For freelancers and small business-owners alike, time is money. The more time you spend procrastinating, trying to find an email from a year ago or scheduling a phone call, the less time you have for tasks that actually move your business forward and make you money. Fortunately, there are a slew of time-saving and productivity apps and tools that can help you do more in less time. Below, I’ve highlighted the best time-saving and productivity apps in several different categories.
Setting the Mood
Whether you work from home or on the go, the right music or sounds can help you stay focused and productive. Here are three tools designed for this purpose.
Focus@Will uses scientifically optimized instrumental music to help users focus. I was skeptical that different music would drastically improve my productivity, but after the free two-week trial, I was hooked and signed up for the paid version. My favorite option is called acoustical—a series of mellow tunes with a sense of forward momentum—but you can experiment with other moods and energy levels to find your ideal playlist.
If you prefer ambient coffee shop sounds to music, then bookmark Coffivity. Choose from three free soundtracks (morning murmur, lunchtime lounge and university undertones) or premium sounds like Paris Paradise, Brazil Bistro or Texas Teahouse to give you the flavors of other places without leaving your home office.
Noisli lets you mix and save combinations of nature sounds for productivity or relaxation. It also offers a timer and a stripped down distraction-free text editor to help you work more efficiently.
Email is a necessary evil. You need it to communicate with clients, colleagues and others but if you’re not careful it can eat up a huge chunk of your day. These tools can help tame your inbox.
Find yourself typing the same words or phrases over and over again? Rather than retyping or copying and pasting, TextExpander lets you create new keyboard shortcuts and automatically insert that verbiage into your document or email. I include a two-sentence bio in almost every pitch I send to editors, so I set up a shortcut for those two sentences in TextExpander and now I just type four letters instead of the whole spiel.
I’m subscribed to a lot of email newsletters from publicists, think tanks and professional associations, so Unroll.me helps me manage email subscriptions in one place. With Unroll.me, you can view a list of your subscriptions and easily unsubscribe with a few clicks or “roll up” your email subscriptions into a single daily digest rather than opening individual emails.
SaneBox works with your existing email provider to filter out the unimportant emails that you can deal with later so you can focus on more pressing messages. Gmail users might find that Gmail’s separate tabs for primary inbox, social and promotions helps them sort without an outside tool or, depending on their needs, they may prefer SaneBox’s interface.
Pings from email, social media and online shopping often distract from more important tasks like invoicing or delivering work. Multitasking often isn’t the most efficient way to work, so these tools are designed to help you stay on track.
This tool tracks your daily habits so you can see how much time you’re spending on email, Facebook, Twitter and so on. One caveat: RescueTime doesn’t distinguish personal and professional social networking time (often, the lines are blurry anyway) and some of its categories like “business” or “design & composition” do seem overly broad. Still, from a big-picture point of view, I’ve found it helpful to get a weekly analysis of how I’m spending my time and how this stacks up compared to past weeks.
FocusMe allows you to plan focused work sessions and gives you reminders to take breaks (this is one area where I really need a nudge because I often try to power projects through without proper breaks). You can also set it to block certain websites or time-wasting computer applications for a certain time period for when you really need to focus. The blocked websites are virtually impossible to access during that time frame, and you can’t outsmart the app by restarting your computer!
Wrangling Your Schedule
Setting up meetings and phone calls can be a huge time suck, so these tools minimize email tag and help you manage your calendar with ease.
When I need to schedule phone calls, I used to email back and forth about dates and time zones, which ate up lots of time on both sides. Now I just send people a link to my calendar via YouCanBook.me (it automatically adjusts for time differences) and they can choose a time that works for both of us and enter their phone number. Calendly and TimeTrade have similar functionality. These tools sync with your online calendar, so make sure you keep your calendar current or you’ll wind up apologizing for a lot of rescheduled or missed meetings instead of enjoying a streamlined schedule.
Reaching consensus on meeting times with a group can be even more frustrating than scheduling with just one other person. Doodle lets people fill in their preferences with a few clicks so you can easily see when the majority of the group is available and schedule accordingly.
About the Author: Freelance journalist Susan Johnston Taylor covers entrepreneurship, small business and lifestyle for publications
including The Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur and FastCompany.com. Follow her on Twitter @UrbanMuseWriter.