If you have ever had to hand write a whole bunch of invitations then I am sure you have had the thought “There has to be an easier way”. Well, if you have Microsoft Office then you are in luck!
Here is how you can create and print your own personalized birthday party invitations in Word from a list of your friends compiled in Excel.
First, create your friends list in Microsoft Excel. It does not need to be anything fancy, just a straight list of names, but make sure you split the first and last names so you can address people by their first name if you want to add a personal note.
OK, the characters in Futurama aren’t really my friends, but you get the idea, heh.
Start creating a new file in Word and select the template you wish to use. Word will download any templates you select that you haven’t used before.
The template I selected allows you to print a folding invitation, so part of it is upside down. This feels a bit weird to edit but you can trust that it will come out ok on the printer!
Now go to the “Mailings” ribbon, press “Start Mail Merge”, and choose “Step by step mail merge wizard”
The mail merge side bar will open on step 1 of 6. Choose the type “Letters”, then click the link “Next” at the bottom
Now hit the radio button “Use the current document” and, again, click “Next”.
We want to “Use an existing list”, the list we created earlier in Excel, so browse for the file where you saved it on your machine and select it.
When you have browsed and found your Excel spreadsheet containing the names of your friends, choose the sheet from excel (sheet1), and click OK to load up the names into the Word “Mail Merge Recipients”.
If you look at the screen grab below, this is how Word sees our friends list. We could remove some of them if we don’t want to invite them to our party, by un-checking the box next to their name. Click OK when you are happy with the guest list.
To add a greeting line right before the invitation text, put your cursor above the text, and click “Greeting line” in the panel on the right of the screen.
You can customize the greeting line with various options and you get a preview before you commit yourself.
Before you complete your invites, you need to do some additional text modifications. There is some place holder text you do not want to publish (I don’t know who this “Stephanie” lady is, and it’s not 2004 anymore!). Click Next when you are done.
At this point you will see what the final product will look like. We can browse through the different invitations for each friend. If everything is all right, click “Next” again.
All that is left now is the final step, which is to print all the invitations!
Obviously we used an example that will be applicable to nearly everybody, but the same principle applies to all mail merges, from sales letters to other kinds of invitation.
Do you use Word mail merge? Please share your experiences in the comments …
This month Cogniview is celebrating the 4th Birthday of PDF2XL – our flagship PDF to Excel conversion product.
It’s not that we always had PDF2XL. You see, Cogniview started as an Enterprise software company that aimed to sell its Enterprise-Level software products to IT departments in large organizations.
We spent a lot of money on flamboyant marketing campaigns, well-dressed sales people and a variety of other time/money wasters.
After 4 years of struggles that resulted in a huge hole in our bank account, we woke up and realized we had to survive. So we turned to our customers who said: Make us a decent PDF to Excel converter – and that was how PDF2XL was born.
Since then, PDF2XL licenses were bought by more than 15,000 companies in a variety of industries all over the globe.
We are thankful to our customers, our employees, our partners and our blog readers who have contributed their time, energy and resources to help Cogniview achieve so many successes.
So, let the party begin!
And what’s a party without party gifts?
First a special Excel Productivity Guide that can help you save even more time when working with Excel.
We would be overjoyed if you would consider leaving PDF2XL a birthday greeting as a comment on this Blog post. The best 10 greetings will entitle their authors with a $15 Amazon Gift Card.
The best part is that the best greeting out of the top 10 will also win a Flip Mino camera!
So, we invite you to share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment on this post.
And once again – thank you!
Yoav Ezer, CEO
Cogniview Systems 2002
Adobe Acrobat is expensive, but that doesn’t mean you have to live a life without portable documents. What many people don’t realize is that PDF is a Federal Information Processing Standard, which means the specifications behind the format are widely published. Numerous developers take advantage of this fact and create programs that offer effective alternatives to Acrobat. Check out our list of these programs and take advantage of these tools that are full of some of the best PDF features and functions.
Downloadable/Online PDF Creators
These simply and emminently usable programs will allow you to quickly create your own PDFs.
- CutePDF: Create a PDF file from almost any printable document. CutePDF has an open SDK and doesn’t bog down their software with popups or watermarks.
- Adobe Online PDF Creator: The online version of the popular Adobe Acrobat.
- PDF reDirect: The freeware PDF reDirect offers loads of robust features, including PDF creation, previews, encryption, and more, that go a long way to replacing Adobe.
- CC (Free) PDF Converter: This printer driver can be used to create a PDF file from any printable Windows application.
- PDFCreator: Use PDFCreator to create PDFs from any printable program, as well as encrypt and autosave files based on predefined terms.
- Open Office: Open Office has a PDF export feature that allows you to define compression levels as well as handle thumbnails and hyperlinks.
- Scribus: Use this desktop publishing program to create interactive PDF presentations and forms.
- HylaFAX: HylaFAX is an open source fax server that can be configured to deliver in PDF.
Online and Desktop PDF Editors
PDF manipulation is easy and free with these tools.
- PDFedit: Use this editor to manipulate PDF documents, with an option to do your own scripting and plugins.
- Multivalent browser: Although not a pure editor, this browser allows for minimal editing in the form of creating annotations. In addition, it includes several command-line PDF specific tools which allow for things like merging, compression, and extraction.
- PDF to Excel: This Windows app allows you to quickly and easily convert PDF files to Excel. It comes with a free trial and also supports scanned PDF files.
If you need a simple way to open and read PDFs, look no further than these lightweight viewers.
- Sumatra PDF: This Windows PDF viewer is light and minimalistic. It’s even designed for portable use, so you can run it from a USB drive.
- FoxIt Reader: The Foxit PDF viewer is an all time favorite (especially of Digg users). And has a strong set of features (with a very competitive price )
- PalmPDF: Use this PDF viewer for Palm OS devices.
- Evince: Gnome users can take advantage of Evince, a document viewer that supports both PDF and PostScript documents.
- Preview: Mac OS X comes with Preview, an application that displays images and PDFs.
- ePDFView: This lightweight PDF viewer uses the GTK+ and Poppler libraries.
- Okular: This document viewer for KDE 4 supports PDF, PostScript, and lots more.
- Xpdf: Xpdf, available for nearly any Unix OS, is a PDF viewer that allows you to read encrypted PDFs, extract images, and more.
Make the PDF format compatible with HTML, XML, non-proprietary formats, and more using these tools.
- PythonPoint: Use this tool to create presentations that can be opened with any PDF viewer.
- AxPoint: Create PDF slideshows from XML using AxPoint.
- DocBook XSL Stylesheets: Create and store documents in a presentation-neutral form that can be published in HTML, PDF, and more.
- Unipage: Unipage turns any page, online or local, into an HTML file that can function as a portable document. Although Unipage is currently only available on Windows, additional OS and browser support is coming soon.
