As a creative consultant and entrepreneur, I am always searching for new tools and technologies to bring increased efficiency to my daily workflow.
I am a minimalist at heart, not only in my approach to design, but in all areas of my life. This especially applies to my work habits.
Whenever assessing a new technology or system to bring into my workflow, I first ask myself several questions: will this simplify or complicate my process? Will this save me time, or cost me time? Will this add or subtract value to/from my process? If a new technology does not withstand this vetting process, I promptly move on. To me, the best technology is that which subtracts work, instead of adding it.
The following is a list of 5 apps and technologies which I utilize most frequently in my day-to-day process. A few of these may be obvious to some, but I hope that you find at least one on this list that is able to lend new value for you.
Keep may be the most valuable tool that I have brought into my quiver in the past several years. For me, it seems to be one of the most under-appreciated Google properties out there. It is tremendously simple but incredibly valuable.
Keep is easily the best note-taking app that I have encountered. The functionality is perfect in its simplicity.
Among the types of notes and content that can be saved are text, speech, lists, photos, and drawings. Notes are presented in a beautiful grid layout. Keep notes are attached to your google account and accessible from any device. Other features include: color coding, labels (which can be filtered), collaboration, archiving, push notification reminders, and integration with Google Docs & Google Voice.
I use Keep to capture thoughts, concepts, ideas, writing topics, to-do lists, logins, shopping lists, and more. I also use it for recurring reminders to water my plants, take out the trash, and take my vitamins. It is handy for saving client logins and arranging project to-do lists. My wife and I even use it to share grocery and errand lists. It is available completely free. The only requirement for use is a Google account.
Any.do is a to-do list app which is similar to Keep, but more specifically focused on “to do” and task items. I use Any.do for my daily task list.
Another simplistic app, Any.do excels at organizing tasks and keeping you focused on what is important immediately. A new task can be added in as few as three touches, or one, when using the built-in voice entry.
Tasks can be immediately assigned to four different time-span buckets: Today, Tomorrow, Upcoming (next week), and Someday. Tasks assigned to ‘Tomorrow’ automatically roll into the ‘Today’ bucket at the start of the next day. “Upcoming” tasks will land in “Today” at the beginning of the following week. While tasks assigned to “Someday” will not move automatically. It is important to note that these categories can be collapsed within the user interface. This is handy for blocking the distraction of future tasks and remaining focused on the now.
Push notification reminders can be added to tasks, which allows you to essentially forget about a task until the moment that it is important. Other features include team collaboration, sub-tasks, category types (work, personal, etc), and attachments (file type support is wide).
Any.do is available as a mobile and web app. A super handy browser extension is also available for Chrome, which provides a convenient drop-down list via an icon and integrates with Gmail. Any.do is currently offered on a freemium pricing model, with additional features available through a subscription.
Google Drive is the cloud-based file storage solution from the folks at Google. Drive is something more than the average cloud storage service. With the integration with Google Docs (so seamlessly tied that the two seem more like the same product), drive is able to act as more of an online filing cabinet. This is exactly the purpose that I use it for. I do not keep a single physical paper anywhere in my office. All of my document and paperwork management happens in Drive. I use it for content writing, spreadsheets, accounting, contracts, and proposals. I invoice my clients through Drive. I draft and send proposals in Drive. I create reports with Drive. My entire document workflow exists in drive.
A benefit of the integration with Docs, is that Doc files do not consume storage space. This means that storage for my documents and paperwork is virtually limitless. I have no reason to tie up space on my physical drives with any of my documents, I am not paying for cloud-based storage of these files, and I can access all of my files from anywhere, on any device.
Collaboration and permissions are powerful and rich. Version tracking is very robust, and clearly illustrates which user has made what changes, and when they were made. Permissions can be set for view (I use this for sending proposal and invoice type documents to clients), comment (useful for getting client feedback, without allowing changes), and edit (great for team and internal collaborations).
A simple, yet powerful feature which can easily be overlooked is auto saving. Drive saves your document to the cloud with each new keystroke. This essentially removes the possibility of lost work entirely. Gone are the days of forgetting to save, losing work to a system crash or restart, etc.
If you are a Gmail user, then the benefits of Drive are even greater. In Gmail you can attach files directly from drive. View permissions are automatically granted to recipients, with the option of higher levels. Your drive storage can be used to quickly and effortlessly attach files which may be too large for traditional sending. This is perfect for sending large deliverables.
Drive includes 15GB of free storage with every account, with additional storage available at low monthly rates.
I use Dropbox for the heavy lifting in my file management. All files related to my open projects will reside in Dropbox. Once a project is complete, it is then archived onto one of my physical HDD drives. I also store all of my own brand collateral and creative within my dropbox space. Perfect for quick access from anywhere and any device.
Dropbox provides a desktop client and mobile app which synchronize your Dropbox folder across all devices. All of your files are also available for download (or upload) via dropbox.com whenever you are not working on one of your own machines.
A robust set of collaboration features are included which are very handy for sharing resources with and from clients. Comments can be attached to files, which works well for collecting feedback from clients. Permissions can also be set and limited, similar to Drive.
Version history and trash were both recently introduced. Both are extremely useful for loss prevention. The ability to roll .psd, .ai, and other creative files back to earlier versions is very helpful. Trash can be a lifesaver when a file is mistakenly deleted on one device, thus deleting the file from all other devices.
Another ‘freemium’ model, Dropbox basic includes 2GB of storage free. Additional free space is available by sending invites and promoting Dropbox. Otherwise, $9.99/month will get you 1TB of storage.
Wallet is an incredibly simple payment solution from the folks at Google. It can be used to send and receive money to or from anyone with an email address in the US or UK, and it’s 100% free. No processing fees. Zero.
On top of being completely free to use, as I mentioned, it is also amazingly simple. All that is required for use is an account. Payment requests can be attached to emails sent via Google.
For my typical payment-collection process, I will attach a Wallet payment request to the invoice email. The client can then self-help on the official website, create an account, and easily pay using either their Credit/Debit card or bank account, whichever is most convenient for them. Again, at no charge to either party. After payments are received, they can be deposited directly into any linked bank account. Still no charge.
A Google Wallet card is available, which allows you to spend your balance from within Wallet, should you choose. As you would expect, a ledger of all transactions is kept, making accounting a breeze. An app is also available for both Android and iPhone, which is convenient for managing funds when out of the office.
For more information, have a gander at the Wallet FAQ page.
I hope that this list has been helpful for you. Hopefully at least one of the apps mentioned here is able to make your business more efficient and productive.
Continue the conversation
Do you have a top favorite app for freelancing which I left off here? I would love to hear about it!
Likewise, if you have any feedback or input on this post, I want to hear that too! Feel free to start a conversation on Twitter or send me an email. I would love to chat!
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