We reached out to 80 startup entrepreneurs to find out what productivity tools they rely on, day in, day out, to get their work done. You’ll find heaps of interesting responses, and don’t forget – feel free to leave your tips in the comments section below.
The lowly post it note and a sharpie.
Too many people waste a tremendous amount of time with project management software, high fidelity prototypes or mockups, or online Business Model Canvas software.
A small piece of paper and a pen is the best prototyping tool you can buy and you can manage your entire company with sticky notes and a wall.
Perl is the best productivity tool because you can super easily solve lots and lots of problems in tiny amount of time and code. Rather than writing a long Python program to do some task, I write Perl one liners and get things done in seconds, and move on!
I wrote an article a while ago that teaches you Perl one-liners.
The one that gets out of your way and lets you create. Everyone has their own way of working, so there no tool is better than any other.
Big picture planning / roadmap: Trello
Daily “one thing” to work on: Trello Calendar mode
Long notes and specs, sharable with team: GDocs
Quick personal notes: Apple notes
Working through something right now: Notebook / Whiteboard.
Success is a planned event so I’d say a calendar. It doesn’t really matter how you keep one, but having tasks and activities on paper or in an app gives you direction. Use it like a compass to lead you where you want to go. It also helps you quickly identify when you’re off course because your priorities are revealed by where and how you spend your time.
Slack has been a game-changing productivity tool for the entire team, centralizing development workflow and real-time updates from Github, Trello, Pivotal, etc. Direct channels of communication and full transparency are key indicators for our success. In a start-up, everyone knows everything anyways.
An index card. It seems almost too obvious but getting in the practice of writing down everything that you aim to accomplish is a great way to stay on track. Once you’ve written everything down put this index card in front of your keyboard or next to your computer. You can also take it with you in your pocket to look at throughout the day.
Often times software to-do lists won’t show your progress or allow you easily “break the sandbox.” Index cards are great because you can make notes, doodles, arrow, etc. and not have thumb cramps trying to use your smartphone.
Asana, hands down.
Each night, and throughout the day, I write down my traction ideas and then the next day I prioritize them to determine which ones will have the greatest impact. Then, before I start, I ask myself if there’s a way I can achieve 90% of the results I am hoping for with a lot less effort.
Asana helps me keep track of everything and even just the effort of writing it down helps me to remember to do it.
OmniFocus, which is a Mac/iOS app. It allows me to put everything into it and trust that I’ll be reminded of things on time, instead of letting things fall off of my plate.
Since I started using OmniFocus, my inbox normally has about 7 unread emails in it, where normally it’d have 30ish, and my browser has 10 or less tabs open, where I’d normally have 50-60 open.
It even has some nifty Siri integration, so that I can add items without even opening OmniFocus. That helps a ton, because it takes no time at all to add an idea to OmniFocus now.
Audible. Hands down. Audible lets you devour books you wouldn’t otherwise have time to read. When you’re driving, walking, in the subway, be learning from the greats. You can probably fit in a hundred or more books in your “downtime” this year; think of what impact that knowledge would have on your output.
Bevan Barton, Founder, Bountify
Productivity is a result of intensive organization on every level.
From DropBox shared company folders, focused Google Documents & Spreadsheets and iCal shared calendars – we find that productivity comes from organizing the full team on the same page seamlessly.
For a few years now I’ve been using a project management tool called Teamwork. This tool has been invaluable to my workflow. It’s an all-in-one solution for managing projects big or small, especially when I involve clients in the process. I highly recommend it to anyone who currently does not use a project management tool, or to those who are looking to move away from another.
To be honest in my industry its Notability or similar. Its an app that allows me to write down my insane ideas, make notes to improve the business, communicate ideas with my guys and also compose bits of music for later development. Its basically an electronic pad that allows all mediums including my poor handwriting. It can all be shared between devices and people to help get things moving.
I use Spotify to build music playlists or listen to already created stations. In my opinion, I’m not sure why anyone buys tracks from iTunes or listens to Pandora anymore – Spotify blows them out of the water. There’s a free version that plays ads, but for under $10/month – you can get unlimited streaming (and an offline mode for your playlists that you can listen to without a connection).
