Molly Cranna for TIME

How the Internet Can Make You Way More Productive

Between cat videos and online banking, the web runs the gamut of wasteful and wonderful when it comes to getting things done. And if you were to weigh the Internet’s time wasters against its time-saving tools, it would be like an elephant sitting across a fulcrum from a field mouse.

But through all the advances that have come with cloud computing, the Internet is quickly turning into a giant productivity machine. Harness its might for your own personal gains by tapping into one of these time-saving web-based services.

Shopping is great when you’re soaking in some retail therapy, but when you’re doing it because you have to, it can feel like a major chore. Mezi, a free iOS app, works like a personal assistant that you can text message. Just tell the service what you want—airfare, clothing, dinner reservations, personal electronics—and Mezi’s agents scour the web for the best deals, even using coupons if possible to get you a good deal.

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Staffed by a network of price-hunting experts backed by algorithms, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, the company will ask for your credit card information the first time around, but processes payments through Stripe, which has 128-bit encryption. Take note though: for their trouble, Mezi factors a ‘tip’ into the price of the product it has quoted for you. Still, that's only fair—even online virtual assistants need to pay their rent.

Back in the day, it used to be all about what you knew. Then with the advent of the Internet, knowing where and how to find stuff became more important than anything else. But now in the semantic web where everything is interconnected, speed and accuracy are the new measuring stick. Wonder helps you work faster and smarter by letting you outsource your research via the web. Just log into the service’s website, ask a question, and a network of researchers does all your dirty work, unearthing the answers that you seek.

A refreshing (but relatively pricey) change from the web’s always free (but barely worth it) ways, the service charges $19 per question, or you can pay a discounted $89 for a group of five requests, $249 for 15 inquiries, or $799 to unravel 50 mysteries. When you think about it, those fees make sense because time is money, and Wonder can trim hours off your researching, freeing you to do more complex and creative work.

Top 10 Tech Product Designs of 2014

Nest Acquired by Google in Jan. 2014, Nest Labs wants to turn your home into a smart device. The home automation system includes Internet-connected smoke detectors and thermostats, which have screens and chic, round designs — a huge design boost for devices that haven't really changed in recent decades.Aya Brackett—Nest
DJI Inspire 1 The latest DJI quadcopter retains the simple style that's made their drones so popular, but adds 4K video capability — and the ability to transmit the HD video wirelessly to an on-the-ground devices. A new ground-facing camera also allows Inspire 1 to fly steadily to keep the video footage clean.
Osmo Tangram
Jawbone's Up3 wristband
Nerf Rebelle Rapid Red Blaster
Oculus Rift Crescent Bay The latest Oculus Rift prototype, Crescent Bay, marks one step further before the commercial release of the virtual reality handset. Crescent Bay features upgrades like 360-degree head tracking, a lighter weight, and high-quality audio. Lucky participants in the demos recalled the mind-boggling immersion in the scenes they were watching. The consumer version, Oculus Rift, is expected to launch as early as April 2015.
Nest Acquired by Google in Jan. 2014, Nest Labs wants to turn your home into a smart device. The home automation system

Aya Brackett—Nest
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The more frantic life gets, the bigger the mess it leaves in its wake. And between 40 hours in the office, at least 10 more hours of overtime, working out, catching up with friends, networking, and maybe even dating, who has time to do the dishes, clean the kitchen, or vacuum? A subscription-based housekeeping program with a companion smartphone app, Alfred can tidy up your apartment for as little as $15 per week.

After signing up, you have an initial meeting in your home with one of the company’s managers where you walk through your preferences and hand off a set of spare keys to be given to your own personal butler. Then, just tell the app what you need—packages to be picked up on Monday, dry cleaning to get dropped off on Thursday—and he or she will take care of the tasks, letting you continue on with your hectic life.

When you’re locked in on a project, everything from eating to allergies can be a major distraction. Rather than breaking away from your desk to solve these problems, Postmates brings the solution to you. What started off as a food delivery service in San Francisco has now stretched to an everything-fetching app operating in multiple areas around the country. And instead of only carting pizza and Chinese food around, Postmates hosts the menu from some of the best joints in town, only charging $4.99 for delivery.

Considering how long it can take to get cross town in traffic around dinnertime, that has to be the best deal going. And in select cities, Postmates has opened its own ‘General Store,’ helping to deliver off-menu items that include everything from Post-it notes to Swedish Fish to Zantac—the essentials for surviving a late night hackathon or presentation planning session.

It happens all the time in the movies — a high-powered leader who is about to meet with someone she doesn’t know is handed a dossier of everything they could find about the mysterious meeting participant. In the film, this simple act imparts the importance to the boss, but in reality, we all have the ability to be treated like a head honcho.

Charlie, a free virtual assistant that links to your social, email, and calendar accounts, can provide a report on whom you’re meeting with or calling, well before the appointment begins. Pulling the data from either publicly-available sources, your social feeds, or even the news coverage of their company, Charlie’s insights can make you not only seem amazingly well-informed, but it can also improve your relationships with these business and personal contacts. And best of all, after signing up, it takes no time at all to run.

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