Welcome to Solo PR Pro’s Tool School series! Designed to fight overwhelm, all this month we’re offering specific recommendations for services that are cost-effective for indies, and aren’t enterprise-focused or overkill for our needs. First up, we look at Productivity Tools.
Kick it into high gear with these 46 top recommendations for productivity tools that can help you be more efficient, effective, and shave time off your tasks!
Most of the tools listed here are free, though some are paid and a couple (noted with an asterisk*) are affiliate links that earn Solo PR Pro a commission, which help support the operations of Solo PR Pro if you purchase through them (my techie guru thanks you! J). We only recommend products we use and love, and those in the Solo PR community have heard us recommend these tools for years.
You know those tools you simply couldn’t live without? These are the absolute workhorses in our consultant toolbox:
1. Dropbox – What did we do before Dropbox? A central part of my backup solution, it’s also the key way I collaborate with colleagues, subcontractors and clients. Never get a weekend “can you send me the latest version of X file?” call again – anyone can access any document in any folder you give them permission to view and/or edit.
2. Teamwork.com*– Formerly called Teamwork PM, I’ve been using this tool as my holy grail Project Management/Collaboration solution for about two years. I like to have a lot of hierarchy in my task management, and this tool is the best I’ve found for managing myself – and subcontractors – across clients, projects and tasks. It has the other bells and whistles that make collaboration easy, such as Notebooks and emailed tasks, but what I appreciate most is there’s a place for everything, and everything’s in its place.
3. Google Apps for Business – Google has done its best to make the naming of its products super confusing! Google Apps for Business is basically a paid version of Gmail and Google Drive, where you can use your own domain. Why pay? If you work with enterprise clients, emails from a free Gmail account are often displayed by their systems as “From email@example.com On Behalf Of firstname.lastname@example.org” – confusing and unprofessional appearing to the recipient (I found out the hard way!). For $10 a month, this product helps me avoid all those headaches, and is more secure than the free version.
»»Big tip: It’s easy to use both your Google Apps account and your free Google account at the same time. First login to Google Apps, and in the upper-right corner click your name and select “Add Account” from the pull-down. Then sign-in to your free account and you’ll have access to all the services you may have signed up for using the free account (Google+, Drive documents, etc.). Of course it was a fellow Solo PR Pro, Karen Swim, who let me in on this life-saving secret!
Gmail Add-Ons – There are a number of useful add-ins for Gmail (they work for both free and paid Google accounts). These are our favorites:
4. Rapportive– Amazingly useful, this tool pulls in highlights from the LinkedIn profile of those you’re emailing, and displays them in the sidebar.
5. Boomerang for Gmail– Another Gmail add-on, Boomerang enables you to pre-schedule emails for later delivery, and also schedule reminders to follow-up on emails.
6. Wisestamp – Makes it easy to include a graphically rich email signature, with links and icons.
7. Yesware – Find out when someone opens your email and clicks on the links. Especially useful for media relations!
8. Microsoft Office 365 – I already owned Microsoft Office for my PC, but when I added a MacBook Air as my mobile solution, I took advantage of Microsoft Office 365’s online productivity suite to give me access to the latest Office apps anywhere, anytime. But it does much more than offer subscription-based productivity applications (and is especially beneficial for users of Outlook). It’s conceivable you could replace Dropbox, Skype, etc., with this solution, but I personally prefer to use the more widely-adopted services for those functions.
9. Evernote – Evernote taught me an important lesson – if at first you don’t like a tool, try, try it again. In the past, I disliked Evernote because I found it clunky and slow – and I avoided using it for years. When my favorite alternative went caput this year (RIP Springpad), I begrudgingly gave Evernote another try, and it’s fast becoming one of my most-used tools (its speed has been mightily improved).
Evernote is a notes app + clipper on steroids, allowing you to easily capture and sync information across platforms. Evernote can search anything you’ve stored – including images (e.g., take a picture of a business card and later look up the person using text search) – and it even has a speech-to-text function (for capturing those moments of genius that always seem to happen when you’re in the car at a red light!).