My Calendar View + Drawing Things.
My company deals with art and I too am a visual thinker. Right brain thinkers are incredibly innovative but often struggle to communicate what is in their head with just words. Many existing tools are built for linear left-brainers so I often times just resort to drawings things out on paper or whiteboard. I’d say my best existing digital tool is being able to see the more macroscopic calendar views of my to-do lists.
Pen and paper. I have made lists in Microsoft Word and setup tasks in sites such as Basecamp; nothing has worked quite like making a list on paper and having it sit in front of me at my desk. Literally crossing something off a list feels much better than deleting or marking completed, and too often the virtual files get lost.
David Allen’s book; “Getting Things Done” The concept of stress-free productivity and dejunking the mind have been invaluable to me. Even the best productivity tools would go waisted without an understanding of how the mind works and where we get lost in the ongoing effort to get more stuff done.
I have to say Dropbox. It’s so easy to use and so flexible. You can use for storing notes, sharing files of all sorts with your team (and a million other things). The desktop and mobile integrations make it super easy to use for users of all technical abilities.
I’m primarily a software developer, so what makes me more productive would certainly be different from a salesperson, designer, accountant, etc.
But in terms of tools that help everyone: For a business 2+ people, Google Apps is the most crucial toolset out there for getting shit done. And for a business of 15+ people that might be working remote and asynchronously, I find slack.com to be an amazing communication tool that will prove invaluable no-matter how big you get.
Brett Clanton, Founder, GravityApp
I am a big fan of any reminder app. Calendars or reminder apps help me remember things that are scheduled way in advance. The last thing I want to do is forget anything as it is a direct reflection of my integrity and reliability. I never want to let anyone down if I can help it.
My perspective is biased towards the programming side, because that’s where I spend a lot of my time, but my favorite productivity tool is Github. It’s just so helpful in collaborating with other developers, internally organizing and tracking issues, managing and switching back and forth between multiple projects, etc. It really makes code management a breeze.
It has to be google docs, it’s very good to be able to create a document and share it amongst the stakeholders and have everybody comment and edit their relevant bits, better than passing around a document over email and then ending up with dozens of versions of it and being lost at the bottom of the email queue.
Workflowy.com is my go-to tool for todo lists, notetaking, and staying organized. The hashtags, @ tagging, and ability to share lists, combined with its intuitive interface and powerful free tier make it my favorite tool for productivity. I use the hashtags to manage importance levels.
I love to use Trello. I love the visual representation it gives to my workflow, and the ease with which I can add and move tasks.
I have five columns on my board. The first column is called “Wish List”. It contains anything and everything that I possibly need to do. Items higher in the list are more urgent.
My next column is called “Todo” and contains items that I plan on accomplishing in the next 48 hours. Anything that doesn’t meet that criteria gets pushed back to the “Wish List” stack.
The next 3 columns are pretty self-explanatory and are “Doing”, “Done”, and “Past Done”. “Past Done” exists as I like my “Done” pile to contain only the items that I have accomplished in the past 48 hours.
Get a mind-mapping tool to get your projects organized.
I use iThoughts for iOS (get an ipad if you don’t have one) and it is an amazing way of organizing all your projects. You get to drop all your random thoughts on a project in one spot and then with your finger drag them around to order them logically in the project. Once the project is looking good it’s a a snap to share the flowchart you have created with others.
One of my best productivity tools is always having a creative side project. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but I truly believe having a side project as a creative outlet makes me more productive during day-to-day startup work. Sometime I only have 15 minutes for a side project, every once in a while I sneak in a full hour, but I’m convinced that a little bit of creative time during the work day allows me to work longer hours and be more effective with work that’s not so exciting.
My side projects are often pretty small, little coding projects, a drawing, sometimes it’s just getting through a non-work related book. Even just a few minutes during the day, however, keeps me sharp and has inspired some of my best work for SEE.
My most valuable productivity tool has to be Google Apps for Business. It’s not new or particularly sexy, but it’s essential to keeping things running smoothly, customers happy and money rolling in and it’s accessible across any device I’m using.
