My 15 favourite productivity tools [free and paid]
Somehow we resisted spending $5 a month. We don’t know why either as as soon as we moved our e-mail both our productivity and the ability to automate things improved no end. We used to suffer from our e-mails going into spam. That issue is gone. We have shared calendars, sheets, documents, forms and a massive Google drive. Plus we can integrate lots of our automation tools into G-Suite. So creating a new Asana task from an e-mail is as easy as clicking the star icon.
Of course Asana – we’ve tried all the task management and productivity tools at least once, but this one is our absolute favourite. Asana is the productivity tool as far as we’re concerned. With 15 free users there’s no excuse for giving it a try. Plus for paid users they keep coming out with new tools. Portfolios and Gannt Charts being some of the most recent. Automation and integration, yes we automatically create tasks from our website, and clients can add tasks via customer specific forms. Asana does it all.
As we mentioned above, paid plan users of Asana get Gannt charts included in their subscription. For those on the free plan there’s Instagantt. This adds Gant Chart functionality for a reasonable annual fee. Tasks edited in Instagantt are updated in Asana and vice versa. You can also add dependencies and track workload management.
We confess, we don’t like e-mail much as a communication tool. We receive too much of it, lots of it is unnecessary and what’s more every time we reply to an e-mail, it spawns yet more incoming mail. So we moved essential e-mails to G-Suite, but for everything else we use Slack. Slack is awesome, another free to start tool that links people, and in our case lots of automated notifications. So updating Asana tasks, we get a short Slack message (not an e-mail). Forms get completed on websites, we get a Slack message. Our SRM gets updated, we get a Slack message. Even as a single user, Slack works great. Yes we know its for teams, a complete alternative for e-mail, add attachments and so on and so on.
My first Evernote note was created on the 20th July 2008, thats more than 10 years ago, and there have been almost 4000 more notes added since then. I started with the free plan, and then moved to the paid one when they made e-mail addition of notes a premium service. So those mail lists I sign up for just get sent straight into Evernote (did we say we didn’t like e-mail). We keep all sorts of things in there, from checklists, to draft blog entries, to screen clippings, code snippets, just about everything. Even Post-It notes. Of course it syncs with multiple Mac’s, iPad, iPhone so you can take your notes everywhere.
I’ve tried Alfred a couple of times in the past and not quite got to grips with it. Its essentially a way to create shortcuts to do a wide range of tasks. So, instead of using Spotlight (which is getting worse in terms of what it can do) I now use Alfred to search for files, search for notes within Evernote without opening it. I’ve even created a shortcut to create an Asana task (using zapier). There’s a whole host of functions and shortcuts that have been created by the Alfred community, so if you’re looking for a specific task, someone’s probably already created an Alfred shortcut for it.
This one started as a business need rather than a productivity tool. But as with everything we seem to find a way to use these tools to increase productivity and/or automate tasks. Zapier essentially links applications together. There are literally 100’s of applications that can work with Zapier. Our first use was to create a Salesforce entry from a form completed on a clients site. Now we track restaurant bookings, add rows to spreadsheets, create tasks in CRM systems, and of course integrate it to Asana to create tasks. There’s a free and a paid service. We took the paid service as much of our Zapier use helps our business clients.
Dropbox and Google Drive
I’ve put these two together as in fairness Dropbox and Google Drive do the same thing. But, right now we don’t have a preference and tend to use both. Our clients use either one or the other and so we can’t seem to get rid of one of them in favour of the other. Both services allow you to store and share files. Great for us sharing media files with our website development clients. Big files, no problem. Sharing in groups, privately, publicly, both services take care of it. There are free and paid services, paid gets you more storage.
This one is more of a niche tool. Klipfolio allows your to display data from a range of services on a custom dashboard. For us, this generally links to client data in Google Analytics, Google Ads, Facebook Ads etc. We find that clients can easily become overwhelmed with so much data. Its difficult to see what the data is telling you. We use Klipfolio to create summary dashboards, RAG status (Red, Amber, Green) and produce Key Performance Indicator reports. It can pretty much take data from any service that has an open API. Its an incredibly powerful tool, but this one is a paid service only.
We love Gravity Forms for building online forms on our website, and those of clients. Again we’ve tried them all, Caldera, Formcraft, Contact Form 7 even the forms built into themes, but nothing beats Gravity Forms. Again there are free and paid options, we took an Elite membership guess why, yes, integrations to Slack, Stripe, Agile CRM, Zapier and from these tools we can get connected to almost every online service. So when a new client fills in our Gravity Form, we don’t only get the details, but we get a Slack notification, create a new client in Agile CRM, and yes of course, a new task in Asana. All done automatically.
Having a great CRM system is essential for any small business. Again AgileCRM comes in free and paid plans, the free plan being quite generous in terms of features. It covers Sales, Marketing and Customer Support functions. Everything from automated e-mails, to online chat for support. Yes, of course you can track Sales, prospects and store prospect and customer data. One of the bonus features is the ability to link Agile CRM to Google calendar and create a special link for clients to set up appointments in your diary. We use this one a lot. In honesty we still haven’t used anywhere near the range of features available.
We tried a mass of time tracking tools, most of them too complex and unwieldy for our needs. In general we hate timesheets and the whole process of filling them in. With Daily, you occasionally get a pop-up window that simply asks ‘What are you doing?” or “what have you been doing for the last 30minutes?” – you just type in your answer. Answers are stored so subsequent entries typing the first few letters bring up options for you to select. You can edit task categories and export the data for any period. We just liked the fact that there was no real setup, and that it just pops up when it doesn’t know what you’re working on. Daily is now subscription only.
This is another new tool for us too. Basically TextExpander allows you to type a short character string and that string is expanded into a longer string. Our most often used snippet is “zzsig” which when typed automatically retypes “kind regards, Chris”. For phrases and sentences you use often text expander is a saviour. I can never remember my Apple password for example, so I just saved it as a snippet. No more forgetting. Snippets are just the tip of the iceberg, you can expand entire paragraphs, add variables within snippets and more. We’re still learning how to get the most out of this new tool. There are free and paid options.
I know we mentioned G-Suite at the beginning of this summary, but Google Calendar really is worthy of a mention on its own. We moved away from iCal and wholly onto Google calendar. Again it just integrates to everything else, including Asana of course, so now our Asana tasks appear on the days calendar.
There’s colour coding, subscription to other Google calendars, the mobile app is awesome. It just works, reliably, every time. Now there’s even a few cool features, so if you book flights and get a confirmation by e-mail in G-Mail, then the flight details are added into Google Calendar automatically. ( we used an Expedia booking for this ) Isn’t that cool. When I say I’m going swimming on Wednesday lunchtime, there’s even a neat picture of a swimming pool in the appointment. The more I think about AI progress, the more I think how Google Calendar could improve in the future.
Copy ’em Paste
I spent an age getting round to choosing the best clipboard manager and Copy ’em Paste just works. It just saves everything you save to the clipboard so you can go back and paste items again. There’s a favourites section, you can sync via iCloud to multiple machines and a whole host of other functions. Now I know that Alfred and text expander in some way could take over the functions of Copy ’em Paste, but for now our shortcuts have become second nature.
I know, I know – I said 15 but we can’t forget LastPass. The password manager. That’s it really, LastPass allows you to simply forget about remembering passwords ever again. Just remember the ‘Master’ password and the others are all at your fingertips. It can also generate strong passwords and update your passwords if you change them. With LastPass running in your browser (extensions for all browsers) your username and password are automatically completed for you. Best of all, LastPass is free.
There’s more details and links on the workflow page
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