The Best Digital Tools for Productivity
There’s no time like the present.
When it comes to productivity, this commonly-used phrase can both inspire and irritate. Let’s face it, though—we’ve all been there. Those days when there are a million things to do and you haven’t done, well, a thing. Whether you’re running your own business or are happily self-employed, setting goals, prioritizing, and managing your time can suddenly feel monumental when you’re aware the clock is ticking. And fast.
Instead of giving yourself a hard time, give yourself a break. Being (and staying) productive is a learned skill, in and of itself.
That’s why we’ve rounded up the best digital tools (apps and services) out there that make all the difference, productivity-wise, to you and your business. With the right systems in place, you can create structure in your day and actually focus on getting stuff done—productively.
Have you ever asked yourself, “what’s happening today?” only to refer to your desk calendar? While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with jotting down a few handwritten notes, these days it takes a lot more to keep your calendar well-and-truly updated. That’s why we’re big fans of apps that work with existing calendars (Google, Exchange, etc.) to keep those hectic agendas of yours nicely streamlined.
Want to schedule meetings without those awful back-and-forth emails? Who doesn’t? With Calendly, you can share your meeting link via email or embed it within your website, letting your invitees pick a time that works for them and voilà, the event is added to your calendar.
Schedules fill up fast, we know. With Fantastical, you can quickly find out if your co-workers, employees, or go-to point persons are available to attend your desired event or meeting. The latest version of this great calendar app features a dedicated window, complete with aesthetically-pleasing views of the day, week, month and year.
Marketing folks, this one’s for you. CoSchedule syncs calendars with marketing strategies so that everything is in one calendar. In other words—spreadsheets, be gone. It may sound complicated in theory, but in reality it’s a perfectly well-oiled machine, easily organizing and managing large campaigns or projects, integrating it with tools you love. The best part? This app is all about data collection—gaining powerful insights and identifying various ways to improve your marketing plans, all while driving productivity.
“If I could turn back time…if I could find a way…”
Sadly, we haven’t figured out a way yet to turn back time—but perhaps Cher is onto something. What if there was a way to track your time? Now meet those apps that take the guesswork out of how you spend your day, helping you make the most out of your 24 hours.
Quite apropos in the naming, Timing is an app that shows you exactly what you did at any given time, including which apps, documents, or websites you happened to be using. Think of it as your modern-day digital stalker (but one you’re happy to have). In their words, “stop guessing how you spend your time and focus on doing your best work instead.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
All this talk about productivity can sometimes make you feel like vegging out on the sofa with some comfort food, right? We hate to break it to you, but the Pomodoro Timer isn’t how to make a delicious spaghetti in a short amount of time. Instead, it’s a method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s to help with time management. This particular method, now digitized, uses standardized 25-minute work periods accompanied by 5- and 15-minute breaks.
Invoicing & Accounting Apps
You did the proper work, now it’s time to get properly paid. If the very thought of drafting, sending out and processing your invoice happens to throw you into a panic, don’t stress. Luckily there are so many digital services out there that handle your invoicing and accounting for you—no CPA background needed.
With its simplified interface and plenty of useful features (think customization and column editing), Wave also allows you to create recurring invoices and set reminders in one app. Only charging you for payments, payroll and premium support, it’s an incredibly useful tool for smaller businesses who are just getting started.
Often regarded as one of the best invoicing apps out there, think of QuickBooks as a general accounting app aimed at streamlining your business’ finances. Connecting your online bank account to their software helps to eliminate human error, while one dashboard allows for quick viewing and real-time updating.
Track your time, log your expenses, and manage your invoices—all in one place. Harvest is one of those cool expense trackers that allows you to snap various receipt photos with your smartphone while you enter in alternate expenses. When your clients pay, you’ll even get notified that they’ve done so. How’s that for efficiency?
Project Management Apps & Tools
Today’s workplace, increasingly remote as it is, is still driven by collaboration. And, it seems that the most effective way to keep these virtual lines of communication open is by having the right apps in place. This makes things so much easier for teams to prioritize their tasks, delegate responsibilities, and ultimately hold each other accountable.
Think of this tool as every project manager’s dream, keeping everyone involved in the communication loop. Based around to-do lists, Basecamp allows you to assign tasks freely and set their respective due dates, even following up on those tasks for you. Because everyone involved in the project has access to the created schedule, he or she is aware of what’s coming up and what needs to be done. There’s even a chat functionality (Campfire), which lets you talk in real time without having to use another app to do so.
As the name suggests, this collaborative tool features a spreadsheet-like interface and is used to assign tasks, track a project’s progress, manage calendars, share documents and the like. Keep in mind that Smartsheet is a web application, not an app, which means no installing is necessary. Everything you need is accessible online—cheers to that!
Somewhere between a to-do list, visual tracking tool, and a project management system lies Trello. This colorful interface consists of boards, which can be set up to let you assign various tasks to your team, add checklists, discussions, documents as well as track their progress. These “tasks” can be easily moved around, tagged with other names to help delegate and marked off once completed. Whew! We feel more productive already.
While handwritten notes may seem obsolete these days, the need for digital note-taking is ubiquitous. A game changer for how you get things done, note-taking apps are a must in our ever-evolving business world.
Whether that’s taking notes in a meeting, jotting something down when you feel inspired, or even during an impromptu call, Evernote is a go-to app that keeps track of all your notes. Easily locatable via a keyword search, each note easily be organized with tags or simply filed away for later reference.
Still fancy that pen and paper? Squid revolutionizes the way we write with digitized note-taking. Simply use your finger or stylus to write on your Android tablet, phone or Chromebook, just like you would on a piece of paper. Then watch how all your notes are displayed in a card-like interface for simplified access. Plus, a handy toolbar at the top allows you to customize your ink, resize what you’ve written, zoom in and out, and a whole lot more.
Distractions are, unfortunately, everywhere. And whether you work at home, in an office, or your local hipster café, the worst distractions are almost always right in front of you (i.e. your computer and phone). The best thing to do? Fight the good fight by using handy apps that are specifically designed to combat this natural urge to procrastinate.
Ideal for students, entrepreneurs, and heck, anyone who tends to get easily distracted, 1Focus lets you block distracting websites and apps. The desired result? Productivity goes through the roof. Since it’s entirely up to you how you program it (only you know which videos on YouTube you’re triggered by—Tiny Kitchen, anyone?), block whichever ones you find most distracting and start focusing on what actually needs to be done.
Meet Pocket, an app specifically designed to avoid procrastination. This pro-productivity app works in your favor, letting you save various links and useful articles you come across (ahem, while you’re meant to be working) for later. With a simple button that’s installed via an extension onto your web browser, it’s easy to use and completely free.
Truth be told, maximizing productivity just means making smarter use of your time.
Now as you move forward, the temptation to work around the clock or cram more into your already-packed calendar will (hopefully) become a thing of the past. But remember, you’re wiser now—you’ve got all the apps and services to do the heavy lifting.
And, if you happen to have a favorite app or process that keeps those productive juices flowing, we’re all ears! Feel free to leave a comment below and tell us about it.