21 essential Web tools: Personal productivity

Written by Ian Portsmouth, Jim McElgunn, Kim Shiffman and Kara Aaserud

Ta-da List: Get control of your to-do lists Still scribbling to-do lists on scraps of paper at home, at work and in the car? Toss them all and try Ta-da List, a free online to-do list that's simpler to use than its rivals. (It's also an element of Backpack; see page 4.) You can create as many lists as you want, from "Phone Calls to Return" to "Bills to Pay." And your main "My Lists" page offers a summary of all your lists, showing the number of items left to do on each. Looking to delegate? You can share your lists with employees of your choosing. Popular alternatives: Remember the Milk, Voo2do Google Calendar: Keep appointments straight, from anywhere Online calendars have two big advantages over those in e-mail programs such as Outlook: they're easier to view from any place or device, and easier to share with business contacts, friends and family. You can get started quickly on the free Google Calendar service by importing events from programs such as Outlook — though you'll need third-party software such as CompanionLink to keep both calendars synchronized. As you'd expect from Google, you can search your entries at warp speed. It can turn informal notes such as "Lunch with VP sales at The Keg 1 p.m. Monday" into entries. You can e-mail invitations and receive replies even from non-users. And integration with Google Maps shows you where you're going, not just when. Popular alternatives: HipCal, CalendarHub Backpack: Gather key info in one place Having crucial information scattered all over the place can blow a hole in your productivity. Backpack helps you keep it all straight by providing an online home for your ideas, to-do lists, photos and files. Your home page includes your main to-do list (an upgraded version of Ta-da List), on which you can quickly jot down ideas. You can also create project-specific pages. If you were planning a new-business pitch out of town, you could create an "Acme Widgets meeting" page and put your pre-meeting to-do list in its "List" section, paste Acme executives' bios in "Notes," attach your PowerPoint presentation in "Files" and include a Google Maps screen capture of Acme's location in "Images." Best, you can let your senior executives view the page. Other cool features include using Backpack to send yourself e-mail and mobile reminders. Cost: free, or US$14/month for all the bells and whistles. Popular alternatives: Google Notebook Google Docs & Spreadsheets: Say goodbye to Word and Excel Word processing and spreadsheets are what got business hooked on computers in the first place. The addiction will only deepen now that you can use this free browser-based service to, for example, create a word-processing file even if you're on the road without your own computer. Google Docs & Spreadsheets was born last fall, when Google bought the highly praised Writely word processor and merged it with its in-house application Google Spreadsheets. The service makes it a breeze to collaborate with anyone with browser access, so your senior managers can, say, edit a spreadsheet jointly in real time while keeping track of the changes. And the comfort factor — there's nothing to download, it's based on familiar desktop tools and it's simple to upload your existing .doc, .xls and other files — makes instant addiction a happy prospect indeed. Popular alternatives: Zoho Writer, Writeboard Dabble DB: Slice and dice data in bold new ways Once you've seen the eye-opening Dabble DB video on the firm's site, suddenly Excel, Access and FileMaker seem a bit clunky. Dabble makes it easy to import existing data from spreadsheets, contact lists or databases (or input it from scratch), then group, sort and filter it. Even non-database geeks can quickly learn how to glean business insights by depicting data in easy-to-grasp tables, charts or calendars. For example, you could in a couple of minutes transform masses of accounts-receivable entries into a calendar showing every $25,000-plus account as it reaches 60 days unpaid. Dabble is priced right, from US$50 per month for 15 users. And it lets you share files over the Web, eliminating the hassles of exchanging them by e-mail, while maintaining control so, say, employees have read-and-write access and clients have read-only. Popular alternatives: No direct rivals Pageflakes: Save time with your home on the Web One of the hottest Web 2.0 spaces these days is personalized "start pages," which provide the convenience of one-stop access to your favourite sites and applications, such as search engines, blogs, news feeds, Del.icio.us bookmarks, Flickr photos and much more. Although the start-page game is crowded with players such as Google and Microsoft, Pageflakes, which received VC funding last October, stands out. It's highly regarded by Web 2.0 gurus because it's easy to use, has a clean design and lets you share your page with others. Popular alternatives: Google Personalized Homepage, Windows Live, Netvibes, Protopage

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com