Everyone has their list of “productivity tools” that they use in their business. Little programs that make your business life easier to manage. I’m often asked for recommendations on the tools that I use, so here are a few examples. I’m focusing on my Windows Desktop environment at this time, because that is still where I spend most of my time.
Please note that I haven’t done extensive research on comparable programs in many cases. Hey, I’m trying to improve “productivity”, I don’t always have time to spend doing that kind of research! When I find something that works, I tend to stick with what I have.
- Snagit: This is the best screen capture tool that I’ve ever used. Sure, you can do screen captures in Windows with just a few key clicks, but this tool makes life a lot easier. You can edit screen captures in many ways, add annotations and callouts, and much more. The latest version even lets you create short simple videos. If you want to document a process for your client, or for your staff, this makes life a lot easier.
- TeamViewer: I’ll be writing more about remote support tools in the future, as I’ve used quite a few different products. At this time I’ve settled on TeamViewer as my favorite. I can reach out to a client computer in “unattended” mode (their computer just has to be left on), I can support people without having to install a product on their computer (for those “quick support” situations, rather than ongoing access). I can even make small group presentations. All out of one great product. There are a LOT of products of this type, this happens to be the one I like the best so far. Note that there are a LOT of these products out there, and each has it’s advantages or situations where it would be the best fit.
- Microsoft OneNote: I record a lot of notes, a lot of junk that I have to organize and retrieve on demand. Microsoft OneNote fits my mindset very well. I can create any number of “notebooks”, each with “sections” and pages within sections. The search feature works extremely well. It integrates with other Microsoft Office products to make it easy to add notes from other places (I use the Outlook feature quite a bit). This has been a lifesaver, and has been a large part of why I can get rid of a big portion of the bank of “lateral file cabinets” in my office.
- SharpReader: This is an RSS feed aggregator that I use extensively to keep track of hundreds of blogs and other web site discussions. Many websites will have an “RSS feed” available, which you can “subscribe” to so that you get a notice when there is a new post or some updated information. You can subscribe to updates to many of these by email, but I really don’t like filling up my email inbox with hundreds of notifications like this. Sure, you can “filter” your emails so that they go into different folders (a technique I use quite a bit) but it still is better to keep this kind of thing OUT of your email system. Using a good RSS feed aggregator lets you take all of these notifications OUT of your email system and puts them into a separate application where you can organize it and track the information when you have time. There are many different RSS readers around (Google Reader is also good), this one suits my situation very well. Sharpreader is a Windows desktop application that lets me organize my feeds in folders and subfolders. Looking at it now, I see that I have over 1500 messages waiting to be reviewed when I have the time – that is 1500 messages that are NOT in my email in-box. Wow – 1500 – I need to spend some time over there cleaning up a few things.
- Trillian: I’m not a big fan of Twitter and Instant Messaging – but I have to pay attention. I use Trillian to manage my incoming Twitter feeds and my Yahoo Messenger accounts all in one place. It saves me time. I don’t use IM very much – I don’t have my clients on IM (thank goodness!). I use that for internal messaging with The Sleeter Group and a very, very select group of individuals.
- RoboForm Everywhere: I have hundreds of “login” accounts with passwords, and I use RoboForm to keep track of them all. If I didn’t, I would most likely have just one or two passwords that I use with all of my accounts, and that is a VERY bad idea. I use RoboForm Everywhere, and it provides me with a secure way to store all of my account logins and passwords. It lets me access this information from my laptop, business desktop, home desktop and iPad. Changes on one are synchronized with all of my computers/tablets. This allows me to have unique, complex passwords or pass phrases for every login. If I want to log in to an account I don’t have to remember the URL, account name and password – I just select it from my Roboform list and the program takes me to the site and logs me in. Wonderful!
- Intuit PaymentNetwork: I wish I could get ALL of my clients to pay me with this (see more on this in this article). If you have your clients pay using this service as ACH payments it KILLS merchant account fees. I really, really hate it when I look at my financial statements at the end of the year and see just how much I’m paying in merchant fees. Intuit PaymentNetwork ACH transactions cost me a flat $0.50 to process! No monthly fee, no percentage of the transaction. You can also use it to take payment via credit card, but then we start getting back into the overhead of merchant account fees. The integration with QuickBooks works very well. I also have Intuit GoPayment, but in my business situation I rarely need that kind of payment processing.
- VMWare Workstation: For someone like me, who evaluates different software products AND who develops software, this is one of my most essential tools. This creates “virtual machines” that are just like having a totally separate computer, but for only the cost of this software product and some disk space. My current office desktop system is running Windows 7 – but I have VMWare virtual machines for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 8, all totally separate and inside of my main system. I also have copies of QuickBooks Premier and QuickBooks Enterprise from the current release going all the way back to 2006, again all on my one computer inside separate “virtual machines” (I even have Canadian, UK and Australian versions of QuickBooks as well). Intuit wants me to beta test a new version of QuickBooks? No problem, just put it in a separate virtual machine and it can’t interfere with my “real” copy of QuickBooks. An essential tool!
These are just a few, there are others, but the ones I list here are the most essential for MY business. If there are any of these that you would like to hear more about, just let me know in a comment.
And, I’d love to hear what YOU use!