- KWord: KWord is a word processor for KOffice, and it offers a PDF import function.
- PDFlib: The PDFlib development tool offers a way for developers to PDF-enable software and create PDFs on their own server.
- Ghostscript: The Ghostscript software can interpret PostScript language and PDFs interchangeably and convert them to faster formats.
- Mozilla Archive Format: This extension can save pages in MHTML format, which creates a portable document of the page.
- Pstoedit: This program converts PostScript or PDF files to other output formats such as WOMF/EMF, PDF, DXF, CGM, and HTML.
Command Line Manipulation and Editing
These editors won’t be used on your desktop as you would use Acrobat or any other PDF application. Rather, you can use these offerings to build into your own apps so that you can automate the PDF creation and manipulation process.
- PJ: Etymon’s PJ, the parent of PJX, is one of the earliest open source attempts to make PDF’s more accessible. PJ is a class library in Java that allows parsing, manipulation, and generation of PDF files.
- PDFlib: The PDFlib development tool offers a way for developers to PDF-enable software and create PDFs on their own server.
- mbtPdfAsm: The mbtPdfAsm application is an in line tool for assembling and merging PDF files, extracting information from them, and updating PDF metadata.
- PDF::API2: PDF::API2 offers a “next generation” tool for creating and manipulating PDF files.
- PDF Clown: The PDF Clown is an open source library which includes capabilities such as document splitting, merging, and more.
- iText: iText is an ideal library for developers seeking to automate PDF creation and manipulation.
- FreeDist: This freeware distiller can convert files into PDF as well as compose multiple files to one PDF in a specific order.
- Pdftk: This toolkit offers command-line functionality for lots of features, like merging, form filling, and encryption.
PDF Creation Libraries, Scripts and Systems
If you’re a developer and you want to move beyond the capabilities of a desktop PDF creator, these libraries, scripts, and systems will help you incorporate PDF creation into your own applications.
- CUPS: The Common Unix Printing System (CUPS) is primarily a system for enabling a computer to act as a print server, but which has a robust feature that allows PDF exporting.
- Lout: This document formatting system, the implementation of which is referred to as Basser Lout, can be outputted in PDF, plain text, and more.
- Indexed PDF Creator: This tool automatically generates a keyword index for PDF documents which allows readers to quickly locate specific words and phrases in a document.
- Cairo: Cairo, a vector drawing library, allows creation of PDF documents.
- LyX: This document processor which is particularly popular amongst the scientific community offers PDF exporting.
- Fly2PDF: You can create PDF documents directly using this ActiveX library.
- PDF Creator Pilot: Use this library to create PDF files from popular programming languages like Visual Basic and ASP.
- XeTex: XeTex is a typesetting program that offers PDF creation.
- FPDF: Use FPDF to create PDF files with PHP. You don’t need PDFlib to use it.
- Inkscape: Inkscape is an open source vector drawing program that offers support for PDF exports.
- PdfTeX: This typesetting program can output PDF files and allows a number of features like links and tables of contents.
- ReportLab: This library offers a PDF generation solution specifically suited for web publishers, developers, and creative designers who are looking for a high-speed automated PDF generation.
- Tiny RML2PDF: You can create a PDF document from RML with this tool, giving it the appearance of a printed document.
- HTML_ToPDF: This PHP class allows users to convert HTML to PDF files quickly and easily.
Get even more function from your PDFs using these tools.
- Skim: For OS X, Skim is a PDF reader with features that allow you to take notes and highlight on any PDF file.
- Notepad Generator: This tool makes it easy to create a PDF notepad, and it’s fully customizable.
- PDFmap: PDFmap offers automated generation of interactive PDF maps.
With these tools, you should be able to go way beyond Adobe. Even better, you can do it for free and have the option to customize your experience using their open source status.
Are you working with Excel and want take your Excel skills to the next level? Or do you want to learn Excel and don’t know where to start? Check out these 70+ tips and shortcuts that will help you make Excel Magic.
Online tutorials & videos
The following online tutorials are mostly free and will teach you quite a bit about Excel. In fact they are better than some of the expensive classroom training courses.
- Online introduction to Excel: If you are just starting to use excel, this is the perfect resource for you. Here you will find dozens of audio courses that take a step by step approach to learning excel.
- DataPig Technologies: The guys from Data Pig Technologies made a comprehensive collection of videos that explain almost every aspect of Excel. From basic Excel concepts to VBA programming. And most of the videos are free!
- Online Charts Tutorial: Jon Peltier is an Excel-charting superstar. You can use his online tutorial to get you started on Excel charting and also as a reference.
- Basic Formulas Guide: This excellent tutorial will help you master Excel formulas in no time.
- Common uses for Formulas: This collection of samples will help you understand what can be achieved by using excel formulas.
- An introduction to Pivot Tables: The Pivot Table is an amazing tool, but people often shy away from it because Pivot Tables seem complicated. The first page of this PDF contains a clear description of Pivot Tables and how they can be used.
- Creating a Pivot table: A 7-minute video shows you how to create and work with Pivot Tables.
- Pivot Tables in Excel 2007: Excel 2007 Pivot Tables are much easier to use. If you use excel 2007, check out this slightly promotional yet excellent introduction to Pivot Tables.
- Practicing Pivot Tables: This step by step tutorial from Microsoft will help you sharpen your Pivot Table skills.
- Microsoft Excel help / 2007: When all else fails, Microsoft Excel Help is a good source to try.
In order to harness the full power of Excel, shell out a couple of book bucks. The following books are packed with information and real-world know-how.
General Excel Books
- Excel Bible 2003 / 2007 version: The “Excel Bible” was written by the renowned Excel expert, John Walkenbach. It explains everything from basic formulas and functions to data validation, and Excel programming. If you have only $30 to spend on Excel training, buy this book.
- Excel Charts: This book is a comprehensive, yet easy to understand, guide to Excel charting. It’s a useful resource for both beginner and experienced excel users.
- Excel Formulas: Formulas are the lifeblood of spreadsheets and “Excel Formulas” from John Walkenbach will teach you everything about them. This book covers all things formula, from custom worksheet functions to financials formulas and more.
- Pivot Tables and data analysis / 2007 version: One of the most useful yet most feared features in Excel… the Pivot Table, is tackled gracefully by Bill Jelen (aka Mr. Excel) and Michael Alexander. Well worth the read.
- Excel Programming: By far, the best guide to Excel programming. The book also outlines a programming methodology for Excel. The only downside to this book is that it assumes a bit of programming knowledge.
- Report programming with Excel: If you plan to build a reporting system based on excel, this is the book for you. It shows how to use Excel to build a reporting/data analysis environment and shows how to properly work with SQL databases.
