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More Cool Tools for You

These high-tech tools will help you manage your time more efficiently and secure your data.

By Hussien “Sam” Fawaz, CFP, CPA

In the first part of this article, I shared with you a few of my favorite cool tools that save me time, keystrokes and help me remotely control or share my PC. In this article, I will share with you three more such tools, which are great efficiency boosters.

GrandCentral
How many phone numbers can someone use to reach you? Two? Three? Four? Maybe even five? Let’s see: you’ve got the home, office, mobile, and perhaps the home office phone lines. But more than one number can make phone communications with clients, friends and family less than 100 percent efficient. Add multiple voicemail boxes to check and it becomes even less efficient.

While we’d like to think that one day we’ll only need our mobile phones as our single point of contact, that reality is still several years away. So wouldn’t it be great to be able to give out a single number to everyone without having to worry about where you may be? That single number would ring all of your phones simultaneously and announce who is calling, and you could pick up the call from any phone that’s handy or screen your voicemail. And if a caller leaves a voicemail message, you’d only have one box to check in a visual voicemail fashion.

That’s the idea (and much more) behind GrandCentral (GC), a web-based telecommunications service purchased by Google. In its simplest form, GC is a call-forwarding or follow-me service. While follow-me services have been around for years, they have been pricey plans on top of expensive telecom contracts. Contrast this with GC, which is currently free.

GC is now in an "invitation-only" beta testing phase. I received an invite and signed up about two years ago and it has transformed the way I conduct personal and professional business. You can explore its numerous features at http://www.grandcentral.com. If this type of service is appealing to you, sign up to be contacted once it becomes available again.

CrossLoop
How many times have you wanted or needed to help or train someone on his computer remotely? While GoToMyPC gets a lot of publicity and is well known, it’s pricey at about $20 per month and is more than what you usually need. Microsoft Windows builds in remote assistance and remote desktop utility, but firewalls and configuration issues make them complicated and finicky.

Wouldn’t it be handy to give a client or prospect a demo or presentation on your PC without leaving your home?
CrossLoop is freeware PC sharing software, which only works if someone is at a remote PC to give you a code to access the PC remotely. The best part about it is that it doesn’t require knowledge about disabling firewalls or configuring network settings. Once you have the code, it just works. You’re able to give a demonstration or presentation, conduct training, or troubleshoot a remote PC. That’s assuming, of course, that both parties have a working internet connection and can both boot into Windows. Once the session is concluded, the code never works again and the PCs cannot be accessed remotely without a new code, so security is high. Wouldn’t it be handy to give a client or prospect a demo or presentation on your PC without leaving your home?

CrossLoop is a small applet that must be installed on both PCs to work. To download Crossloop, go to http://www.crossloop.com.

PhraseExpress
PhraseExpress allows you to store commonly used phrases and insert them into your email, documents and other programs. For example, rather than typing “If you have any questions, please call me,” you can select the phrase from a list, press a hotkey or type a brief shortcut text command. It will then be automatically inserted without your having to type the entire thing. This is quite handy, and I estimate that it saves me at least 20 minutes a day.

The list of Phrase Express’ features is impressive. It has no limit on the number of insertion items, allows multiline inserts, can handle nesting of inserts within inserts, allows the insertion of names, dates and other variables within inserts, allows abbreviations to be automatically expanded, and more. In fact, you can type a whole letter with boilerplate language in a matter of seconds.

It also lets you launch a program or go to a web page instead of inserting text, and that’s really handy. Also handy is the built-in auto-correct feature, similar to the one in Microsoft Office. It automatically fixes common typing errors such as “and” instead of “nad.”

Unlike the Microsoft version, it works in any program, not just Office. Phrases can also be inserted by assignable hotkey or by automatic expansion. So abbreviations such as, “TTYL” can be automatically expanded to “talk to you later.”

One downside of PhraseExpress is that it’s too smart for its own good. I sometimes create shortcut text that’s a fraction of a word I’m typing, and this accidentally activates the substitution. With experience, you learn to harness and tame the power of this program, although you’ll probably never use most of its functionality. PhraseExpress is free for personal use and can be found at http://www.phraseexpress.com.

Hussien “Sam” Fawaz, CFP, CPA, works with Y.D. Financial Services & Solutions in Canton, Mich., and Franklin, Tenn. He has been helping clients with technology solutions for more than 20 years. He has been writing about tax, financial process and technology solutions for more than 12 years. Email him at hf@ydfs.com or call 734-447-5305. You can follow Sam on his Twitter microblog at http://twitter.com/themoneygeek.

 


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