As a writer, blogger, and lover of the internet I have learned that Google does more for my life than just behaving like a good search engine for celebrity queries and random trivia. It contains productivity tools vital to my time management goals which simplify my life and they could do the same for you. This article will highlight some of the Google sites that I use and how they can be valuable to you too…
Obviously, Google’s popular purpose is to act as a search engine. Whether I am looking for an attraction’s website for the travel posts I write for the UpTake Attractions Blog or am in need of a restaurant’s menu to keep my healthy goals in check, Google is where I turn. But everyone knows this already. What you may not know are some helpful search tips to narrow down your results and speed up productivity. I’ve covered this before on my personal blog and you can step away and read about them here. Just don’t forget to come back, because I’m just getting started on Google’s features.
As Google has with many other online needs, they’ve revolutionized maps with Google Maps, giving people the ability to find places, directions to them, and even views of what the street will look like. One of the best features of Google Maps, and probably one of the most underutilized are the My Maps, which lets Google account holders create their own maps that they can share with friends, family and the world. Place markers, draw out directions, and even circle areas of interest. With easy buttons to share your maps, Google Maps is definitely worth having a Google account for.
As a blogger with a brand name, I would like to keep track of where it is mentioned online, on blogs and in the news. I also like to find out where people are hiring writers. I’m interested when my region has new events happening. And keeping track of a favorite artist is helpful too. All of these things are possible with the ridiculously easy Google Alerts feature. Just type in the key words, website or terms you want to follow using the tips linked to above and you will receive an alert via e-mail or feed when they occur. You set the words to search for, the environment to be searched and the delivery frequency terms you prefer. Then you let all the information come to you. This is easy as pie and means you can be proactive and in the know.
Stats are really popular in sports. They are also really popular in blogging. I want to know everything I can about who visits my blog, where they found me, what they were searching for, what they spent time on and what they left in the dust. What system are they using to view my pages and where are they located? Do they come back often or are they just doing a drive by? Which topics speak to my readers the most and which ones sit all alone, unvisited?
Google Analytics can tell me all of this information in a variety of ways. I can see basic overviews or delve deeper and deeper. I can compare current data to points in the past and see how far I’ve come and what it was specifically that led me there. If I were so inclined I could even set goals and track their progress, print reports and share them with interested parties. As it stands now I just obsess over them on a regular basis and find them useful in analyzing generic trends. And I also use Analytics on other sites where I work to determine whether or not I’ve reached bonus levels. It helps to gauge how you’re doing and what you can focus on to improve. In my mind that is a great tool to save time and build for the future.
Speaking of blogging, Blogger is what I use to host my personal blog. As a newbie blogger I wanted something easy, flexible visually and secure. I wanted to know that all of the time and effort I put forth would result in a site that would be around for a long time. I felt safe enough that Google wasn’t going anywhere soon and therefore their blog hosting system wouldn’t all of a sudden rip the rug out from under me as can sadly be the case with self-hosting sites all over. There is a support system for getting answers to tech questions and the cost is free. Blogger suits my needs for an uncomplicated blog looking for enough options to evolve. And it comes with a built-in community of other bloggers eager to introduce themselves.
Speaking of the blogging community and visitors, Feedburner allows me to provide an easy option for readers to follow my posts automatically. This is imperative to building a base and spreading the love. I can set up a widget right on my site for people to subscribe via feed or e-mail to each new post I throw up there. Ease of following is the name of the game. Feedburner provides analysis as well, albeit on a smaller scale. I can see exactly what people are using to follow my feeds, know which posts are just getting viewed versus being interacted with, and get a tally of how many people are actually following along on a daily basis. There’s a nice widget for that data as well so I can display it on my blog and let others know that they’ve stumbled upon a place others are interested in.
Not only do I want to encourage others to follow my blog, I want to keep track of them as well. Google Reader allows me to put all of my blog and website subscriptions in one place. I can create folders to categorize all of these feeds to keep them organized and save me time. Folders can be established to separate the work feeds from the personal ones. They can display the style of the site’s feeds, such as Politics, Sports, Photos, Books, etc. They can break feeds up by region so that if I am ever looking to reach out to people in a certain location, my Reader folders will point me to the right places. The folders can be whatever I want them to be. Subscribe to a feed, tag it with the appropriate folder names and let the sorting begin. Then when I check in with my Reader, things are laid out for me in a more searchable environment allowing me to get in, see what I want, and move on.
I love photos. I love to take them, name them, organize them, display them, share them. Picasa is a bit overwhelming to me in how it searches my laptop high and low for any and all images, sorting them willy nilly when I hadn’t even asked. But I like their editing program and their movie making capabilities. I enjoy creating albums to dump a photo stream right into widgets on my blog. And I can share or block any albums that I want with friends, family or as an easy way to collectively display images for a project. My photos are imperative to my blog and my travel posts. I like having them available in the same place with everything else and that I can control the level of privacy.
This is a new discovery to me. I have always been an advocate for plotting out posts, tasks and events at the start of each month. It keeps me organized, on track, and less stressed. A few hours each month planning ahead means that each day, with a quick glance, I know what’s on the docket with a quick glance and then I just take it from there. Otherwise I waste time figuring out what needs to be done and brainstorming ideas each day. However, my methods were very primative. I was a pen and paper kind of gal until I discovered the Google Calendar. This little gem allows me to incorporate color coded events from a variety of segments into one place. I enter my personal blog posts and assign them to my Personal Blog Calendar. Then I assign my travel posts to my Attractions Blog Calendar. Next, I assign my LifeSnips posts to that Calendar. Finally, I throw in any real life events that impact the timing of all of this.
Google Calendar fills in all the major holidays and then, in one beautiful color coded view, I can see how all of these parts come together smoothly as a guide ready to be implemented. This structure gives me peace of mind and keeps me on track during very short windows of time.
Juggling work and personal tasks can be helped immensely by using separate e-mail addresses. I set up a personal e-mail address long ago on a different system that happens to use my current blog’s brand name. But trying to sort through the work and personal messages coming in wastes my time when I’m trying to focus on one or the other. So I have set up a separate business related account through Gmail.
I’m a big fan of folders to organize and store, and Gmail has a nice Labels system to easily set them up for filtering messages. And having the e-mail system on the same spot as all of the other above features that I toggle back and forth with is just common sense.