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Zen Apps: Desktop Tools to Organize Your Brain

We recap the latest and greatest desktop and iPhone apps for boosting organization, focus, and overall peace of mind.

Great believers in the power of organization to drive productive creativity, we’re always on the look out for new (and preferably free) tech applications that can help us stay on track, improve focus, or just waste less time on the unimportant stuff.

Here, we run down a few recent faves that are helping us magnify our ability to make ideas happen:

Evernote. A one-stop system for visual filing.

Recently, I decided to completely digitize my personal files using Evernote. Receipts, medical files, and old business plans have all been imported into notebooks, while my myriad of magazine pulls have been similarly organized into a quickly accessible visual database (that’s entirely personalized). The iPhone app is pretty stellar as well, and great for getting a quick pic of things that need to be remembered on-the-go – everything from artworks seen in passing to apartment listings. [BA]

Pathfinder. A turbo-charged version of the regular Mac finder.

Upgrading to Pathfinder (on Merlin Mann’s recommendation) was like when I traded in my basic Nokia phone for an iPhone – entirely new vistas opened up. The coolest and most basic feature is the “dropstack” – a sort of holding pen for images and files, from which you can compress/zip, burn to disc, or drag them elsewhere. You can also open up “tabs” in the finder, just like in Firefox or Safari, to quickly navigate between different folders without ever opening multiple windows. And that’s just two nifty features of roughly a gajillion. [JKG]

Tungle. Schedule meetings without the excess back-and-forth.

Scheduling meetings for large groups can be like playing a game of Battleship – you send Google Calendar invitations like shots in the dark until you finally get a hit. Tungle makes the process transparent and painless, synching with your preferred calendar app and allowing you to propose numerous times simultaneously. Then, invitees tick off the times that work for them, and voilà, you’ve scheduled a meeting without seven emails.

FocusBooster. Extend your attention span, with a 25/5 regime.

I recently stumbled upon the Pomodoro Technique for time management, and this app is a fantastic digital accomplice. Using the adjustable timer, I set a 25-minute increment for dedicated work, and then allow myself 5 minutes for unfocused time. The app keeps track of each timed work session, and sounds a brief alarm when it’s time to take a break. For those of you who tend to wander when you should be working, this is a great way to take charge of your attention span. (There’s also a paper version on the Pomodoro site for an old-school approach.) [BA]

Synchronize Pro! Seamless desktop/laptop mirroring for frequent travelers.

It’s easy enough to copy files by hand from your desktop to your laptop, but inevitably you find yourself traveling and (oops) you don’t have that latest version of an important document you need at your fingertips. Synchronize removes the element of human error, allowing me to specify key desktop folders that will always be mirrored on my laptop. The app also allows me to archive old files, so I know my information’s backed up and safe. [SB]

Instapaper.  The perfect subway reading list.

As I click through my GoogleReader each morning, I do a quick “Send to Instapaper” (you’ve activated Send To, right?), and the app aggregates all the articles I’m interested in reading. This drastically reduces my tendency to “article surf,” and allows me to sit down with a great reading list whenever I have some downtime. With the iPhone app, you’re covered in transit, waiting at the doctor’s office, or on line at the post office. The tilt scroll feature on the “pro” version ($4.99) is a must-see. [BA]

Comments (9)
  • Darius

    The “Pathfinder.” link is not working, good list though.

  • Hutch


    First time here. Took a look at your zen app article. Nice / thanks!

    Do you use any list managers? Things, The hit list, or OmniFocus?

    Also, a on line app for recording projects / time. I have been using it for a year. Well done. A bit $$ at $35 per month. Thought you might have an interest.


  • Mike

    Good article, I will give some of those a try. I like Get It Done ( to get myself organized.

  • Behance Team

    Hutch – The Behance team uses Action Method Online for task management (no surprise, because we originally created it for ourselves)… You can check it out at
    -Behance Team

  • brian lee

    good job!


    for further brain management, I recommend diigo (! It’s the most orgasmic organizational tool I’ve come across since Things!

  • Abhijit Shirsath

    Read the article and registered to evernote, really nice application, thanks for writing and sharing about such wonderful application.lookin forward for more applications and suggestions on them

  • futurespective

    Thanks for the list. I’d second the recommendation for Diigo – great for organizing and annotating online research.

    As for organizing notes on the desktop – I like Microsoft OneNote as draws well on the metaphor of a physical notebook.

    Also, RescueTime ( is a great way to monitor and track how you spend your time.

  • Steve Wilkinson

    Many thanks for the list – was unaware of Tungle – have signed up and look forward to scheduling my next client meeting without the hassle!

    I was recently introduced to Xpenser ( for expense tracking – it’s free and excellent so it’s part of my must-have collection.

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