13 Productivity Tools (plus 7 anti-tech productivity hacks)
Implement these powerful productivity tools to jump-start your efficiency and make most of our most precious resource – time.
My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.
Running a business can be very time consuming. Running two can be a nightmare, especially if you’re a little A.D.D like myself (my friends would say I’m a lot A.D.D., but that’s another story altogether). Because of this, I am always on the lookout for new “hacks” that help me increase my productivity, efficiency, and overall “good use” of time. Let’s face it, even if you’re not running a business, you could probably use some productivity enhancements.
Technology can be a huge distraction (think Facebook mining, crushing candy, or binge watching episodes of OITNB on Netflix). While it can be a great hinderance to getting items checked off of your to-do list, it can also be a huge proponent to your success if leveraged correctly. Below are some of my favorite tools that help me stay on top of my game, as well as some behavioral hacks that aid in my productivity.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t use Dropbox. I love that my files are synced across all of my devices and that I’m able to store things on the go. If ever I am away from my computer and mobile devices, I can retrieve my files from any browser. I also love that I can share specific folders with other people and also integrate into other applications. The best part for me is that the desktop version integrates with my operating system and allows for seamless usage with other system folders.
Dropbox offers 2GB of free storage, plus up to 16GB additional free storage for getting your friends to join. If you need more storage, they recently upped their paid storage to 1TB for as little as $8.25/mo (with a 1-year subscription).
Like Dropbox, Google Drive also has synced storage across all devices and can be accessed via Internet browsers, but they also have real-time document creation with Google Docs (and Sheets & Slides). This means there is no need to open up a word processor, spreadsheet, or presentation software and upload to storage—you can create them within Google Drive and export them as needed. It’s an amazing tool with one caveat: you must have internet access to use it. Despite that, it’s a tool I use very often.
Drive comes with 15GB of free storage and offers tiered pricing if you need more storage
iCloud is Apple’s version of Google Drive. You can create web-based documents and have them accessible across all Apple devices. One thing I love about iCloud over Drive is Apples amazingly intuitive design capabilities with documents and presentations. If I’m looking to design a better looking piece, iCloud is my go-to. I can also access it offline and sync it to the cloud when I have Internet connection.
Lists, Notes & Clipping
Evernote is a productivity dream. Not only does is allow me to collect lists and other various notes, I am able to organize them and use the powerful search tool to find them later. I can even scan in documents, like receipts, and Evernote will help me categorize them through word-recognition. It also integrates nicely with many of my other productivity tools and has many add-ons like the Web Clipper browser plugin.
Like other cloud storage apps, Evernote can be downloaded on just about any device and all of your content will be synced seamlessly. Their desktop application is simply amazing and if I’m ever away from my devices, I can access all of my content through any browser. It’s free, but does come with an upgraded version as well.
I find myself CONSTANTLY copying and pasting content from one application to another, especially as I’m writing content where I want to include multiple links. I’ll copy in one application, then paste in another; I’ll go back to the original application and copy again, then switch over again to paste—again. This gets very monotonous and time consuming. Take for instance writing a blog article like this one. Not only am I copying/pasting a bunch of HTML styling from within the post, but I am also copying and pasting tons of useful links from a notepad on my desktop.
I didn’t even realize this was a problem because I didn’t realize there was a solution. That was until Guy Kawasaki showed me this amazingly-simple tool for the Mac called Jumpcut. It’s a free snipping tool that allows Mac users the ability to copy multiple things at once and then paste later on. It stores up to 20 “snippets” at a time and provides quick, natural, intuitive access to your clipboard’s history.
Now writing blog posts like this isn’t so time consuming or monotonous.
Unroll.Me has saved me hundreds of hours by making one of my most tedious tasks simple again—checking email. We all get promotional emails and newsletters out the you-know-what; Unroll.Me, filters that stuff and compiles it into one easy-to-digest email at the beginning of the day. So instead of having 15 separate emails from various subscriptions, you get ONE curated email. Best of all, there’s an easy unsubscribe feature from the dashboard that allows you to unsubscribe from any unwanted sources with the click of a button—no more having to go through each email individually and unsubscribe one-by-one. Check out his screenshot from my Unroll.me account:
This shows that I have “unrolled” 260 emails from my inbox, as well as unsubscribed another 107 with one-click. I’ve heard SaneBox is great for this type of stuff as well, but I have not needed to try a new tool yet. It’s also a paid tool, whereas Unroll.Me is free.