Excel Tips and case studies
- Excel case studies: While not for the beginner, this book contains valuable, real-world advice on how to make Fxcel do what you want it to do. Make sure you check out the “Making things look good” chapter.
- Excel Tips: A highly recommended Excel tip book from Mr. Spreadsheet himself.
- Some more Excel Tips: A compendium of Excel tips. This is not the first book you should own, but I often find that I return to this book when I’m stuck.
- This isn’t Excel it’s Magic: Bob Umlas is probably the foremost expert on formulas. The things this guy does with formulas will make your hair stand on end. If you are serious about Excel, than buy this book.
Specialized Excel books
- Principals of finance with Excel: This highly recommended book will help you understand the applicability of Excel in financial environments. It is loaded with real world examples and can help both the financial expert and the techie.
- Statistical Analysis with Excel: Using plain English and real-life examples, this book provides information that helps with statistical analysis. The book covers samples and normal distributions, probabilities and related distributions, trends and correlations, as well as statistical terms like median vs. mean, margin of error, standard deviation, permutations, and correlations.
- Business Analysis with Excel: Running a business is complicated. Understanding issues like cost of goods, inventory, sales forecast, tax statements is crucial to success. Business analysis with Excel explains these issues and shows how to tackle them using Excel.
- Sales Forecasting with Excel: This book shows you how to use Microsoft Excel, to predict trends and future sales based on… numbers. Use data about the past to forecast the future. Excel provides all sorts of tools to help you do that, and this book shows you how to use them.
- Excel for Chemists: While most of this book is a general introduction to Excel, it is filled with Chemistry oriented examples. The book also contains a complete chapter that shows how Excel can assist chemists in research.
Forums, News Groups and Mailing Lists
No matter how tough or silly your question is, the experts in the following sites/mailing lists will answer it. They will do it for free and usually within a couple of hours. Don’t be shy. Join these communities and ask.
Note: The online Excel community is one of the nicest communities that I have ever had the pleasure of joining.
- Mailing Lists: Wow. This is the jackpot. The Excel-G mailing list is monitored by the best Excel experts in the world. They answer every question. If you post an interesting enough problem these Excel gurus will compete among themselves to answer first and give the most elegant solution.
- Mr. Excel Message Boards: A very friendly forum whose members will usually provide you with an answer within 3-5 hours. A bunch of Microsoft MVPs (including the Mr. Excel gang) monitor the forums. And, of course, it has a pure html interface which makes it easier to use.
- Excel News Groups: If you prefer USENET groups to mailing lists or Message boards, than you’ll love the Microsoft Excel groups. Most questions asked will be answered within 12 hours.
- ExcelForum.com: ExcelForum.com provides a web interface to the Excel News groups. If you do not want to be bothered with the USENET interface, this site will is a useful alternative.
Some Excel projects are too big/difficult to tackle alone. Here is a (short) list of some of the best hired guns in the Excel Field (If you know other top-notch Excel experts, drop a link to their site in the comments).
- Jon Peltier: If you have a charting project/problem, I would recommend working with Jon. Jon brings to the table over 20 years of Excel experience A PhD from MIT and is a Microsoft Excel MVP.
- Chip Pearson: Mr. Pearson is a renowned Excel expert and while his fees are not low, he is one of the best. If you need an urgent solution or have a critical project, I would consider asking Chip for help.
- Mr. Excel Consulting Services: The Mr. Excel team is probably the largest Excel consultancy in the world. Their ranks include numerous excel MVPs and they have an amazing amount of Excel Knowledge.
- JMT Consulting: A consulting service from two respected Excel MVPs: Masaru Kaji and Andrew Engwirda.
Excel Blogs and Tip Sites
Tips sites and Excel blogs will usually send you a daily Excel tip. Many Excel professionals register to these sites and read the daily tips to keep their Excel skills sharp. They also serve as repositories for thousands of Excel case studies.
- Daily Dose of Excel: A blog managed by Dick Kusleika and authored by many Excel Experts and MVPs. “Daily Dose” is updated several times a week and profiles tips, tricks and news from the excel Industry. Highly recommended!
- ExcelTip.com: Over the years ExcelTip amassed hundreds of tips and solutions to real world problems. You can either use the categories or the search function to find the information you want. You can also register to a tips newsletter. The site is managed by Joseph Rubin.
- Official Microsoft 2007 Blog: The Official Excel Blog. Written by the Excel product managers/programmers. It contains a lot of information and how-to articles about Excel. The level of articles on this blog varies from “useful to everyone” to “only for hardcore excel services programmers.”
- Vital News Excel Tips: Very similar to ExcelTip, this site contains hundreds of tips sorted into categories and offers a weekly newsletter.
- Chip Pearson Newsletter: A new service from Chip Pearson. Each issue of this newsletter contains a thorough examination of a technique or of an Excel function. For those of you that wish to gain deep knowledge of Excel, this is an excellent resource.
- Excel User: Excel User contains a “Visitor Question” section and many high quality articles. This site was created and maintained by Charles Kyd.
- Andrew’s Excel Tips: Andrew Engwirda writes one of the best Excel blogs. What separates Andrew from the flock is his vast amount of Excel and programming experience.
- Codswallop: Although we are not a strictly an Excel-centered blog, we plan to bring a lot of Excel goodies in near future. Don’t hesitate … subscribe now!
- Smurf On Spreadsheets: Simon Murphy is an Excel programming master. If you are into Excel Programming, this blog is perfect for you.
- The Ken Puls Blog: Ken’s blog is neither Excel centered nor frequently updated. However, when Ken does blog about Excel, it’s pure gold. Definitely worth checking out.
- XL Dennis: Dennis Wallentin writes about developing Excel centered solutions with the .Net framework.
- Excel Hero: Daniel Ferry’s blog is full of Excel tips and advanced topics intended to inspire you and make you the Excel Hero at your workplace.
Templates can be a huge time saver and odds are that the spreadsheet you are trying to build already exists. We’ve divided Microsoft’s huge template repository into useful categories so you’ll be able to find the right template for you.
Business Related Templates
- Budget Templates: Whether you are managing your personal budget, your Wedding budget or your gardening budget, you’ll find a template for it here.
- Balance Sheets: You can find almost any kind of balance sheet here.
- Expense Reports: Unexpected expenses can have a nasty effect on your bottom line. Use these templates to record and control expenses (including traveling expenses).
- Business Forms: Here you can find all types of different forms, from a traveling advance request form to a car mileage log.
- Inventory Templates: Manage and track you inventory with these templates.
- Invoices, Work Orders, Packing Slips: This is a real time saver. Whether you work in retail or services, you will find the right invoice/work order template here.
- Purchase Orders: Not only will these templates help you get the exact the items you need on time and delivered to the right place, they also come in a variety of colors.