Shawn Holland, Co-Founder, ChefTap
Google apps for business and hangouts in particular are super useful – other tools like join.me and gotomeeting are nice as well. Evernote – I see the purpose but I’d just as soon use pen and paper, WebClipper was a cool concept but a simple “print->save as PDF” usually does the trick for me. Dropbox – Must have. Lastpass – not necessary but changed my life.
Asana – It’s kind of like Evernote, Wunderlist, and Pivotal Tracker combined but wayyy sweeter – it’s productivity software and project management software fused into one. Other than a pen and legal pad – Asana is my favorite all around productivity tool.
For our company, we use Pivotal Tracker. We don’t just use it for development, it keeps our whole team in order. We have projects setup for our clients, our office personnel and I even have a project setup that helps me keep track of my personal life better. Using Pivotal Tracker allows us to all stay on the same page and constantly know what everyone is working on, who needs help and what still needs to get done and gives us the ability to leverage agile methodologies in everything we do.
DoInbound is simply the most productive tool for us. As an inbound marketing agency, it’s important that we know who’s working on a task at any given time. The biggest benefit of DoInbound that really saves me time and resources is the ability to document my work process so that other staff members can easily work on the same task when I’m not around.
Finding good productivity tools is tough. There are tons and tons of tools out there, but it’s really difficult to find the *perfect* one. We tried dozens of different project management apps in the process of getting our toolset together, and we finally just decided to build our own.
This turned out to be a fantastic move and, although it took some time to build an in-house solution, it continues to pay dividends and grow with us as a team to this day. Thus my favorite productivity hack is to actually build a tool that fits your exact requirements and needs, without enforcing any superfluous processes dreamed up by someone else.
I use many tools, each for different purposes. But as far as the best tool goes, my pen and personal notebook are by far on top. I sometime even have 2 different notebooks for different purposes. Pen and Paper allow me to focus on what to do and when without being in front of a computer, which means for me no distractions.
It’s hard to chose one (there are so many!), but if I had to chose I’d probably select my new favorite task management app: Swipes. One of the most important practices of being productive is prioritizing tasks and only focusing on the tasks that are important that day, and Swipes makes that very easy to do. If you’re familiar with Mailbox for iPhone and iPad, then Swipes will be very familiar. You can “schedule” tasks for later today, tomorrow, this weekend, etc.
My best productivity tool would be my “Day Designer” by Whitney English. It’s not just a normal planner but actually a strategic planner that helps you layout your business goals for the entire year and then guides you in creating a weekly, daily, and hourly plan to specifically meet those goals, including a “Top 3″ things to get done each day. Not to mention that I’m one of those Type-A people who gets a major thrill out of crossing off my to-do list items and this gives me ample space to do so on a daily basis.
Lindsay Pruitt, Founder, Hello Monday
Our team at FlyEasy uses Trello to manage tasks across our business development, marketing, and technology divisions. This cloud-based task management tool is great for tracking all the tasks that come about from meetings and discussions. Best of all, we can add these tasks on the fly from anywhere and from any device. Not only can I add tasks and assign resources, but I can see the activity of who is working on which task right in the Trello feed. Trello also integrates with our communication tool Slack, which displays all Trello activity, allowing me to see the day-to-day tasks being attempted or completed.
Eisenhower box: everything you think you should do will fall into 1 of 4 categories:
Do – do it right now if <2mins
Decide – decide when you will do it, set aside the time and get it done
Delegate – write instructions and ship it off for someone else more skilled/ less expensive than you to do it
Delete – some things are just not worth your time so be ruthless and delete them
Google Drive, hands down. The business my sister and I have is helping other startups, and without Google Drive we would be bogged down with unnecessary details and attachments.
It is great to be able to collaborate with others, having the document live and editable for everyone on the project, and most importantly giving everyone access to the most current version, all the time. I can’t imagine running my business without it.
My favorite tool at the moment is Focus At Will, essentially a streaming music player of curated background music (classical, ambient, acoustic, etc.) which they claim increases your focus intensity and duration.
It was developed in cooperation with leading neuroscientists Dr. Evian Gordon and Dr. Stephen Sideroff so I do think there’s some credibility to the science, but you can probably gain similar benefits by putting together your own playlist of similar music.