Do you find yourself rushing out the door in the morning and then running to meetings throughout the day? Productivity tools should make your life easier, more efficient, and organized—allowing you to slow down—even just a little. These are some of the best tools I use or found through research and recommendations. It’s been updated for 2017.
How people get work done as learning professionals may not be that different than what’s needed in other fields. But it seems that each industry has a specialized combination of requirements. In our industry, many of us design, research, write, collaborate, communicate and create media. We need tools to make team work efficient, to easily find and backup our files, to research and to continuously learn.
It makes sense to back up your work in three places. Perhaps two at work and one off-site (if your organization allows for this). As you’ve probably experienced, replacing lost work takes a lot of time. Most of the cloud backup applications can be set to an automatic mode that synchronizes your modified files to the cloud as you work.
Carbonite is a popular backup service with two modes–one for home and one for work. It provides automatic backups and lots of storage. They have annual pricing.
Dropbox has an understated and simply intuitive interface. You can use it to backup files as well as to synchronize files across computers and devices. They provide several gigabytes for free.
Mozy is often recommended as the backup tool of choice. As you know but probably ignore, backing up your data to an offsite location means that in the event of a system failure, natural disaster, or other unpleasant experience, you’d be able to recover all of your work. It’s low cost and easy to set up for both Mac and Windows.
Want more? See this list: 25 Online Backup Services
BOOKMARKING and CLIPPING
Online bookmarking and clipping the web is a real time saver, helping you avoid doing multiple searches for something you saw a few months ago. It does take some thought to create a smart taxonomy for tagging, as information tends to overlap.
There’s also the social element to bookmarking. Many online bookmark sites feature sharing as a way to curate and to learn from others. If you’re interested in curation, listen to this interview: Content Curation for Learning.
Similar to Evernote (discussed below), DIIGO has capabilities for bookmarking, capturing images and web pages, annotating the web with sticky notes and highlights and basically collecting and organizing information.
Although not specifically designed for bookmarking, Evernote has an excellent web clipping tool that you can easily add to Chrome and other browsers. I particularly like the feature for saving an article in its simplified form. It removes all extraneous information on the page. Chrome Evernote Web Clipper. Evernote has a free plan and premium one.
The visual nature of Pinterest has made this app rise to the top in popularity. You can have many visual boards organized by category and invite others to join and post to your board.
The Pocket motto is “save for later.” You can save just about any type of online media and view on any of your devices. You can add Pocket to your favorite browser for quick saves. There’s a free plan and a reasonably priced premium one.
You want more, right? See 10+ Bookmark Managers for 2016.
Calendars are a must for schedules. Collaborative calendars can make things easier.
Most people know about Google Calendar, but have you tried it yet? It’s simply an easy to use, free, shareable and straightforward way to keep track of events and tasks. I like the way you can add tasks to the calendar, and then view a list of all your tasks, though seeing this long list can be depressing. You can set notifications and it syncs with your device and often, with other calendars.
Kin Calendar is pegged as the app to replace Sunrise—a popular calendar app that shut down and left fans crying. This app is not yet available, but you can sign up to see when it will be released. It will integrate with many popular tools, like Trello and Google Calendar. Wait and see.
Unlike many other calendars, this app is specifically made for groups. It allows for color coding, multiple ways to add events and it’s easy to share. There’s a free plan too.
COLLABORATING & COMMUNICATING
Being able to meet and work online with others saves loads of time and money. Working in real-time is more productive than sending documents back and forth, where you might misunderstand someone’s comments or revisions.
Though I haven’t used this, I know many teams do. Older than Slack, it’s added functionality and has group text chat, video chat, screen sharing, instant messaging and file sharing. There’s a free version also.
Skype, the old standby, involves downloading software. Skype allows for group and text chatting and screen sharing. What I like about Skype is that most people seem to have it. I use Skype for recording podcasts and long meetings. Unique to Skype is that the paid version allows you to call phone numbers.
Providing an improved way to communicate with your team, Slack helps you do away with email and improves direct communication. This app allows you to use different channels to segment conversations, direct message individuals, move easily from text to video conversations and share files. Slack also has a good search function. There are free and paid plans.
Share organizational knowledge, plan and track projects collaboratively and get feedback in a wiki. Wikispaces has a flexible pricing structure, from free to private label wikis.