- Receipts: A variety of receipt templates.
- Time Sheets: Use these templates to track employee work time. You can choose a template that will sum the employee and overall working hours on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis.
- All kinds of Reports: Different financial and management reports.
Excel is the ultimate killer app. But there are cases where even Excel needs a little help. Here are some Excel Add-ins that can double your effectivness.
- Asap Utilities: Probably the best known Excel productivity add-in. Asap utilities contains advance selection options, advanced browsing capabilities, better formula handling and much more.
- Send Mail: This cool little freebie from Ron de Bruin that allows you to send an email with the contents of a workbook, a single sheet or even a selection area.
- Excel Sentry: Use the Excel Sentry to prevent your business data from falling into the competition’s hands. The Excel sentry allows you to encrypt your spreadsheet in such a way that only you or your employees/coworkers can use it.
- XL Statistics: A free statistics package that expands the existing Excel functionality.
- Palo: A free (open source) OLAP server for excel. On-line Analytical Processing servers usually cost hundreds of thousands and sometimes even millions of dollars. Jedox (the company that made Palo) is giving it away. Definitely worth checking out.
- PDF to Excel: One of the most stubborn sources of data for Excel is PDF files. Whether they are scanned or not, PDF2XL will extract the data for you.
- FlorenceSoft: This cool little app allows you to easily find the differences between two different sheets.
- Excel Password Remover: Do you have a terribly important sheet you encrypted and then forgot the password? The Excel Password remover is your locksmith.
- Tree Plan: A set of data analysis tools from Mike Middleton.
- DPlot: Create 2D and 3D graphs and plots with DPlot. Especially suited for Engineers and scientist that need expanded charting and plotting functionality. DPlot contains unique chart types such as, the Polar Chart, The triangle plot and more.
- DigDB: Another well known Microsoft Excel productivity add-in.
Additional Excel Resources
- Excel User Conference: The Excel user Conference, run by Daemon Longworth (MVP), is by far the best venue to advance you Excel skills. You will learn high-end Excel tips and tricks from the best Excel experts (all the instructors are Microsoft MVPs). Plus, everyone is extremely friendly and you’ll get a bunch of laughs and even a couple of beers.
- Charts by Jorge Camoes: A site dedicated to Excel charts and charts add-ins. Also runs a chart centered blog.
- Excel funny videos: Who said Excel wasn’t fun?
- Excel games: And to top the list. I present Excel… the gaming platform.
Now it’s time to Excel.
Freelancer’s Hyper-Drive: 131 Productivity Boosters for Email, Instant Messaging, Word, Excel, and More
Freelancers often have to wear many hats: accountant, boss, quality control, marketing department, and beyond, which can leave you feeling like there’s just not enough time in the day to do everything you’d like. Fortunately, there are a number of tools designed to help you speed up the process of working. Check out these productivity boosters for documents, communications, and more.
Email itself is a productivity tool, but it often turns into a monster task that must be tackled. These tools will help you tame your inbox.
- ClearContext: If you have a hard time getting through email you’d rather ignore to get to the good stuff, ClearContext is about to make your life a lot easier. This information management system prioritizes your email, organizing it and assigning color codes. You’ll be able to identify your most important senders and let newsletters or less important senders get pushed down below your VIPs.
- Mail Templates: If you often reply to a number of emails on on the same few subjects, consider creating template responses for each one. You’ll save time and be consistent.
- copy2calendar: Appointment setting doesn’t have to be a time consuming process. With copy2calendar, you can automatically convert text containing appointment information into calendar entries.
- Actioneer: Use actioneer to speed up your Outlook actions like appointments, tasks, contacts, and mail messages.
- TimeToMeet: Arrange meetings quickly in Google, iCal, or Outlook using this easy program.
- Conversation Preview: Gmail users can view the first few lines of an email with Conversation Preview, even while they’re still in the message list view.
- iGTD: Mac users can take advantage of iGTD, a tool that organizes tasks straight out of your inbox and saves a link to the original email.
- CSV Exporter: Use CSV Exporter to import your address book contacts into Gmail.
- FlipMail: For email on the go, sign up with Teleflip’s FlipMail, a service that forwards email as a text message to your phone.
- Chilibase: Don’t spend 20 minutes trying to find that email Bob sent a month ago. Use Chilibase to see complete conversations from your contacts with a single click.
- l8r: If you’re working at 2AM but prefer that your client thinks you keep normal hours, you can use l8r to delay sending messages until a specified time. You can also use it to schedule emails that you know you’ll send, like reminders.
- SpamSieve: No one likes spam, especially when you have to wade through it to get to important emails. Combat this junk mail with SpamSieve, a program that zaps spam out of your inbox.
- Copernic Summarizer: If you find yourself wishing that your email correspondents would just get to the point, Copernic can lend you a helping hand. This tool summarizes mail messages and other documents, highlighting key concepts and sentences.
- Saved Searches: Check out this user script that allows you to save searches you’ll need to access frequently.
- Gmail Loader: If you’ve switched to Gmail, but still need to access your archives without going back and forth to your old email provider, check out Gmail Loader. It imports existing emails to your Gmail inbox so you’ll have easy access.
- Office Outlook Forum: Get quick answers to your pressing Outlook questions on this forum.
- emailStripper: To quickly get rid of email clutter that accumulates in long back-and-forth conversations, use emailStripper. Just paste your email into the tool, and it will clean up all extraneous characters.
- MailTags 2.0: This plugin for Mail.app allows you to add keywords and notes to your messages for quick retrieval.
- GmailThis: Send web pages quickly to anyone using GmailThis. The tool makes it easy to instantly send a message with a URL attached through Gmail.
- Getting Things Done Add-in: Productivity Leader David Allen has created an add-in that allows you to better accomplish his recommended workflow methodology.
- Microsoft Office Outlook Team Blog: Find out how to improve formatting, get rid of junk mail, organize, and more by reading the MSDN Outlook blog.
- Gmail Manager Add-on: Firefox users can take advantage of this Gmail add-on that displays email data at the bottom of your browser. This tool can show information from multiple Gmail accounts and is easy to customize.
- 10 Minute Mail: Save your real email for clients and other important people with 10 Minute Mail. This service allows you to sign up for a temporary email address that’s great for forums and other sign up forms that you think might sell your address to spammers.
- AmikaFreedom: Receiving email on your mobile device is convenient, but sometimes, you’re hit with an information overload. Use AmikaFreedom to trigger emails to forward to your wireless device when specified key words and phrases are used.
- Destroy beacons: Beacons are small images embedded in spam emails that, when downloaded by your email client, let spammers know they’ve got a hit. Avoid advertising your email in this way by blocking images from anyone not in your address book.
- Take Back Your Life Add-in: Get organized with templates, appointment prompts, and more functionality tools from Sally McGhee.
