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Not these kind of tools.

Not these kind of tools.

As I get older, I find myself accountable for more things–family, clients, company, employees. The list goes deeper, but you get the idea.

As you can imagine, my to-do list is never-ending. And adding to the challenge and stress is the fact that many of my tasks are entangled with other peoples’ priorities.

Chances are your daily productivity is challenged by a similar scenario. Hopefully, this brief list of my favorite productivity tools will help.

1. Paper and Pen

This is probably a shocking opening, but it’s truly one of my most productive tools. It’s always on, so I don’t have to wait for it. It’s cheap, so I don’t have to worry about being neat. I use this as my primary to-do list manager and it typically captures all of my raw ideas.

I used to keep all of these pads in a bankers box, of which I still have hundreds, now I rip the sheets out and scan them into Evernote. Their amazing handwriting recognition and search make these notes and doodles so much more accessible and useful.

My tools of choice are cheap legal pads and either a Pilot G2 or my Fine Nib Lamy Safari.

2. Evernote

I didn’t originally intend to put these in any particular order, but they’re actually flowing out with some accidental logic. And in this order, Evernote definitely takes a strong second position. This application has taken the place of stacks of notebooks and bankers boxes.

My inherent curiosity and passion for learning constantly clutters my mind with ideas and I have to dump them somewhere because my memory often fails me. I like to believe it is a capacity issue, not an age thing. 🙂

Evernote is my master database of research, notes, and seed ideas.

I don’t have room in this article to fully explain how I use Evernote (I endeavor to do that in another post and link back here), but these are the highlights:

  • Use Evernote Web Clipper to capture interesting articles and research I encounter on the Web. I love how it quickly and cleanly captures the content, a reference link, makes it fully searchable, and pulls it alongside future content I am working on in Evernote or searching for on the Web.

  • Scan notes and conceptual doodles to Evernote on a weekly basis. Again making them easy to cross-reference and share when necessary.

  • Creating outlines and checklists. As I have to communicate more of my knowledge to employees and clients, I find outlines/checklists to be the most productive way to transfer this knowledge. Most of those outlines start in Evernote.

And just in case Evernote reads this, my two main frustrations with Evernote are:

  • An apparent core philosophy of easily letting things in, but never letting things leave in a usable format. Its export features of a proprietary XML format, HTML, or an all but hidden PDF option are crazy.

  • A completely broken collaboration model. I know it’s supposed to be there, but it relies on their asynchronous sync technology, which simply makes real-time and near real-time (face it that’s how its done in this real world) collaboration a confusing and frustrating experience.

This is why I do most of my serious work in Google Docs.

3. Google Docs

Much of my day, leading and practicing within a digital marketing agency, is spent writing documents, preparing presentations, or analyzing spreadsheets of data. This all is done within Google Docs.

Not only is Google Docs an increasingly best in class office productivity suite, but it is so powerful as a medium for collaboration. When you’re working in a team, as I often do, this is a critical productivity enhancer.

Additional core strengths that make it a serious productivity enhancer:

  • Easy to export into more universal, or at least customary business practice, formats like .docx, .pptx, .xslx, and .pdf.

  • Increasingly robust commenting, real-time collaboration, and editing features with great revision archiving and roll-back capabilities.

  • Open API that makes it very well supported and integrated into other apps, like Basecamp.

  • This is a bit of a hidden gem, but I love the research feature that makes it easy to highlight a bit of text, search via Google, and with a simple click embed a link.

Features I’d love to see…

  • Simpler way to publish straight to a WordPress blog. I know there’s a way (or at least there used to be), but it’s far too hard and rarely posts cleanly. It could stand some dedicated development attention.

  • Put the create a document from a template back in the Google Drive “Create” menu.

4. Basecamp

As your projects and teams grow, easy to learn and use project management software is a must. After many a free trial, Basecamp is the hands down winner. It’s super intuitive, plays nicely with other critical tools in my workflow (i.e., Google Docs and Harvest).

This tool is so versatile and flexible it’s almost impossible to describe all the ways I use it on a daily basis. I’ll just hit some high points:

  • Use discussions to collaborate on new ideas. This is particularly effective when you’re working with remote team members across multiple time zones.

  • Break projects down into to-dos and task folks that you need to support your effort. When you’re responsible for complex projects being able to track others’ progress in executing is invaluable.

  • Files and text files features are awesome for creating continuity of resources and assets throughout a project.

