My all time favorite productivity tools for better planning, more focus and automating tedious tasks

By October 24, 2018 October 25th, 2018 Productivity
The best productivity tools for better planning, more focus and automating tedious, repetitive tasks

In this post, I’m going to share with you my all time favorite productivity tools.

To be honest, I’m quite picky when it comes to trying new apps. I always question if they can really deliver on their promise. I found that - like with everything else - less is more.

You don’t need an arsenal of productivity tools and gadgets because at the end, the notifications and constant nagging from these apps will lead to… well, less productivity.

So my goal here is to share what I really use, every single week in order to stay productive in my business.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not an affiliate for any of the following apps and productivity tools.
I recommend them because I honestly think that they are cool.

PLANNING, FOCUS, AUTOMATION

I tried to categorize my productivity tools so that you can take what you really need. I realized, that all my apps, habits and productivity hacks could fit in 3 categories:

  • Tools for Planning: these productivity tools help you break down your goals into smaller steps and make it less overwhelming to achieve something big

  • Tools for Focus: these productivity tools help you stay focused while working on your daily tasks. They can also help you make mindful decisions that align with your goals.

  • Tools for Automation: these productivity tools take some pressure off your shoulders by automating or accelerating repetitive, tedious tasks.

My business is still small: just me, my VA and my cheerleader (a.k.a. my hubby). So I think these categories fit a new business very well. They are affordable (or even free) and easy to learn.

However, when your team starts growing, you’ll discover an additional category: Tools for Communication. These are the productivity tools that help you manage your team communication and customer relations. I’ll address this category when I have more experience with these tools.

Now let’s get started!

TOOLS FOR PLANNING

ASANA

When it comes to list my tasks and organizing my projects, Asana is my top choice. It’s free, easy to use, collaborative, flexible, not to mention that it’s beautiful (well, maybe this one is not as important, but if you open an app every day, it's better if you like looking at it).

If you have a huge project that makes you scared whenever you think about it, try to break it down into smaller tasks and milestones inside Asana. Then, your only daily  task is to follow your plan. No more frightened and anxious monologues in your head about the difficulty of the overall project.

I use Asana for planning my blog posts (here’s a video where I show you how), my products for Creative Market and my client projects. I also add business maintenance projects, like my own website development. 

Finally, if I attend a longer e-course (like Marie Forleo’s B-School), I plan Study & Implementation time in Asana. This way, the course won’t become a dust collector in an ever growing library, but something I really read through and applied to my business.

BULLET JOURNALING

Writing by hand is very important for me. It helps to bring out my ever hiding analytic self and think things through instead of making ad-hoc, impulse decisions.

If you find that you struggle building strategies for your business or you need a very flexible way of tracking tasks, habits and business budget, try bullet journaling.

A bullet journal is a planner, a diary and a to-do list all in one. You can turn any journals into a bullet journal but my personal recommendation is to use one with dotted grid pages, like the Leuchtturm1917 journals. This notebook is great because it has a built-in index and numbered pages.  

For a complete overview on how to set up a bullet journal, read this short and funny article

If you want to see a practical example on how I use my own journal, here I share how to set up your bullet journal to plan 3 month worth of blog content.  

PAPER PLANNER

Ok, now you can really see that I’m a paper lover. Once again, writing things down helps me remember them better. So even though I pay for Office 365 & Outlook and use iCal on my phone to quickly add meetings and personal appointment, I think what really keeps me organized is my paper planner.

Not to mention, that as a designer, I spend way too much time in front of the computer, so planning on paper is great for my health and mood.

Last year, after an elaborate research, I chose the coiled weekly planner from Inkwell Press Productivity Co. It was an amazing decision. This beautiful planner kept me motivated and happy about planning every week. Something that rarely happened before. 

What’s so great about this planner? Creator, Tonya Dalton is a productivity teacher over her podcast Productivity Paradox. She has years of expertise in how to balance personal life with business and how to set achievable, motivating goals.