MailChimp helps me organize my email lists, automate campaigns and design amazingly-easy responsive templates, all in one place. In addition, their intuitive dashboard gives me everything I need to know about the performance of my email campaigns. They have an app for iOS or Android devices that enable you monitor your performance. It’s also free, which I can’t complain about.
Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.
There’s no rocket science behind this one, but Apple Mail is something I have come to rely on every day. I have many different email accounts that I need to check regularly; Apple Mail helps me keep all my accounts organized and easily accessible in one place. It’s been a while since I’ve used a Windows device, but I’m assuming that the features are on par with Outlook. It gets better though…
With the MailButler plugin by feingeist, I can schedule emails to go out through Apple Mail at a designated time and date instead of at the time I draft it (or let them sit forgotten in my drafts folder forever). This comes in extremely handy when responding to my clients, as I can reply when I batch my emails and have them go out at the perfect time. I tend to check and reply to emails at odd hours, so Send Later keeps client expectations in check when they receive it at 8am instead of 2am when I actually wrote it.
Also, if you happen to check your email as soon as the notification comes through and want to reply before you forget, you can have the plugin reply at a more convenient time. The last thing you want your contacts to believe is that you are sitting by your computer with nothing better to do than be at their beckoning call (ever heard of behavioral modification?). As a side note: turn off those damn notifications (see number 6 in the “not-so-techy” section below).
With the MailButler plugin, you can also snooze, track, undo sends, unsubscribe, upload to/from Dropbox, and more. The plugin is free and offers the ability to earn or pay for additional actions—actions being scheduled emails or unsubscribes. Boomerang for Gmail is similar option if you happen to send browser-based emails, but doesn’t have nearly the number of features.
Social Media Automation
Hootsuite is my social media automation mecca. Planning out and executing a social media strategy can be extremely difficult and time-consuming, Hootsuite makes my life much easier by allowing me to schedule and post all of my social media updates ahead of time as well as monitor my accounts. I can even upload bulk posts through a csv file, which dramatically cuts down on the work I have to do. I can do all of this from my computer, phone or tablet.
Hootsuite is a free application with a paid version available for advanced needs. Pricing for the premium version starts at $9.99/mo and comes with a free trial.
Buffer is another social media automation tool that I use on a regular basis, specifically for Twitter (although I have my Facebook and Google+ accounts synced as well). The simple tool allows you to “buffer” content and put it in a queue, which is subsequently delivered on a schedule that you create. So if you schedule 5 posts for Friday, the top of your queue would be sent out on your behalf automatically. From your desktop browser or phone or tablet apps, you can buffer any content that you want to share at a later time. As I go through content I think my audience might want to read, I will buffer it into my queue to be sent out at the times that I predetermined to be the most effective. Buffer is free to use and also has a paid version if you want to create more buffered posts.
Asana is an amazing productivity and project management tool that I use for all of my large projects as well as many of my smaller ones. I can assign tasks to teams or individuals and see progress in real-time. There is amazing integration with Evernote, Google Drive, Dropbox, MailChimp, WordPress, and lots more. I love that I can use the app on my phone or tablet, as well as access it on any browser. My favorite feature is the ability to sync with my Google Calendar so that I am always aware of deadlines. I especially love that it’s free.
Speaking of Google Calendar, this happens to be one of my favorite productivity tools. It keeps all of my life’s plans organized in a simple manner. It syncs with all of my devices, allowing me to see my schedule no matter where I am. My favorite Google Calendar “hack” is creating different “mini calendars” that I color-coordinate to reflect the type of event it is. For instance, I set up reminders in my calendar for when specific bills are due (blue) and meetings I need to attend (green). I have about 8 different categories that are color-coded and show up in all of my calendars as such, including my phone and Apple Calendar on my laptop.
13. Samsung Galaxy S5 (now S6 edge+) smartphone and MacBook Air
Maybe these ones are obvious, but I literally do 95% of my work on these devices and depend on them to run my day-to-day operations. I have an iPad as well, but I find that it distracts me more than anything – even with some of the aforementioned apps. When I’m stranded without Wi-Fi, I am able to tap in to the interweb by tethering my phones Internet connection. On a side note, I’m often asked why I use an Android instead of an iPhone (since I’m already highly leveraged with Apple devices); my answer is always that I much prefer the Android ecosystem and it’s inherent Google integration, especially when it comes to productivity. Yes, there are iPhone integrations, but I much prefer the Android user experience.
