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Desktop Arsenal: 10 Tools We Can’t Live Without

Marshall McLuhan famously said, "We shape our tools and then our tools shape us." A look at the gadgets & apps that are shaping our workflow at 99U.

In his excellent book The Laws of Simplicity, John Maeda writes, “Aichaku is the Japanese term for the sense of attachment one can feel for an artifact. When written by its two kanji characters, you can see that the first character means ‘love’ and the second one means ‘fit.’ ‘Love-fit’ describes a deeper kind of emotional attachment that a person can feel for an object.”This intriguing concept of object “love-fit” floated back into my mind recently as I mourned the loss of my iPhone to a pickpocket. Recognizing my attachment to the device got me thinking about the gadgets and apps that have become indispensable to my workflow, and why.
Below, find the top ten items in my desktop arsenal. (Please share your own in the comments.)bose_550

Bose QuietComfort Headphones

I cannot overstate the utility of these Bose noise-canceling headphones if you work in an open-plan office. Even without playing any music, they block out about 75% of the background noise around you. They also sit lightly on the head so it’s not uncomfortable to wear them for long periods of time (or with glasses).Note: These headphones are very expensive. In fact, I couldn’t believe I bought them. But they were totally worth it.


Braun Digital Alarm Clock

My personal belief is that sleeping with your phone next to your head is unhealthy, and also a little bit sad. Yet most traditional alarm clocks are ugly, clunky, and unintuitive. What to do? Enter the new Braun digital travel alarm clock. It’s incredibly tiny (2.25″ square) and incredibly intuitive. The reverse LCD display doesn’t blare the time, and the dual clockface simultaneously shows the current time and the alarm time – which is perfect if you’re a little OCD about waking up.


13″ Macbook Air

I might be the only person in the universe who bought an iPad and returned it. I later learned that the Macbook Air was the iPad I had always wanted. The Air gives you full computer power while remaining slim enough to get accidentally lost in a stack of magazines. My favorite thing is that the multi-touch trackpad allows you to easily swipe between full-screen apps, which is awesome for staying focused and productive.


Griffin Elevator

This laptop stand changed my life. I am a natural huncher and working on a laptop for long stretches only encourages this destructive, neck-crunching posture. The Elevator brings your laptop up to eye level, which is ergonomically optimal. It’s true you then require an additional keyboard and mouse to work, but it’s totally worth it if the laptop is your primary workstation. The Elevator also makes for a much nicer movie or TV-watching experience if you use your laptop for that.



Available for Mac, iPhone and iPad, Reeder is a simple RSS reader with a gorgeous, uncluttered UI. It’s a breeze to navigate, presents articles crisply, and allows you to efficiently copy links without clicking through to the source website. This last is really nice if you’re constantly pulling things from your RSS reader to tweet or blog.



Evernote is the perfect tool for idea dumping. For me, speed and accessibility are key: When I have an article idea, I want to get it down immediately and be able to find it later. Evernote, which automatically syncs your documents across devices, accommodates both of these requirements and offers many additional layers of organization (e.g. tagging, voice memos, attached references, etc). What makes it far superior to, say, Google Docs is that you can easily group notes by project. For instance, I have a 99U Conference 2013 project, which holds separate docs where I jot down ideas for speakers, programming, venue notes, and so forth.



If you use Apple products, you know that iCal kind of sucks. Agenda for iPhone is far superior in my opinion. It has the look of a minimalist paper calendar but it syncs seamlessly with your Google calendar. I particularly like the continuous scroll functionality and that you can swipe between different views – single day view to weekly to monthly to yearly. The new version also has improved “status taps” to message meeting attendees if you’re running late, map appointment locations, etc.



I am an advocate of analog lists. That said, sometimes it’s impossible to track both daily to-dos and tasks that will need to be done far in the future on paper. So I use a combination of ActionMethod on paper and online. (Full disclosure: These are Behance products!) For paper, I use an Action Runner, rewriting my tasks for the day each morning. For any tasks I’m not doing today or that need to be delegated, I input them into ActionMethod Online, which I check throughout the week. See more on using AMO from Scott Belsky.



