Ever wondered if you'd work better in a cave, without a phone signal, internet access, TV, or anything else to distract you? Perhaps you write the next great novel, or invent the next big thing. Or at least, you might quit reaching for your phone at the first hint of boredom.
It's hard to do your best work in our distracted world, harder still to focus only on what's most important. And so, author Cal Newport in one of 2016's most popular business books argues the virtues of what he calls Deep Work. With academic data and real-life examples, he teaches the value of focused work—not hard work with long hours of overtime, but a dedicated part of your day where you work at your fullest.
On the flip side is another of 2016's most popular books, Messy from author Tim Harford. It sings the praises of messy desks and chaotic workpaces, of the benefits of strikes and misplaced instruments. It reminds us that genius doesn't appear in a vacuum, that it requires a spark to bring it to life. And that spark so often is the messiness of life.
A new year, and time for another new book from the Zapier team. This time, we've researched what you need to do to start a business, tested over 50 eCommerce apps to find the best, and detailed step-by-step what you need to do to start your first eCommerce store. We even found ways for you to accept payments from anywhere around the world, even if your customers don't have credit cards.
It's The Ultimate Guide to eCommerce Software, and it'll teach you everything you need to make your first—or 50th—online store a success. Download a free copy today and start turning your dream into the next business success.
It's always difficult to authoritatively state "This is the best app for X" when there are so many different apps available. And while it's somewhat easy to guess which apps are the most popular, based on App Store downloads and general tech news buzz, it's a bit harder to say with certainty which apps are actually being used the most—the ones that bring the most value.
And so, at Zapier, this year we looked at which of our 750 apps grew in usage the most in our automated workflows. There are two lists: One with the fastest growing existing apps, and another with the fastest growing new apps. The former are tools you've likely heard of—ones you definitely shouldn't ignore. The latter are the new apps that are quickly becoming popular, the ones you should be trying out.
You want to start an online store. You know what you want to sell, and already have a name picked out for your store. All you need to do is figure out what tool to use to build your store.
You shouldn't code a store from scratch unless you really know what you're doing. Instead, you're best using an eCommerce platform, either one that lets you build a store online or a self-hosted eCommerce tool to customize the way you want. You just need to choose the best one for your needs.
Ever wondered what makes Shopify different from WooCommerce, whether Big Cartel would be perfect for your small store—or if Gumroad would be enough—here's the data and reviews to help you make your decision.
Selling stuff online doesn't have to be difficult. You could customize an eCommerce store on your own server—or you could just sell stuff directly with a form. You could launch a new product with a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, then sell it directly with a simple Gumroad store, and eventually cross-list it on Amazon and your customized store.
There are tons of options, each one a good choice for a specific type of store. Here's the details about the best ways to start an online store that you need before selling your new products online.
Starting a store used to require bricks and land. Sharing your opinion required a newspaper. Streaming video needed a TV station.
The internet's changed all that. Sharing your opinion only takes seconds—and sharing a video only takes a bit longer since uploading videos takes longer than publishing text. And selling stuff? You can sell your old iPhone—or start a full store—with just an account.
There's only one small complication: accepting payments. Money is still harder to move around than plain bits, and even if you sell stuff on eBay you'll still need a separate PayPal account for payments.
But wait: could you use Stripe? Or would Braintree or Recurly be a better option for your store?
Spreadsheets are powerful tools, ones that used to require installing a full Office suite on your computer. Today, they're a commodity, with free spreadsheet tools on almost every platform.
The original spreadsheet app that most of us started out with—Excel—is still one of the best, though. It includes more functions and tools than most other spreadsheet apps, and its wide range of add-ons make it an incredibly powerful tool.
And now, it's free too. Excel Online is slimmed down version of Excel that runs in your browser, yet still includes the core features you need to crunch numbers. It supports 468 functions—all but 3 of the functions included in Excel 2016 for Windows—along with charts, formatting tools, and more. And, with add-ons, you can even add extra features to make it closer to desktop Excel.
If you've never used Excel before, or just are curious about what the web app version offers, here's the guide to Excel Online you need. It walks you through every feature included, so you can make spreadsheets, surveys, reports, and more right from your browser for the low price of free.
Perhaps it sounds silly, but one of the (many) reasons I switched to the Mac was that Preview is such a great PDF reader and editor. It lets you rearrange pages, merge PDF files, add annotations, and even sign them with your real signature. What more could you want?
Well, real editing for one. Annotations only get you so far—if things really need changed, you'll still need a real PDF editor like Adobe Acrobat.
No problem. I had a copy of Adobe CS5 from university, later upgraded to CS6. The included copy of Acrobat did what I needed.