Some not-so-techy productivity hacks in my arsenal
When I’m not doing a juice cleanse, I don’t go a day without hitting this thing up a couple of times. The price is a bit steep, but I’ve absolutely gotten my money’s worth by not having to go to a coffee shop several times a day. That in and of itself is a productivity hack.
2. Spiral-bound Notepad
This is something I have with me at all times. The spiral bound allows me to quickly flip through and jot notes until I get a chance to organize them in Evernote or Asana. I prefer top bound notepads to side bound and paired with my Pentel Graphgear 0.5mm pencil (I love the way it feels in my hand), there’s likely no other tool I use more other than my phone and laptop. Many of my ideas come at bed time when I allow my mind to “let go” of the daily agenda. Having a notepad by my bed keeps me from having to open up any apps, limiting my exposure to blue light.
3. Avoid Electronics at Night
Speaking of blue light, one of my recent increases in productivity has to do with limiting my exposure to electronics about an hour before bed time. This is difficult for me considering that I am a night owl and some of my best work gets done in the wee hours of the night. How is this a productivity hack? Well recent studies show that the blue light emitted from electronics and some artificial lighting throws off our circadian rhythm by suppressing the secretion of melatonin (the nighttime hormone). That means poor sleep and an unproductive day. Check out this article on Harvard Health Publications about the effects of blue light.
4. Alpha Brain from Onnit Labs.
This gem is an all-natural blend of vitamins and minerals that help optimize my efficiency (and enhance my memory). Oddly enough, the acetylcholine that it produces also helps with my REM sleep as well, something that helps me feel recharged in the morning and ready to start the day over again. I’ve been using it for about two years to replace prescribed A.D.D. meds and I’ll never go back. Make sure you don’t take it near bed time, because you will feel alert for several hours after taking it.
5. Set Specific Times to Check Email.
When I’m not doing a product launch or major campaign, I avoid email entirely throughout the day, except at predetermined intervals. For me, this means first thing in the morning (to see if there are any immediate fires that need to be put out), midday, and before I “check out” for the day. That’s it, three times. People I work with know that urgent matters can be directed to my phone and oddly enough, most “fires” tend to put themselves out without me needing to intervene or check every 15 minutes.
6. Turn off Notifications
Snowballing off of the no-email thing, turning off all insignificant notifications—on my phone AND computer – has been the single-most effective hack to improve my productivity. Do you really need to be notified the second Bed, Bath & Beyond sends you an email? Oh, you were tagged in someone’s photo and need to mill through everyone’s comments in real-time? Probably not. If you’re anything like me, a blinking light, alert button, or vibration is asking for a distraction (did I say I have A.D.D.?). Get rid of the notifications and I personally promise you an immediate increase in productivity.
7. Automate Tasks
Lastly, any mundane, repetitive task that I can eliminate from my daily or weekly routine through automation helps me a bunch, especially seeing as I am so highly distractible. One of my favorites is automatic bill-pay on my bank’s website. Even though I have an accountant, this simple step eliminates a huge headache for me and keeps me focused on what I need to be doing. If there are any tasks that you can automate, I highly recommend that you find a tool that serves you best. Leveraging technology in this regard has been a lifesaver for me.
Productivity for me is about leveraging technology and behavioral changes to do more with less. Better yet, it’s about having to do less because you aren’t tied to said technology. Ironically, that means using technology to avoid… well, technology. Unfortunately we’re expected to do more these days, but instead of feeling overwhelmed with everything, take advantage of the tools and tricks available to you and allow them to do the heavy lifting. Whether it’s batching work or removing unneeded steps, technology can be your friend in productivity.
Want the ultimate guide to productivity hacking? Check out one of my favorite reads from the lifehacker of our generation, Timothy Ferris: The 4-Hour Workweek
What about you? Do you have any productivity hacks that you would like to share? We’d love to hear from you. Leave your favorite ones down in the comments below. If you have any questions about any of the tools or hacks mentioned in this post, feel free to contact us at support[at]ontrepreneuracademy.com.
Want more tips like this? Be sure to sign up for our free newsletter to get online business tips, exclusive offers, and more.