Awesome Productivity Tools Everyone Needs to Know About — Part I

One thing everyone should know is that no matter how intelligent, well-read, or tech savvy you are, there will always be information out there that could revolutionize your experience—information you've never heard about! Access to tools and resources is one of the greatest ways to solve problems and streamline lagging processes. Everyone starts out at the same place, but by learning and becoming better informed, anyone can make advancements that can launch them into greater success.

Just the other day I was having a conversation with my cousin who was relaying some hangups she’s experienced while running her non-profit—a wish granting charity for ill or disabled children (makes my heart melt)—and my reaction was to share some various tools and services with her that I’ve discovered while researching and working at CodePilot.

So, I was inspired to compile a list of recommended apps, resources, and tools that can be incorporated in order to make the lives of all business owners, employees, or lay person much less complicated, i.e. improving quality of life. If you want to have a better experience with less “gotchas,” then start by employing some of these awesome technology accessories and resources:




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are registered trademarks of Google Inc.

This may come as a surprise to some readers, but not everyone has heard of Google's business productivity apps (recently re-branded as G Suite). However, G Suite is an excellent tool to incorporate due to the low cost and high quality features available.

The primary benefit for using Google's service over Microsoft is that it's free for individuals (whereas Microsoft has no such option ), but ultimately choosing between the two competitors is a matter of personal preference. According to their FAQ, here are the benefits of becoming a paid user:

The paid version of Drive gives you access to additional storage (twice the storage of personal Gmail), 24/7 support, sharing controls, and advanced reporting. For an additional $5 per user per month, you can upgrade to unlimited storage (accounts with fewer than 5 users get 1TB/user).

All of your data is stored on Google Drive and saved in the cloud. You no longer have to worry about your computer crashing and losing your important documents. Sometimes accidents happen or computers simply stop working. Having access to your most valuable information without regard to the device you’re using isn’t only necessary, it’s often critical!

Not only that, but anyone can be given permission to view specific documents, or permission can be revoked. This allows for efficient collaboration when managing projects or long term business strategies.

Google Docs

Having an online word processor is amazing. I frequently use Google Docs for general word processing and for sharing written material with others, both professionally and privately. Being able to store my research-based work in a secure, cloud-based service allows me to rest a little easier at night.

The capabilities of Google Docs don’t surpass Microsoft Word for the purpose of formatting (disclaimer: I hold an MOS Word 2013 certification), but for all intents and purposes the main features and tools available in Google Docs are at least competitive. And, for individuals, Google Docs is a free resource.

Google Forms

This one is a game changer for many. Google has an app for creating forms and surveys online that would otherwise require that one download and print forms to fax or mail in after completion (so 90's).

The ability to create company-wide forms or surveys that can be easily completed from the convenience of one’s keyboard is incredibly useful. Then, the information gathered from forms and surveys can be sent...

Google Sheets

...right into a Google spreadsheet for easy evaluation. Talk about improving quality of life. Yep. Google has a spreadsheets app. Google’s apps are fully integrated with one another in order to create the best experience possible. Having such extensive flexibility and maneuverability of data is cause for celebration, especially among those who’ve been doing things the hard way for some time.

Google Hangouts

Just about anyone who’s owned an iPhone is familiar with FaceTime, the video calling feature available to Apple users. However, FaceTime only works if all parties are using an Apple device. Google has Hangouts that allow users to video chat with others anywhere in the world over WIFI, and it also features messaging capabilities. This is perfect for remote business meetings, because Hangouts can be used to screen share with other users.

Google Calendar

Make an appointment on Google’s Calendar app for a video conference via Hangouts, and send invitations to others via email all from one place. In addition to setting appointments, Google Calendar can be used for companies, allowing employees to share their business calendars with one another. This allows everyone to be on the same page instead of being “tribal,” i.e. rushing around at the last minute to find a meeting time that works for everyone.

At Twin Engine Labs and CodePilot we use the Slack messaging app to support our customers, and it’s pretty much the best chat service ever. Who has time to wait on email support all the time? Instead, we offer premium support to our monthly customers (as guests to our channels) via Slack. Here are a couple of great reasons to use Slack:

Channels

Slack has channels that help us to keep organized. We have internal channels for employees, and we also have channels for customers. This functionality goes a long ways in keeping everyone on the same page. Channels can be marked as either private or public. Private channels require and invite, whereas public channels can be joined by anyone in your company.

Private Channels within Slack are great for upper management to communicate ideas or concerns. In addition, every member comes equipped with their own private channel for notes or whatnot. For example, I use mine for sharing links with myself for later reference or for sharing.

