The subject of personal productivity has always eluded me. Mostly because I feel like I probably don’t manage my time very well.
I want that to change.
Part of that means looking at the tools that I use to manage my work and personal projects.
In this post, I’m going to talk about some of my favourite tools like I like to use (and will continue to use) to manage my productivity and projects.
Oh yeah, everything I’m going to talk about are either free or freemium — you can use all of tools I mention at no cost.
I’m a huge Google fanboy. Seriously — I walked around with a Google-branded backpack, I rant at my friends and family who don’t own a Gmail address, I get mad when people use Microsoft Word over Google Docs. Hell, I even bought a .xyz domain name for my personal website because it was the same domain extension that Alphabet uses.
The point I’m trying to make is; I really like using Google. Here are some of their tools that I use the most:
G Suite is loaded with apps and features for managing pretty much everything in the cloud. In my humble opinion, G Suite contains every tool you’ll need to effectively work in the cloud; email, file storage, time management, documents, presentations — the list goes on.
Google’s primary purpose to keep you using their products, and that’s why they build the best tools and make them freely available.
Everyone needs to own a Gmail address. Especially students and grads who are applying for jobs; I know hiring managers that will only respond to applicants with Gmail addresses.
Not only is Gmail the cleanest email service provider (even cleaner if you use Inbox), but it’s also loaded with features to avoid getting overwhelmed by your 1000+ unread emails.
Calendar is the best way that I’ve found to manage my time. Desktop and mobile push notifications keep me on task and based on my calendar for the day, I can plan out what I’m focusing on. Here’s how I use Google Calendar:
For meetings; I’ll create an event, write out a brief summary of it, invite my participants and make sure that you set a reminder.
For projects; I’ll block off specific times to complete each task.
For recurring tasks; I’ll create an event, set it recurring and choose a duration.
pro-tip: get a daily agenda email by going to “settings” > “calendars” > “edit notifications” > check the box for “daily agenda”.
Google Drive stores and manages your files and documents in the cloud. I don’t think I need to wax poetic about the value of cloud storage but Google Drive really does it right.
Upload, sync and manage and organize all your files. It’s as simple as that. Sharing is also a breeze with various privacy options.
pro-tip: create folders and check your permissions before sharing files.
Docs, Sheets and Slides
I love working in the cloud and these three apps are what makes G Suite the ultimate productivity suite. You can create documents, spreadsheets and presentations and collaborate on them in real-time.
Let’s be real here: the autosave is where it’s at.
Office is dead — there’s no convincing me. These tools aren’t just better, but they’re free yo.
pro-tip: use templates and add-ons to get a jump start on your documents.
Chrome is my favourite web browser ever. It’s clean and customizable with a loftier goal of connecting us closer to the internet. With the Web Store and their giant collection of browser extensions and apps, your web browser has never been more powerful.
Be sure to check out this awesome video from Noah Kagan for some tips and tricks.
pro-tip: login to a second account (like your work or personal account) at the click of a button by going to “settings” > “add person”.
A really simple to-do list and note taking app. There are more than enough of these types of apps but Keep is my on-the-go solution for making lists and keeping track of ideas.
pro-tip: access your Keep notes from Docs by clicking on “tools” > “keep notepad”.
Slack + Messenger
The way we communicate has changed forever and how we manage our communications is more important than ever.
Slack is the ideal communication tool for teams. Slack sports a gorgeous UI and uses channels and direct messages for keeping everyone in the loop. With numerous app integrations and a growing Bot library, Slack is a must-have tool in your stack.
Messenger is how I keep in touch with my friends and family. It’s easy to use and everyone already uses it. Yeah, I’ll use SMS, Instagram or Snapchat but Messenger is as easy as it gets. Voice and video calling is beyond solid and who doesn’t like sending random GIFs to their friends at 2:00am?
Asana is by far the best free project management tool (hands down). Managing your projects and workflows can be a challenge but Asana will make your task management a breeze. I’ve used a bunch of different project management apps but Asana is by far cleanest and easiest to adopt into your daily workflow.
I like planning my projects in sprints and use the kanban methodology and score tasks using the ICE framework.
Sprints outline all the work that needs to be done to complete a project. Kanban sorts tasks into three columns (to-do, doing, done) and ICE gives the task a score based on its impact, confidence and ease.
Asana compliments how I work and gives me the tools to manage those sprints effectively in one single dashboard.
pro-tip: use “personal projects” to keep track of and manage your side-projects separate from your primary dashboard.
Calendly is the easy-to-use scheduling tool for organizing meetings. Another clean interface that integrates with my Google Calendar. Create your meeting type, set your availability, integrate with your calendar and voila! You have a link you can send to anyone you want to set up a meeting with.
I haven’t Calendly as much as I want to but will be using it a lot more in the future.
I love automation tools — services like Zapier and IFTTT exist to make our lives easier and automate the tasks that bog us down.
Workflow automation tools connect apps and automatically perform actions based on rules and triggers. When something happens in one app, it will trigger an action in another app.
IFTTT is an easy automation tool to get started with (it’s more targeted towards the hobbyist). The basic concept is that if something happens in one app, it will trigger an action in another app. Using “applets”, you can set up simple automations like date/time reminders and weather notifications.
Zapier is more complex with a bigger focus on business apps. Workflows, or “zaps”, connect apps and services using triggers and actions. If you’ve ever used an app and hoped that it was integrated with another tool in your stack — chances are, Zapier can connect them.
Other Automation Tools
Pen + Paper
So far, I’ve just talked about digitals productivity tools. But what about good old pen and paper?
I love my notebooks; I’ve kept moleskins throughout my entire professional career. I can look back at them and see how I’ve changed over the years and how my ideas have evolved.
If you don’t carry a notebook around with you. Start now.
I don’t have a set method for how I organize my notebooks but there are few analog systems that I like or have adapted in some way for my own use.
Bullet Journal: a system for managing notes that uses rapid logging, indexes and logs to organize your notebook
Strikethrough: a system for managing lists that uses idea dumps, live lists, vaults and a calendar.
How we manage our personal productivity is an essential skill and one that requires constant improvement. I’m no “lifehacker” — I’m just a guy who wants to get shit done.