Business owners, leadership teams, and employees often struggle to find time for everything that has to happen on a daily basis. When you consider the time needed for meetings and communication, there are only a few hours in which to get a lot of work done.
That can drive you to stay later, or come in earlier to get things done. You may even try to juggle tasks to accomplish more; but a study from the University of Michigan found that productivity dropped by as much as 40% when participants tried to do two or more things at the same time.
While many of us fall behind on our work, some of the most successful founders and leaders manage to be extremely productive despite their busy schedules. It may certainly be worth looking into – and perhaps emulating – the strategies that top leaders use to structure their days for maximum productivity.
But you don’t have to become more productive all on your own. There are a number of tools you can use to better manage time and create more efficient workflows within your teams. You just need to integrate apps that streamline – and in some cases, completely automate – certain processes.
According to one survey by Microsoft, 46% of workers said their productivity had increased as a direct result of social tools implemented in their workplaces (which included applications for instant messaging, text messaging, video conferencing, news feeds, social networks, and team sites such as SharePoint). Provide employees with the right tools and applications, and it will become much easier for them to tackle their ever-growing to-do list.
If you own a small business, there will be areas where you can use tools to accelerate growth and improve productivity. Start with this comprehensive list of tools designed to help you improve time management and accelerate growth.
Whether you have six projects cooking at once, or one project every few months, every aspect of that project needs to be tracked and managed effectively to reach the end goal. This means having the right tools and systems in place for tracking contributions and workload for everyone involved.
There are a number of project management tools, ranging from free to premium, to cover any size team you have. Here are a few that stand out.
Trello has a user-friendly visually-driven interface for keeping track of tasks across projects. The system allows you to generate boards or “cards” that include lists and information. Those can be shuffled and moved through the drag-and-drop interface as items move through the phases in a project. This is a simple and effective platform if you like to see every aspect of a project at a glance to keep tabs on your efforts.
Asana keeps your team communicating and working together right within the project management system. The system is loaded with tasks, conversations, and employee dashboards that make it easy to see all assignments at a glance. More impressively, any item, including conversations, can be turned into a task on the fly for tracking next-step items. While Asana isn’t the most feature-rich tool available, it’s a simple and highly-effective task management system for smaller teams to stay productive and better manage their time.
Discount: Free 30-day trial sign up for an account.
Where Asana has limited features, Basecamp is a more comprehensive and true-to-form project management system. Create multiple projects, and within those projects you can set up notes, lists, discussions, add files, and even collaborate. With deadline and milestone tracking it’s easy to stay organized and keep the entire team on track. One standout item is that Basecamp doesn’t charge per user like other platforms, making it a more affordable option for small businesses that need a project management system.
4. Active Collab
Active Collab, like Basecamp, is a comprehensive project
management tool that includes everything a team needs to
tackle projects, from task management and team collaboration, to individual time tracking and invoicing. That gives it the versatility to work for internal projects, or for agencies and businesses who interface with clients. There are even client access portals to bring your clients in for tracking and reporting. Active Collab is available as a web-based application, or it can be installed directly on your server.
Smartsheet is similar to running projects through Excel, but on steroids. It’s extremely powerful and endlessly customizable. It brings together all the benefits of spreadsheets and project management tools into a single hybrid platform. If you’re familiar at all with using spreadsheets for several functions, including staying organized, then this platform could fit your needs just fine.
There are all kinds of templates available for creating and managing marketing or editorial calendars, but few tools that make them easy to manage.
Most are done with spreadsheets or documents. In most cases, this kind of calendar is a secondary tool as part of a larger marketing automation platform. CoSchedule is a standalone, fully-customizable calendar for tracking social campaigns, content marketing, tasks, and more. It’s the easiest and most affordable way to run a calendar for your business, whether you’re an agency tracking client work or a freelancer who needs to track all of your project deadlines.
7. Zip Shift Book
When employees work in shifts it can be helpful to know what work has been completed, what needs to be done, what current workloads are like and how efficient particular workers are. Zip Shift Book is a simplified digital logbook to track everything that happens in a shift. It allows you to document all the tasks that employees work on and provide employees with journals for logging the work they complete. It can also be used to quickly access contact information for suppliers, maintenance services and employees.
