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Stop Wasting Time and Start Being Awesome: Our Favorite Productivity, Project Management and Collaboration Tools
In the SEO world, there is no shortage of tools to help make your life easier. There are tools for tracking progress and growth, tools for finding new fans and followers, even tools for finding more tools! But what about tools to help keep you organized and productive? With so many tools to choose from and the fast-paced, ever-changing world of SEO, I think we could all use a few tips and tools for being more productive. Don’t you?
Remember the Milk is a really cool app that helps you manage your tasks. They boast that you will “never forget the milk (or anything else) again” when you use it. The app is free and available for iPhone, iPad, Gmail, Twitter, Android, and Blackberry users, just to name a few. To-do’s are seamlessly integrated in to your Google Calendar, and if you are an iPhone user, you can even have Siri remind you to “pick up the milk”.
Image: Google Play
Evernote is also free and features an elephant in their logo because “elephants never forget.” Evernote will help you to “remember everything” by saving your ideas, or things you like, see or hear all in one place that you can access across all computers, tablets and phones you use.
The Evernote family of products will help you to remember, and then act upon, ideas, projects and experiences as you come across them, keeping you organized and saving you time.
Cold Turkey and SelfControl both work off the same premise – to stop you from going to distracting and time-wasting websites that you visit every day. Both are free and allow you to temporarily block yourself from sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, Reddit, online gaming sites, and wherever else you find yourself wasting too much time online. The major difference between the two is that SelfControl is only for Macs.
Trello is a really awesome FREE tool that we use here at Thunder for keeping everyone on the same page in terms of project management. This collaboration tool organizes your projects into visually-pleasing boards. In one glance, anyone in the office can see what a particular person is working on, who’s collaborating with them, and how much time they are spending on a particular project.
We have set up campaign management boards for each of our interns, and for anyone that works remotely. We have found it extremely helpful to see someone’s assignments all laid out in the Trello boards, so we know if they realistically have the bandwidth to take on more projects or not. Every time someone makes an edit to something on a particular card or comments on a to-do, everyone subscribed to that card will receive an email notification. Trello even bundles all of the most recent changes and updates into one email, so your inbox does not become flooded.
Here are the Trello Board basics:
- You are presented with a page called a “board” and that board contains multiple lists.
- Each list has multiple entries, which are called “cards”. (More on cards later.
- You can see your most recent notifications in the top right corner of the screen. A red square with a number will pop up to signify the number of new notifications.
- You can drag members’ pictures onto the individual cards, which in turn, subscribes them to the projects and allows you to assign them tasks.
- You can also view the most recent activity on the card along the right side of your board.
Each card also has a title, and once it is clicked on, you can see the description, notes, and any files that have been attached to it.
And the Trello Card basics:
- Trello allows you to assign due dates to projects. One of their newest features includes due date notifications, which means that when a card you are subscribed to is 24 hours away from being due, you’ll get a notification both in the app and via email.
- Labels help to easily identify projects that may be on-hold or in progress currently. You can customize the label titles and colors as well.
- Another great feature of Trello is the ability to attach documents directly to the cards. You can drag and drop a file from your desktop, upload a file from your computer, or even add a file directly from your Google Drive, which is the option we most often choose. The integration between Google Drive and Trello is seamless, making adding documents extremely quick and easy. Pro Tip: Make sure to “share” the Google Doc with everyone on the Trello board before attaching it to a card, so everyone can access it.
- Adding checklists to your cards allows you to get more specific on project details and provide your team with ideas or actual assignments like blog post topics or smaller tasks that complete a card, for example.
- Everyone who is subscribed to the card can make comments on it as the project progresses, which is helpful for staying up to date on what’s happening.
Another great project management software and online collaboration tool we use at Thunder is Basecamp. Though this tool is not free, pricing starts at $20 a month and they also offer a 60-day unlimited free trial so you can give it a test run and see if it is a good fit for you and your business. Not only do we use Basecamp internally to keep track of assignments and projects, but we also collaborate with other vendors and clients in their Basecamp accounts as well.
One major difference between Basecamp and Trello is that you are able to actually keep track of your hours spent on certain projects and create timesheets for yourself. This is extremely helpful if you charge for your services “a la carte.” You are able to create timesheets for either everyone in the office or for individual people and see how much time was spent on each project.
Like Trello, Basecamp also has a messaging feature and allows you to upload files to share with the team or your client. It’s a convenient way for everyone to stay current with what is being discussed on a certain project without scrolling through hundreds of emails. Having all of your important documents in one central location that the whole team can access when needed is also very helpful.
Basecamp has convenient email notifications when a new task is assigned to you. However, unlike Trello, Basecamp does not bundle all of the emails together, and sends individual emails for each “to-do,” “message,” “comment” or “file upload.”
If you aren’t already taking advantage of all the excellent features available in Google Apps for Business, you are most certainly wasting valuable time. This paid tool gives you the ability to share documents with your entire team securely, integrate calendars with co-workers, and create group emails in Gmail. Your work is always backed up and you are the owner and controller of all of your data. Just a few of the major benefits include being able to stay connected to your entire team from anywhere, working better together, getting stuff done faster, and even going green! Yes, that’s right, Google Apps for Business is powered by Google’s energy-efficient data centers, which means less energy and carbon use than on-premise servers! Go you!
