Time – the one commodity that is always in short supply. Until someone figures out how to increase this most valuable finite resource the only way to add more hours to our day, or week, is to become more productive – to do more in less time.
One of the ways to do this might be to hire an assistant and delegate some of your tasks to them. However, this is not always possible, particularly for new start-ups and entrepreneurs. So, often the answer of course, is to follow the adage: Work smarter not harder.
Over the years I have tried many so called “productivity tools”, some good, some not so good. Here is my current list of favourites: 13 FREE productivity tools that I know will save you time and help you be more productive.
If you can’t afford to hire an assistant to help keep you organized and productive, Evernote is the next best thing. Evernote can serve as your filing cabinet for research, important data, files, photos and even audio recordings. Besides having an amazing free version with great features, it is extremely simple to use.
Need to find a bit of information that you filed into Evernote many months ago? Just type a word into the search bar, one that can be found somewhere in the note or one of the tags you placed on it. Evernote quickly and automatically filters through your notes and finds all the matches to your search.
If you prefer a little more organization to your system, you can create folders and subfolders within Evernote. Your folders might be arranged by project or client name, or they might be folders for different types of tasks. It is totally up to you.
You can use Evernote everywhere. Use it in the cloud, or with Windows or Mac, on your desktop and of course mobile versions for iOS and Android. And they all stay in sync so your updated Evernote filing cabinet is always available to you, whether you are online or offline.
But for me, one of the other best features that come with is the Evernote Web Clipper. The Clipper sits on your browser tool bar. Whenever you find an article, a website, a PDF or even just a single line of text that you want to save, simply click on the Web Clipper, select what you want to save and it is automatically deposited into Evernote for you. You can even tell it which notebook to save it in.
If you’re looking for an electronic to-do list that can follow you across all platforms, Todoist is one of the most popular. The free version offers quite a bit of flexibility without the complexity that can sometimes bog you down when learning a new tool. If you want reminder notifications, you’ll need to upgrade to the Premium version, but even that is very reasonably priced and includes several other important features like attaching files to tasks, color-coding and the ability to turn emails into tasks.
No more sending documents back and forth via email for review or updates. Google Docs has become the go-to for sharing and collaboration. Everyone working on a project can input their own data into shared spreadsheets. Word documents can be saved or created on Google Docs to be accessed from your mobile devices when you’re not at home or shared with individuals or groups of people. Your changes are always saved automatically as you work so you don’t have to worry about losing your work and having to start over. All the documents you create, along with all the documents that have been shared with you, are easy to find in one place.
If like me, you need to use several calendars across different platforms then Sunrise Calendar may be the app you have been waiting for. It can bring them all together and keep you in sync no matter whether you are at, your desktop, on your phone or sitting on the plane and offline. It works seamlessly with both Google calendars and your iCloud calendar, bringing your personal schedule, work schedule and multiple other calendars together. That way you never overlap, or miss an important appointment, like that DQ date with your daughter after school, or the business phone call you need to make from home later in the evening.
Social media is a great free tool for building relationships and promoting your business. Unfortunately, the amount of time required to maintain an effective social media presence across multiple social platforms can often be time consuming. To add efficiency to this area without adding cost, utilize a free social media organization and posting tool like Buffer.
You can add your social media accounts, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and others to Buffer. When you find that great article to share with your followers, simply click on your Buffer share tool and select which platforms you want to share it on. You can choose to have it shared immediately or placed in the queue for sharing at a specified time. It also makes it easy to schedule your posts strategically to go out throughout the day, week or month. Being able to schedule all your posts with one tool will always save you time over going in and posting them individually.
Keeping up to date on the latest trends is important in our fast-paced world. Unfortunately, finding the facts you need, without getting distracted by the over-abundance of information available, can be a challenge. This is where Feedly comes in. It not only limits the incoming articles to only those topics you choose, it also easily organizing them into separate groupings. Everything related to marketing can be funnelled into one list, while everything related to a specific industry could be sent into another.
Besides setting parameters for what you do and don’t want funnelled into your newsfeed, it also includes tools for saving and sharing the content that comes up on your feed. See something that intrigues you but don’t have time to read the whole article right now? Bookmark to ‘Saved for Later.’
Doing research on a topic and keeping all the articles in an Evernote folder? Your Evernote Web Clipper is available in Feedly along with many other seamless integrations, including to Buffer, Hootsuite and Pocket all mentioned in this article.