8. Google Calendar
When you need a simple and freely available tool for keeping track of tasks and meetings, then there’s always Google Calendar. It’s available to anyone with a Gmail account, and it even integrates with your other Google services so you can get notifications and reminders. Get the app on your phone for mobile reminders of important items, as well.
Introducing automation and approvals into your processes can help streamline efficiency, making your employees more productive. Nothing keeps the process moving like having automated triggers that ensure next steps occur and no task slips through the cracks. Virtually any process can be set up with Tallyfy to help keep your projects and workflows on track.
10. Process Street
Discount: 15% discount on annual sign ups
Process Street works similarly to Tallyfy, allowing you to create recurring checklists and tasks to align with standard operating procedures. This kind of business process management software helps streamline tasks and procedures, bringing in more automation to your small business at an affordable price.
Whether you’re a freelancer looking to get more done, or a manager who wants to provide your employees with some tools to bump productivity, there are many specialized applications available that could help you.
Toggl is a simple and effective time tracking tool that helps you monitor the amount of time individual team members are spending on projects. It’s great for freelancers as well as agencies or businesses with billable hours. The app also allows for the creation of custom reports to help business owners identify distractions and hangups, and find ways to improve employee productivity and time management.
Exclusive Discount: Use the word HUBWORKS when signing up to get 25% off any plan
Technology can be a huge help in achieving goals and making strides in business.
But the same technology can also be a major distraction for you and your team members. Freedom is a terrific tool for helping you block distractions to improve time management and productivity. Users can temporarily disable network access, or focus on temporarily disabling specific applications or websites while trying to get work done. If you can’t help but flip over to social media or the news in the middle of work, Freedom can help.
The core functionality of Nutcache used to be for time tracking. Over time, the application has grown to include collaboration tools for improved productivity. Updates have also included the addition of time tracking, invoicing, and expense management. You can even set up web-based timers to help you account for time spent on specific projects. With multi-user functionality, tasks can be assigned to team members along with reports to track team performance.
When you have work spread across online drives, in bookmarked folders, shared folders, and buried deep in the recesses of your hard drive, you can waste a lot of time hunting for the right files. Launchy aims to give you those seconds and minutes back with a simplified launch that lets you access anything with a few clicks. Now you won’t need multiple file managers open while you search for the file you need.
5. Remember the Milk
Every project can be broken down into a pile of tasks that need to be accomplished to reach an end goal. Remember the Milk is a task management tool designed to help better organize those tasks and make them accessible from any device. Share tasks and sync with team members. You can also get notifications sent to any device so no task is ever forgotten.
For those who lack self-control, the SelfControl application has you covered. It’s designed to help you minimize and eliminate distractions, much like Freedom. You can create a customized blocked list of websites that are a no-go when you need to focus on work and get things done. It’s a great way to avoid the YouTube black hole, and to keep your eyes off social media when there are tasks to handle. The customizable timer lets you set it for as little as 15 minutes, up to 24 hours.
7. Rescue Time
Exclusive Discount: Get 25% off the normal subscription
Even if you don’t think you have a distraction problem, you might still be wasting time. Rescue Time is a tool to help you analyze what is taking your attention and stealing it from the work that needs to be done. You just tell the application what you consider to be productive and what is a distraction (surfing the web, checking certain social sites, etc.). Later you can pull in-depth reports about where you spend your time, what’s constructive, and what is pure distraction.
8. Zip Clock
Managers need to keep track of employee’s work time and productivity levels, but there aren’t many ways to be sure of how much an employee is actually working, particularly if you’re not always around. Zip Clock time clock is a simple and effective tool for business owners to control, track, and review employee time and schedule compliance.
When there’s a lot of work to be done and your team has already-overflowing plates, your options are limited. You could hire someone – which is a lengthy process and considerably costly – or you could outsource the work temporarily. Zirtual offers virtual assistants that can act as the extra hands you need to cover project overflow or administrative work. This gives you the freedom to delegate less-critical items without bogging down your team.
Communication is crucial for keeping projects on task. When communication lags, it can slow the workflow, creating time management problems as team members wait to hear back on next steps and action items. The following communication apps help keep everyone in touch and the dialogue flowing.
Slack is a super-smart and effective choice for conversations. Your entire team can participate, with historic chat so no one misses an update – even if they’re absent from the conversation. You can even break off and create channels specific to projects, tasks, or side discussions. It’s a web-based tool with a mobile application, so no matter where you’re at, you can participate and review discussions.
