We’ve all experienced it: you’re laying in bed on a Thursday night, about to fall asleep, when BAM! You remember that you were supposed to send an e-mail to X, or call Y, or finish Z. Your mind starts to race. When will you have time to do it? How will you remember this tomorrow? Is there anything else you’ve forgotten about?
You might reach for your phone to set a reminder for yourself, or if you’re really old school, jot down a note on a piece of paper. You lay back down and try to drift off, but that little reminder has set off a whole mental chain reaction of ideas and to-dos, and it ends up taking another half an hour to fall asleep (or an hour, or two hours…). Wouldn’t it be nice to instead hit the pillow every night knowing without a doubt that you are on top of all that needs to be done?
As it turns out, there are hundreds of product developers trying to help us get there. Productivity apps have exploded in the last decade, and they’re getting better every year. The trick is to find the right suite of tools for your own workflow, and lucky for us, many of them are free.
Here are a few of my personal favorites:
Evernote makes it easy to collect and organize any kind of information you can think of. In just one note, you can bring together checklists, tables, paragraphs, pictures, videos and even audio clips relevant to the topic or project at hand.
Notes are organized by notebook and are searchable by content and by customizable tags. It is possible to share and collaborate on notes with other users, and it even has an add-on feature that scans and reads business cards. Mobile and desktop friendly, of course.
How I use it: I personally use Evernote to organize brainstorming or project planning sessions, keep track of my spending and store miscellaneous information such as movies/books I want to check out.
Trello is a project management tool that allows you to create different “boards” and customizable flows within each board. You create and title the lists you want to include, and then create cards within each list. Each card can include customizable tags, lists, descriptions, comments and/or due dates. The best part is that you can move cards from list to list, so that a project can, for example, move from “conceptual phase” to “in process” to “under review” to “done.”
Trello has strong team functionality as well, as multiple users can add cards to a single board, add comments to a particular card, or view each other’s activity. Its interface is simple and intuitive, which I always appreciate. Web and mobile friendly.
How I use it: I use Trello to organize my high-level to-dos throughout the week, so my lists are “Monday,” “Tuesday,” etc, “Done” and “Deliverables Completed.” It’s so satisfying to move a card to the “Done” list! I also use Trello boards to catalogue project results/analytics.
Another project management tool that emphasizes team collaboration. Asana allows team members working on a project to create a project-specific “page,” create tasks for the project, add due dates to each, and assign tasks to specific team members for completion. Team members can comment within a project to brainstorm ideas and can comment on each other’s tasks. Asana has several integrations (google apps, dropbox, etc.) so that teams can share files effectively. Also mobile friendly.
How I use it: I admittedly haven’t used this much, but one feature I’ve found to be useful is the ability for team members to assign tasks to one another with due dates. This way, action items that come out of a meeting are easily communicated and completed without any unnecessary back-and-forth messaging.
Todoist is arguably the best platform out there for creating and managing lists of tasks. You can turn e-mails into organized to-dos, create sub-tasks under larger tasks, categorize tasks, and even collaborate on tasks with other people. It’s accessible on any device and almost anywhere you can virtually “be” (desktop, browser, inbox) with 15 different platforms to choose from!
How I use it: This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but I will say that the most useful feature for me is the gmail plugin that allows me to create a task as I’m reading an e-mail. At least half of the e-mails I get are attached to non-immediate things that need to get done, so it’s a great way to stay on top of those tasks.
For those of us that don’t have an Executive Assistant (or have one that wants to cut down on call scheduling time), Calendly is magic. All you have to do is set up an account, link your google calendar, and share your link with you attendee. He or she simply clicks on the type of meeting, reviews your availability, and chooses a time. You both get email notifications, it’s added to your calendar, and voila! Your meeting is set. There are several useful customizations (information attendees must enter, meeting duration, weekly hours of availability) and it works for group meetings as well.
How I use it: I use this primarily for one-on-one candidate calls. The best part is that I can send out a message with my link to a group of candidates and they can all schedule time with me on their own. It completely eliminates the time I would’ve spent coordinating with each person separately. Woo hoo!