Photo illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco

Desktop Arsenal: 10 Tools We Can't Live Without

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!


Jocelyn K. Glei

more posts →
A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with understanding how work gives our lives meaning. She has authored three books about work, creativity, and business, including the Amazon bestsellers Manage Your Day-to-Day and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.
load comments (58)
blog comments powered by Disqus

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 732 other followers