My Massive Tool List: The Apps that Keeps My Business and My Life Running Smoothly
Lately, many of my friends and colleagues have asked about the tools I use to keep my work, health and life running smoothly. The truth is that I use a ton of apps and without them, I would not be nearly as efficient.
My iPhone, iPad, and laptop are filled with applications that do everything from managing crucial customer data to chastising me when I stray away from work to Google a crazy idea that popped into my head or check out what my friends are doing on social media.
Most of us don’t work a regular 9 to 5 job; which means we have the freedom to work when we want and how we want. This also means that we are in charge of finding our own tools and that we only have ourselves to blame if something goes off the rails.
I have tried hundreds, maybe even thousands, of apps over the years; some didn’t last longer than day while others have been with me since the beginning.
The ones that have made it through the long-haul and are truly impacting my life have a few things in common; first, they are intuitive. I hate wasting time telling an application how to work. The best tools are designed to anticipate what I need next and are already working on it before I start looking for the menu option. Consider the way that Gmail builds your contacts list by simply adding every contact that comes through your inbox. You don’t have to open a special form and start filling-in information…it just happens…automagically. Perfect.
Second, the best tools are reliable. I can’t imagine the chaos that would ensure if I suddenly lost everything I had in Evernote. It would be life-altering and not in a good way. But I don’t have to worry about that – and not just because I am a zealous data storage geek. It is because, over the past ten years, Evernote has experienced only a couple of significant downtime and/or security breach issues. Granted that, at the time, these issues made some serious news but all-in-all, very few users were affected and the service has remained a staple in my toolbox.
To make it easy for you to find the right tool, the list is broken down by platform and category. The platforms are the usual suspects: Web, iPhone/iPad, and Mac. The categories are also straightforward but I defined them anyway just to avoid confusion:
Health: I work out regularly and have become a bit compulsive in my desire to understand what is going on inside this body of mine. The tools in this category provide me with a window to the inside and keep me honest with myself about how the choices I make are impacting my health.
- Calm App – Calm has changed my life. I use the Deep Sleep meditation every night for 20 minutes and I am out. Before I started using Calm it would take me up to an hour and half to fall asleep so this has really been a Godsend for me.
- Skulpt – Skulpt is an amazing body fat tracker that lets you know when you are losing fat and gaining muscle. I use it to guide my workouts and optimize each fitness session.
- MyFitnessPal – MyFitnessPal keeps track of my recipes, calories and all of my intake throughout the course of the day.
- Fitbit – Fitbit is a no frills tracker I use to ensure I am taking at least 15,000 steps a day.
- Strava – I love running and cycling and this app keeps me motivated. I have a core group of friends that use this and we keep each other going. It is social media meets fitness tracking.
Business: From building a business to managing clients to managing my team – these tools run the business gambit and are essential to maintaining my business and my sanity.
- TeamworkPM – TeamworkPM is a suite of online collaboration tools I use to run my development team. It tracks time spent on a specific bug or task, login details, identifies risks in a project, manages recurring tasks and automated tasks. It allows me to quickly see how missed deadlines will impact the rest of the project and creates waterflow diagrams. In other words…it does it all.
- Xero – Xero is the business accounting software I use to for bank reconciliation and bookkeeping. Its API syncs with Salesforce and Freshbooks so that everything stays seamlessly on the same page.
- Salesforce – I use Salesforce to view dashboards, create reports and manage every aspect of client data. I love that it is highly-customizable; which means that from day-one I was able to create an instance of the software that works best for my business.
- Salesforce Touch – Since my team and I use Salesforce to manage client data, Salesforce Touch is a no-brainer. I use it access reports and dashboards on my mobile devices without going through the web application. As a bonus, it also provides offline access; which is great when I am in the country and internet access is touchy.
- Freshbooks – Freshbooks is a simple invoicing system – both for me and my clients. It integrates with PayPal and with Stripe – the two payment gateways I use and creates really beautiful invoices.
- Trello – Trello is perfect for tracking of content creation and managing an editorial calendar. Its simplistic view, navigation and functionality makes it easy to see where each piece of content is in the publishing cycle.
- Pocketsmith – I use Pocketsmith to manage my personal finances. It handles all of the accounting and budgeting; it tracks my spending to let me know if I am going over budget in a specific area and it lets me quickly see where I stand before making a buying decision.
- Looker – Looker is a business intelligence tool that pulls information from databases, CRMs, Amazon and SQL servers and puts everything into a nice report. It is perfect for anyone who doesn’t know how to write an SQL query or doesn’t already have a reporting tool.
- Udemy – When I need to learn something new I generally buy a course. Udemy is a cost-effective way to get down the basics I need to search for the right experts in the field. Plus, Udemy is constantly running specials that makes the courses super cheap.
