As marketers we know how important it is to stay on track with our seemingly endless deadlines; how frustrating it is to overcome creative blocks; and in the agency world, how stressful it is to balance multiple clients. It goes without saying that we need a little help sometimes.
Unfortunately a pen, a piece of paper, and lunch break meditation session don’t always suffice when it comes to juggling what you swear is a billion different projects. Thankfully there are a ton of programs and software applications that have been developed to make our lives easier…but on the other hand, there really are a ton of them, so where do we even begin? Having too many different aides will only help make you more stressed and ironically more disorganized. Moreover, it is difficult to know which tools work for you without first trying them all out. But that takes time – precious time that you don’t have, which is why I’m here to help.
Let’s take a look at the 5 best tools to manage your hectic work-life:
1. Dropbox – Best File Management System
Dropbox is a file hosting service that offers cloud storage, file synchronization, and client software. The integration that it offers really cannot be beat. It is clean, smart, and effective. The major selling point of Dropbox is that it allows you to access your files from anywhere. Your word documents, pictures, videos, PDF’s, etc are no longer chained down to a single computer.
I remember I used to have to constantly email myself files and documents so that I could open them at home to continue working on them. With Dropbox this is no longer the case (thinking about it, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing). Regardless, everything that you save in Dropbox will be there waiting for you, no matter where you’re accessing it from, what device you’re on, or what operating system you use.
For marketers (and quite frankly any businessperson) Dropbox works great as an internal server. Creating marketing subfolders for your team members and for your various projects is a simple and efficient way to organize your Dropbox. You can easily tailor your Dropbox to your specific needs and agendas. Being a cloud service, you can access your folders from any device making it easy to collaborate on projects, a feature especially useful if your entire team is not based in one location. I personally have not found any downsides to Dropbox and it is definitely a tool worth the investment.
2. Basecamp – Best Project Management System
Basecamp is an online project management system, which I’m sure many of you have heard of. Some of its key features include to-do lists, text documents, file sharing, time tracking, events, and discussions. You can create dedicated projects for yourself, your team, as well as for your clients. Each user is able to log onto Basecamp to keep updated on their assigned projects and tasks. Having a breakdown of your to-dos and the to-dos of the rest of your team is a great way to make sure that everyone is on track with their respective projects.
However, I think Basecamp particularly shines as a client-based project management system. Basecamp allows you to grant your clients access (with varying degrees of limitations) to their dedicated “project” on the system. You can control what they can and cannot see, and is a very good way to easily update them on what you have been doing, what progress you have made, and what kind of deadlines you have set in place.
This transparency builds trust and confidence with your clients and keeps the lines of communication open. One of the key elements of providing exceptional client services is organization and confidence, and these are both things that Basecamp aims to offer.
3. Evernote – Best Note-Taking System
Evernote is one of my personal favourite tools, maybe because I’m obsessed with taking notes and making lists. It is a desktop and mobile app designed for detailed note taking and organization. It’s great for keeping track of anything you want to remember or come back to later. Notes can be created in a variety of formats including text, images, voice memos, as well as direct website clippings (my personal favourite way to make notes).
In terms of organization, notes can be labeled with tags, they can be annotated, edited, given comments, reminders, divided into notebooks, shared, and searched. Since Evernote is a program that also uses cloud software, you’ll be able to access your notes from any of your devices.
For marketers Evernote offers a variety of capabilities, especially when it comes to content. You can use Evernote to save articles and blog posts that you want to come back to and read leader. I used to be one of those people who had a hundred tabs open on my browser with content that I wanted to read. If I didn’t have the time to get to an article, I would email the URL to myself to read later. Can you say tedious? Now I just add the article to Evernote and I can read it straight from the app. Evernote is great for content creation as well. You can save inspiration for blog posts or eBooks, make note of common consumer questions that you want to address, record meeting notes, or just use it for general note-taking. For marketing teams, the sharing option is great feature that allows for feedback and collaboration.
4. Trello – Best Task Management System
I talked about Basecamp earlier as a great tool for project management. Trello is a similar tool, but in my opinion works best as an individual (rather than client) task management system. It is great for setting out tasks and jotting down ideas. Best of all, it is very simple to use.
There are 3 basic elements to Trello – boards, lists, and cards. You can create specific boards for different projects (for example I have a board for Social Media Management), and within these board you can make dedicated lists for different elements of a project (as highlighted in the image above, the default lists are “to do”, “doing” and “done”). You can customize these lists any way that works for you. Within your lists you can create individual cards that state the task(s) that you’re working on. If you click on a card it will give you options to add more detail to the card, such as due dates, labels, comments, etc.
This is just one example of how you can organize your work life with Trello – it is very easy to customize. If you’re using it as an office tool for your marketing team, Trello allows you to assign tasks to other members and collaborate on ideas. Marketing is all about collaboration, and this tool works with that necessity.
One complaint that I have with Trello is that it’s not a desktop app (unless you have Windows 8), which is a feature I really like about Evernote. Regardless, it is still superb as an online tool and a mobile app. Best of all it’s 100% free!
5. Google Calendar – Best Web Calendar
A calendar is one of the best tools for logging down information, and it’s not difficult to see why. While many tools are great for short-term tasks, a calendar allows you to see the long-term progressions of your tasks, projects, and events. It is a fundamental tool for managing your personal and professional schedules, and they have come a long way through the digital age.
Google Calendar is one such example. Some of its main features include adding events, inviting people to events, creating multiple calendars, sharing calendars, and setting reminders. It really is a simple and straightforward digital calendar. The event invitation feature is probably the most used collaborative aspect of the Calendar here in our marketing department, and is great for scheduling catch-ups with the team and making sure that we’re focused on the same goals.
BONUS: Sleep Cycle – Best Sleep App
There’s nothing that will help your productivity more than a good nights sleep! But sometimes achieving this is easier said than done. There’s an important distinction between more sleep and better sleep, and it’s the latter that this app aims to improve.
I used to be an avid user of alarm clocks, but no matter how much sleep I got it always felt like I was being rudely awoken from my all-important slumber. So I started looking into alternatives and I came across the Sleep Cycle app! I’ve been using it for about a year now and it has yet for fail me.
Sleep Cycle works by monitoring your movements while you sleep to determine your REM cycles, and over the course of a few nights it learns your sleep patterns. While you set a specific wake-up time, the app will begin waking you during a 30-minute period prior to this when you are sleeping the lightest. This ensures that you are not jolted awake right in the middle of a deep sleep. It’s also really cool to see the record of your sleep patterns after each night!
Currently this is an iOS app only. A similar app for Android called “Sleep as Android” is the closest alternative and has great reviews.
The tools that I’ve highlighted above work great together, or even just as an addition to your current productivity habits. Each of them are available as mobile apps, which is always a huge bonus. They’ve made my work-life much more manageable, and I’m sure they’ll work for you too. Remember, productivity begins with the individual – a tool won’t help if you don’t use it. Let me know your favourite productivity hacks below!