I recently wrote an article on productivity and time management where I mentioned some apps that I use on a regular basis to help me manage my time. Since then I’ve had lots of people asking me more about the apps and how I use them in relation to the tools and techniques I mentioned. The app marketplace can be overwhelming and there seems to be an app for just about everything, so how do you decide which ones are worth checking out and how do you avoid getting overwhelmed and spending your whole day on the app store?
Luckily I’m a bit of an app geek and if there is an app that can save me time and money or lets me be creative in unique ways, I’ve probably tried it. So below I have listed my 10 favourite apps that I use on a regular basis to help me manage my time and to make sure I am getting the most out of my day.
So you have written down everything you can think of that needs doing, you’ve done an 80/20 analysis and you have your 3-4 crucial tasks that are going to propel you towards your goals, but where do you go from there? The realistic part of the SMART acronym doesn’t apply to your vision or your longer term goals, it applies to the 3 or 4 crucial tasks that you are doing on a daily basis. These tasks need breaking down into actionable steps until you can find an action that you can take right now.
I can’t stress how much this simple app has changed my life. As we speak I am drafting this post in it. When I first started using it I didn’t see what all the fuss was about but I have been using it for a few months now and it really has become like an extension of my brain. I can easily jot down thoughts and then categorise them for referencing as well as bookmarking interesting things I find on the web with this Google Chrome extension. In the context of planning I use it to document longer term goals and then cross reference them with what I’m working on today. So for example I use weekly, monthly and longer term goals for specific projects which allows me to have them all in one place and reference them easily when I need to check where I am supposed to be. I go into more detail about my planning methods in this article and also have a free toolkit you can download at the bottom.
When you have a project that has lots of different elements to keep track of, a great way to ensure you have accurate timescales is to use a Gantt chart. Although there are some good Gantt chart planners for desktop available, one of the best ones I have found for the web is called Toms Planner. It allows you to create project attributes on the fly with drag and drop features as well as allowing you to share the project with other team members. You can move sections easily if something is delayed and you can access it on a variety of devices.
This is probably a bit overkill for smaller projects and a great alternative is to just schedule things with Google calendar and then just share the workflows you need other people to see. You can label different work stream’s and it integrates with native calendars pretty well.
Measuring where your time is spent is essential if you want to be more productive. If you cant see where you are spending your time then how can you work out how effective that use of time is and what results correlate to it? As I mentioned in my previous article this really helps to find the 20% of tasks that are bringing you 80% of your results.
Rescue time is an app that tracks all of your activity on desktop and mobile devices. The beauty is that it runs in the background and lets you see specifically what you are spending your time on without having to manually input everything you are doing. You can categorise certain activities into groups which allows you to gauge how productive you are being. For example, I put checking email into my “distracting” category if I spend more than 30 minutes a day doing it. You can set yourself goals such as “spending at least 30 minutes a day reading on the kindle app” or “listening to a podcast on iTunes”.
One of my favourite features is the “get focused” button which allows you to block any websites or apps that you find distracting for a specific time period. If you have a task that is pressing but you seem to keep getting distracted, just hit the focus button and there will only be a limited amount of things you can do! This app is my go to tracking tool and the premium version is well worth the upgrade for around £4/ month. You will save that per day on the extra amount you get done. It does take a while for it to analyse the tasks you consider to be productive vs distracting and you do have to give it a bit of guidance, but all in all its worth its weight in gold.
If you prefer to track time manually or want an app to track the amount of time your team members are working on specific tasks, you can use time tracking software called Toggle. Its simple to use and has some great analytics features which come in really handy when you are billing your clients. We use this software on a daily basis at creative life and it has improved how we spend our time drastically. As the saying goes: “what gets measured gets managed”. The best thing about toggle is that it is completely free for up to 5 members!
Actually managing your time, not just planning and tracking it relies on good systems and processes. The rise in the popularity of Client management systems is no coincidence, its one of the best ways to make sure everyone on your team knows what is going on as well as keeping the client informed.
