Practice Management Small Business

Desktop Productivity Tools that I Use

Written by Charlie Russell

Everyone has their list of “productivity tools” that they use in their business. Little programs that make your business life easier to manage. I’m often asked for recommendations on the tools that I use, so here are a few examples. I’m focusing on my Windows Desktop environment at this time, because that is still where I spend most of my time.

Please note that I haven’t done extensive research on comparable programs in many cases. Hey, I’m trying to improve “productivity”, I don’t always have time to spend doing that kind of research! When I find something that works, I tend to stick with what I have.

  • Snagit: This is the best screen capture tool that I’ve ever used. Sure, you can do screen captures in Windows with just a few key clicks, but this tool makes life a lot easier. You can edit screen captures in many ways, add annotations and callouts, and much more. The latest version even lets you create short simple videos. If you want to document a process for your client, or for your staff, this makes life a lot easier.
  • TeamViewer: I’ll be writing more about remote support tools in the future, as I’ve used quite a few different products. At this time I’ve settled on TeamViewer as my favorite. I can reach out to a client computer in “unattended” mode (their computer just has to be left on), I can support people without having to install a product on their computer (for those “quick support” situations, rather than ongoing access). I can even make small group presentations. All out of one great product. There are a LOT of products of this type, this happens to be the one I like the best so far. Note that there are a LOT of these products out there, and each has it’s advantages or situations where it would be the best fit.
  • Microsoft OneNote: I record a lot of notes, a lot of junk that I have to organize and retrieve on demand. Microsoft OneNote fits my mindset very well. I can create any number of “notebooks”, each with “sections” and pages within sections. The search feature works extremely well. It integrates with other Microsoft Office products to make it easy to add notes from other places (I use the Outlook feature quite a bit). This has been a lifesaver, and has been a large part of why I can get rid of a big portion of the bank of “lateral file cabinets” in my office.
  • SharpReader: This is an RSS feed aggregator that I use extensively to keep track of hundreds of blogs and other web site discussions. Many websites will have an “RSS feed” available, which you can “subscribe” to so that you get a notice when there is a new post or some updated information. You can subscribe to updates to many of these by email, but I really don’t like filling up my email inbox with hundreds of notifications like this. Sure, you can “filter” your emails so that they go into different folders (a technique I use quite a bit) but it still is better to keep this kind of thing OUT of your email system. Using a good RSS feed aggregator lets you take all of these notifications OUT of your email system and puts them into a separate application where you can organize it and track the information when you have time. There are many different RSS readers around (Google Reader is also good), this one suits my situation very well. Sharpreader is a Windows desktop application that lets me organize my feeds in folders and subfolders. Looking at it now, I see that I have over 1500 messages waiting to be reviewed when I have the time – that is 1500 messages that are NOT in my email in-box. Wow – 1500 – I need to spend some time over there cleaning up a few things.
  • Trillian: I’m not a big fan of Twitter and Instant Messaging – but I have to pay attention. I use Trillian to manage my incoming Twitter feeds and my Yahoo Messenger accounts all in one place. It saves me time. I don’t use IM very much – I don’t have my clients on IM (thank goodness!). I use that for internal messaging with The Sleeter Group and a very, very select group of individuals.
  • RoboForm Everywhere: I have hundreds of “login” accounts with passwords, and I use RoboForm to keep track of them all. If I didn’t, I would most likely have just one or two passwords that I use with all of my accounts, and that is a VERY bad idea. I use RoboForm Everywhere, and it provides me with a secure way to store all of my account logins and passwords. It lets me access this information from my laptop, business desktop, home desktop and iPad. Changes on one are synchronized with all of my computers/tablets. This allows me to have unique, complex passwords or pass phrases for every login. If I want to log in to an account I don’t have to remember the URL, account name and password – I just select it from my Roboform list and the program takes me to the site and logs me in. Wonderful!
  • Intuit PaymentNetwork: I wish I could get ALL of my clients to pay me with this (see more on this in this article). If you have your clients pay using this service as ACH payments it KILLS merchant account fees. I really, really hate it when I look at my financial statements at the end of the year and see just how much I’m paying in merchant fees. Intuit PaymentNetwork ACH transactions cost me a flat $0.50 to process! No monthly fee, no percentage of the transaction. You can also use it to take payment via credit card, but then we start getting back into the overhead of merchant account fees. The integration with QuickBooks works very well. I also have Intuit GoPayment, but in my business situation I rarely need that kind of payment processing.
  • VMWare Workstation: For someone like me, who evaluates different software products AND who develops software, this is one of my most essential tools. This creates “virtual machines” that are just like having a totally separate computer, but for only the cost of this software product and some disk space. My current office desktop system is running Windows 7 – but I have VMWare virtual machines for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 8, all totally separate and inside of my main system. I also have copies of QuickBooks Premier and QuickBooks Enterprise from the current release going all the way back to 2006, again all on my one computer inside separate “virtual machines” (I even have Canadian, UK and Australian versions of QuickBooks as well). Intuit wants me to beta test a new version of QuickBooks? No problem, just put it in a separate virtual machine and it can’t interfere with my “real” copy of QuickBooks. An essential tool!

