The Software I Use to Be Productive

To break with my normal style of post, I thought this week I’d share some of my favorite software that helps me get work done on a daily basis. Because I use Linux it won’t all be applicable to you, but maybe some of the ideas will be, and a lot of the software is cross-platform.

Ubuntu + Gnome

I love the Ubuntu operating system. In particular I like how everything just works super easily (including typically tricky things like printers), and that it’s infinitely customizable. I spend a lot of time on my computer, so small customizations have a big effect on long term productivity.

Gnome is a “window manager” for linux. I switched on a whim and I LOVE it compared to Ubuntu’s default window manager. I think it’s way better than OSX, Windows, and Unity (Ubuntu’s default).

In particular I like that the window dressing doesn’t take up much space. Just a really thin band on the top of the screen. I have mine customized to show five time zones, my todo list, the date and time, network throughput, and normal battery and wifi indicators.

To launch apps you hit the windows key or move the pointer to the top left. There you can see all of your windows shrunken down, and if you start typing it will search apps and documents for whatever you’re typing. You can also just type math in the box like “6 * 404” and get the answer instantly as you type.

This is everything I want in an operating system– it’s fast, stable, powerful, customizable, but it just gets out of your way when you’re working.

You can try it on a USB drive here


Guake is a terminal program that overlays over the screen when I hit a single button. I have a Japanese keyboard so I remap one of the extra keys to trigger this, but you could use the right ALT, right CTL key, or menu key.

I like this because I can hit one button and execute a command. Want to check the internet speed of a new connection? I hit my guake key and then type “st” and a speed test runs in the console. Or if I want to add a new task…


Taskwarrior in an amazing task management system. It can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, so you can start out easy and use new features one by one as you get more comfortable.

There are a ton of web and application frontends for it, but you can also just use it on the command line, which is how I use it most. At the most simple you type “task” to see all of your upcoming tasks, color coded and prioritized. To add a task you just type “task add ” and a brief description of what the task is.

I’ve found that the most important factor in how effective a task management system is is the friction it takes to add a new task. Taskwarrior is very low because you just type a couple words.

If you use TaskWarrior, you can sync (use, mirror it to Trello, or do all sorts of crazy things.

NoteCase Pro

NoteCase Pro is sort of like Evernote that runs locally on your computer instead of in a centralized service. I’m really into privacy, so I don’t want all of my notes to be stored on someone else’s server unencrypted.

At first it’s an ugly and clunky program, but you can customize it a lot and make it better to use. It will never be as clean and simple as something like Evernote, but it works great for me.

I use NoteCase to plan my day, outline books, keep research, store my credit card info, etc. I’ve also used it to write blog posts in the past, but for some reason I don’t like doing that.


NvPy is similar to Notational Velocity for Mac. On the left it has a big list of the first line of every note, and then in the main pane it’s just a big text box that you can write in. No formatting or anything fancy. At the top is a search bar which lets you instantly search the full text of every note you have written. I use it exclusively for writing blog posts.

Programming Tools

For programming I use Sublime Text, which is just a world class text editor for programming. I use SmartGit to manage my Git repositories. If you’re a nerd, you probably use Sublime already, and if you’re not a nerd, this isn’t interesting to you.


I store all of my passwords with KeePass2. I like that it has good encryption and stores everything locally. A chrome or firefox plugin makes it work seamlessly.


I love Firefox because of all of the plugins it has, and because it’s free and open source. I also really like the developer console, but probably just because I’m used to it.


It blows my mind how few people have an offline mail client. Gmail has always been my least favorite email interface, and I store my email on my own server.

Thunderbird isn’t the prettiest, but it is extremely powerful and stores gigabytes of email offline. You can also get Lightning integrated which shows your calendar.

I like the smart folders feature. I have one called pending that shows any starred emails I haven’t replied to yet. That way if I get an email but don’t have time to reply, I can star it on Thunderbird or on my phone and I know I’ll get back to it eventually.

I also love Sieve, which is a server-side email filtering tool that can be administrated through Thunderbird. It’s far more powerful than Gmail or built-in Thunderbird filtering. I don’t really know how I’d manage email if it wasn’t for sieve.

I’m a big fan of making environments as conducive to desired outcomes as possible. My place in Vegas and my RV are both designed to be places that make it easy and comfortable for me to work. My computer is the same, except that it goes with me everywhere I go. I find that almost any amount of time spent choosing the best software and customizing it pays off in the end because of how much I use it.

If you’re interested in Linux (and with the way Mac hardware and PC software is getting, maybe you should be), definitely try out Ubuntu + Gnome. You may be very surprised at how far its come, and I think it easily beats other options out there with very few compromises (lack of Adobe software is really the only one in my book).


Photo is glassware at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I don’t really care about glassware, but they did an amazing job of presentation.

Feels great to be back in Budapest for a few days. I’m getting work done, getting our place (slowly) furnished and comfy, and seeing a ballet and two operas.

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