- Fuser: Use Fuser to consolidate your email accounts into one central place.
- ActiveWords: If you hate switching back and forth from Word to Outlook just to look up a contact, you’ll love ActiveWords. This tool makes Outlook “hot” in any Windows application, which allows you to look up contacts from a number of different programs.
IMs are a convenient communication tool, and there are a number of ways to improve their functionality. Read on to find out how you can share documents, schedule meetings, and send SMS messages using IMs.
- Acronyms: Use texting and chatroom acronyms to get your point across in fewer keystrokes. Of course, remember your audience: if you’re speaking to a client, you’ll need to tone down on the netspeak.
- Meebo: Share files with your contacts using Meebo’s IM.
- IMified: Access lots of web apps from one place using IMified.
- TodoBot: By setting up your own TodoBot, you can IM to do list items to yourself.
- Gaim: Use Gaim to chat on a number of instant messaging platforms at the same time.
- MyCyberTwin: Let a chatbot answer your IMs while you’re away.
- gTalk Sidebar: Firefox users can add on Google Talk as a sidebar, so you can chat while surfing web pages.
- AOL Mobile: With AOL Mobile, you can send a text message to SMS-enabled phones using the AOL Instant Messenger.
- Merge IM Contacts: Check out Lifehacker’s lowdown on how to get your AIM, MSN, Yahoo! and other contacts on Google Talk.
For most users, Word is a fairly simple tool to use, but when you’re drowning in lots of documents, revisions, and lots of editing, it can be a mess. Clean it up with these Word boosters.
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We all have our own unique ways of working. A large part of any persons individual productivity is the tools they use. Here is my top 10 Must Have Tools (and why), please add yours in the comments!
- Firefox – I started out with Mosaic, then Netscape. For years I was an Internet Explorer user but then Microsoft dropped the ball and the Mozilla team ran with it. Firefox is stable, extensible and fast enough. One of the killer features that made me defect was the tabbed browsing. Of course most web browsers now have that feature. Firefox plus Greasemonkey takes an already rockin’ browser into a world of its own.
- ScribeFire – One of my main jobs is writing on blogs. This means lots of linking, bookmarking, making notes and of course the actual writing. I would say using Scribefire I can do it all in half the time. Scribefire is a Firefox plugin that provides blogging tools including a centralized word-like text editing interface.
- Skype – Many of my calls are long distance as it is rare for me to have a client in the same country as I live. Skype makes these calls free or much cheaper and allows me to roam around and not be tied to a land-line. With my trusty headset I might look like a geek but I can hear and be heard right across the globe.
- Fastmail – While many people swear by the free Google GMail my web email service of choice is the paid service at Fastmail. The main advantage is as well as having a web client you can also access your email using imap, allowing me to sync my desktop client and see in a web browser exactly the same email store.
- WebDav – Talking of web based storage, a fantastic way to get your files on the go is WebDav. Drag and drop your files and folders just like you were working locally. Check out your web host to see if this is an option.
- SSH – This is an extremely nerdy choice but it has been a life saver in the past. SSH allows you a secure command line login to your remote server. On Windows of course you can use Remote Desktop, and other platforms will have VNC, but when the proverbial hits the fan you can rely on SSH and old school commands to get the job done.
- WordPress – I love WordPress, I wouldn’t recommend any other blogging platform for the individual or small team. But WordPress can be so much more than a blog! Use it for publishing your corporate website, internal project documentation, team collaboration, making notes, bookmarking, even as a discussion platform.
- Photoshop – There are cheaper options. I will probably never use even half the features. Photoshop still rules. There is little it can’t do, and if you wander into any design studio you can be sure there will be at least one machine running it. Productivity means being able to do what you need to do well and fast. Once you have learned it, Photoshop makes that happen for working with images.
- BlogBridge – I need my RSS feeds and I need them with me. While many people can argue in favor of their fave web clients I keep returning to BlogBridge happily time after time. It is a Java based desktop application so works wherever Java works and stores your feeds offline so you can read on the train, in the air or bus home.
- Flickr – Flickr for me is more than just an online photo gallery, it is a photography archive, a community and a source of royalty-free images (Creative Commons Licensed pics). It’s useful, fun and a constant source of education.
OK, I have shown you my must-have tools, what do you use on a daily basis and why? Let me know in the comments …
Project management has been given a huge boost by internet tools. The biggest improvements for me came from the fact we can collaborate so easily across geography, time zones and computing platforms.
Now though we have grown with the web technologies to the point where we have tailor-made services plus innovative ways of using other tools that work very well but were never intended to be used that way.
The most prominent of these latter categories of tools are blogs. Blogs are easy to set up and use, can be secured with simple password protection or hosted behind corporate firewalls.
Check out these ways blogs might be used for project management:
- Progress Report Blogs – A large part of project management is communication, and blogs are an obvious way of communicating with a project team. Team members can follow progress by visiting the blog, subscribing via RSS or with email updates. Messages can be categorized, so for example a programmer can take note of just the technical bulletins and requirements updates. This opt-in method has the benefit people are not barraged by unwanted and distracting emails.
- Discussion Blogs – If feedback or a consensus is required the comment area can be called into play. This has the added benefit of centralizing discussions with an audit trail; you can see who said what and when.
- File Store Repository – Upload files to share with the team. Keep all versions up to date, especially useful when items are being revised and there could be many versions to keep track of. This could be updated project plans, specs, software, contracts, timesheets …
- Multi-Media Knowledge Base – Once you are using the web you have all the web has to offer to utilize. Rather than all text all the time, why not demonstrate and explain using audio, video, and interactivity? For example you might deploy a new software release and explain how it works with a video screen cast walk-through.
- Team Blogs – Most blogging software will allow you to register users and give them appropriate permissions. The simplest permission you will want to give is the ability to comment. Thinking further though you might want them to post their own content. Each team member could then be given their own category or even own blog, allowing each to provide progress reports and gather feedback on their own tasks and requirements. Rather than having lengthy progress meetings and conference calls you could minimize the need by checking all the feeds.
- Documentation Blog – A lot of knowledge can go astray in a large project, particularly when files and notes are spread over a large team, in different systems, random chats, ad-hoc emails, and worse, between team members ears. Using a central blog can aggregate all this knowledge and an easy to search and back up store. Using the power of categories and tags it can all be organised and retrieved by any interested party.
- RFC Blog – One challenge that can quickly get out of hand in larger projects is runaway changes. You get stopped in the halls for a chat, think “that’s only a small request, sure.” and next thing you know there are cascading changes erupting all over the project. Use your blog as a Change Request Log. As changes come in they are posted up on the blog for all to see. Before any actions all members get to investigate possible knock-on effects before sign off.
