We’ve all got our own favorite tips, tricks, and tools that help us organize our task lists, assign projects, and manage deliverables. Today, there are more apps and software programs geared toward business owners than ever. I interviewed 10 entrepreneurs to find out what they use to stay on top of everything. Here are 10 of the best organization and productivity tools for entrepreneurs.
1. Monday: Streamline Communication Channels
“My business has clients, vendors, independent contractors, and full-time folks all trying to communicate, and it has streamlined our Slack, email, and file management tools into one centralized (and colorful) dashboard that allows us to glance at a project and know where it’s at. I love the integrations it has—be it invoicing, other communications tools, Google Drive—along with the extensive training and documentation that it has for a novice to be able to take this tool and harness it to its fullest potential.”
Shah recommends diving into a few of the webinars or training videos on the site and reading a few case studies.
“What’s cool about the tool is that it’s flexible for almost any business and then within your business, you can set up boards for all sorts of different activities and tactics. The best part (and tip I can offer) is getting into a daily habit of using it—I load up all the tasks right after a meeting, for example, so it stays fresh and gets assigned to the right team to execute against.”
2. Focus To-Do: Break Down Tasks into Bite-Sized Chunks
“I primarily use it for the Pomodoro function. The night before work, I make a to-do list of things that need to be accomplished. Then on the day, the app has a timer to break down work into intervals. I set it to 25 minutes in length and tick off tasks when they are complete. After every 25 minutes passes, I take a five-minute break. After four of these cycles, I take a 15-minute break.”
3. Trello: Color-Coded Organization
Chloe Brittain, owner of Opal Transcription Services, an audio transcription company serving clients in the US and Canada, uses Trello, a Kanban-style app to organize new projects, from a long-term to-do list to editorial calendar to SEO campaign.
“I also use it for simple things like keeping track of articles I want to read later. I prefer Trello to other organizational tools because it’s versatile but also simple: I can easily rearrange items on a board or card, color code things, add checklists and deadlines, etc., and even with all these layers of complexity, it’s easy to understand visually where I’m at and what still needs to get done.”
Brittain says if you need functionality beyond basic projects, you can use extensions (called Power-Ups) to help you customize the tool to your needs. “For instance, you could add custom fields to your cards or integrate your Trello boards with Dropbox,” she said.
4. Teamwork: Track Milestones and Due Dates
“It allows us to stay organized with recurring work, due dates, and important milestones. For large projects like website redesigns, we can add the client to our project so they can always see the status and get updates. We can even assign them tasks like reviewing design mockups or delivering copy,” Griffiths said.
His favorite tip for Teamwork is to utilize recurring tasks.“That can save you a ton of time when managing a project or simply organizing your week. It’s a very useful platform that can be used both internally and externally to organize a company.”
5. Google Tasks: Assign Actions from Your Calendar
Taiisha Bradley, publicist and founder at Modernoire, a non-equity minority business alliance that operates as a social enterprise, uses Google Tasks.
“Like many small business owners, I am constantly in my inbox. It’s so easy to list my tasks and to-dos right there in my email screen as I read through my emails. My Tasks even adds dates and times to my Gmail calendar so I don’t have to take another action to update my calendar or to create a deadline. The ability to add subtasks to main tasks is even more helpful when a task has many parts to completion.”
Bradley suggests watching YouTube videos of how to use Tasks. “I always learn something new from watching the most recent shortcuts and hacks from ‘techies’ on YouTube.”
6. Meistertask: Simple Task Management
When your day is filled with tasks to manage, you need a tool that helps you stay on top of them all. Jose Gomez, CTO & cofounder of digital marketing agency Evinex, uses Meistertask to manage and organize his tasks, as well as see where other team members are on a project.
“We mainly use it for daily task assignments, task and time tracking, deadlines and so on.”
He likes being able to assign each project its own Kanban board that enables project managers to track a project’s progress in real-time. “My personal recommendation for Meistertask is to have separate projects (Kanban boards) and set alerts for task changes (especially if you work within a team).”
7. Evernote: Great Multitasker
Shuman Roy, who writes for USInsuranceAgents.com and also owns a franchise location for School of Rock in Orangeburg, New York, frequently finds himself jumping from one task to the next, operating on three different frequencies, as so many entrepreneurs do.
He finds that Evernote helps him do so much more than take notes, as it was designed to do.
“Evernote can capture photo, video, and voice. Great features for documenting lesson plans, song ideas, or technical document notation. The app also lets you track internal and external links.”
Roy says being able to connect to Google drives, audio files, video files, and even sketch handwritten notes is helpful when working in multimedia formats where he and his team are recording meeting notes, taking pictures of whiteboards, and following slides.
8. Zapier: Easier Task Automation
Samantha Odo is COO of Precondo.ca, a company that helps people research and purchase new condominiums in Toronto. She loves Zapier because it creates a web of all the apps that she uses for storing information and connects them through automated processes.
“Zapier is one of the most impactful organizational tools for process automation and integrating multiple apps to one platform. For example, if you intend to save a file in Google Drive, you can create a zap and upload it on Zapier, then the document will be automatically saved to Drive.”
9. Calendly: Meeting Scheduling Simplified
Alexis Haselberger, productivity, time management, and leadership coach at Alexis Haselberger Coaching, hated the time-wasting back-and-forth of trying to find a meeting time and date, especially with external parties. Then she discovered Calendly, meeting scheduling software.
