Productivity Tools for Entrepreneurs
There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. Yet, so many successful entrepreneurs do just that. They start a business, run a house, and keep up with social commitments. What’s the secret?
The secret lies in our productivity.
Thankfully, most of us no longer have manual work to do. Construction, agriculture, and so many other industries require that you move as fast as possible to improve productivity. Think of a line worker at a factory, doing the same task day in and day out. Their productivity is dependent on how fast, and how efficiently, they move.
People with desk jobs don’t have to worry about this as much. Our work might have a very different measure of productivity – based on how many tasks we get done off our to-do list, how many pages we read or write, or how much money we make per hour.
The concept of work smarter, not harder, thus applies to most people who work at a desk. 9-5 is no longer the name of the game. If you can get your work done in four hours a day, kudos to you. That is the key takeaway from “work smarter, not harder”.
What makes it possible? The right tools.
We don’t need to spend long hours typing out thoughts. We can dictate them, outsource the transcription, and have someone do the writing for us. We can use email tools that make it easier to move emails to to-do lists. We can communicate with the entire team through one platform, instead of sending individual emails and then compiling everyone’s thoughts.All these tools help us get our work done faster. They make us more productive. We’ve put together a collection of tools that can boost productivity, and it’s up to you to decide which ones work for you. We will look at tools for 1) project/team management, 2) social media management, 3) time management, 4) file storage, 5) reminders & calendars, and 6) email management. We also give a special nod to 7) an over-arching tool that can help across all these categories.
PROJECT & TEAM MANAGEMENT
The larger the team, the tougher it is to keep track of emails, thoughts and replies to question. There are too many emails, going back and forth, often losing focus till people have forgotten why the email was sent in the first place. Going back and forth over things on email often also results in people being missed out on in replies, resulting in a lack of communication. Finally, there is no simple way to archive all the conversations in one place, for future reference.
Thankfully, there are some amazing tools that can help you centralize all information. No longer will you be going through 20 emails to figure out what John had to say about the new newsletter template.
Basecamp is a web-based, project management tool. Features include to-do lists, text documents, milestone creation, time tracking, file sharing and messaging. It is best for large teams that are working on a project together and want to reduce the back and forth between different software/tools and email.
All customers start out with a 60-day free trial. After that, prices range from $20 a month to $3000 a year, depending on the number of projects you need to manage. Basecamp works on Safari, Chrome, Firefox and IE 9+. There are also apps available on the Apple Store and Google Play Store.
Trello uses kanban, a method that uses cards and boards to represent tasks and projects. Teams can easily move cards around, create lists for cards, and leaves comments or add documents to individual cards. It is best for teams that need to keep track of tasks in a project and want to visually see ideas being implemented. Trello makes it very easy to leave comments for users, assign tasks, and view deadlines on a calendar within the platform.
Trello is free to use, and maintains that all main features will remain free to use forever. They have a Trello Business Class level, which charges $5 per user per month ($45 per year per user), as well as Trello Gold (same costs) which can also be attained by inviting new people to use Trello. Trello works on Chrome, Safari, Firefox and IE 10. There are also apps for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire HD.
Asana is a web platform that aims to cut email communication within teams. Each team gets a workspace, each workspace has projects, and within those projects you have tasks. Tasks can be assigned to people, have deadlines and users can easily attach documents and leave comments. It is best for very large teams or companies that want to cut down on the email flowing back and forth between people. There is a learning curve associated with using Asana.
Asana starts at $50 per month for 15 users. Asana has a web-based platform as well as an iOS app.
SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT
With the increased dependence on social media for staying in touch, networking and marketing businesses, it is starting to take over the entire day. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn are just some of the major platforms. It is has become very important that entrepreneurs be able to automate their day as far as social media is concerned so they can handle the flow of information, easily track metrics and stop having to spend hours updating each account manually. All these issues are eating away at productivity, yet can be handled by using one of these social media management tools.
Hootsuite is a social media dashboard that allows you to monitor streams across various social networks. For example, if you’re monitoring Twitter, you can add a stream for your home page, one for mentions, one for DMs, another for lists, and also streams across search parameters. All of this can take place on the same screen. It is best for an agency or team that needs to manage multiple social media accounts across social networks, and wants to be able to track analytics. You can also schedule updates in advance. There is a learning curve associated with Hootsuite.
The basic platform is free to use but only includes three social media profiles. The business account, with a 30 day free trial, has 50 included, but can go up to 100 and is $8.99 per month. There is also an Enterprise level but pricing information is not available on the website. Hootsuite can be used in the browser, or via the iOS or Android app. There is also an extension available for Chrome.
Buffer is a social media posting tool that allows you to both buffer your updates over a period of time (for instance, over the course of a week) without having to be on the social network daily, and keeps track of analytics for each post (number of clicks, replies, impressions etc). It is best for people that love analytics and want to be able to keep track of how much traction each update gets. It is also recommended for people who don’t want to log in every day to schedule tweets or Facebook posts, as Buffer allows you to schedule up to 200 updates in your queue.
A free plan allows you to connect one profile for each social network and queue 10 posts each, but the Awesome plans (at $10 per month) allows you to connect up to 12 profiles and queue 200 posts. You can also add a team member, connect RSS feeds and much more. Buffer is available via web app and iOS/Android apps. Most websites/apps that allow social sharing have the Buffer option available, so you can easily add tweets/updates to your Buffer queue directly from the article/page you want to share.
How many times have you looked at the clock and realized that half the day has passed you by without getting anything important done. Bad time management can severely impact productivity. Time management issues are often caused by not knowing how to prioritize the day and not being able to focus enough. These apps can help you reclaim your day.