Gmail, like Google Docs, has become one of the most popular online programs for both personal and business use. It is not only free, but has most of the features you would expect from a paid email software program. You can easily setup all your emails to be received into your Gmail inbox and select the email you want to designate in the ‘From’ field. Google does a great job of filtering out spam for you too.
Gmail allows you to organize your email in multiple ways. You can set up folders by topic or by email address using different filters or moving them manually. You color code emails with labels to quickly see which emails relate to which priority. Conversation grouping keeps the entire thread of a conversation together so you don’t have to go searching for past emails related to a discussion.
In addition to all the email functionality, Gmail integrates with Google Calendar, so you can accept and send invites within Gmail and Google Docs for easy attachments. Several of the other tools on this list are compatible with Gmail, along with a long host of other programs as well. As a previous user of MacMail and Outlook I can tell you that I don’t miss either of them.
Like Buffer, mentioned earlier, Hootsuite is all about keeping you on task with your social media. It provides scheduling options for social media posts like Buffer does, but it provides another time-saving feature related to social media that can be just as important, funnelling the social media posts from others into relevant feed channels on your Hootsuite dashboard.
This aspect of Hootsuite works similar to Feedly, only it is collecting the posts from social media channels rather than blogs and websites. You can include a feed from each of your social media accounts as well as create custom feeds based on keywords. These custom feeds are the big value in Hootsuite, allowing you to quickly find current and relevant information at a glance.
This application provides a connecting bridge between your productivity tools that allows you to automate tasks that you would otherwise have to complete manually. It is basically a macro that has connectivity with many different applications – when this happens in app #1, do this in app #2 (or within the same app). An example would be a Zap (Zapier’s term) that automatically sets up a new Trello card from an email you received in Gmail or automatically creates events on your Google Calendar when you set up a reminder inside Evernote.
The free version has a limitation on the number of tasks you can run per month and there are a few programs that can only be connected to a paid Zapier account. If you find the free version helpful, you can always upgrade to the paid version to increase your monthly Zap allowances. Once you have tried Zapier, I think you may wonder how you ever lived without it.
1Password (Free on iOS and Android)
Having strong passwords for all your logins is the best protection against hackers and identity theft. The downside of having multiple unique passwords is that you won’t be able to remember them all. This becomes a particular problem when you try to access an app or log into a website via one of mobile devices or from a different browser for the first time. The password may be remembered under the default browser on your computer, but you are not able to access the app or program from other browsers and devices. 1Password provides the solution by safely storing all your logins and passwords in one app on your mobile device.
The full paid version will provide additional security for you by generating new passwords for you that are super secure, plus identity theft protection by keeping your credit card and banking information securely held, where only you can access it.
Just like your pants pocket, the digital Pocket is your place to quickly tuck something away for later. It might be a video, an email, a blog article or a meme. Pocket integrates with the major browsers and hundreds of apps, allowing you quickly save something into your pocket to pull up on your tablet or smartphone later, during your commute or some other time when you have time to go through the various items you quickly stashed away for ‘when I have time.’
The easy on your eyes graphical layout of Trello is just one of the features that has attracted many users to this online project management tool. Ease of use, especially when sharing project lists with your clients, is another reason people gravitate towards Trello as their go-to tool. It is also one of the reasons Trello has built such a following so fast. Once you invite someone to use it for a project collaboration, they quickly realize how simple it is to use and begin using it themselves.
Unlike the free version of Todoist, Trello provides features like file attachment and email reminders as part of its free service. You can easily drag and drop tasks from one list to another and use color coding to increase the visual organization of your projects, tasks and teams.
Your collaborators or teammates can mark tasks complete and send you comments or questions related to a task that you can answer from within Trello or from your email inbox. All your communication related to a project or a task is tracked within Trello, where everyone who shares access to that task can read it.
There are many programs available for management of your email lists. However, MailChimp remains the favorite when it comes to a free version that still offers the basic services you need to develop and send emails out to your mailing list.
Trying to send an email to dozens or hundreds of people at once from your standard email account can get your email address blocked as a spammer. MailChimp helps you avoid that, but does much more. It allows you to schedule your group emails ahead of time, so you could set up a sequence of emails to go out over a period of time. It can help you develop relationships via email, doing it all while you are asleep or busy with other tasks.
The program also contains multiple premade templates to choose from that can be further customized to fit your needs. No need to hire a graphic designer for your newsletter, just enter your info into pre-formatted forms and come off looking like a pro.
There are plenty of other free productivity tools that could be added to the list. But, having used each of these myself I feel very comfortable in recommending them.
I am sure that many of you will have your own favorites. Please share them with everyone below in the comments.
Until next time. Stay productive.
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