Like Slack, HipChat is a group messaging tool with mobile accessibility so your team can leverage internal, private chats, as well as instant messaging to help keep the work flowing. With file sharing added in, it’s an ideal tool for remote teams to communicate and stay up to date on what’s new. The platform even features screen sharing and video chat for multi-level team communication.
3. Facebook at Work
Facebook has recently rolled out its modified Workplace platform designed to be used internally by businesses to improve team communication on projects. Unlike business pages and content that is public, Facebook for Business is fully internal and private, so only employees can see what’s being posted and discussed. It’s ideal for those businesses that
want a robust intranet for employee communication, sharing, and more.
GoToMeeting has been around for a while, and it has continued to evolve with technology. Since more companies than ever before are working with remote or multi-site teams, and more work is being outsourced around the world, it’s a good idea to have a platform for easily hosting and joining meetings. GoToMeeting has stepped up its game, offering HD video conferencing so you and your team have a powerful option to communicate in realtime. With mobile apps, you’re no longer tied to a desktop device to participate in and follow meetings.
WebEx is a service offered by Cisco to host meetings from anywhere, much like GoToMeeting. WebEx has become a popular
choice for marketers running online courses and presentation and training seminars on the web. It’s also an ideal tool for business owners who want to run video conferencing and online meetings with employees in the field, remote workers, other offices, and vendors who can’t be physically present.
TeamViewer is often used as a support tool in IT, but it’s more than just a remote access application. It can connect your teams in real time for meeting and presentation participation as well as collaboration among groups. The platform comes complete with chat capability, whiteboard integration, file sharing, video calls, and easy screen sharing. You can even create channel groups and set policies for specific devices.
Campfire is another tool that brings together team collaboration and real-time chat into a single platform. While other applications provide one-on-one discussion,
Campfire is specifically designed for team and group communication. In seconds, you can create a password-protected chat room for internal use or to communicate with clients and vendors among your team. The web-based application features iPhone integration, making it easy to collaborate on the go. The service includes inline viewing of popular documents like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, as well as inline
video viewing (YouTube).
Marketing can be a massive drain on time and effort, considering all the activities you could be doing to spread the word about your business. Thankfully, there are plenty of tools that help you focus your efforts, streamline promotion, and improve your strategy and execution.
While full-scale automation platforms like HubSpot can be great, the cost of these are usually prohibitive for smaller businesses. Here’s a list of marketing-related tools and apps that are more accessible to small business owners.
As social grew in popularity and businesses were beginning to manage multiple accounts, Hootsuite came up with a solution to simplify that account management. Rather than running multiple tabs and constantly logging into and out of profiles, Hootsuite brings all of your social profiles into a single dashboard. This makes it easy to post a single update and push it out to all the necessary channels. It also streamlines follow up and communication with followers while providing comprehensive reporting across all of your social accounts.
Discount: QUUU has a free version
Quuu is a content marketing curation platform with two services that make it extremely useful for marketing. First, you can log in and establish the categories from which you want to curate content. You can then link it to your social or Buffer accounts to have relevant content queued up for distribution to your followers every day. This removes the need to manually source quality, relevant content that your audience will enjoy.
Discount: The Buffer Awesome Plan has a 7 day free trial
When you absolutely need to get content published at specific times based on user engagement but your schedule doesn’t make that easy, then Buffer is the answer. Get your content scheduled through Buffer to ensure it drops when you need it to, every day of the week, whether you’re online or not. Buffer integrates with a number of services like Quuu, and it also comes with a great browser extension. Find something awesome you want to share with your followers? Click the Buffer button next to images or on webpages to queue it up for posting. Designate your social channels ahead of time and Buffer takes care of the rest. It’s the easiest way to keep your social channels rolling with content, leaving you more time for other things.
Discount: Get a 14 day free trial here
One of the most time-consuming aspects of content marketing isn’t production, it’s sourcing topics and staying on top of what’s popular. Doing that manually requires a lot of daily browsing and digging into social channels to find out what people are talking about. Buzzsumo reduces that time commitment to just minutes. Plug the topic into Buzzsumo, and you’ll instantly see a list of the most popular content relevant to your search, sorted by volume of shares and likes. There’s no better tool for discovering topics and content your audience will love.