Image: beyond profit
And of course, they offer a free trial so you can decide if it works for you and your team (trust us, it will!) and then pricing starts at $5 per user, per month or $50 per user, per year. But perhaps you can’t take advantage of this paid option right now and are looking for some nice freebies? Well, Google still has your back.
Google Drive is a free service tied to your Gmail account that lets you store all your files including documents, photos, videos and Google Docs online and access them anywhere. You also have the ability to share these Docs with anyone on your team or even with external email addresses like clients as well. One of my favorite features of Google Drive is the auto save, which happens every couple of seconds while you are working on a document. Gone are the days of your computer crashing and losing all the progress you made because you didn’t save your document first.
Though we love Google Drive for all its nifty bells and whistles, I would like to point out that you can take your spreadsheets one step further by downloading them and opening in Excel. Check out these great guides on Excel for SEO from Jacob Jarnvall and Distilled to grow your Excel skills and make charts sexier.
If you use Gmail regularly, you may have noticed a few things have changed with the layout and functionality. The biggest change is the redesigned compose and reply feature, which I am absolutely smitten with. How often have you been in the middle of writing an email and had to reference something in another message? The new compose layout opens your draft email window in the bottom righthand corner of your screen, allowing you to access your other email folders simultaneously. Though this function has only been live for a couple of weeks, I find it is already saving me tons of time since I don’t have to bounce around between emails to compose my current draft. One small downside? It kills the “suspense” I used to feel when writing a long email and returning to see the new emails had arrived in my inbox.
Gmail shortcuts can also save you time by allowing you to never take your hands off the keyboard to use that ruddy, old mouse! To turn these case-sensitive shortcuts on or off: 1. Click the gear icon in the upper right corner and then select settings. 2. Choose the option next to “keyboard shortcuts” to turn them on. 3. Voila! start short-cutting! Here are the most important ones according to John Doherty:
- C – compose a new message
- E – archive a message
- G then I – return to inbox from a message
- R – reply to a message
- A – reply all to a message
- F – forward the message
- J – when in your inbox, move to the next message
- K – when in your inbox, move to the previous message
- X – when in your inbox, mark an email. Most useful when processing out emails that don’t require any attention (such as daily emails).
For the complete list of Gmail shortcuts, you can go here.
Yes, I am definitely tooting Google’s horn a bit here, but I would be remiss if I left out the awesomeness that is Google+ Hangouts. You are able to chat with up to ten (including yourself) people at once, face-to-face, which sometimes is much easier than setting up a conference call, emailing out the invites and the access codes, and waiting around for your colleagues to call in. You can instead send them an invitation to hangout (which they will receive via Google Chat) and all they have to do to join the conversation is click the link!
This may not be very helpful for companies in which all employees work in the same office every day, but for large companies with multiple locations or for people who work from home, or in another state, or who travel frequently, hangouts are a big time-saver when it comes to roping in your team for a discussion.
Now that you have everyone in one place, you can take advantage of a multitude of productivity apps available to you like screen-sharing, collaborating in Google Docs, viewing presentations and diagraming together. To access one of these apps, simply click the “Add app” button inside the hangout to browse and add them. And if for some reason, one of your team members in unable to join the hangout, you can use the “+telephone” link and give them a call within the hangout. Calls within the US and Canada are free, and international calling rates are very affordable. Never before has meeting with a large, spread-out team been easier than with Google+ Hangouts!
What if you don’t need to conduct a formal face-to-face meeting? Well, then a quick Google Chat can get you the answer to that question that’s holding you up from moving forward on your big project. Chats are not confined to being between only two people either. If you need to have a short discussion with multiple people, it is very simple to add them and get things going. We use Google Chat at Thunder constantly whether we are talking to someone who is working from across the country or sitting at the desk right next to us!
Putting an editorial calendar in place helps bloggers, editors, content managers and project managers to easily communicate deadlines and show the team where their individual contributions fit into the bigger picture. The name pretty much sums it up, but an editorial calendar is a schedule of what topics to cover on your blog and when. The most basic example of this would be selecting a theme for each month and posting a blog once a week on that topic.
Items that should be included on your calendar include:
- Your Target Audience (Primary and Secondary)
- Due Dates
- Publishing Dates
- Any UTM parameters you may have set up for tracking the posts
If you are using UTM parameters to track the success of your posts (and we highly recommend that you do), it is very important to always be consistent with your parameters and campaign names. For example, don’t switch up between using utm_campaign=7linkbuildingtools and utm_campaign=sevenlinkbuildingtools or your results will be inconsistent. We currently set up parameters to track traffic that comes from Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest and we use a different campaign name for each post, but make sure to keep it the same across each social media platform.
Without an up-to-date editorial calendar in place, you may find that a lot of your time is being wasted trying to organize your content and blog posts while failing to make the process more efficient. It will also help to eliminate writer’s block, limit off-topic posts, and engage your team. In terms of productivity and time-saving, using an editorial calendar can also minimize scheduling conflicts, ensure assignments are delivered on time, and synch up social media efforts with your content marketing projects.
These are just a few of the many tips, tricks, and tools we use here at Thunder, but they all seem to make a huge difference in saving time and boosting productivity around the office. If you think I have left off a super valuable tool from my list, please let me know in the comments below!