I didn't have the most extensive PDF editor needs. For the most part, all I needed to do was:
Create PDFs, something built into every Mac app.
Merge PDFs, especially to add a new cover. Preview does that perfectly.
Add links to a PDF, especially to images in a PDF, to make them work like online buttons so you could have a button image and readers could click it in the PDF to open the link. That needed Acrobat or another PDF editor.
Reducing the size of a PDF, since many apps make quite oversized PDF files. Acrobat actually does quite a good job at shrinking those down.
Occasionally editing the actual text in the PDF—which again required a full editor.
Acrobat did the job, but it never made it fun. Even though Photoshop CS6 included retina graphics, Acrobat X never got the update which means your PDFs and the toolbars in Acrobat itself look pixelated on modern Macs. Yes, you could upgrade to Acrobat Pro DC, but it costs either $14.99/month or requires a full $49.99/month Adobe CC subscription. That's far more than someone who needs occasionally edit text and add links to PDF documents should need to spend.
So, I kept using my Acrobat X. It worked. I'd open a PDF, tap the Tools button to open the sidebar, then select Link. That'd turn my cursor into crosshairs that could select anywhere on the page—and then would open a dialog where I could choose the link style and click Next to actually paste in the link. Adding a link took 5 clicks, at least, and adding the next link would still take at least 2 more clicks.
Last year, Readdle software brought their PDF Expert app to the Mac after years of it being popular on iPad. The first version was basic—it was only a PDF reader with annotation features, something Preview already does well. Yes, it was faster ... but I didn't use PDFs enough to make the switch.
This year's version 2 of PDF Expert, though, changes that. It's still a fast PDF reader, one with tabs to keep multiple documents open at once, a Page Thumbnails view that lets you quickly scroll through the whole PDF document at once (similar to the new Kindle Pageflip view), and annotation features to markup PDFs, add text and notes, and sign documents right from your Mac's trackpad.
Along with that, version 2 includes editing features. Not every editing feature Acrobat includes, mind you, but enough to cover exactly what I'd need from a PDF editor.
Just tap the Edit button on the top right, and toolbar will show 4 tools: Text, Image, Link, and Redact.
Redact is the simplest; you can select text in a PDF to add a FBI-style black redaction or simply delete the text entirely. It works with find-and-replace to redact all mentions of the text you want, too.
Link does what you expect: let you add links to a PDF. Your mouse will turn to a text selection cursor or crosshairs when hovering over an image, and you can add a link—to a website or to any part of the PDF—to any text or section of an image.
Image lets you add images or edit existing ones in a PDF. You can replace an existing image, export it, edit it in another app (and have the changes saved back to this PDF), or rotate and crop it right inside the document.
Text lets you either add a new text section—something you could already do with the annotation tools—or select and edit existing text inside a PDF. You can select the typeface, style, size, alignment, and color of the text—which will match the PDF's existing style by default. If your PDF includes a typeface your computer doesn't have installed, though, the edited text block will use Times New Roman instead of that font if you added any extra characters (Acrobat, on the other hand, simply doesn't let you edit the text if you don't have the font installed).
Outline is a bonus feature not included in the menu. Just right-click on any section of your PDF, and select Add Outline Item to fill out your PDF's outline and make it easy for readers to jump to the section they want.
The link tool does exactly what I needed—and in only 3 clicks, without any annoying popover dialogs. Best of all, PDF Expert remembers what tool you were using last, and opens it automatically when you re-open the app. That makes it even quicker to add the links to a PDF.
And, it's fast. Even with a handful of PDFs open, it quickly renders thumbnails and displays everything with the crispness you'd expect from a modern retina app. It somehow feels a bit more like Preview would if Apple redesigned it today.
PDF Expert doesn't include every possible PDF editing feature. Perhaps the most glaring omissions today are a lack of OCR features to recognize text in scanned PDF documents (something the team has mentioned on Twitter they'd like to add) and tools to shrink a PDF's file size (a reason I'll need to keep Acrobat around for the time being). It also cannot make PDFs.
If you need a tool for that, PDFpen Pro at $129.99 is PDF Expert's closest competitor. It's a native Mac app from the team that makes Text Expander, and includes all of those features including a tool to make PDF forms in its Pro version (or, you can pay $74.99 for a tool closer to PDF Expert, with the addition of OCR features).
But for basic edits—and especially for viewing and annotating PDFs—PDF Expert for Mac is a great tool. It's fast, beautiful, and at $59 is a third of Acrobat's annual price and 50% cheaper than PDFpen's cheaper version, is one of the most cost effective ways to edit PDFs if you don't need every possible PDF editing feature.