Automation: Have you noticed that nearly every other article seems to be about saving time or increasing efficiency? Why not take a few things off of our plates by using a tool that automates the things we do again and again. Personally, I’m all for it.
- TextExpander – TextExpander is a crazy time saver that works on every Apple app. Instead of typing my entire email address, phone number or even my banking information I have it all set-up in TextExpander shortcuts. I also use it to create full templates with fields that make creating customized payment notes a breeze. Mixmax is on this list too because I use it for emails (more on that in the Mixmax section) – TextExpander is simply a great text input tool.
- Workflow – This was a predecessor to IFTTT and is primarily for use on iPhones and iPads. I use it to grab text, create a PDF and send it to Evernote where it will be tagged and stored. The main difference between IFTTT and Workflow is that Workflow accommodates up to 20 steps – which means that I can create a flow that takes all of the emails from a specific sender, turns them into a PDF and stores them in Evernote – without a single click from me.
- Do Button – Do Button is great for one-off tasks. I have a button that sends a Slack notification to my team when I am unavailable; another that blocks out 15 minutes of time in my calendar and another that texts my location to my friends. All fairly simple things that happen with one tap of my Do Button.
- Do Camera – Do Camera brings automation to my photo sharing. When I take a picture of my little girl, I usually share it with three family members. With Do Camera, that happens automatically.
- IFTTT – Flex your digital culinary skills by creating some recipes using IFTTT. I use it to back-up all of my Facebook photos, to store my LinkedIn connections and to build a link between Evernote and Todoist that automatically creates my Sunday reading list. I use IFTTT everywhere – on the web, my phone and on my iPad.
- MagicPrefs – I use Apple’s Magic Mouse but it lacks some of the Windows functionality that I love; such as right-click and double click. MagicPrefs fixes that and works for my trackpad as well.
- Adblock Plus – I hate ads. They are annoying and I know how much they can track – so I block them. Consider Adblock Plus your virtual tin foil hat.
- Spectacle – I frequently switch from one screen to multiple screens and resizing my open apps is time-consuming and frustrating. Using Spectacle, I setup keyboard commands to resize my open windows instantly. So awesome.
- Eve (shortcuts app) – I love learning shortcuts and this app makes it super-easy by displaying the matching shortcut for every action I execute using the mouse. Brilliant.
- Auphonic – I like Auphonic; but my sound engineer loves it. Auphonic cleans up and equalizes audio recordings much quicker and easier than going through the process manually. I run all of my audio through it before sending it on my sound engineer.
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Productivity: Of course, there are some things you can’t automate. These are the things you do to move the needle in your business or make a serious impact for your clients. They require concentration and focus. These productivity tools keep me from turning a mental break into a mental vacation.
- Go Fucking Work (chrome app) – This Chrome extensions runs all the time and keeps me from wasting an hour and half clicking around on Facebook. Unlike Vitamin R 2, it only works for Chrome pages and not specific applications. Because it is always on, I occasionally get berated when I try to logon to Facebook…and you probably should too. It’s a great way to break unhealthy cyber habits.
- Todoist – I freaking love Todoist. It is on my Gmail, iPhone, iPad and Mac and I use the Chrome app as well. I use Todoist to set recurring tasks, label and assign tasks and set due dates. My entire team is on Todoist Business and the work I assign can easily be moved into Teamwork PM. Todoist also allows me to set location-based reminders; which keeps me from forgetting to pick-up milk as I drive by the grocery store on the way home.
- Vitamin R – Vitamin R is a Pomodoro-style app I use to shut down distractions and time slice my workday. With it, I get 45 Slack, Skype, Chrome, Facebook and Twitter-free minutes followed by a 10-minute break. It is a serious productivity-booster for someone like me that is easily distracted by notifications. The R version is just for use on iPhones and iPads.
- Vitamin R 2 – Vitamin R 2 is a Pomodoro-style app I use to shut down distractions and time slice my workday. With it, I get 45 Slack, Skype, Chrome, Facebook and Twitter-free minutes followed by a 10-minute break. It is a serious productivity-booster for someone like me that is easily distracted by notifications in my toolbar. It also works with Mac automator to open and close specified apps in an IFTTT style.
- Alfred – Alfred is the best advanced search app out there. I simply type option-command-space, enter my search and the Google results are displayed. The app also searches documents and spreadsheets without opening the file. Alfred has text-expansion capabilities but they aren’t as great as those in Text Expander – which is why I only use Alfred for its search functionality.
- Brain.fm – Brain.fm is my favorite focus music app. The music is developed specifically to engage brain waves that increase productivity and focus.
- Brain Wave – When my mind starts to wonder and there is still work to be done, Brain Wave brings me back into the zone and hones in my focus so I get done and get on with it.
Media: What I use to listen, read and watch. Pretty simple.
