Productivity Workflow Research Tools to Amp up your Game

I’m an information guy, and as a developer I collect a lot of information. Collecting and archiving information is important, but it is not just about collecting and archiving − you also need to easily filter and view the collected data in a meaningful way.
In this article I suggest four powerful apps/tools that can help you collect and later find the information when you need it. I’m aware there are many other tools that provide the same functionality, but these are the ones I use to boost my productivity every day.

1. pinboard

I use pinboard to keep a repository of websites that I either find interesting or useful. One can argue that you can simply use the old fashion bookmarks.

There are a few advantages to using pinboard versus your bookmarks (or another local capturing tool):

  1. You get full search capabilities across all of your stored sites.
  2. You get the ability to add any number of tags to each site (and search by those as well).
  3. The information is immediately available for you on all of your  devices (IOS / Android / PC / MAC).
  4. You do not lose the information if you lose your device.

You can add new sites to pinboard in many different ways.

One way that is not mentioned on the site above is this:


2. Simplenote

Simplenote is a tool I use to keep track of text based documents (reference material, notes, and research related information), and it is very…well, simple. You open your simplenote client (we will get to those), and start typing. There is no “save” button, because it saves and sync as you type, if you use the free version, it stores the last 10 versions of the document (it stores 30 versions for a premium account). It has a simple web interface that allows you to access and modify your notes from anywhere, as well as a host of clients to be used (for a full list, go here).

I use nvALT on the mac as the client, because it supports storing the files in plain text on my computer (we will get to why it is important), as well as synchs seamlessly with simplenote. nvAlt also allows me to create links between documents by specifying [[document name]] in the body of my text (note that the link works only inside nvALT, and shows as simple text in other clients).

On my iOS devices, I use their own app for searching and reading, but I use “notebook” to create new text files since it support bullet lists for text files, and it can communicate directly with Dropbox , which is where I store my notes (simplenote has no issues with text files that where adjusted / created outside of its clients, and nvALT on the osX automatically syncs my Dropbox notes back into simplenote).

Another way to insert notes is to send an email to an email address they provide for your account (part of their premium package – $20 / year). I have noticed that it works well only when I send emails with just text in them.

You can also tag your notes, and search on both tags and content as I mentioned before, I store me notes in Dropbox as simple text, that allows for an immediate remote backup, as well as allows other applications access to it (such as notebook on the iPad and the iPhone).

3. MindMaps

Mindmaps are simply awesome! They are easy to get into, and they make total sense. If you have never used one, give it a try. The full explanation of mind maps and how to use them is out of the scope of this blog post, but you can quickly google “how to use mind maps youtube” , and get yourself going in 10 minutes.

These days I use mind maps for all of the my note-taking during presentations, or whenever I need to brainstorm a problem (work and personal related). The most valuable thing I find about mind maps is that they are very easy to expand on, for example; if you’ve been taking mind map notes during a talk and some point in the future you go to another talk about the same topic, you’ll find it extremely easy to add more information to the previous mind map versus starting a new one.

Mind maps are also very easy to share and collaborate on. As long as the person you try to communicate with has SOME knowledge of the topic of the mind map, they will be able to pick up on it and share ideas with you.

Like everything else, there are many tools to be used for mind mapping. I use NovaMind on the MAC (has a windows version as well) and ithoughtsHD for the iPad / iPhone. Those two also work well together (you can seamlessly open and update a mind map from both tools). I have noticed that NovaMind is becoming really slow with large mind maps opened (200 + items). It slows down as you keep more branches opened, so as long as you close some as you follow the mind map, it works well. On the other hand ithoughtsHD on the iPad has no difficulties keeping up.

4. Alfred

Alfred is a Swiss Army Knife for searching things. It is readily available using a key shortcut, and it has literally unlimited potential because of the ability to add workflows to it that can hook it other 3rd party tools.

Using Alfred, I can search the following:

  1. Using the keyword “in {search term}” – Any content of files that I have (that includes mind maps, and the simplenote items (if you recall, they are stored as plain text files in Dropbox)
  2. Using the keyword “pb {search term} –  I can search on any of my tags in pinboard
  3. Using a keyword “notes {search term} – I can search on any of my simple note tags

Here’s how you can add the pinboard workflow and add search capabilities for simple note tags.


In this blog post, I presented three powerful productivity workflow tools. Tools that can help you research and collect information about your projects, or your interests.

The fourth tool, Alfred, can be used to stitch all the information into a unified view, so for example, once you complete some research about graphic design tools, or productivity management, you can quickly type “productivity management” into Alfred and it will provide you a list of all of the sites you found about the subject. It will also call up and display any of your notes that relate to the topic, as well as any mind maps you created for yourself as part of your investigation and brainstorming. In this way Alfred becomes a very powerful search tool that will quickly become indispensable in your arsenal.

This article was contributed by former Function Point team member, Alon Sabi. 

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