What Belongs in a Digital Toolbox?
The apps and programs in the digital toolboxes are different depending on your work and your individual preference. However, some aspects are the same in just about every toolbox:
- An email program
- A word processor
- A calendar and/or task manager
- A note-taking program, alternatively an analog notepad
- A web browser
These five basics form the basis on which the rest of your system can be built. Someone who receives and sends a lot of e-mails needs a more powerful e-mail program than someone who works alone and has to do a lot of Internet research, so the programs you use in each category may be different.
As a general rule of thumb, you should only have as many programs in your digital toolbox as you need. The simple reason for this is that it's easier to keep track of your digital life this way. Fewer programs mean fewer problems and updates, and less storage is consumed.
Of course, it's okay to use different programs for different purposes. Most of the programs which claim to be able to do many tasks at once are bloated, and simply unusable.
Nevertheless, it must be clear which program has which purpose. If you spend a lot of time deciding whether to open the text document in Word or in another program, you waste valuable time. You can eliminate these decisions by using every program for a certain purpose.
In my article “The best programs for everyday digital life,” I present some useful apps and programs.
How to Take Care of Your Toolbox
Maintaining your toolbox is very simple. In the beginning, you go through all the programs you have installed on your computer and smartphone. Which program do you use regularly? Are there already duplicates or unused apps that you can delete immediately?
Every program in your toolbox should have a clear purpose, and you should be familiar with how to use it.
Once you have this big initial cleanup behind you, your toolbox doesn't need frequent maintenance. Most programs offer automatic updating, so maintenance is no longer necessary.
New apps should also have a clear benefit and simplify or enrich the workflow rather than complicate it.
A simple and efficient workflow, where you know exactly what task you can do with which program, has numerous advantages. I recommend checking all programs for their usefulness with every major update of the operating system.
Advantages of a Well-Kept Toolbox
Everything has its place. This makes cleaning up your files and folders faster and easier. Plus, there won't be as much clutter in the first place. Less clutter also means that less storage is used.
Connecting different pieces of information becomes easier. Parallels between different tasks catch your eye faster when you collect them all in one program. Ideas can be linked together more quickly if all the ideas are noted in a note app.
You can learn more about my notes system in my article “How I Organize My Notes.”
The toolbox is future-proof if you pay attention to the program selection. A future-proof program…
- … receives regular updates, bug fixes, etc.
- … has a relatively large number of users.
- … works with established, open file formats such as Markdown, PDF, etc.
- … allows to export your files to another program.
You will still be able to open and use your data years and decades from now. The requirement for this is, of course, that you regularly back up your data to an external hard drive so that you can restore it if necessary.
What Does My Own Toolbox Look Like?
Below you can find a list of the programs and apps that I personally use. This list should not simply be adopted - each toolbox is individual. However, it can serve as a source of inspiration.
This is no advertising and I do not receive any money for this list. They are personal recommendations.
 James Stuber also argues that different use cases require different programs in his article “Use the Right Tool for the Job.”
 Programs that use closed databases may be unavoidable for some use cases. However, those who have a choice should opt for programs that store user files in files that can be opened with other programs. If the program is discontinued or no longer works, you can easily switch to an alternative.