This post is off topic, but I thought it might be helpful for some.

I have friends and colleagues that frequently ask me about productivity tools or collaboration tools.  I have a personal passion for being an early adopter of web-based tools and I feel like I’ve signed up for about a thousand different free trials over the past couple years.  But after using most tools once, I usually never touch it again.  But, there is about 1 out of 100 that becomes simply an indispensable tool in my life as a Product and Marketing Director.

What makes something indispensable? If you feel that the absence of the tool would significantly impact your ability to do your job or enjoy your life, then it’s indispensable.  Even if I don’t use them every day, these are tools that I return to time and time again.

Here they are:

Skitch (oDesk Screensnap or Jing if you’re on a PC) – A screenshot and drawing tool is probably the single most important tool that I use on a daily basis.  As a product manager and as a manager of remote contractors, I feel that it’s absolutely essential to have one of these in your toolkit.  Whether it’s filing bugs, highlighting UI issues, showing how-to instructions or even making simple wireframes, there’s nothing better.

RememberTheMilk – There are hundreds of To-Do and Task management apps out there, but simple always wins. Remember The Milk plugs in to Gmail or Google Apps so you can have your task list and your email inbox side by side.

Posterous – This “posting” application serves as my Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter posting application.  Simple wins here because you just email your pic, video, etc and it’s automatically posted to whichever channels you prefer.

SEO For Firefox – If you’re even thinking about SEO, you must get SEO for Firefox to assist in your daily education about SEO.  Every Google search you perform becomes a learning opportunity by seeing rich data about every result.

Google Docs / Apps – I didn’t realize how dependent I was on Google Apps (mostly because of threaded email conversations) and Google Docs until I used Zimbra.  Zimbra made me want to rip out hair and punch computer screens.

SurveyMonkey – There’s nothing revolutionary about SurveyMonkey, except that it is exceptionally easy and just plain works.

Uservoice – As a product manager, getting customer feedback is essential.  Uservoice does it the best of all the “floating-Javascript-widget feedback companies.”

UserTesting – Everyone should know the importance of user testing by now.  Not surprisingly UserTesting helps you do user testing.  And it’s incredibly convenient — $39 (they raised their prices) and you get a 15 min flash video of someone testing your website within an hour.  Special shout-out to their customer service team which is second to none.

PBWorks – Easy, free, beautiful.  Setup wikis for just about anything. – One of those critical tools that I go back to all the time to check out how companies are doing.   The data is +/- 50% or more from actuals in my experience, but the trend lines are usually pretty good.  So, it becomes pretty easy to assess the health of a company by looking at their website traffic trends. – Of all the file sharing sites, I personally like the best.  It’s easy and seamless and doesn’t try to upsell enterprise offerings or anything like that.  And certainly doesn’t nickel and dime over delivery options. – I don’t use it much, but it’s helpful to be able to look at competitors and get a sense of how much they are spending on SEM.

NPS – Built a tool for this in-house, but I know KISS Metrics is working on something here that might be kinda cool.  Haven’t used it yet though so can’t say for sure.

LinkedIn – I use it for recruiting and sales.  For recruiting, there’s nothing better than just sending a Friend request with a personal message: “I don’t know you, but I’d like to talk to you about a job opportunity.”  This keeps it free and gets you around the ridiculous INMail fees.

Noticeably missing from the list:

Anything Calendar related.  I still haven’t found a calendaring app that works better than emailing someone with available times.  Old fashioned, but it works.

Social media outlets: Twitter, Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon, Sphinn, Mixx, Quora, Foursquare.  I love all of these tools, but don’t consider any one of them indispensable.  They are all too similar and few, if any, have a truly unique value proposition to me.  Over time, this may definitely change.

All wireframing applications – Cacoo, Hotgloo, etc.

All charting / analysis tools – Excel is still king.

Any streaming music sites – I have zero loyalty to any of them. I also don’t think the trend of social data integrated with streaming music will make a difference.

Things that I think may eventually make my indispensable list: TokBox, TableauPublic (I love sharing data), GetSatisfaction.

Feel free to add comments with links to tools that you find indispensable in your daily work / life.