“Calendly is inexpensive and allows for multiple different meeting types so that you can have the right amount of buffer time built in for travel related to in-person meetings versus calls or in-house meetings.”
10. Expensify: Keep Track of Receipts
Gone are the days of stuffing receipts in your laptop bag until you can get back to the office to scan them and email them to Accounting. Expensify is a mobile app that makes it easy to scan and track receipts. As a small business owner, this is a lifesaver for Connie Heintz, founder of DIYoffer, which provides a complete ‘for sale by owner’ kit in Toronto.
“I used to carry my receipts around in my pocket and file them at the end of the night, but I found myself losing them and putting them through the wash. With this app, all you have to do is photograph the receipt with your phone and it’s uploaded directly to a spreadsheet.”
She loves being able to share her spreadsheet at the end of each quarter directly with her accountant.
In addition to these 10 productivity tools, here are a few additional productivity apps and project management tools to help keep you on top of your business.
Entrepreneur Productivity 101: Using a Kanban Board
If you’re a person who likes to stay organized using visual tools, a Kanban board is a great place to start. Kanban is a Japanese word that means “signboard”, and is a visual scheduling system started by Toyota. Today it’s most often used as an agile tool for project management, and teams will use both physical and digital Kanban boards to track their work progress.
In general, work on a Kanban board can be separated into a few basic sections that show where work is in your workflow cycle, for instance, “requested”, “in progress”, and “completed”. You may include other steps in your workflow, like reviews or brainstorming sessions. Once you’ve got projects placed on the Kanban board based on their status, you can see where progress is being stalled. You can also limit what work you’ll put into the “in progress” column to ensure you’re not overscheduled.
The benefits of a Kanban card are that you can reduce the number of meetings you need to discuss progress — team members can just put updates on the cards on the board. You can also see where your roadblocks are stalling progress, automate processes, and collect data on how your projects are progressing (or not) over time.
A few popular digital Kanban boards include Asana, Trello, Monday, Todoist, and Jira by Atlassian. Many of them are intuitive and easy to use, although some are more specific to software development and Agile methodologies (more on that below) and may not be as easy to use for beginners. You can play around with different systems using their free trial periods and see which one works best for you. The free versions of these tools are particularly good for freelancers and anyone trying to launch a startup, but many offer pricing that is very attractive for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneur Productivity 101: Collaborative Project Management with Google Sheets
Spreadsheets have been a popular office tool for decades, thanks to Microsoft Excel, but with the rise of cloud computing, they’ve become even more popular to share information across teams. Google Sheets is an extremely useful spreadsheet tool, thanks to its simplicity and the fact that it’s everywhere, which also adds to its ability to be highly collaborative. It’s one of the best productivity tools around, and it’s easy to see why.
Team members can access Google Sheets wherever they are and whenever they want, and you can control permissions and manage change tracking easily. Plus, you can also use it for free, although Google Business Suite is a relatively inexpensive option for small businesses who want a little more control.
While it’s easy to start your own project tracking spreadsheet in Google Sheets, its popularity has led people to create dozens of templates that will make it easy for you. You can use Google Sheets for:
- Progress reports
- Gantt charts
- Project timelines
- Expense tracking
- Design briefs
Once you’ve created your sheet, you simply share it with the team members who need access, making sure their permission levels allow them the right level (editor, contributor, or viewer), and then you’re off. You can use Google Sheets through an app on your computer, phone, or tablet, especially if you have an Android phone, but it also plays nice with Apple products like the iPad or iPhone. It also works great with Google’s Chrome browser, where you can use add ons to give your spreadsheets even more functionality. You can link Google Docs or other Google Suite products to Google Sheets, as well.
Entrepreneur Productivity 101: Roles in a Scrum Team
We’ve talked briefly about Agile methodology here, but it’s probably best to introduce it outright: Agile is a project management methodology where you use very short cycles to complete projects, allowing for quick turnaround and constant revision. The Waterfall methodology, by contrast, basically forces you to complete a project before you can revise it, which, according to Agile fans, can make projects take even longer.
Scrum is one Agile methodology that is very popular, particularly among software developers. Scrum gets its name from rugby, and is a framework that encourages teams to figure out the project by working on it, organize organically, and make time for constant reflection to ensure improvement. A scrum is broken down into sprints, which are the task assignments that must be finished in a set period of time or segment of the project.
In a scrum, there are three roles that team members take:
- Scrum Master — the person in charge of the scrum, responsible for making sure the team stays on track. The Scrum Master will schedule meetings, usually daily, as well as reviews, and manage the overall progress of the team, removing roadblocks and communicating with the team.
- Product owner — the person in charge of the product, making sure that the team’s work aligns with the goals of the product, like customer expectations and market trends. The product owner will prioritize the work by keeping track of what external stakeholders expect and communicating that to the team.
- Development team — these are the people who get the day-to-day work done in the sprint and basically make up the rest of the team. These could be copywriters, data analysts, software engineers, UX designers, and marketing managers.
Different members of the team can take on different roles depending on the project, but you may find that certain team members excel at product ownership or being the Scrum Master, while others are better at working on their granular tasks.
These are just a few of the many tools that can make a business owner’s life a lot easier! What would you add to the list?
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This article was originally written on July 3, 2020 and updated on February 2, 2023.