Blogs are such an easy tool to deploy, and are so flexible, they can be brought into projects and used tactically without much bother. Add to this the extensibility, the plugin architecture and easy customization, they can be a real boon to many projects.
These are the roles I can related about using blogs in a project but there might well be uses I have missed. What other uses can you think of? Are there any downsides? Do you have good links for further reading? Let me know in the comments …
Few things are more irritating than having to deal with a format that is incompatible with what you need it to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s a media file, document, or shoe size; it’s just plain frustrating. To make your life easier, check out this list of 101 tools that will allow you to convert just about anything.
|An important message: This list of converters took a very long time to prepare and I hope that it will be of use to you. If you find it useful and would like us to prepare more lists like this, please take a look at our commercial software. It’s not suited for anyone, but if you work in a business environment and receive a lot of data in PDF format then our PDF to Excel distiller might be just what you are looking for. Thank you.|
There are lots of specialized tools out there, but sometimes you just need one good tool to get the job done. These mega tools are great for general conversions.
- Zamzar: Zamzar does all sorts of conversions, ranging from documents and images to music and video. In addition to its versatility, this tool boasts the ability to do all of your conversions without downloading software.
- SUPER: This aptly-named tool offers a simple and efficient way to convert any multimedia file to any format you need. You won’t need to download any additional codecs or deal with any time or function limitations.
- CZ Document Converter: CZ Document Converter is a powerful batch document converter. It supports every popular document file you may need, including PDF, HTML, DOC, XLS, and WPS.
- Media Convert: This tool is another great all-around converter. It can take files from your computer or a webserver and convert them into pretty much any format. The tool is web based and full of versatility.
- Image Converter Plus: Image Converter Plus can professionally convert graphic files, photos, drafts, finance documents, and any image format. It supports more than 120 graphics formats and more than 800 dialects of these formats. You can convert files in a batch while also altering and enhancing images.
- Quad-Lock Unit Converter: The Quad-Lock Unit Converter does conversions for more than 650 units. With this all-inclusive library, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for.
If you use an MP3 player, download movies, or even just rip CDs, there’s a good chance you’ve had to deal with the frustration of having a format that’s incompatible with your device or software. These tools will make it all better.
- Audacity: Audacity is a great tool that can be used to convert tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs. Check out their site to see what else this audio powerhouse can do.
- RM to MP3 Converter: If you’ve got a bunch of Real Media files, but want to be able to listen to them on other players, check out this tool. It will convert RM files to MP3s individually or in batches. You can even save them with space-efficient VBR.
- OSS Audio Converter: This tool is an audio format converter with a high level of customization. Using the OSS Audio Converter, you can select the coding method for VBR compression, fine-tune settings, and choose a range of frequencies to filter.
- All Converter: Use All Converter to switch your files between popular formats like MP3, APE, AAC and many more. Files can be converted in batches, even if they’re not the same media or convert-to type.
- Audio Converter: Audio Converter has lots of formats for conversion, including AIFF, Vorbis OFF, MP3 and more. You can convert files one by one or do them in batches, all while editing options like volume normalization and silence removal.
- Intelliscore Polyphonic WAV to MIDI Converter: With IntelliScore, you can convert MP3, WAV, and WMA files to MIDI. It has lots of additional features, like vocal track removal and sheet music.
- Free WMA to MP3 Converter: With this tool, you can take any Windows Media file and turn it into an MP3 that can be used with a variety of different players.
- Zune Multi-Extension Support Mod: With this hack, Zune users can covert formats that the player doesn’t normally recognize, like AAC, DVR-MS and MPEG.
- FreeRIP: This freeware application allows users to convert files between MP3, FLAC, WAV and more.
- dBpoweramp Music Converter: The dBpoweramp can be used to rip CDs and convert audio files to pretty much any format you might need. This can all be done without altering tags.
- Acoustica MP3 to Wave Converter Plus: Acoustica’s converter makes it easy to convert MP3 files to WAVs so that you can create custom CDs or edit audio.
- Direct Audio Converter and CD Ripper: Music lovers can use this tool to convert music files to popular formats while keeping folder structures and tags intact.
- Koyote: This tool can covert FLV, DIVX, AVI and other formats to an iPod video format. That means you can download YouTube videos and put them directly on your video iPod.
- MediaCell Blackberry Video Converter: If you want to view videos on your Blackberry, check out this tool. It converts all popular video files to Blackberry video while maintaining a high standard of quality.
- Videora: With Videora, you can convert pretty much any video file into an iPod format. The tool includes an auto-resize feature that chooses the best resolution for you.
- VidDownloader: This simple tool allows users to save streaming video and convert then to DivX AVIs.
- Avi2Dvd: Avi2Dvd is a freeware program that converts AVI files to a format that works for DVDs, VCDs, and SVCDs.
- iSquint: Mac iPod users who want a way to convert videos to something that works for their device will be happy to find iSquint. This tool converts videos to the correct format and also optimizes their resolution.
- Any Video Converter: Using AVC, you can convert any video format to any other video format. The tool supports AVI, DIVX, FLV and more. You can create custom profiles that for devices like the iPod and PSP.
- Tube Sock: Tube Sock is for Mac OSX users who want to download, convert, and copy YouTube videos to their iPod, Mac, or PSP.
- Zune TVWatcher: Use this tool to convert recorded TV shows to a Zune-ready format.
- Grand Theft Auto Mission Converter: Use the Grand Theft Auto Mission Converter to convert GTA1′s INI mission to GTA2′s .MIS mission.
- Mplayer: Mplayer is an open-source video player, but it also has an interface called mencoder that allows users to convert between lots of formats, including TiVo’s tystream.
- Lathe: With Lathe, you can convert TiVo files to play on a variety of media devices, including Archos, PDAs, smartphones, and more.
- Hey!Watch: You can upload videos from your hard drive or online video sites to Hey!Watch, then use the tool to convert the files to pretty much any format you’d like.
- PodTube: Mac YouTube enthusiasts will love the convenience of PodTube. It allows users to point to a URL, then let the program get to work by downloading, converting and adding the file to your iTunes library.
- iTube: iTube is just like PodTube, but it’s made for Windows users.
- HandBrake: HandBrake is a free, open source application that rips DVDs to a number of different formats, including those supported by Apple TV, PS3, Quicktime, and more.
- MediaCoder: MediaCoder is a batch media transcoder. It can be used to convert to and from different formats as well as compress files.
Graphic designers, professional photographers, and point and shoot enthusiasts can all benefit from using these easy image conversion tools.
- Photo To Sketch: This program takes your photographs and converts them into black and white sketches or watercolor paintings. Using this functionality, you can make your own coloring book.
- Image Thumbnailer and Converter: Image Thumbnailer and Converter makes it easy to create thumbnail images, convert formats, adjust sizes, set folders, and create web pages automatically.