We have a server at work, but I now keep all of the files I need to access on a daily basis on Dropbox. If you never know when you’ll be working from the office, from home, or from the road, it’s a no-brainer. Yes, there are other cloud solutions (iCloud, Google Drive, etc), but for me Dropbox feels the most intuitive and seamless.


Kaweko Sport Rollerball

A classic pen that’s tiny enough to fit in your pocket, will never leak, and writes well. Enough said.

What Do You Use?

What are the gadgets, tools, and apps that you can’t live without? Please share your essentials in the comments!


More Posts by Jocelyn K. Glei

A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with how to make great creative work in the Age of Distraction. Her latest book is Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction, and Get Real Work Done. Her previous works include the 99U’s own bestselling book series: Manage Your Day-to-Day, Maximize Your Potential, and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.

Comments (58)
  • trap and trace

    Please tell me that youre heading to keep this up! Its so great and so important. I cant wait to read a lot more from you. I just feel like you know so substantially and know how to make people listen to what you might have to say. This blog is just too cool to become missed. Terrific stuff, genuinely. Please, PLEASE keep it up!

  • Sky Adriana

    I just don’t understand why every time this Mac/PC thing comes up people forget about Linux and its different distributions. Some do have a wonderful desktop switching functionality and stability. There are alternatives to Mac. I personally despise Windows because of 80-90% computer speed being eaten by the anti-virus apps. I admire Mac and Apple because iOS is Linux-based, clean, fast, and so on. But it is SOOO commercial. You buy it, it works. Then on the next year they make it so that because of the newer software, you have to pay for the newer hardware. It IS a never-ending cycle.

  • Sky Adriana

    What a wonderful article! 🙂 This is one of my favourite websites on the net :)))
    – Lenovo X61 laptop (hell, I wonder why none of the companies nowadays treasure the pleasure of typing. this retro laptop gives me such pleasure as I type!);
    – Linux (Fedora);
    – good Email client (Thunderbird); yandex e-mail;
    – hosting for my personal website 🙂
    – the app gedit / and Notepad++; I customize to a bigger font and a dark background; this boosts up the pleasure of typing even more;
    – Firefox/Chrome;
    – external HDD;
    – ear-in headphones for riding in the metro (I use AUDIO-TECHNICA ATH-CKS55 BK)
    – huge headphones around the ears for noise isolation at work and maximum pleasure for listening to music and focus (Sehnheiser HD215)
    – a cheapy mp3 player (whenever my iPod touch crashes because lately it is crashing too often)
    – iPod 3 touch for music, free educational videos and podcasts from iTunes University and taking notes
    – lately some bad habbits like RedBull :)) and coffee
    – Kindle 3 keyboard. I am learning a new language and I use the word definition dictionary for that language as I read books;
    – lots of green tea.

  • Gabrielle Miller

    Best thing I could have ever added was my iPhone 4S—I don’t miss appointments anymore because they sync across my work and home computer. I had a dumb flip phone until a year and a half ago.

  • Silvia Da Shalea

    I also bought an Ipad and returned it the next morning XD

  • Tzvi Perlow

    Oh, lord, talk about must-haves…:
    – Lenovo Y510P. It’s also my alarm, forcing me to get outta bed and all the way to my laptop to shut it 🙂
    – SONY MDR-V55 Headphones
    – Wacom Bamboo Drawing Tablet
    – Logitech Performance MX mouse
    – Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard 750
    – Nikon D3100
    – Bic Pen and many scattered papers I’ve wrote and drawn on that I stash in my wallet for later reference… ughh, I should get a Galaxy Note.
    – All Adobe programs (thank the good lord!!!)
    – Toggl: An awesome free time tracking program, mainly for work
    – Spotify: Yummmmm!
    – And I especially couldn’t live without the Brooklyn Public Library next door.

    Hey, who just said hipster?!

  • watermelon

    Well.. 15″ macbook pro with retina. (I so wish that there was a 17″ one)
    Lots of blank paper
    Pixelmator (an amazing alternative to photoshop. I use it way more often
    and my trusty, epson artisan 1430. Theres somthing about seeing a finished print

  • Silvia Maria Garis
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