13 Tech Tools to Add To Your Life In 2020

This is a list of the tech tools that I recommend adding to your life in 2020. There are many others I use just as much as these, but these are the ones that you might not have heard of (or might not have wanted to commit to) but which have all delighted me.

Screenshot of Setapp showing recommended and new apps in bundle
Screenshot of Setapp showing recommended and new apps in bundle
The Setapp app on my Mac suggests new apps I might find useful, and lets me find exactly what I need to do just about any task.

If you’re a Mac user, this is the best and easiest way of finding all the little bits of software you need, and in a single subscription. I thought it was just for non-nerds but quite the opposite: Their team tells me that nerds like me love it precisely because it saves us from spending our entire lives looking at different software tools. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve discovered through Setapp that are now part of my daily life. Mac

Screenshot of SpellTower word search game with word “insulated” selected.
Screenshot of SpellTower word search game with word “insulated” selected.
A killer move in SpellTower. <bows>

SpellTower is my new favorite mobile game. It’s a nice-sized word game, and you can only play the daily challenge twice, so it takes about fifteen or twenty minutes of each day, which is about the exact right amount of time: Enough to play once during the day while in a lineup or on a customer service hold, and then once again right before bed which is so relaxing! Plus it’s a word game so it feels vaguely virtuous. Mac, iOS, Android

screenshot of Transferwise interfacing showing USD to CAD exchange
screenshot of Transferwise interfacing showing USD to CAD exchange
The currency exchange process really is this easy (and reasonable) in Transferwise.

I am a cross-border banker, which makes life very complicated: I live in Canada but mostly do my work in the US, so exchange rates and conversion fees have a big impact on my net income. I looked at all kinds of options a few years ago before landing on Transferwise. It saves me a bundle: If I transferred $10k US right now, my bank would give me $12,722 CAD, but Transferwise gives me $12,884. Plus it’s eliminated the $20 wire transfer fees I used to pay on each incoming US electronic payment. Plus I can transfer dollars between currencies (virtually any!), hold money in multiple currencies to hedge my bets on exchange fluctuations, and easily get funds in and out. A dramatic improvement for anyone who works/lives in multiple countries/currencies. Note: Transferwise accounts aren’t insured like bank deposits, so if you worry about the potential collapse of the financial system, maybe don’t leave your cash sitting there for long periods of time. Web, iOS, Android

Lacona field converting “remind me to call the doctor at 10 am on Monday” to a timed reminder
Lacona field converting “remind me to call the doctor at 10 am on Monday” to a timed reminder
Clicking ctrl-spacebar brings up the Lacona entry window, which makes it easy for me to add a quick reminder, a quick calendar entry, or all kinds of other things I haven’t even explored yet!

Think of Lacona as Siri for your keyboard. It lets you interact with your Mac using natural language. I just hit ctrl-spacebar to get the Lacona entry box, where I can type something like “remind me to call the doctor tomorrow at 11 am”, and BAM! Lacona creates a reminder in my Reminders app that says “call the doctor” and is set to fire at 11 am on Jan 4th. I only use a tiny fraction of its features, but it’s enough to make Lacona an indispensable time saver and forgetting preventer. And it’s part of Setapp! Mac

Mobile screenshot of Parkopedia app showing map flags indiciating prices at various lots.
Mobile screenshot of Parkopedia app showing map flags indiciating prices at various lots.
Parkopedia maps lots and rates.

The Parkopedia app (also a website) lets you find the cheapest parking near any address or location. We used it this week to find a $30 spot one block from our hotel instead of paying $55/night for hotel parking. (Pro tip: Change the timing setting to see the 24-hour rate instead of the one-hour rate if you’re parking overnight.) It’s changed where I park in Vancouver, too. Web, iOS, Android

Screenshot of Metacritic new releases page with ratings for various TV shows.
Screenshot of Metacritic new releases page with ratings for various TV shows.
Metaacritic’s new releases page makes it easy to see which TV shows are worth investigating.

The secret to my compulsive and demanding TV schedule is Metacritic. Every month or so, I look at their run-down of the latest shows and bookmark or download anything that is rated 70 or higher (after first looking at the description page to see if it sounds like our kind of thing). You can do the same on their new releases page. Web

7. Renamer

Renamer screenshot showing numbers being added in front of each track name in a list of MP3 files.
Renamer screenshot showing numbers being added in front of each track name in a list of MP3 files.
Adding track numbers to file names with Renamer.

This is another Setapp winner, and I can’t tell you how handy it is. Renamer is a simple file changer that lets you rename a bunch of files at once, according to a single structure. I find it very useful for getting a whole bunch of files into the same naming structure before uploading them to my WordPress media library, and I also use it to renumber all my MP3s before loading them onto my swimming MP3 player, which is too dumb to do anything except play my tracks in numerical order, which SUCKS when you are listening to Broadway cast albums. Mac

Screenshot from A View From My Seat shows viewing angles at Moulin Rouge as photographed from different seats in the theater.
Screenshot from A View From My Seat shows viewing angles at Moulin Rouge as photographed from different seats in the theater.
Before you buy that ticket, get a glimpse of the view you will get from that seat (or one nearby).

