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Lower-tech tools worth sharing for efficiency, effectiveness

Sure, AI is shiny and new, but plenty of old tech tools worth sharing can make our jobs easier too, Michael Gaskell writes.

7 min read


Education. Digital tablet with school supplies. Photo with clipping path. For article on tools worth sharing

(Malerapaso/Getty Images)

Recently, I was assembling a new power washer and, as I unboxed it, instinctively tossed the user guide to the side and checked YouTube for a how-to assembly video. Special note: I am not mechanically inclined. 

Within 15 minutes, I was able to get the power washer up and running — and it hit me. I am using what in the age of high-tech AI seems like analog-type tools, every day, in ways that help me manage my workload. These tools are worth sharing, but a bit more on YouTube first.


I frequently present on various topics to different audiences. Often, my go-to is YouTube to share a valuable clip from a TED Talk or share a speaker’s suggestion to teach or motivate children. While my daughter was learning high-school math — a subject I spent too many summers struggling to improve — I often deferred to YouTube for how-tos. Math tutorial sites like this one from Rhode Island provide a library of YouTube math resources. 

Other subjects are readily available online too. Maybe you need to write a persuasive essay, a common secondary-level challenge. That link talks about traditional resources, but plenty of AI tools found when navigating through YouTube can help index and organize. (I just had to sneak that in!)

Using free online bibliography generators

Virtually all educators return to graduate studies and professional development that require proper referencing. Some, like me, have written for books and journals that require the delicate structural layout of APA or MLA format. I have been around long enough to recall the days when I had to laboriously write out the APA format for referencing work when creating research papers. 

Not anymore. Another of my tools worth sharing: free, easy-to-use, online bibliography generators, which have been around for several years. They continue to improve and are incredibly helpful. My favorite source for this remains, hands down, Scribbr.  I favor its simplicity and convenience.

A single sign-on process with Google gets you registered. You’ll find standard AI-promoted options at the top, but scroll down to the bottom, and you will find Citation Generator, where you can click on Create List. Fill in any type of identifying information  (title, author ISBN number, URL, etc.), and click Cite.

The results page offers numerous options related to your search. Select the one you want, and you can begin building your list of references. You can name and save the list and return to it later as you add and edit. You can copy and paste the list directly from Scribbr, export it to a Google or Word doc, and more. You can easily find old-fashioned written Scribbr tutorials too. 

PDF tools worth sharing

So many PDF tools are available that the real challenge is discovering which ones are helpful and in which context. I love two, for different reasons.

Upload and edit PDFs

PDFescape is a free online tool that allows the user to upload a PDF and edit its components. I know that Adobe has similar features, but I find their tools overwhelming and hard to navigate, and many of their products require a paid subscription. In PDFescape, click on the Free Online button, upload your file and check out the simplistic editing tools. The tool has a written tutorial.

I’ve used PDFescape, for example, when displaying a sample student schedule to help parents understand what a day in the life of their child might look like at school. With this tool, I was able to remove all of a student’s identifying information, add in some areas and draw their attention to certain spots with highlights. 

Copy text from or convert PDFs

Smallpdf provides different tools. Say I find a great PDF that I want to grab text from — but it’s scattered around different parts of the document. Instead of sluggishly moving through a handful of sections and finding that the text pastes oddly or won’t copy properly on consecutive pages, I head over to Smallpdf and let it do the magic for me. 

The app also provides simple, free drag-and-drop PDF-to-Word conversion, which allows me to edit the content in Word much easier. (Note: The number of daily conversions is limited.) Click Convert Selectable Text Only, and, voila!, you will have a Word document that downloads, is generally very clean and is easily editable.

Screenshot beyond the web visible page to create a PDF

Fireshot ends the frustration of trying to screenshot a webpage that requires scrolling. It’s for those of us who have been annoyed when trying to size down a webpage to capture all the content you want, but just can’t quite fit it all. This happens often with multipage capture, leaving you piecing pages together like a puzzle, which is time-consuming and cumbersome. Fireshot is a Chrome browser add-on that helps. Chrome has a great tool called Fireshot. Check it out!

Other Chrome extensions

When I chatted with SmartBrief editor Diane Harrington about the topic for this blog post, she recommended some extensions she can’t live without. (Thanks, Diane!)

Keep huge group of tabs out of the way, easily accessible

OneTab helps Diane when she’s searching for a host of possible articles to summarize for her newsletters or tracks down several possible resources for an article she’s writing. Inevitably, she has to switch her attention to another project, so she clicks the browser icon, and the numerous tabs all collapse off-screen. When she’s ready to continue, she goes to the OneTab page, and they’re all listed by headline or title, giving a clearer view of all the options, and she can click to open them in a new tab again. It retains the list as long as you want it to and is available on any computer when you log in to Chrome.

Type shortcuts for frequently used phrases

TextBlaze (similar to TextExpander) uses a few letters as a shortcut to typing out longer phrases or notes, and Diane says it saves lots of time. After creating a free account, you type the text you frequently use — say, an email signature — into the box on TextBlaze’s website, create a code consisting of a slash and a few letters you’ll remember. When you’re using the Google Suite and some content management systems, type that quick code where you want the words, and it fills in what you’ve saved. Diane uses it for boilerplate details in certain emails, to create a logo letterhead, and to insert that line you see below about subscribing to a newsletter!

There are countless tools worth sharing out there that we can all use to work a bit smarter. While these are just a few, I found them to be constant go-tos in my work that increase my efficiency and effectiveness on the job. Check them out; you might agree! And email Diane if you want to share others; she’ll forward them to me to round up in a future article.


Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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