- AirPlay – I use AirPlay to turn my iPad into a second screen. Just hook the cable up to your iPad and you are good to go.
- Audible – I listen to at least 3 to 4 books a week at 2 or 3 times normal speed. I listen while I work out, when dropping my daughter off at school, in the car and before bed. I listen to the same book a few times just to make sure it sinks in. I love the new bookmark feature and use it with shortcuts to note action points that I will reread, use for templates or add to my Todoist.
Day-to-Day Work: These tools are my workhorses – many I rely without even a second-thought. They aren’t the sexiest tools or the ones that get a lot of attention. But rest assured, if one of them disappeared overnight – I would miss it.
- Trackduck – My team and I use Trackduck with all of our visual designs. It dramatically simplifies the feedback process by allowing reviewers to simply highlight a portion of the design and comment.
- ManageWP – ManageWP is an automated service that monitors WordPress sites. My team and I use it for our clients’ sites and our own to automate updates, perform backups, and monitor site traffic and SEO.
- Evernote – I use Evernote in so many ways and have developed a strict process to ensure that I run my Evernote instance instead of the other way around. Ready to take it seriously and setup a system that will work for you instead of against you? Check out my guide here.
- RinGR – RinGR is great for recording podcast interviews. Just plug-in your microphone and you can easily get a high-quality recording using your mobile device.
- Liquid Web – My hosting provider. Probably not any better or any worse than yours. Pretty simple.
- Canva – I am not a Photoshop expert and sometimes I need to create something quickly that still looks beautiful – that’s where Canva comes in. If you have ever shied away from designing your own flyers, blog graphics, presentations or Facebook covers now is the time to jump in.
- Amazon S3 – Amazon S3 is a big, cheap server that my team and I use to backup everything from documents to videos.
- Conspire – Conspire tells you exactly how to get the best introduction to whomever you want to meet. It tells me who in my network provides the best path to my intended and provides insight on how much the two are communicating. I recently used Conspire to score some great interviews with Andrew Chen, a Growth Hacker from Uber and Brian Balfour, the former Director of Growth at Hubspot – both of which you can hear on my podcast.
- Video Speed Controller – I cannot stand listening to lecturers who speak slowly. It drives me mad. I use Video Speed Controller to listen to lectures at 2 to 3 times the normal speed and to listen to audiobooks at 3 times speed – it’s just who I am.
- Synergy (share keyboard and mouse across screens) – With Synergy I can use one keyboard and one mouse for all of my computers. I can also use my television as a second screen without having to make any changes to my computer; streamlining my peripherals just makes life simpler.
- Telepromt +3 – Using Telepromt +3 I can grab a script from my phone, send it to my iPad and I am good to go. It is the best teleprompter iPad app I have found.
- Charlie – Charlie makes it seem like I have done a ton of research before an interview or a conversation – when all I have done is pull up a one-pager on the ride over. It combs through 100s of sources including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, news sites and pretty much anywhere else to arm me with information about a specific person before our chat.
- Neo Notes – This is another weapon in my war on paper. Neo Notes works with the Neo smartpen N2. All of the notes that I write in a notebook with the N2 are synched into Evernote; as part of my Saturday routine, I tag-up all of the synched notes. Then, later, I can burn all of my notebooks. No more paper.
- Tape A Call – I use Tape A Call to record phone calls. Pretty straightforward. Every area has different laws regarding the taping of phone calls so before you start recording, check the laws in your area.
- Uber – I use Uber the way everyone else does…to get from point A to point B. The best part is that I can work while I am in the car, which is great.
- G Suite– G Suite is our team life saver. It’s part of our team everyday work. Create documents, spreadsheets and presentations from anywhere. It is a set of intelligent apps including Gmail, Docs, Drive and Calendar to connect the people in your company, no matter where in the world they are. Share them with teammates and work together on the same file, at the same time.
Communication: Me, my team, our clients – we are spread all over the globe and between time zones and busy schedules effective communication could get pretty hairy. These apps close the gap and keep us as cozy as cubemates.
- LucidChart – LucidChart is a fantastic charting tool. I use it for anything that would benefit from a visually representation; for me that is usually organizational charts and flow database setups. Think of it as a replacement for the Post-It Note map.
- ecamm’s Call Recorder for Skype – ecamm’s Skype recorder is the best I have found. I have it setup to record every Skype conversation. It works on both video and audio calls and the high-definition quality is superb. The app can also convert calls to MP3 just in case I need to use the content somewhere else.
- Slack – Slack is our go-to team communication tool. I have it on my phone and my computer. Using Slackbot automation, I have created Must Read lists for each of the members of my team which ensures that they don’t miss or lose important information. Slack also integrates beautifully with Google Hangouts, Google Analytics and Salesforce. Since many of our clients also use Slack, we use Same room to join multiple Slack teams with our own – another fantastic feature.