If you’re really curious on how we use Basecamp within our business check out my outline on How to Use Basecamp.

5. Harvest

I have long resisted, for myself and my company, the notion of time-tracking. I always thought it was so “Big Brother.” However, in the last year we have been using Harvest time-tracking software and it’s yielded several unexpected productivity bonuses.

  • You tend to hustle and stay focused when the timer is running.

  • You can break your work into concentrated, high productivity bursts.

  • You get a true appreciation for how long tasks and project take.

  • When managing a team, you get a better appreciation for resource allocation.

  • When managing a team, it builds trust and allows team members to work during their personal peak time zones.

Contrary to most people’s assumptions, time-tracking is liberating, not shackling. You’ll find yourself and your team doing more in less time.

Tools I’m considering or should be using more in 2014

6. LastPass or Meldium

As a digital marketer I spend lots of time popping in and out of accounts to check on campaigns, grab metrics, and retrieve information. This, of course, requires me to retrieve my secure spreadsheet that is literally full of over a hundred login credentials. With the flurry of data compromises lately, memorizing or reusing passwords has long ago ceased to be an option. Needless to say all of these minutes wasted looking up and grabbing various logins is becoming a measurable time suck.

This is why I am certain that a solution like LastPass or Meldium is going to become a must. I have been personally testing LastPass. I like it so far. I have also used Meldium, in its very early stages, and will probably return to it as it becomes a necessity for our growing agency. Meldium allows your to securely share and manage access information without actually disclosing the credentials–pretty darn clever.

7. IFTTT

Automation is a beautiful thing when you’re trying to squeeze more out of a busy day. My day is full of clever hacks and automated tricks. Many of those are still things I’ve strung together using the inherent features in various tools that just happen to play nicely together.

However, many of my most effective hacks are enabled by IFTTT (If This Then That), an elegant solution that is kind of like API Legos. It allows the non-programmer the ability to hack together recipes or use recipes others have already built to do some of the cleverest of things by connecting and leveraging the strength of various online apps.

Here are just a few of my favorites:

You can see that Dropbox (which I failed to mention in this list) and Evernote are my archive and knowledge database hubs.

8. 15Five

This one will be an experiment. As Kaleidico (my digital marketing agency) grows, it gets harder and harder to directly observe all of the moving pieces. Critical elements of business success can become obscured, like:

  • How efficient various processes and workflows are or aren’t,

  • How effective people are in their roles, and

  • What they need to be successful

This is where 15Five might be able to help me. It’s a simple weekly exercise where everyone, even people that don’t report directly to me (as the company grows this number is increasingly exponentially) can give me brief, but direct feedback on whatever questions I deploy. The intent is that it takes them fifteen minutes to report and it takes me five minutes to read.

We’ll see how it goes.

9. MailChimp

No business thrives without a loyal following (tribe) that can be rallied around what you’re trying to do for the market. And email marketing is, based on test after test, the best way to build and strengthen this loyal base of customers.

Email marketing is almost always the quickest recommendation off our tongues to new clients, for two big reasons:

  1. It works!

  2. Almost no one is doing it and even the ones that do are usually half-assing it.

Having said that, as is often the case, we as an agency are neglecting this marketing gold. In 2014 it’s my goal to step up this game and do it with MailChimp.

P.S., many of you might be saying, “MailChimp, isn’t that kind of a wimpy solution for a fancy agency?” Let me tell you this. Having been burnt by many a high-priced email platform that couldn’t give me consistent deliverability and flawless email client compatibility in 2013, even for the enterprise solution MailChimp is now my choice.

10. SurveyMonkey and Qualaroo

If you want to grow fast, ask your customers what they want. We have several home runs in 2013 built off of the data we collected from pop-in surveys with Qualaroo and traditional surveys served through Survey Monkey.

Skip all of the time spent search and reading the Web for silver bullets. Save your money on purchasing expensive market research studies and white papers. Simply gather data from your existing Web visitors and customer base. Ask them what they want from you and then deliver it.

We’re going to do that in an even bigger way in 2014.

Bill Rice
About Bill Rice
Bill Rice is the Founder & CEO of Kaleidico. Bill is an expert in designing online lead generation strategies and programs. Kaleidico blends web design, development, SEO, PPC, content marketing, and email marketing to generate leads for mortgage lenders, law firms, fintech, and other businesses looking to grow a consumer-direct online strategy.