10. Pocket– I use this in tandem with Evernote. Formerly called Read It Later, Pocket uses a browser extension so you can save a website for future reference with one click. It’s the quickest/easiest I’ve found – I use it for sites I want to come back to, but don’t need to archive long-term (those go in Evernote).
11. Newsle – Want to easily find out when your friends and colleagues make the news? Connect this service with Facebook or LinkedIn and it sends you an email once a day with links to all the articles/blogs where they appear (note: Newsle was recently acquired by LinkedIn). Send your connections a nice note for their news via email and/or social media – it’s a great way to stay in touch with your network.
12. Blogtrotter– If you like to subscribe to blogs by email, this tool allows you to easily signup for multiples at a time. From the main screen, you can type in the blog’s URL and it will suggest the RSS feed link (so you don’t have to track down the feeds – you can just go to the tool and type in the blog URLs you know by heart).
13. Diigo– A popular replacement for the nearly-defunct Delicious, Diigo is a free social bookmarking tool that makes it easy to save and share content. Special features include highlighting and sticky notes.
14. FreeConference.com – I use this service, though there’s also the comparable FreeConferenceCall.com. Both allow you to get your own free dedicated dial-in number and access code to hold conference calls on demand, with fees for additional services.
15. Skype – With Skype you can make free calls with audio and/or video over the internet to other people on Skype for as long as you like, to wherever you like. It’s free to download, and new services are added all the time.
16. Screencast-o-Matic – Does making a screencast sound complicated? It’s really not with the web-based tools currently available, and screencasts can make some things so much easier. If I want to show my techie guru an issue or demonstrate to a colleague how to do a something in social media, I find Screencast-o-Matic to be the fastest way to record a quick video they can view. Other screencast tools I’ve tried and like include Jing and Screenr, and there are others available – find your favorite and enjoy a productivity boost!
17. MindMeister– If you like mind maps, this is an online mind mapping and brainstorming tool that is easy to use, shareable, and accessible from a variety of devices.
18. AnyMeeting– Provides free web conferencing and webinar software for up to 200 attendees (ad-free versions available for a fee).
19. Box.net– Sometimes I find Box.net easier than Dropbox for sharing a document with a group (e.g., a client’s review committee). Allows you to store up to 5GB for free, so you can access your files from anywhere, and easily collaborate and share.
Project and Task Management
When it comes to Project Management, you either have a working solution that allows you to easily track who-is-doing-what-when, or you can quickly find yourself lost and behind. Everyone’s brain works differently, so in addition to my favorite Teamwork.com* (described above), you may want to check out these additional options:
20. Toodledo – For simplicity, I really like Toodledo and often use it on my iPhone to quickly track personal errands (they also have an Android app). It syncs to an online website, so you can easily enter multiple tasks and have them archived, and it includes the ability to group tasks by project and assign priorities. It also has additional capabilities that can make it a more powerful solution, if you'd like to to tap into them.
21. WorkFlowy– A minimalistic-style task management tool well suited for people who like to capture to-dos quickly and easily with few needs for categorization. If you like to keep a running list of tasks, without being forced to assign a deadline, WorkFlowy could be for you.
22. Backpack – One of the original cloud-based management solutions, one of Backpack’s strengths is its large user base (many people have been exposed to it at some point). With integrated to-do lists, files, notes, and a calendar, Backpack is not free, but many independents swear by it.
23. Asana– A favorite of many solos, Asana is one of the most full-featured free tools for project management. It allows you to collaborate and categorize tasks by sub-headings, establish due dates, attach files, and assign tags for easy search and cross-grouping.
24. Trello– This free tool uses “cards,” which you can group and organize to stay on track. For the super-visual among us, you may want to check this one out.
Time Savers/Time Management
25. Rescue Time– Tracks the time you spend on applications and websites and gives you a detailed report of your activity.
26. ManageFlitter*- We’ll cover a plethora of social media tools in our next installment of Tool School, but this one saves me so much time I had to include it here. I find ManageFlitter to be the easiest and most powerful service for managing Twitter followers/following. It’s the only one I’ve seen that allows you to view the full bio, recent tweet, and other stats about a user without having to click, so it’s fast to follow back real people and avoid the spammers! It has a ton of other helpful features, too.
