Tools for Working Smarter

In my last post, I talked about productivity, getting things done and why that system works for me (and a lot of others).  It’s the system I fall back on and know I can trust when life and work get hectic.  I used to rely on a Moleskine notebook to hold all of my todo lists, but over the past few years, I’ve transitioned to relying more on my iPhone and electronic note-taking. While I still carry around a small notebook, I find it easier just to get my notes into my electronic system immediately rather than translate them from paper later.

But my productivity system doesn’t rely simply on todo lists. In today’s digital world, we’re processing a ton of information, from emails to social media feeds to texts. Here are the tools that help me work smarter and more productively.  Some of these tools are business and design-related and others are for personal productivity.  For me, work and personal life are fairly intertwined (I work from my home, after all!), so many of my tools serve both purposes.

  1. Trello: I touched on this briefly in my first productivity post.  A friend introduced me to this free, web-based project management tool.  It also serves as a great place to house todo lists, both in business and personal life.  The basic concept is that you create virtual boards, which contain lists, which contain cards.  If this sounds confusing, don’t worry.  Think of it as breaking down large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks, which can then be broken down into individual todos.  Trello boardOn top of the awesome organization it can bring to personal and business-related projects, your boards and cards can be shared with other Trello users, which makes it incredibly useful for group projects or family-related tasks.  Finally, Trello has an iPhone and iPad app that is great for updating when you’re on the go.
  2. ManageWP: This productivity tool will most likely not be useful to the majority of you, but I have a good reason for mentioning it.  ManageWP allows me to manage all of the 24+ WordPress sites I run for my clients from one spot.  Even though most people don’t run that many WordPress sites, I think the important thing to note is that this is an efficiency tool.  I used to have to log in to every WordPress site I managed, make any updates, then logout.  Now, I simply log into ManageWP, manage all of my sites from one central dashboard and voila! I’m done.  This tool saves me hours and hours.  Even though ManageWP itself may not be a tool you can use, I’m writing about it because it’s worthwhile to think about and search for tools that can make you more efficient.  For example, do you do a lot of email correspondence and are you asked the same questions over and over again?  Then maybe you should try out Gmail’s canned responses feature.  My point is, if you’re doing a task repeatedly, think about ways to become more efficient.
  3. Shared Calendars: Most people use some kind of calendar in their life, and we’ve transitioned completely to an online calendar.  We use Google Calendar, but there are a lot of other options out there. As soon as I know of an event or date I need to remember, I enter it on Google Calendar, either with my phone or laptop.  Each family member has a color so I can see at a quick glance who’s going where on any given day.
  4. Shared Shopping Lists: While we could use Trello for our shopping lists, we started using the Reminders app on our phones a while ago and just haven’t transitioned away from this.  It’s super-easy to use and your reminder lists are share-able.  When I think of something we need at the grocery store, it goes on the “Grocery List” shared reminder.  That way, if my husband stops at the grocery store on his way home from work, he can check out that list and pick up any items I’ve added to it.
  5. Dropbox: Dropbox is a free service that allows you to share and edit files (similar to Google Drive or Microsoft SkyDrive).  We keep files like our address spreadsheet, travel checklists, and budget spreadsheet on our Dropbox because both my husband and I access these files regularly and need to update them without wondering who has the latest version.  There’s also an iPhone app that allows me to access and update the files, as well.  I also use Dropbox with my clients when we’re working on projects that require us to share files easily.  Finally, for those looking for an easy WordPress backup solution, check out WordPress Backup to Dropbox.  It’s an easy way to run regular backups of your WordPress site to your Dropbox account.
  6. Carbonite: This isn’t really a productivity tool, but, in some ways, it gives me a lot of peace of mind, and, as you know from my previous post, I hate when things just rattle around in my head.  Carbonite is an online backup tool.  And it’s really simple to use.  Simply install, select the files you want to back up, and Carbonite does it.  When you change a file, Carbonite backs it up.  There’s no worrying about schedules or making sure your laptop is on at 4AM for a backup to happen.  There’s no burning CDs to create backups of your photos.  Carbonite is super-cheap – only $59/year, which works out to $5/month.  And $5/month is nothing when it comes to knowing your data is secure and safe.
  7. Feedly: I love to read.  I read a lot of blogs for fun and for business and it’s hard to find time to keep up with every single blog I like to read.  To save time, I use a news aggregator, like Feedly, to check all of the websites and blogs I like to follow.  It saves time by putting all of the unread news and blog posts in one spot instead of having to go to each blog I read individually.  Another cool feature: save for later.  If I’m browsing the interwebs and come across a cool article on my laptop, but I’m about to run out the door or I don’t have time to read the whole article at that moment, I click the little “save for later” widget that’s installed when you install the Feedly Chrome extension, and I can read that article later on my laptop or any other mobile device where I use Feedly.  I use the iPhone app and it’s a huge time saver for me to browse through and read my blogs and anything I’ve “saved for later” when I’m waiting at the doctor’s office or have a few moments of down time.

Working smarter and more productively is a huge work-in-progress for me. Since I can’t create more hours in the day, I’m constantly striving to become more efficient. At the end of the day, I need to be realistic about my life: I’m trying to balance running my own small business while raising a young family at the same time. Life is busy, but if I can work smarter and not harder, I’m able to spend more time with my family, while still following my passion for web design.

Image by Alex G. (CC BY 2.0) via flickr

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