Want more options? See Slack Alternatives: Ten Best Tools for Team Communication
DIGITAL ASSET MANAGEMENT (DAM)
DAM is a solution for storing, organizing, finding, retrieving and sharing digital assets like photos, videos, sound effects and audio files. The best functionality allows for a flexible storage structure, tags and excellent search. DAM software can be pricey and it is easier to find freebies if you only need to store photos and videos. Then again, you can simply use the functionality that comes with your operating system.
Adobe Bridge CC is free and worth looking into. It not only provides a centralized space for storing assets, but it has functionality for batch processes, importing from mobile devices and a drag and drop interface.
You may want to investigate this “freeware” as the pricing is quite low. It is a multimedia browser that supports many image and file formats. It also does batch conversions.
Now that most team collaboration apps have video functionality, there’s only a fine line between those tools and the ones specifically made for online meetings. But here are a few.
Most people are familiar with Go To Meeting, which involves downloading a desktop client and joining a web conference. Got To Meeting allows for up to 100 attendees and features screen sharing, HD video and recording.
When you sign up for Google Plus, you get access to their hangouts, which is a free live video chat service for up to ten people. For more than that, you’ll need to pay for Google Hangouts for Business. You will need to install the Google Hangouts plugin.
Hopefully you don’t have trouble making decisions because Join.me is another worthy contender for web conferencing. It also has functionality for a whiteboard, screen sharing, webinars and mobile.
You can use Zoom for one-on-one or group meetings, webinars and conference calls. It works well and the free plan provides good functionality. Pricing is very reasonable too.
Asana has a great reputation for streamlining project management tasks. Organize work by projects, add tasks, show progress, communicate within the tool, add files and so much more. It seems that Asana is what you would imagine a project management tool should be.
Basecamp is considered by many to be the best browser based project management app around. It’s endorsed by high profile companies and the data integrates with lots of other apps, like Harvest Time Management (see below). It’s easy to use and in addition to PM functionality, there are some collaborative tools for sharing files, lists and messages.
Nozbe is another web-based project management tool that offers a few unusual ways of doing things. It’s Contexts mode lets you process related tasks in context, such as things you can do by Phone, Home or the Internet. And it’s Next Action functionality lets you process one next action at a time. Nozbe has a reputation for being a little difficult to learn, but it’s the tool many productivity professionals use.
Trello is conceptually beautiful. Similar to the Kanban Board concept, you create a series of cards filled with lists. For example, one list is “To Do.” As you finish each task, you then drag the task to a “Done” list. The simplicity of Trello makes it a great productivity tool.
SOCIAL MEDIA AGGREGATORS
If you like developing a personal learning environment, then a social media aggregator is one way to make the process more efficient. It allows you to keep all your social channels in one place for reading and posting. Check out more about designing a personal learning environment.
Similar to Hootsuite, Buffer integrates your social media platforms into one place where you can view and post. Buffer is also integrated with Pablo, a tool for creating social media graphics. Both free and paid plans.
This social media dashboard streamlines your Twitter, Facebook and other feeds. For example, on one screen, you can easily see your Twitter stream, direct messages, sent tweets and more. You can also schedule posts and integrate all of your social media streams. Both free and paid plans.
Socialoomph integrates Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn and more. The site displays a long list of features that it provides for each social network. Check it out.
TIME TRACKING AND INVOICING
Harvest has a sweet user interface and is ideal for small business and individual time tracking, logging expenses, invoicing clients, running reports, and keeping track of account receivables and revenue. Multiple users can log in to track time too. This is the time tracking app I use and love it! They have a free plan so you can check it out before getting started: 2 projects, 4 clients, unlimited invoicing for 1 user for free.
Paymo works on a similar model as Harvest. Use it to track time, manage project hours, invoice clients and run reports. They also have a free plan where you can try out the service for a couple of projects.
This article goes into lots of detail: The 20 Best Time Tracking Apps
Visual collaboration allows teams to diagram and draw together.
Creately is a visual collaboration platform used by project teams to communicate with each other. This means that everyone on all your teams (design, development, business) can collaborate through diagrams easily.
With Flockdraw, you’re not just annotating documents. You can perform real-time drawing and painting.
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