the services you love in business. But In the meantime, for the rest of us who are on a budget and can’t afford $70.00 a year (I’m looking at you Evernote!) I will recommend the best free apps, or the apps that I think will give you the most bang for your buck. Just because a service wants to charge you an arm and a leg doesn’t mean there isn’t a more affordable alternative elsewhere.


Inspiration can strike at any moment, and if I don't have access to my smartphone, tablet, or laptop to write it down then I could potentially lose important information. So for me, having cross platform access is key. If the app has an Android App, Chrome App, 3rd Party integrations like Zapier, IFTTT, or access to a mobile webpage that works well, I will recommend it. I also plan to only cover Android apps only. Given the lack of coverage of Android apps on a lot of productivity websites, I thought it was only fair that more Android apps should have their chance to shine, and hopefully I can help introduce more people to the amazing suite of productivity apps that are in the Android Market. Sorry Apple users, better luck next time.


The history of productivity apps hasn’t always been a good one, with apps being taken over right and left by big companies, only to be shut down days or sometimes weeks or months later. If you use a lot of productivity apps like me, I’m sure you know the stress and frustration of having to move your data from app to app to app to service to service to service. While I can’t prevent things like this from happening, I can at least let you know about it,  as well as direct you to similar services that might work better for you. For me it is also important to know that the developers are still working on an app, even if the company was bought out. Regular updates mean that the likelihood of that service being canceled is much lower than an app with little to no service updates.

Training Required

How much training is required to use this app? Is it ready to go right out of the box, or do you have to learn a little bit more how it works before you can use it? Some apps require a bit more effort than others to pick up, and I’ll let you know that in the review. Generally speaking, when I am posting my recommendations I’ll try to include choices that have a range of skill levels so you can pick the app that you think will work best for you at the skill level you are at.  


I tend to not need much collaboration with others when I am working on projects, so I tend to use most of my productivity apps to handle my personal tasks and projects. However,there are many other users out there that do need regular collaboration in real time, so that is something that I have to bear in mind when conducting these reviews. There also may come a time in the future where I may need to change my workflow or add additional users to collaborate on a project. How flexible is the service to adapt to those changes, or is it more of a fixed ecosystem?

Number of Features

This is where any good productivity app will shine, just how does it stack up against its other competitors? Does it cater towards a more simple approach or is it chalked up to the max with features?

So here is the system that I have for now, eventually I may create some kind of custom report or spreadsheet that displays this data but you can at least get in a idea of what I criteria I am using. I hope this is very helpful to you and gives you a better idea of what to expect in future reviews. In the meantime, please keep an eye out for updates! Thank you!

Let's Get Started!

Hello everyone, and welcome to Productivity Hacker. I mostly designed this blog to write being more productive using the Getting Things Done system by David Allen. Eight years ago, I discovered David Allen's incredible book and I have been hooked ever since. During this time I also had just purchased an android smartphone and I was learning about the magical world of Android apps and all the cool and interesting things you can do with them. I also discovered Evernote and found it to be very useful for my needs because I could collect content from all over the Internet and organize it. I really loved Evernote and all of its features, but I found that over time, I was struggling to stay within the free account limit. I realized that there was no realistic way that I was going to be able to collect all the content I needed without having to purchase a professional account. Seeing as I was a poor college student at the time, this was just not going to happen. So I started to hunt for alternatives to Evernote, but at the time the options out there were pretty sparse and limited. After many years of research and trial and error, I was finally able to find a workflow that works for me. The results of that search, and all the knowledge that I learned along the way, has inspired me to start this blog. I have a lot of tips, tricks and shortcuts for some of your favorite productivity apps to share with you as well as some custom workflows using 3rd party apps like IFTTT, productivity app reviews, and tutorials to help you get started. So please feel free to take a look around and see what interests you. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions for upcoming blog posts please let me know, and I will be happy to take a look at them for you. Thanks!