Productivity software roundup


I looked at my doc today and realized that the same half-dozen apps are almost always open. I thought I’d write a little about how I’ve been using each of them lately.


NovaMind is a pure, lovely, and feature-rich mind mapping tool. After reading a few books and creating dozens of maps however, I’m using NovaMind less and less. It’s a great app, but I’m finding that the single largest benefit of mind mapping for me is the spacial organization. I know that Buzan would be disappointed, but most of the “proper” techniques are lost on me. For simple spatial organization, combined with the ability to organize notes and create content, I find Tinderbox suits me better.


Tinderbox is an enigma. I first downloaded the demo a couple years ago and completely hated it. It looked funny and I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. Trashed it. A few positive reviews can go a long way, so about a year ago I tried again. This time I was much more successful. As I’m known to do, I dove right in – creating agents and workflows and outlines and maps and prototypes and on and on. Things got complicated so quickly I became overwhelmed and eventually abandoned it for DevonTHINK out of panic more than anything else.

Used For

  • Brainstorming. I love Mind Maps, but Buzan-esque maps (such as those created using NovaMind) are limited as to how much actual information they contain. Tinderbox’s map view is a nice compromise: spacial orientation with the ability to nest and collect vast amounts of information all within a single document.

  • “Deep” outlining. For outlines which are all about hierarchy, OmniOutliner rules. However, deeper outlines containing boatloads of text and notes are better served with Tinderbox. It’s a better writing tool.

  • Notetaking. Using a map view and a couple keys (Enter and Space) I can hammer out dozens of individual notes in no time. Then, they can be easily organized, rearranged, nested later.

This time around I’m only going to use Agents and other “advanced” features when I need them. Keep it simple, stupid. And I love the fact that there’s no toolbar.


DevonTHINK is the best information-hoarding-and-organizing tool there is. I don’t use it as a content creation tool, but instead as an information gathering tool. It easily grabs anything I throw at it – text, web pages, images – and makes searching through it later a joy by autoclassifying and linking similar bits together. Pretty sweet.


OmniOutliner is one of those things that never clicked with me. I love outliners, but always considered OmniOutliner to be a little too much – too, I don’t know, fidgety.

So there I was, happily plodding along with Hog Bay Notebook and that’s that. Along comes the Kinkless GTD System, which is basically an OmniOutliner Pro document with a few AppleScripts thrown in. Since I pretty much live for Getting Things Done, I thought I’d give it a whirl. One hour later I’d ordered a copy of OOP and haven’t looked back since. Actually using it for real work helped me to get past what I hadn’t liked previously. Now, I think I “get it.” OOP is a great outlining app, and Kinkless is the best GTD implementation I’ve tried (and I’ve tried a lot of them).

Circus Ponies Notebook

Circus Ponies Notebook has become my primary project documentation app. I keep a separate notebook for each project. Within each, are sections such as…

  • Log – for documenting and keeping a date-based history of each project

  • Files – Dragging PDFs, MindMaps, Word docs and others into a notebook copies the document and stores it inside the notebook. Makes it easier to find than using the filesystem or, God forbid, Spotlight.

  • Documentation – Project documentation and notes.

I also keep a Journal notebook around for when the fountain pen runs out of ink. It’s cool because I can drop a photo from the day into an entry as a visual reminder of whatever I’m writing about.

So there you have it. The right tool for each task.