- GIMP: The GNU Image Manipulation Program is a great program for easily changing the format of images.
- Smart Converter: This multipurpose program allows users to convert, view and edit images, even in batch mode. You can apply over 100 image effects, watermarks, and use loads of supported formats.
- Easy Graphic Converter: Convert image files to lots of different formats while at the same time taking advantage of features like previews, 50 different effects and filters, simple editing and more.
- Advanced Batch Converter: Use Advanced Batch Converter to change the format of multiple graphics at once. You’ll also be able to do minor editing. This program supports about 90 file formats.
- Image Icon Converter: Convert images of various formats into Windows icons using the Image Icon Converter. You can also use this program to convert icons into popular image files and do basic editing.
- Image Converter .EXE: Take things a step further with Image Converter .EXE. This tool allows you to change the format of multiple files at once, plus apply affects to the files at the same time.
These tools make it easy to read and print all sorts of documents, so you can avoid having a difficult discussion with your boss about why you just can’t open his MS Works 1996 file.
- Adobe Online PDF creator: For quick PDF conversions, check out the official Adobe online PDF Creator. This tool converts a number of different formats, including DOC, JPG, WMF and more.
- ExpressPDF: If you need a high quality PDF output in a hurry, consider using ExpressPDF. Users can upload documents, choose an output quality, then receive an email with the new PDF. This is all done without downloading any software, so it’s great if you’re in a pinch on a borrowed computer.
- CC PDF Converter: Install this tool as a printer subsystem. It will enable you to print pretty much from any Windows application to a professional quality PDF document. It will also allow you to set the copyright terms for your PDF file.
- Scan to PDF: ScanToPDF is a simple tool that allows you to convert your paper based documents into PDFs. Just insert the pages into your scanner, press the scanning button and the paper document will be converted into a PDF file.
- Cogniview’s PDF to Excel Converter: If you get a lot of numerical data you need for your work in PDF format, Cogniview’s PDF to Excel Conversion tool is the best solution for you. Open your PDF file, mark the data you need and it will be instantly pasted into an excel spreadsheet.
- Solid Converter PDF to Word: With the Solid PDF Converter, you can open up PDF files in Word and edit text in the original document. Solid PDF will identify and maintain the formatting of the original document (tables, bullets and so on) which makes it perfectly suited for PDF to word conversion.
- Easy PDF Converter: The Easy PDF Converter tool, like many others, converts various document formats to PDF. What sets this program apart is its ability to convert an entire batch of files in one click, eliminating the need for lots of user input.
- PDF Converter Professional: Using PDF Converter Professional, you can convert static PDF files into fillable forms.
- PDF to Image Converter: You can convert PDF files to lots of popular image formats using PDF Image Converter. The program will convert detailed elements like text, color, images, ellipses, and more.
- RSS 2 PDF: Use this tool to convert your RSS or OPML newsfeed into a PDF file quickly. It creates a readable, formatted file that you can view offline.
- Docx Converter: The Docx Converter makes it easy to read Word 2007 files without having to upgrade your software. It extracts text and formatting from DOCX files and turns them into simple HTML files. You can even download their desktop widget for the tool.
- 3A PDF to Word Batch Converter: If you have a PDF file that needs text editing, you may have a hard time getting it to do what you want. Use the 3A PDF to Word Batch Converter to convert PDF documents into Microsoft Word, where you’ll be able to edit as much as you like.
- WordFast: This language translation tool can be used on any language that’s supported by Microsoft Word. You can also use it with external dictionaries and machine translation engines.
- MS Works Converter: With this converter, you can turn Microsoft Works files into Excel files, even in batches.
- Doc to Image Converter: This simple converter allows users to save Microsoft Word files as image file formats including JPEG, TIFF, BMP and more.
- Babel Fish: If you’re looking for a light, web-based translator, Babel Fish is for you. The translations aren’t always perfect, but you should be able to get a good idea of what’s being said. You can translate a block of text or an entire webpage.
- Excel to PDF Converter: This spreadsheet converter is very simple. All you do is select “Save as PDF” in Excel, and the converter will create a document that can be read by PDF viewers.
- XLS Converter: You can use this converter to take data from Excel files and turn them into formats like HTML, TXT, and CSV. It can be run in command-line mode, plus Excel isn’t required for it to work.
- ABC Amber Excel Converter: With the ABC Amber Excel Converter, you can turn Excel files into PDF, HTML, RTF, DOC and more, all without the use of the MS Excel program. This tool offers command line support and batch conversion as well.
- Presentation to Video Converter: If you’re tired of manually clicking through PowerPoint slides during presentations, you can convert them into a video that eliminates the need for your interaction.
- Convert PowerPoint: With Convert PowerPoint, you can turn PPT files into PDF, HTM, TXT and more. This application can be run on a command line.
- Universal Document Converter: Use this converter as a virtual printer to export any document to a raster PDF or image file. Doing so ensures that your document will be change-protected and viewed accurately. Universal Document Converter works with Adobe PDF, PowerPoint, AutoCAD and more.
- AutoDWG DWG to PDF Converter: If you’ve been sent an AutoCAD drawing, but don’t have the software to open it, use this program to view it as a PDF. It has lots of options, including merged files and batch creation.
- DWG2Image Converter: Convert DWG and DXF files to popular image files like BMP and JPG using the DWG2Image Converter. This program works without the use of AutoCAD.
- Any DWG: Any DWG has lots of specialized tools that allow you to convert between lots of file formats, including DWG, PDF, DXF and various image types.
- Raster to Vector Converter: Use this converter to take raster formats and create vector formats like DXF, ASCII, and AI. It will refine curves, create fine lines, and more.
- Universal CAD Converter: This handy tool makes it easy to turn AutoCAD drafting files into pretty much any format you like, converting between DWG, DXF, PDF and DWF without using AutoCAD. You’ll also be able to convert any of these formats to images.
Other Great Document Tools
- QuickBooks Conversion Tool: If you’re switching your accounting software to QuickBooks, be sure to check out this conversion tool that imports your information from Peachtree, Microsoft Small Business Accounting, or Microsoft Office Accounting.
- Print2Flash: For users that need to convert large amounts of PDFs or other printable documents, Print2Flash is an excellent choice. You can use it for batch processing and document options.
- Google Docs: Google Docs features the ability to save documents in a number of different formats once you’ve opened them inside their software.
- Bookmark Converter: If you want to switch browsers, but don’t want to lose your bookmarks, use this program. It can be expanded to a remote version with multiple users and command-line conversion.
- Convert Doc: This tool is simple and easy to use, offering users a way to convert thousands of files into various file formats quickly. It also remembers your settings, so it’s great for users who do complicated conversions on a regular basis.