Speaking of Broadway, my theater-going life has been transformed by the website A View From My Seat. If you’re trying to decide which seat to buy for a show, you can go on the website and see actual photos taken by actual people in the theater and at the show you’re going to see, so you can see what the view will look like from that seat. Usually you can find useful comments like “this seat was great, but I missed part of Act 2 because it happened in this particular part of the set that was just out of view”, or other relevant details related to that specific show. There are seat views for sports stadiums and concert venues too, so it’s not just for theater nerds (though I suspect we benefit most). Web, iOS, Android

Swimmer with H2OAudio Stream clipped to swim goggles on back of head.
Swimmer with H2OAudio Stream clipped to swim goggles on back of head.
The H2OAudio Stream is small enough to clip comfortably onto your goggles.

And speaking of swimming, I have tried many swimming music things and drowned two iPod nanos in supposedly waterpoof cases, but the H2O Stream is definitely the way to go if you want to listen to music while you swim. (If you have a new-ish, water resistant Apple Watch you might consider H2O’s Interval product instead, though my past experiences with waterproof nano cases make me a bit leery.) I find it isn’t really practical to listen to books — my own breathing kind of drowns them out — but when my Stream runs out of power after about 10 or 20 swims, I am reminded of how hard it is for me swim a long time without the tunes! Happily, it is easy to charge and only a tiny PITA to reload with fresh tracks (though it looks like the Stream 2 makes that easier). Buy from Amazon or Buy from H20

Photo of AirPods lying next to AirPods case.
Photo of AirPods lying next to AirPods case.
Yes, they really are magic.

I have been trying and discarding Bluetooth headphones since they first came out. They always sucked: They were a hassle to charge and a hassle to pair and a HUGE hassle to switch between devices. I finally gave into AirPods when I had a new MacBook and a new iPhone that take different kinds of headphones (which is PREPOSTEROUS) and OMG, the AirPods are the first time I’ve felt that Apple product magic since at least the first-gen iPad, and may even be my most favorite new Apple thing since the advent of the iPhone. If you’re an audiophile you might have higher standards (though I hear the hard-to-find AirPods Pro are a big leap forward in that regard), but for me the AMAZING thing is that they just magically switch between my iphone and my MacBook and even my TV with ZERO drama. Plus if I’m listening to an audiobook and someone starts talking to me, I pull out an AirPod and the book pauses, and then when we stop talking and I put my AirPod back in, my book resumes. Delightful! Buy from Amazon or Buy from Apple

Coda screenshot shows table of story ideas filtered on the word “productivity”.
Coda screenshot shows table of story ideas filtered on the word “productivity”.
This is just one piece of The Pitch Machine, the multi-part Coda doc I’ve built to track my story ideas, draft my story pitches, automatically concatenate my pitches into Gmail drafts and keep track of assignments.

Coda was my favorite thing in 2019 and it has changed my life and we kind of want to name our impending dog Coda. While I initially chose it as a tool for organizing my story ideas, pitches anad assignments, I now use it for all kinds of professional and personal purposes: project management, website development, vacation planning, Halloween costume design, and portfolio display. (You can see more examples here.) Think of it as what Google Drive should be, or what would happen if Google Drive and Evernote had a non-ugly baby, or maybe actually if Google Drive and IFTTT had a baby but hired Evernote to be the pregnancy surrogate. It does ALL THE THINGS and you can program it, even if you’re not a programmer! TLDR; if you know what VLOOKUP is, don’t bother reading more, I can guarantee you will love it. Web, iOS, Android

As a dedicated broswer for frequently used web apps, Station makes it easy to switch between Facebook, Google, Coda, Evernote and more.

I’ve been experimenting with dedicated web app containers: specialized browsers that hold all my frequently used web apps (Facebook, Google Drive, LinkedIn, Slack, Google Calendar, etc) so they don’t get lost in my Firefox or Chrome tabs (yes, I use both). I’ve been using Station because its main competitor, Shift, costs actual money. This is the one wildcard on the list — I’m still not totally sure if it’ll stay in my life forever — but so far it seems useful. Mac, Windows, Linux

Timing screenshot showing rules that automatically assign work time to “social media envy” project based on keywords.
Timing screenshot showing rules that automatically assign work time to “social media envy” project based on keywords.
Timing lets you create rules for each project you want to track, and automatically assigns your work time based on those rules.

If you are a Mac user and you have to track your time for work, Timing is a life-changing technology. (If you are not a Mac user but need to track your time, this is a great case for switching to the Mac: I haven’t found anything close to Timing for Windows users, and I’ve looked!) I have always sucked at using time-tracking apps and filling in timesheets, but Timing makes it SO EASY. I just set up rules for each of my projects, telling Timing that my work is for “ClientSmith Project” if it’s work I do on files in the folder /Documents/Projects/ClientSmith or in emails to/from someone with an email address @clientsmith or if the Google Drive file I’m working on contains ClientSmith in a title. (You can see all the rules options here.) Then I get an X-ray of my day and can see which portions I spent working on which projects. It makes it SO easy to reconstruct my workday or even a week at a time when I’m filling in my timesheet, and I can do so in great detail because I can see exactly what I was working on. This was my original reason for subscribing to Setapp and it has paid for my Setapp subscription many times over in billable hours I would not otherwise have known to bill. Mac

OK, those are the beloveds that spring to mind, but I’m sure there are more. What should I try next?

Author, Remote Inc: How To Thrive at Work…Wherever You Are. Tech speaker. Writer & data journalist for Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review & more.

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