These are just a few, there are others, but the ones I list here are the most essential for MY business. If there are any of these that you would like to hear more about, just let me know in a comment.

And, I’d love to hear what YOU use!

About the author

Charlie Russell

Charlie Russell has been involved with the small business software industry since the mid 70's, and remembers releasing his first commercial accounting software product when you had an 8-bit microcomputer with one 8 inch floppy disk drive. He has a special interest in inventory and manufacturing software for small businesses. Charlie is a Certified Advanced QuickBooks ProAdvisor with additional certifications for QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Enterprise, as well as being a Xero Certified Partner. Charlie started blogging about QuickBooks in 2008 (Practical QuickBooks) and has been writing for the Accountex Report (formerly the Sleeter Report) since 2011. He retired from accounting and QuickBooks activities in early 2018.

Visit his CCRSoftware web site for information about his QuickBooks add-on products. He is also the author of the California Wildflower Hikes blog.

24 Comments

  • Charlie,

    This is a great list. I love SnagIt and have been using it for years. I don’t use OneNote, I prefer Evernote (www.evernote.com). It allows you to keep a synchronized database of notes on your computer, phone and any internet device. They have plug ins for most browsers so you can easily clip entire pages. What’s great about it is you can search for text within images. Definitely worth checking out. The free version has worked fine for me. I can’t live without it now.

    John

    • Thanks, John – several people at The Sleeter Group also use Evernote. There are several kinds of products that are similar to Evernote and OneNote. I like some features that OneNote has that Evernote doesn’t (I think), such as the manner in which it integrates with Outlook. Mobile access, though, is tougher with OneNote.

  • Great recommendations. A couple of others that I like are
    Fences: If you organize the icons on your desktop and then change the resolution the icons sometimes move. Fences lets you save them and get them back. It also allows you to hide all the icons on your desktop with a double click which can be useful if doing a demo from your machine where you don’t want all your applications visible.

    Agent Ransack: I hate Windows 7 Search. Agent Ransack is a free, thorough and flexible search tool.

    For Remote support I use GotoAssist. It allows unattended sessions and has good reporting. I can’t consider TeamViewer because I do a lot of work with Timeslips and there is a conflict between the two programs rendering Timeslips non-working if TeamViewer is running.

    • Thanks, Caren. I used to use GoToAssist, but there were two issues. First, it is an annual fee, where TeamViewer is a one time purchase (although you have to pay for some upgrades). I found TeamViewer to be more cost effective for me. Then, also, GoToAssist would never work with a client who was on a Windows Server system with RDP, so I couldn’t use it with several of my clients. TeamViewer handled that well. I guess I don’t have a client using Timeslips, as I never ran into that.

      There are a LOT of remote support products, each having its own good and bad points. You find the ones that fit your situation and workflow. I hope to be comparing several of them in a future article.