These conversion tools are useful whether you’re traveling, baking, or just buying some nice Italian shoes on eBay.
- Metric Converter: If you often need to do complicated metric conversions, use this tool to get the job done.
- FCC Conversion: This FCC webpage converts degrees, minutes, and seconds to decimal degrees in latitude and longitude, or vice versa.
- EZ Unit Converter Wizard: This unit converter is highly customizable. You can add or delete the units that you’d like to use, with more than 130 units to choose from.
- Unit Conversion: This tool does calculations for lots of different units, including Celsius to Farenheit and pounds to kilograms.
- Google Search: You can use Google to calculate currency conversions as well as units like gallons and liters. It’s great because you can get an answer by using a nationality if you don’t know the name of the currency.
- Universal Currency Converter: XE’s UCC performs forex rate calculations with live currency rates. They offer conversions for the top 85 currencies in the world as well as special units and precious metals.
- International Show Size Conversion Charts: These charts convert shoe sizes from Europe, Mexico, U.K. and more.
- Ring Size Conversion: Use this ring size tool to determine what your size is in the U.K., France, Switzerland and more.
- Women’s Clothing Conversion: With this tools, you can find out what size clothing you should buy for France, Italy, and a number of other countries.
- Men’s Clothing Conversion: This tool works the same way as the women’s tool, but it comes in men’s sizes.
- Time Conversion Tool: This utility from NASA makes it easy to convert from calendar dates and times to Julian dates, or vice-versa. You can also convert between featured world time zones and figure out what day of the week you’re looking at.
- Time Zone Converter: Use this tool to convert time zones between two cities. It accepts dates for the past or future.
These tools are great for converting between different script languages, databases, and more.
- User Script Compiler: With User Script Compiler, you can convert your Greasemonkey scripts into Firefox extensions.
- Advanced PDF to HTML Converter: Use this program to convert PDF files into HTML to make it easier for users to view them. It will preserve all graphics, hyperlinks, bookmarks and lines.
- Access to Visual Basic Object Converter: Use this program to quickly convert Access Objects to Visual Basic.
- Gmail: Using Gmail, you can convert most document formats into HTML. It’s as easy as sending an attachment to yourself and selecting the option to view it as HTML.
- IRun RTF Converter: The IRun RTF Converter makes it easy to put your documents online by converting RTF files to XML or HTML. You can even generate HTML with CSS.
- HTML to ASP Converter: This tool converts HTML code for use with ASP.
- XML Converter Standard Edition: This converter takes data from MySQL databases, MS SQL Servers and more and turns them into XML documents.
- IDN Conversion Tool: With the IDN Conversion Tool, you can translate an IDN or nameserver from native characters to RACE and Punycode or vice-versa.
- C to Java Converter: This converter automatically translates C code source files into Java classes. It supports standard ANSI C runtime and L&R C libraries.
These tools let you create ringtones for your device and convert while you’re on the go.
- Google SMS: If you need to get a short language translation or currency conversion on the fly, use your cell phone and Google SMS to get an answer. All you have to do is send a text message and you’ll get the information you need.
- Ringtone Converter: This tool allows you to convert ringtone files from one format to another, like MIDI to Motorola. Ringtone Converter works with most makes and models, plus you won’t need any cables to get the tone on your phone.
- Mobile Unit Converter: Do quick metric conversions on your Smartphone or PDA using Mobile Converter. It works for decides running Windows Mobile 5.0.
- Coding Workshop Ringtone Converter: With the Coding Workshop Ringtone Converter, you can convert ringtones from one format to another. It supports most makes and models of phones. You can also trim and compress files as you convert.
- Converter: Use your Palm to easily look up unit conversions like miles to kilometers on the fly.
That headline makes a bold promise, doesn’t it? Creativity, note-taking and productivity? Mind Mapping really is that useful. Read on and I will explain!
What Are Mind Maps?
Mind Maps are a visual diagram with lines and bubbles representing ideas and relationships between them. The core idea sits in the middle with related topics branching out from it. Ideas are further broken down and extended until your page looks like an impressionist painting of a spider colony.
That is my description. Here is a video direct from the source!
Why Are Mind Maps Useful?
There are lots of reasons Mind Maps beat other note-taking methods, not least of which I find drawing Mind Maps fun, here are some more serious reasons.
- Mind Maps are fast to create and no effort is wasted
- Hierarchy and categorization are visually and clearly defined
- Rather than writing out lots of superfluous words only the key ideas are represented.
- As well as using words you can draw symbols and diagrams to illustrate ideas
- You can read back a Mind Map at a glance, jumping right to the part you need
What are Mind Maps Useful For?
In the headline I mention three categories that Mind Maps can be used for, let’s look at some examples:
- Brain Storming – Mind Maps allow us to quickly get ideas from our heads and down on paper. Another benefit is they lend especially well to free-association. By recording then reviewing rapidly and freely generated ideas we can find connections and new relationships between concepts that we otherwise might have missed. Of course drawing your ideas is also ideal for staying in a creative mode where more logical and rigid methods might take us off track. Put your central theme or goal in the middle then add ideas or thoughts around it, further adding or relating concepts as you go.
- Note Taking – As you listen to a lecture or read a book you can very quickly create notes using a Mind Map. You can use large branches for chapters or key points, with detail added from them. A whole book can be summarized on one page and it is remarkable how well you can recall the information later with only the map as a guide. This method is used by Sean D’Souza for his book reviews, an example of which can be found here for his review of The Long Tail. LifeHacker did an excellent piece on using Mind Maps for taking notes at meetings.
- Productivity- I would argue that if you can generate ideas and take notes quickly and effectively you are already more productive, but Mind Maps also help in other areas of business.
- Planning can be helped a great deal with Mind Maps, in one diagram you can represent everything that needs doing, the relationships between tasks (eg. what has to be done before something else can be), and the relative priorities.
- I have used Mind Maps many times for outlining reports, books and talks. Even a couple of times using the Mind Map itself as my only notes to read from.
- When building a website now I always use a Mind Map to plan the site categories and content.
There is an interesting description of three categories of Mind Maps at the “Beyond Mind Mapping” blog.
Mind Mapping Software
Traditionally Mind Maps were drawn with coloured pens and paper. Tony Buzan recommends you use at least three colours. Of course computer technology has become a more popular method, bringing in searching, import/export and archival benefits, and since the rise of the web the ability to collaborate over distances.
- Bubbl.us – My favourite because it is free and online!
- IMindMap – The official software from the man himself
- MindJet – A commercial desktop tool with free trial
- Inspiration – Another popular desktop tool, especially with students
- FreeMind – A free and open source project
More packages are listed and reviewed at a blog all about Mind Mapping software.
You might tell I am a Mind Map fan! Do you ever use Mind Maps? Have any links you can share? Let us know in the comments …