I have recently started at a new design agency and have had to become re-accustomed with productivity tools I use to speed up my interaction with the machine. During this time, I reexamined my choice of tools and found others that help me do specific things. I call this defining your workspace — carving out what you want from your environment rather than using the tools that are provided to you by default. I believe this also works universally, whether you’re a fine artist or a chef, you all should start with thinking how you want to work and find that way through various tools available to you. This thinking process, in my opinion, is vital to staying in control and maximizing output.

My Current Workspace

As a new media specialist, I work with new technologies to create compelling design. I work within the whole picture from the back-end server and database design of a website to the animation qualities of a video. I design using Windows and Mac applications for the desktop as well as mobile devices like the iPad, iPhone, and Android-based phones. My point is that my workshop is large and complex and it can be bothersome to manage and stay in control of. Below is a list of things I find useful to make sure I use my machine the way I want to:

1) Launchy

I love launchy. A friend of mine introduced it to me in school and I’ve fell in love ever since. It is the simplest and easiest way to access your machine and do simple yet vital processes like calculations. It’s available for Windows and now OSX, but I’ve heard QuickSilver is better on OSX.  If you haven’t heard about it, it’s basically a 1-box search engine for applications, shortcuts, and folders. It is customizable with themes and can look amazing when you hit the shortcuts that bring the window up. It also gives you quick access to search engines and basically makes it useless to have pinned applications and shortcuts on your desktop. Something like this is a programmers dream as programmers like to use the keyboard as much as possible to speed up how they use the machine.

2) Multi-clipboard

Copying and pasting is a necessity when dealing with data. Sometimes you need to copy and paste two or more things from one place to another. You could open one, copy, paste in other, and repeat. Or you can copy each and paste each using a multi-level clipboard like multi-clipboard. Anyways, I like the multilevel clipboard for programming purposes; it’s almost necessary. This particular application (free) is useful as it has shortcuts to bring it up and you can just click the entries you wish to enter to paste it. It also has a history of 25 and keeps images etc. in this array. If you do a lot of image data copying, it can slow your system down so be cautious too. I have the shortcut set to Alt + Ctrl + C :).

3) WAMPServer

If you don’t have a personal server on your computer, you should consider getting one. It is great for showing teammates, sharing files, publishing internally to your intranet, writing scripts for local use, and testing your website, applications, or whatever before pushing to the web.  WAMPServer is what I use on my Windows machine but there are numerous choices for everyone no matter what their setup is.

4) Notepad++

OK, this list is becoming more and more Windows specific. If you were on Mac, I’d say use TextMate. Otherwise, get Notepad++. Normal notepad is too archaic and unusable. I am still appalled that it has only one level of undo even in 7. I guess they just have it there as a quick alternative to Wordpad. Anyways, get Notepad++. It has plug-ins and can read files in different ways (I.e. code formatting). It loads quick and can integrate into your right click with “Open with Notepad++”. It has diff, reads multiple file formats, and supports various file encoding. It is a great text editor.

5) Customization

We all like stuff that looks cool. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t keep striving for polished design. The desktop is no different. Pick a background you like. Customize it to your delight. Use something like Window Blinds if you want a more customized experience. I personally stick with a nice background and a nice screen saver (I’m a fan of polar clock). This customization I think allows you to become more comfortable in your space (and applies to all other trades as well).

6) Space Sniffer

This is an interesting application that shows you visually how much space is being used on your hard disk. If you ever find yourself close to running out of space, this kind of application can be crucial in helping to resolve that problem.

7) Gmail Greasemonkey Scripts

Everyone is on email these days and how we use it can take up a lot of time during the day. For a better experience, I use various GMail Greasemonkey scripts. Here are a few that interest me:

  • Gmail Air Skin
  • Gmail Conversation Preview Mod
  • Gmail Macros
  • Gmail Contact List

8) File Renamer Basic

If you have ever worked with many files of similar types and naming, renaming them could be a hassle without a program like this one. I use this on occasion to do just that and it works splendidly.

9) … Suggestions?

Finally, this is by no means complete and thus this post will be an ongoing list of tools I find necessary (aside from the obvious Photoshop, etc.) to improve my interaction with the machine. If you have suggestions, please leave a comment and I’ll add it to the list. Please include a description of what it does too so I can see if it’s something I need too :).