  • Thanks for the tips. I use VM Workstation too, but don’t you have to buy a new Windows License for each install? That’s what I’ve been doing because two instances of the same Windows OS running gets tagged as pirated right? Is there a workaround? Jeff

    • You need a license for each operating system that you install. I have one installation of Windows 7. I have “snapshots” off of that for each installation of QuickBooks that I have under Windows 7. So I have hundreds of snapshots of a Windows 7 system for all the things I’m testing on Windows 7, off of one license.

  • Charlie–Will RoboForm also work with client passwords? I have QB, EFTPS, state passwords, etc., for many clients and am looking for a secure way of storing them so that I can access them anywhere.

    Thank you for your insight! I always enjoy your articles!!! Keep up the great work!

    • Carla, you can use it to store any password you want. It is primarily designed to work with website logins through browser windows, so it doesn’t interact with the QuickBooks desktop login. However, you can use it to hold these passwords, and when you go to log in to QuickBooks you can look up the information (but the QuickBooks File Manager is probably more convenient for that). It is interesting to note that when I use QuickBooks to retrieve records from Intuit PaymentNetwork that I can use Roboform to fill in the IPN login, since QuickBooks opens that in a browser window.

      • I use RoboForm to open my QB files with no problem.
        I tried to copy and paste here using Snagit….but apparently we can’t paste pictures here!

    • Sharon, note that Roboform Everywhere is a subscription, so you pay an annual fee, which makes it a bit more expensive. It is worth it for me – I can sync my login information between my business and home computers, as well as my iPad.

  • I also use Roboform and LOVE it! I used to purchase the desktop version, now I use Roboform Everywhere because buying individual licensed copies became too expensive and too hard to sync up.

    I use/love a lot of different toos, but I consider Roboform to be the Number One MUST Have tool – I wouldn’t/couldn’t be without it! It will work with QuickBooks – however the only file I have set-up/saved is mine 🙂

    Seriously – this is a must have tool for so many reasons! It saves so much time, auto generates great passcodes, organizes me, and certainly helps save whatever sanity I might have left 🙂

  • Also – watch for promotions on Roboform Everywhere – I got mine thru one of my favorite daily deal sites (BitsDuJour – http://www.bitsdujour.com/) for half price off of the first year!

    I think Roboform also has a free trial and the desktop version will allow you to save 10 log-ins free. Try it – you will be hooked 🙂

  • Charlie thanks for writing this article as I enjoy productivity tips.

    Small little free app but it is something I find so useful: Google Calendar Sync at http://support.google.com/calendar/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=98563

    This allows me to sync by appointments to Google Calendar which I have on my Android phone and iPad so if I am out of the office I always have my calendar handy and my phone or iPad will make a sound to let me know I have an appointment upcoming.

    Also this is a two way sync so I can add an appointment to my Google Calendar on my phone and it will sync back to Outlook.

  • Thanks for the tools especially coming from a trusted advisor! Regarding Roboform, is your and your clients banking and credit card information really safe? Do you,personally,have your banking info on Roboform?

    Has this companies security ever been compromised?

    Thanks for your insight!

    • Janice, I don’t use this to save client information, just my own. Yes, I do have my banking info stored here. I’m very paranoid about online security, so it was a big leap of faith for me to do this.

      If you use the Roboform Everywhere product to store your info online (so it can be synced between devices) you’ll be creating a “master password” which is not stored online. Without that master password it will be very difficult to get your information IF there was a breakin. It is extremely secure. And as far as I know, there hasn’t been a breakin with them (while there has been with some other similar products).

      See these two web pages for more info:
      http://www.roboform.com/everywhere/security
      http://news.cnet.com/8301-1009_3-20061445-83.html

  • Thanks for all this information. Someone recommended Splash ID to me. Have you heard anything about Splash ID and/or do you know how Roboform compares with Splash ID?

    Thanks for your help!!

  • Other tools which you may add in the above list are webex, R-HUB web video conferencing servers etc. They are widely used by businesses worldwide and works well.

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