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Top Planning and Productivity Tools for Your Business and Your Life

40 Days of Blogging - Day 21

Let’s face it – the more productive you are, the more successful you’ll be and the better you’ll feel.

But, sometimes finding the right tools can be overwhelming to say the least. From accounting programs to payment processors to calendars to social media schedulers, there are just too many options and too little time to learn about them and, of course, to test them all out.

Today I’m going to share with you some of my favorite planning and productivity tools to help you with your business, hobbies, family time, and everything else in between.

Let’s get to it:

Accounting and Payment Processing

Wave – Wave is my favorite accounting program because of how I like to organize my finances. I like to put my income and expenses for my yoga and fitness classes in one place and my income and expenses for my web and graphic design business in another place. The beauty of Wave is that this can all be done within the same dashboard. Other programs would require you to have a different account for each of these “businesses.”

Wave is free, and I usually don’t recommend free products. But, I REALLY like this program. Their free support is good, but they now offer a monthly plan for paid support via live chat and email (which is awesome!). You can also use Wave for payroll, invoicing and tons of other features; however, I just use it for income and expense tracking.

Freshbooks – Freshbooks is definitely a crowd favorite. I tried it out when I first got started working for myself, and I liked it. I was using the free version at the time, and then had to upgrade in order to send more than a tiny handful of invoices. In the end, it just wasn’t exactly what I was looking for in terms of accounting and invoicing, but I know many people who use it and love it. They offer a free trial, so why not check it out?

PayPal – I’m listing PayPal in this section and the Invoicing section because it has the power to do both quite well. In fact, PayPal can do a whole lot more, too. But, for now, I’ll just talk about payment processing. It’s probably the most widely use payment processor around, and it’s so easy and convenient, that it’s definitely my favorite one to use. Send someone an invoice (from PayPal or another program), and the recipient simply pays online and the money is in your inbox. You do have to then withdraw the money to your bank account, but it’s still better than waiting for a check to arrive in the mail, then going to the bank to deposit it or even taking the minute or so to deposit it via your phone. They do take a small fee, but that’s just the cost of business and totally worth it if you’re invoicing frequently and if you’re pretty serious about your business.

Feed Reader for Blog/Website Reading

Feedly – If you like to read new content on your favorite websites and blogs, then reading it in a feed reader is the way to go. Back in the day, this could be done with Google Reader (may it rest in peace). But now, Feedly is the best one around. Simply sign up, login, and add websites to your list (or, feed). You won’t need to go to each website to see if there’s new content, and you won’t have to rely 100% on each website’s owner to send you their latest content via their newsletter. In fact, some companies/bloggers don’t have a newsletter, and the only way to know if they have new content is to either go directly to their website or add their site to your feed (the latter of which seems much more convenient, wouldn’t you say?).

Email Inbox Organizing

Unroll.Me – This handy little tool is just awesome – especially if you’re a blog-subscribing-junkie like me! Basically, it takes everything you’ve subscribed to and rolls it all up into your account that you’ll set up on their site. You can decide which of your subscriptions you want add to your “rollup” and you can even decide when you want to receive your rollup (morning, afternoon or evening). You can also choose to unsubscribe completely from certain email lists directly from your Unroll.Me dashboard. Talk about productive and efficient! Instead of keeping your inbox flooded with new emails each day, they are rolled up into one and you can then read through it/them when it’s convenient for you.

Project Management, Invoicing, and Contracts/Proposals

Individual Income can Grow only as fast as productivity risesDocracy – When I first started my business, I used Docracy to put together proposals for clients to sign online. It’s totally free and a fantastic tool – especially if you’re just starting out. But then, I needed more, so I explored programs that offered proposals where clients could sign (or “agree”) online as well other features (like time tracking, invoicing and project management) I needed to be more productive in my business. Enter Pancake

Pancake – While there are tons of different project management programs out there (and you really should look into a few to see which one best fits your needs – i.e. Basecamp, Trello, 17Hats), I finally chose to invest in Pancake. So far, it’s been great. Is it PERFECT, no – but then again, I’m not sure any project management tool is perfect because they all offer different features that will appeal to different people and industries. What’s nice about Pancake is that your proposals and invoices are 100% branded with your company because the software is installed onto your server. Meaning, you don’t go to their website and login to access your dashboard. It’s actually on your own website (or, well, your own domain). Whenever clients receive invoices from me, they always say, “that’s so neat – how did you get your invoice to look that?” They’re asking because it doesn’t look like it’s coming from another program – it looks like it’s coming directly from me. With Pancake, I can track my time, send proposals; create projects and tasks; generate time sheets, invoices and estimates; and more! And don’t worry, if you need help installing it, they’ll do it for you (I got stuck and they just handled it for me – WHEW!).

PayPal – While PayPal isn’t really a project management or proposal/contract tool, you can send invoices and even brand them with your logo and colors. I used it for a long time before I started using Pancake, and I really loved it. The only reason I’m not using it anymore for invoicing is because I am able to invoice through Pancake. If I didn’t have Pancake, I would absolutely still be using PayPal.