Every business should have a list of subscribers that grows daily through promotion.This lets you engage current customers, as well as nurture new leads to help them move toward becoming a customer. MailChimp is a popular and affordable choice for email marketing and list building. Create lists for subscribers, design opt-in forms for your site and social channels, create custom emails for list segments, and set up automated emails based on a variety of triggers. With premade templates, it’s easy to get started, and there are reports to help you leverage what’s working and cut what isn’t.
6. Constant Contact
Constant Contact is another alternative for email marketing, with many features similar to MailChimp. The main difference between the two is primarily cost. Otherwise, both offer solid choices for growing email lists and marketing to subscribers. Constant Contact, like MailChimp, also offers integration with a number of third-party platforms – like e-commerce websites – so new customers can be automatically added to audience lists without the need for manual updates.
TextMagic is a tool for sending bulk text messages that include notifications, alerts, reminders, confirmations, and any other kind of SMS marketing campaign to subscribers. If your customers are more mobile, and efforts with email marketing show marginal results, consider running automated SMS campaigns. They save you from one-on-one customer follow up, and can still be an effective method for nurturing leads and triggering a customer or lead to take action.
Robocalling has a bit of a negative reputation, and the government has specific requirements before you can run this kind of campaign. Marketing with CallFire can be an effective method for generating audience interest, as long as you have permission to set up automated outbound call campaigns and there’s a strong fit with the customer for your offer. With call routing and IVR menus, there are unlimited ways you can configure an outbound call campaign to expand your marketing.
Bookkeeping and Payroll
Today’s freelancers and small business owners have plenty of choices when it comes to accounting and bookkeeping. You don’t need to stuff every paper receipt into a file folder or shoebox to be dumped in front of an accountant. Many apps and cloud-based services let you manage on your own with relative ease, or employ assistance when you need it to free up your time and make you more productive overall.
Wagepoint’s web-based payroll software is designed with the small business owner in mind. Its automation and tracking tools can help you reduce weekly payroll processes from hours to just a few minutes. Everything is included to help you run a clean payroll, including taxes, wage reports, direct deposits, contractor payments, deductions, new hire reporting, and more.
Shoeboxed is a fast and easy-to-use program for organizing and categorizing expense receipts. It’s also an IRS-approved digital archive for receipt tracking. Just scan your receipts into the system, tag or categorize them, and you’re done. You’ll get back hours of wasted time spent sorting through receipts at tax time so you can be more productive and focus on critical tasks for your business.
Discount: 30-day free trial here.
While there are plenty of accounting software options on the market, Quickbooks is the granddaddy of them all, with a wide variety of products to choose from. With software and a web-based platform, it offers extensive integration with other third-party platforms – especially e-commerce – so your revenue and expenses can be quickly and automatically synced. There’s even a built-in gateway for invoice payments.
Yendo goes beyond invoice tracking and accounting to include a complete CRM. This makes it a great choice for businesses with a sales team in need of tracking leads through a pipeline. Yendo’s low cost and functionality make it a great choice for smaller startups as well as home-based businesses. With mobile functionality, you can stay on top of accounting wherever you go.
If your business depends on point-of-sale transactions but you’ve got a limited budget and can’t spring for a costly point-of-sale system, then consider picking up Square. Creating an account gets you a mobile card reader that plugs right into your mobile device so you can swipe credit cards wherever you go. Receipts are sent via email or text. Best of all, there’s no monthly fee. You pay a small percentage fee per transaction – that’s it. This is a great application and tool to have on hand at community events and trade shows.
6. PayPal Here
If you use PayPal for invoicing and accounting, which is common for small online and home-based businesses, the PayPal Here reader is a good alternative to Square. Unlike Square, which deposits to your bank account, PayPal Here sends the money directly into your PayPal account. You can even process checks and electronic invoices, giving you more payment options if you do any selling on a local level or at events.
If you’re on an extremely tight budget and don’t want to pay for more robust accounting software, then Wave is a good option. If you have fewer than 10 employees, you can use Wave to handle expense tracking, invoicing, receipts, and more. It’s a terrific option for startups and smaller operations that need to be more productive so they can spend their time growing their businesses.
Is that app saving you time?
There are apps and tools for virtually every aspect of your business. The important thing to remember is that just because you use an app doesn’t necessarily mean you’re saving time and being more productive. Carefully consider which apps you’re using to ensure they are actually reducing the effort for a particular job or process. Remove any that aren’t truly helping so you can maximize your efforts to better manage your time.