27. Feedly – With the demise of Google Reader, Feedly has fast-become the top replacement for quickly scanning the RSS feeds of your favorite blogs and websites.
28. theSkimm– I’ll admit it took this GenXer a moment to look past the logo and occasionally sarcastic tone to take this service seriously, but now I look forward to reading this quick-hit overview of the day’s news every morning in my inbox. Founded by a couple Millennials who are producers at NBC News, theSkimm not only does a great job of summarizing the top handful of stories each day, but they also cover items I might otherwise miss (did you know the wife of Cameroon’s vice prime minister was recently kidnapped by Boko Haram, the same group that kidnapped the more than 200 Nigerian girls in May? I didn’t either, until I read it in theSkimm).
29. SoundGecko- Read the web with your ears. It takes just a few seconds to turn your favorite websites, blogs and documents into audio.
30. gTrax- A Google application that allows for simple time-tracking with the integration of Google Calendar.
31. Lastpass – Not only does Lastpass make your passwords more secure, but it remembers them for you so you save time. Whew!
32. Zapier – Similar to the popular IFTTT (which stands for “if this then that”), this service allows you to automate a variety of tasks between a large number of online services, including Evernote, Dropbox, Twitter, Facebook, email, and more. To me, Zapier is much more intuitive – I never could get the hang of IFTTT’s “recipes,” though Zapier has fees for some of its premium services.
33. CoLT– This Firefox browser extension is the sole reason I haven’t gone 100% to Chrome. It allows you to copy both the text and URL of a link, in multiple format options, with one click (cuts the time going back and forth between the browser and other programs in half) – such a time saver!
34. FaxZero – These days, the need to fax is rare. In those unusual instances, this service can be a good solution if you don’t have a machine and want to avoid a trip to Kinko’s. Free faxes include the FaxZero logo on the cover page; logo-free versions cost just $1.99.
35. Zamzar – Super useful when someone sends you an attachment created in a program you don’t own, this service provides easy online file conversion – between a multitude of formats – without requiring a software download.
36. HighTail – Formerly called You Sent It, this tool allows you to circumvent email when sending very large files – just send a link to the downloadable version instead.
37. 7-Zip– Easy-to-use, no-cost alternative to WinZip. It can be used to both create and open .zip files.
38. Doodle– End the email insanity when it comes to scheduling meetings! Doodle helps you easily find a good meeting time for multiple people across organizations, no registrations needed.
39. InternetSlang.com– Confused by all the abbreviations, acronyms and other slang on the Internet? This searchable site can help.
40. PrimoPDF– Allows you to easily create PDF documents using your computer’s print function – no Adobe Acrobat required.
41. JotNot– An easy-to-use iPhone app (download costs $1.99) that turns your smartphone camera into a high-resolution scanner – take pictures of a document and then convert into a multi-page PDF.
42. Kayak– Find the best deal on your travel with this online travel search engine (flights, hotels, etc.), which crawls multiple sites and returns all the results on one screen.
We love tools here at Solo PR Pro, and we always have a list running of tools to try. We haven’t had a chance to give the following a test run, but we share them here in case your dream productivity tool is among them:
43. Fring- A mobile app that allows you to make free mobile calls, video calls, group video calls and text.
44. Tempo- An app that integrates your most relevant contacts and files into your calendar, giving you quick access to information.
45. Spin- A video chat service for iOS that allow you to connect 10 people simultaneously. Chat participants can doodle on shared photos and videos, and even throw paper airplanes to amplify the experience of live engagement.
46. Connect– Connect is a map and address book of all your friends. It syncs your contacts and social connections and lets you know when they travel and check-in nearby.
Did we miss your favorite productivity tool? Be sure to share with everyone in the comments! And keep checking back for more Tool School – still to come this month, additional posts on Tools for PR and Digital Success (focusing on services to help your client work – coming August 12), The Best Tools For Consultants to Manage and Promote Your Business (coming August 19), and How to Smartly – and Cheaply – Automate Routine Social Media Posts (coming August 26).
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