Online Meetings with Screen Sharing

Cicso WebEx – Up until about a year ago, I was using Google Hangouts and swore by it as an online meeting tool. But then, I got frustrated by the poor video quality (which makes me sad to say because of my love for all things Google). Then, I started using Skype when I learned you could now share your screen as part of their free plan. BUT, the challenge with that is if you’re in an online meeting and you’re jumping around from a web browser to a Word doc to Photoshop, the person you’re meeting with won’t see what you’re doing unless you change the screen you’re showing (within the Skype dashboard) each time you change windows (ughh – annoying!).

WebEx is clearly the best choice for online meetings where you need to share your screen. The video quality is excellent; you can move around on your own computer and the person/people you’re meeting with will always see what you’re doing no matter how much you jump around; and they have a basic account option that’s totally free. WebEx has totally changed how I meet with clients and colleagues now, and that makes me oh-so-happy!

Calming Music

Coffitivity – I’m not sure if “coffee shop chatter” sounds appealing to you, but it’s surprisingly calming and really helps with my productivity. I have it on quite often and it’s like having the noise of a coffee house without the distraction of the coffee house people moving and talking all around me.

Calm – My client, Soul Sparks, recently introduced me to this one, and I love it. I was a little worried that it would be TOO calm (and might put me to sleep), but it’s actually not. It’s quite nice!

Note Gathering/Bookmarking

Evernote – I’ll admit, I’m not an expert at Evernote by any means. It actually has a ton of features that I am not familiar with nor do I use. BUT, for now, what I AM using it for is very helpful in terms of my productivity. I use it to bookmark/save websites and notes for future reference. I tag each of those website/notes with a category that seems most appropriate (and will be easiest for me to find later when I need to access the information). To learn more, here are a couple of courses (I know I know – I need to take one, too!): Evernote on Lynda.com and Evernote on Tuts+.

Pinterest – While some people use Pinterest for endless recipe-searching and decorating-drooling, I really enjoy using it as a virtual bulletin board for websites/links/images I need to reference in the future for my business (i.e. color palettes for logos, design ideas, websites my clients want me to use as inspiration, online courses I want to take in the future, etc.). In case you’re not familiar with Pinterest (yet!), I will be writing a Pinterest 101 post in the near future. Stay tuned!

Cloud Storage

DropBox – DropBox is an excellent tool that allows you to both store files as well as share them. Instead of emailing a bunch of files to a client when our project is complete, I simply put them all into a folder in DropBox and share them with him/her. That way, the files can always be easily accessed from anywhere vs. having to search through thousands of emails. It’s also ideal when you need to send larger files to someone, as most email providers only allow you to send up to a certain number of megabytes. You get lots of storage with DropBox’s free plan, but if you want to use it for all of your storage and sharing or as a cloud-based backup for your computer and/or website files, then upgrading may be necessary.

Google Drive – Just like DropBox, Google Drive is a great way to store and share files. You can access your Drive from anywhere, and you get a good amount of free storage. I recently needed to upgrade to a paid plan because I started uploading my video tutorials to Google Drive, but at just under $3/month, it’s completely worth it.


Gmail – I’m sure this one goes without saying…but just in case you don’t know, the Gmail Calendar pretty much ROCKS! I’m sure it has many similar features to plenty of other calendars out there (i.e. Outlook, Yahoo, etc.), but the fact that it’s a Google product just makes it my favorite for all of my calendaring needs. And of course, it’s free (again, I’m not one to advocate for free things very often, but this one is ok in my books).

Video Tutorial Production

Camtasia – If you need to record your screen for anything, Camtasia is the way to go. I make video tutorials for my clients, so this is something I use often and rely on for great quality and ease of use. When you’re done recording and editing your video, you can share it on YouTube, Google, their software called Screencast, and more! It’s $99/year and totally worth it. They also offer a free trial, so what do you have to lose?

Extra Special Touches

WiseStamp – My favorite special feature (and one that I get asked about quite often) is my email signature. Wisestamp allows you to have an automatic, very customizable (more so than what you can likely do in your current email program) signature appear at the bottom of your emails. You can even set up different signatures to appear when sending from different emails. I was using the free version in the beginning, but then I splurged for the pro version and feel it’s extremely worth it. It really makes your emails stand out, so go give it a try.

Curious about how you can improve your processes? Check out this FREE Freelance Process Cheat Sheet for some must-have tools to help you streamline your freelance process.

Did I miss any of your favorites? If so, tell me about them in the comments below.

Until tomorrow,

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4 comments… add one

  • Janet April 1, 2015

    Great post! I’m going to sign up for WebEx now! And too funny… I use Coffitivity almost all day long! I get so much more done with it. I’ll check out Calm too. Amen and amen to your other choices – totally agree 110%!

    • Stefani Harris April 1, 2015

      Yay for Coffitivity! You’ll love Calm! It’s so…well…calming (but not TOO much!). 🙂

  • Alex April 9, 2015

    Great post Stefani! Thanks for the many suggestions and reasons WHY you like them. I’ll look into these programs to step up my productivity, esp. interested in checking out Unroll me and Coffitivity.

    • Stefani Harris April 13, 2015

      Alex, Unroll.me will change your (email) life! Promise!! And Coffitivity is just FUN!

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