Whether you are collaborating with other freelancers or working as part of a large team, good time and project management software is something that can change the way you work. Having contracted with a number of different agencies as well as managing my own clients, I am pretty sure I have tried all of most popular project management apps out there. However the one that stands out for me is Asana. Firstly because its free up to 15 members and secondly because it is one of the simplest user interfaces I have ever used.
When it comes to managing your time, sometimes you need a helping hand. Having someone to remind you what you are supposed to be working on and when would be great, but most of us can’t afford that, so the next best thing is an app called 30/30. Its a simple app but it allows you to create a daily plan with time constraints. Its lets you decide how much time you will spend on each task and gives you a notification when you have reached the allocated time. This may seem like overkill but if you REALLY want to get certain tasks done, create specific goals and give them a timeframe. You don’t even have to use this app you could use a timer (an egg timer works well, just maybe not in a busy office). The best bit about the app is that you can see what task you are supposed to be working on and how long you have got left until you have to move on to the next one.
Trello seems to have unlimited uses, I know people who use it for things like project management and others who use it to gather ideas for their next holiday. However I find it quite useful when managing my to do list, especially if there is more than one person involved. It can be as simple as creating a “to do” “doing” and “done” list and then moving each project to each box so that you can see where you are. I also use it for certain processes which allow me to see where each client or asset is on that process.
I have just started using this app and it has changed the way I manage my time. Form meetings to lists, it allows you to see everything in one place and is designed specifically to integrate with ical.
We live in a society that has grown accustomed to instant global communication, which in its self is amazing, however when you are trying to manage your own time, it can be overwhelming trying to manage other peoples time as well. If I had to point to one thing that is the biggest drain on my time, it would be communication, specifically email. There are 2 main approaches I take to this.
Firstly I treat my inbox like my physical letter box and try my hardest to only check it once per day. Secondly I have one or 2 main channels of communication and I choose who I give the address to very carefully. For example I often set autoresponders on all of my main email accounts to acknowledge I have received the email and to say that I will reply within the next 24 hours. I then provide my personal email with a note to say “please contact me on this email if your enquiry is urgent”. I rarely get people contacting me on my personal email unless I have specifically given them that as my main point of contact. I generally find that if you manage peoples expectations they are happy to wait for a reply.
I use mail pilot to keep my email as organised as possible, for example it allows me to set reminders to reply to certain emails or track who I need a reply from. It allows me to mark communication streams as “complete” or “waiting for a reply” and I can also see all of my conversations as a chat stream rather than having to search through my inbox for a message I sent last week. This app is only available for mac but there are Windows alternatives such as “Mail bird” although it doesn’t offer quite as many useful features.
I use slack to talk to people who I communicate with on a regular basis such as my team. The reason this is great is that you can create different channels for different topics and search to find conversations easily within that channel. All of your documents can also be shared on the channel and you can integrate other apps such as google docs, evernote and many more. I wouldn’t say its a complete project management tool (although you could probably use it for smaller projects), but it is brilliant for ensuring you are only communicating with people that are essential to what you are trying to achieve, rather than getting distracted by all of your other emails.
As I mentioned in my article “3 simple steps to achieving your goals and ambitions” the last part missing from the SMART acronym that is really important is celebration. We all have days where nothing on our to do list gets done because something far more important crops up unexpectedly. Sometimes these more important things lead to reaching your goals faster or achieving something to be proud of. Its easy to look at your to do list still sitting unchecked for a day or so and loose motivation. I try to avoid this happening by creating a done list and a not to do list as well as a to do list. This means you can celebrate the things that you have achieved as well as the things you have refrained from doing like checking Facebook.
The easiest way to do this is just to write them down but I like to use an app called iDone this which sends you an email at the end of the day with all of the things you have entered as complete. You can also get other members of your team to do it so you can be aware if they have prioritised something that may not have been on the original to do list.