Where does your time go? With Rescue Time, you can now keep track of what you were doing on your laptop or computer. It tracks your computer and Internet usage and gives you weekly reports, a dashboard to view your day on, and allows you to set goals. It is best for people who want to know what they spend time on. You can keep track of time spent on social media sites and email, to help you narrow down on where your time management issues lie.
Basic features are free to use, but you can upgrade at $9 per month and block distracting websites, track time spent away from computer, get more detailed reports etc. Rescue Time works on Mac, PC, Linux and Android supported devices.
Focus Booster uses the Pomodoro technique to help you track time, take breaks and much more. The pomodoro method keeps you focused for X amount of time (usually 25 minutes) followed by a 5 minutes break. You can track each session, and file it under client accounts, so you can keep track of how much time is spent on each project. It is best for people who struggle to stay focused while working, and want to track timesheets.
Cost: The basic desktop and online timers are free to use, but at AUD2.99 per month you can access all the features and get unlimited data retention. You can use Focus Booster on your desktop via the web app, or download the software to your desktop.
No longer are you limited to using USB sticks or email to get files from one person to the next. With cloud storage becoming a popular solution for most companies, you should now be looking at storing all work related materials in a way that anyone in the organization (with access) can access the files without too much hassle. This will save time as you won’t be uploading the file to your email for the nth times, be able to access files on the laptop, iPad or phone, and be able to share a simple link if you want to allow someone else to read it.
Dropbox allows you to store files, images or videos in the cloud. You sign up for an account, and can access the files from your phone, tablet or computer. You can share files or folders as well. It is the go-to solution for cloud based storage, allowing you to sync across devices easily. Keep backups of your phone, work files or pictures and never worry again. It is a great solution if you constantly have to share documents with team members.
Dropbox for Business is $15 per user per month. Dropbox is available via the web platform, desktop, and on iOS and Android.
Google Drive is Google’s solution to cloud storage. Everyone with a Google account has a Google Drive account as well. Just like Dropbox, you can store and share files and folders in the cloud. Google Drive also integrates with Gmail and Google Apps. Just like Dropbox, Google Drive is perfect for teams that need to collaborate on documents and files.
You get 15 GB of free storage to start off with, but starting at $1.99 per month you can get another 100 GB. Google Apps users that are paying for the service pay slightly different rates under the Business plans. You can access Google Drive via desktop or laptop, and on your iOS and Android devices.
REMINDERS & CALENDARS
So many of us rely on paper lists to get our daily work done, but it’s not the most efficient way of organizing your day. Paper lists have to be transferred to calendars if deadlines are attached, and can also easily get lost. Here are some apps that turn the simple to-do list into a lot more.
Cal & Any.Do
Cal and Any.do are actually two different apps. Any.do is the list-making app, which allows you to set deadlines, add sub-tasks and keep track of things you need to get done on any day. Cal is the companion calendar app which syncs with Any.do to add your date-defined tasks to your calendar automatically. The combo is best for people that want to use a to-do list to prioritize tasks, but don’t want to have to manually sync with a calendar service.
Both apps are free to use. Cal is available for Android and iOS, as is Any.do, Any.do also integrates into Gmail, and has a Chrome extension and web-app.
Wunderlist is a list-making app that lets you create and share lists with other people. You can access public lists, leave comments on tasks, or sync across devices. It is a great option for people who need to create collaborative to-do lists.
Wunderlist is free to use, but Wunderlist Pro starts at $4.99 per month with unlimited sub-tasks and files. Wunderlist for Business starts at $4.99 per month per user and has even more features. You can download Wunderlist for your computer (Mac and Windows), or download apps for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire.
Most of us struggle with our inboxes on a daily basis. Too many emails coming in; and not enough time to go through all of them. Many of us use our inbox as a to-do list, but end up monitoring the inbox all day and waste time answering unimportant emails as a result. Here are a few apps that allow you to take control of your inbox.
Boxer is an email management app that allows you to regain control over your inbox. Using swipe gestures, you can move emails to Evernote, archives, trash or lists (among other options). This allows you to move through your inbox quickly, highlighting the important tasks that must be address today and moving the remainder to tomorrow or later. Since Boxer supports more services than Mailbox, it is better for people looking to connect work accounts. It works for Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo, Aol, Outlook and iCloud accounts. Boxer also integrates with Sanebox, another email management app on this list.
Boxer is free to use, but with basic features. You can buy the app for a one-time fee of $9.99. Boxer is available for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire.
Similar to Boxer in many ways, Mailbox also uses swipe gestures and allows you to move email around. You can archive, delete, or snooze (the email comes back into the inbox at a later time) an email. The difference is that with time, Mailbox learns, so it will automatically start applying actions to emails based on your previous actions. Mailbox and Dropbox work together for seamless integration. It is best for people who use Gmail, Google Apps, or iCloud email (as those are the only ones supported).
Mailbox is free and is available on iOS and Android devices but also recently launched an OSX version.
Similar to the previously mentioned Boxer and Mailbox, Sanebox reduces the volume of email you deal with daily by allowing you to move messages easily to “work on later” lists. It learns from your actions and moves less important emails to a SaneLater folder, which sends you a summary of emails in it. This allows you to focus on only the important emails. It is the best solution for people who get hundreds of emails a day, and want to get through them quickly, but are willing to pay the price.
Sanebox is a lot more powerful as it supports almost every email provider and works on any device or operating system. There is a 14-day free trial, but the actual software/app is charged $7 per month for 1 email account, $12 per month for 2, and $36 per month for 4. The amount of attachments and other features also vary with the level you pay for.
Hopefully this comprehensive list of productivity apps and software can help you get the most out of your day. As mentioned earlier, they all offer different features and it might be necessary to play around with some of them to figure out which fit well into your daily requirements.