So when she decided to create a paper planner, it wasn’t all about beauty (like in many regular paper planners) it had to be highly functional too. Her planners are great because:

  • Upon purchasing you get a 4-video-long tutorial, helping you set up your planner and set your goals
  • The planners have dedicated yearly and monthly goal setting pages focusing on many aspects of your life (health, relationships, work, self-care)
  • Each day in the weekly planner has a 3-part colored block: you can list here your top 3 tasks for the day, or your daily meal plan, exercises, gratitude or other habits you want to track.
  • Each day has enough place to add 3 main business and 3 private tasks. Anything more would be achievable and would let you feel horrible by the end of the week.
  • The planner also includes a budget/bill tracker page, a detailed goal planner page and a travel planner.

It’s really important though: no calendar (physical or digital) can work without a dedicated time, when you sit down to plan your week. For me this time is on Sunday afternoons.

SUNDAY PLANNING RITUAL

I had lots of planners before but I rarely filled them until I decided to sit down every Sunday afternoon to plan my upcoming week. I recommend you to do the same.

Sunday is especially good because the whole week is ahead of you. But if you prefer to leave business out of your weekends, go with Friday late afternoons.

The reason why I don’t recommend Mondays is that you’ll waste precious working time from your most energized day. Do the planning ahead so on Mondays you can jump into the middle of your tasks and start executing them.

Weekly planning rituals are great because:

  • You’ll be able to see your progress in your bigger projects by regularly revisiting them

  • You’ll know exactly what you have to do each day in order to move forward

  • You’ll know if you need help from your team or VA and you’ll be able to let them know in time

You’ll be able to plan your chores according to your work days: more chores on easier days and less for the harder ones

TOOLS FOR FOCUS

FLAT TOMATO

When it comes to focus, Flat Tomato, this little free app on my phone is the answers to most of my requests. It applies the Pomodoro Technique, when you set 25 minutes for work followed by 5 minutes of break. After every 4 blocks of work you get a longer break. 

Why this app and the Pomodoro Technique helped me so much?

  • It takes the pressure off my shoulders when I have to deal with problematic tasks (like bookkeeping, yuk!) because I feel “well, I can do it for 25 minutes, that’s not the end of the world”. So I’m more likely to start the task and stop procrastinating on it.
  • I can reward myself with a coffee, a short dance, a peak on Instagram in the break. So I don’t prohibit anything just put a shorter time frame on time-sucking fun activities.

In addition, I can set up different time frames in Flat Tomato. Instead of the original 25-5 minute setup, I went with 45 minutes of work and 15 minutes of breaks because this is how my school schedule used to build up.

If you feel you have a shorter attention span, leave it on 25 minutes. If you can focus for longer, you can go up until 50 minutes. Just don’t forget, you’ll need to teak break every hour in order to keep your energies and be able to focus.

For more information on the Pomodoro Technique, visit this page.

COFFITIVITY

I noticed that I can do certain tasks better if there’s a non distracting background noise around me. Sometimes I just go to the local Starbucks to fill this need. Other times I want to stay home - ‘cause it’s rainy and cold outside just like today.

This is when the Coffitivity website comes handy. You can play hours-long coffee shop background noises that are not distracting. Quite opposite they help me focus on writing and drawing more. 

Coffitivity has 3 coffee shop noise tracks for free and for me that’s more than enough.

SPOTIFY

When I’m bored of Coffitivity and want something more moody or uplifting I switch to listen to music on Spotify. I only use the free version and ads can be annoying sometimes but it’s still way better than ads on Youtube or other medias. 

Music can help your productivity in many ways:

  • Helps you get into a certain mood that fits your task. I especially like moody piano songs for drawing and blog writing
  • Music gives you a reason to get up from the desk time to time and move your body. Who can resist to a spicy salsa song?
  • The free Spotify app helps you track time. Because it has ads every 30 minutes, you’ll have a quite obvious - and sometimes annoying - trigger to get up and move. Yes, I know that you were “in the flow” writing your latest sales copy but  if you don’t take breaks regularly it’ll ruin your productivity on the long haul.

From all the playlists, this is my absolute favorite so far when I need music for concentration.

TOOLS FOR AUTOMATION

This is the territory, where I test out most of the productivity tools. Honestly, if there’s a tedious, boring task that an app can do for me then why would I waste my time?

But be careful, use what you really need because subscription prices add up easily.

COSCHEDULE

When it comes to scheduling social media messages about my blog posts, I use CoSchedule

It has a wordpress plugin and builds into my wordpress dashboard. So no need to navigate to another site.

Every time I open a post and scroll down, I can plan posts for that particular post. Or I can go to CoSchedule menu and see my overall social media post calendar. There I can add non blog post related messages too.

CoSchedule is great because:

  • It’s an editorial calendar and social media scheduler in one app so it has tools for both social media marketing and blog post planning.
  • You can schedule social media posts for your blog article even when it hasn’t been published yet.
  • It has “social helpers”, predefined texts and images that you can quickly add to your schedule without too much typing
  • It builds into WordPress so I don’t have to log in to another site.
  • Newer plans have the Re-Queue feature that automatically reschedule your old social media posts without any extra effort from your end.

I’m quite lucky, because I started using CoSchedule when it was much cheaper. The plan I have today is not even available now. However, newer plans offer the Re-Queue feature which is great if you plan to post a lot on Twitter and Facebook.

LATER

Later is my favorite social media scheduling tool. I schedule all my Instagram posts here.  

Later is great because:

  • It let’s you review your Instagram posts in grid view so you can see if the images work well side by side
  • It offers you the Linkin.bio feature: adding a link to each one of your Instagram posts (paid plan only)
  • It lets you automatically post images, carousel posts and videos (carousel and video in paid plan only, post 30 images / month for free)
  • It lets you schedule Instagram Stories
  • It has a great hashtag research tool that recommends you the most popular relating hashtags
  • You can create saved captions which is great if you have a groups of hashtags you use often
  • It offers a great analytics dashboard that’s more insightful than the built in Instagram analytics

I currently pay for their smallest business plan $16/month billed yearly or $19/month billed monthly. This is cheapest plan that offers the Linkin.bio feature (adding links to each post)

DUBSADO

The Dubsado app is great if you have service based projects where you work with clients one on one. 

Dubsado is a simple, intuitive CRM system, perfect for creative entrepreneurs. It offers accounting, invoicing, customer management and much more but I particularly love its automation features and its forms.

You can set up all kind of form templates: contracts, questionnaires, feedback request forms etc., with smart fields. You make these forms once and then the smart fields magically update with your new client’s information (name, business name, due dates, etc.).

You can also set up “canned emails” and payment auto reminders so you spend less time with writing the same type of emails over and over again and more with the creative work itself.

Dubsado is a paid app and costs $30/month or $300/year.

DESIGN TEMPLATES

Last but not least, my design work benefited a lot from templates. I use the same layout when presenting my products on Creative Market. I also use the same design for my blog cover images and Instagram promo images.  

So instead of redoing every graphics from scratch, I made myself a template library. This helped me to decrease the time spent on graphic work from multiple hours to 30 minutes.

I use Illustrator for all my shop, blog & social graphics, but Photoshop or Canva can be equally good. And if you feel that creating these templates is too overwhelming for you, just check out my shop where I offer quality social media design templates.

Spend more time on the work itself and less on tasks that can be automated or outsourced.

To grab free design templates made in Canva, check out this post.

WHAT IS YOU FAVORITE PRODUCTIVITY TOOL?

Now it’s your turn. Is there a tool you liked from this list and want to try? Or do you have other recommendations? Share it in the comments, I’m always happy to hear from you.

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