Also, mentions within channels are incredibly useful. Using the @username function alerts the member by notification whenever someone mentions them. Alternatively, anyone can use @channel in order to mention and alert everyone in a given channel about an important or all-encompassing message.

Members on your team can also private message each other, and this is awesome, because sometimes only one person has the answer to a question or needs to be reached. Private messages also prevent blowing up everyone’s notifications (which can be overwhelming if there's a lot going on).

Apps

Yes! Slack has both desktop and mobile apps. Downloading Slack for iPhone or Android grants even more flexibility. This truly highlights the power of using Slack versus other forms of communication. This way, if you step away from your desk you can continue to respond to important messages from the convenience of your mobile device.

The push notifications are helpful too, but they can be snoozed or adjusted whenever necessary. After hours, notifications can be snoozed or your profile can be set to "away" when it’s time to rest or spend time with your family/pet/Netflix/book.

Integrations

It doesn't end there. Various services can be integrated with slack for automated notifications sent to predetermined channels. My boss (Keith Hanson, cool guy) integrated our blog with the company’s primary Slack channel, so now everyone on our team gets notified when I publish a new post. These integrations are configured using webhooks, and Slack has everything set up for preconfigured or custom integrations.

Trello also integrates with Slack, and Trello can be invited to join any channel using "@trello" within the channel after an initial integration. Cards can be created in Slack channels by using "/trello add." If the team is having a brainstorming session, then someone can create a card when an exciting idea comes up that everyone agrees should be implemented or placed in our backlog.

We also integrated Trello into our Slack channels for use with our monthly customers. Now they can see when cards are created in Trello, or we can see when they move or create cards on their board. Having everything integrated improves our ability to stay on top of the game, and Slack makes for smooth sailing. For more information on Slack, check out their product video.



Keeping everyone on task and remembering what needs to get done can be cumbersome and difficult when you're juggling multiple projects. With Trello this becomes simplified. We began using Trello, because we wanted a better system for displaying our priorities among ourselves and with our customers.

Organization

Trello allows you to create boards for projects or customer accounts, and within each board you can create lists with cards. For example, at CodePilot we created boards for ourselves and our customers. In each board we have lists such as "complete," "backlog," and "in progress."

Then we labeled corresponding cards with colors to determine the urgency and type of task that applies to the card. This keeps everything coherent and understandable at a glance.

Trello also has an extensive list of free webinars for new users that focus on educating users on ways to become more productive. Personally, I could use a few tips for enhancing my productivity skills!

Integrations

As I mentioned in the section about Slack, Trello integrates seamlessly with the messaging app, but there are also other integrations available. There are a list of possible integrations mentioned on Trello's blog , including an integration with Google Drive.

Trello designates integrations as "Power-Ups," and it's easy to see the potential behind being able to connect the dots (aka services) in your process, because this improves your flexibility (not to mention the ability to automate tasks among them all).



By far, Notion is one of my favorite productivity tools. When our CTO discovered Notion (thanks, Nick!), I pretty much felt like my birthday had come early. As someone who loves organizing and documenting everything (it's truly compulsive), this tool really does it for me.

If I documented every aspect of Notion's amazing-ness it would end up being a standalone article (which is unnecessary, because Notion's team has already compiled user guides). So, here are some highlights about the app that excite me the most:

Documentation, Wikis, Procedures

This web app is perfect for documenting every aspect of your business, including creating an employee handbook, the company vision and mission statement, or any how-to documents and wikis members of your team may need.

In addition, it's great for creating documentation for your customers. Any section or page of your site can be shared with customers in a read-only format. Beware that any pages nested within a section will be viewable as well, so only grant access to specific content that you are comfortable with your customers seeing. The same can be applied to your team. If you have sensitive content that is only for the eyes higher-ups, then be sure to designate who has the ability to access the information.

Also, like many blog editing applications, Notion recognizes markdown for ease of use. So, you can use Notion to host a powerful blog in addition to its other purposes. Pages or sections, such as a blog section can be published to the web, and this makes the functionality of Notion for blogging and type editing truly incredible. For a firsthand look at what a blog looks like on Notion, here's some of our content that I've migrated there (spoiler: it looks really cool).

Tags, Mentions, Comments, Links, and Embedding

Notion is perhaps one of the most versatile tools on my list. It's almost amazing that this one web app can do so much. For instance, team members can be tagged anywhere within app, and pages can be linked to other content on the site. There's also the ability to leave comments, which enhances collaboration.

Notion has an auto-link function. When typing a URL, notion will automatically generate a link to the content. If you spend any time writing, then you can appreciate just how time saving that feature is, because in many markdown editors you must manually add links to your content.

Another "wow" feature is the ability to embed links so that web pages can be viewed on the current page instead of navigating away via an external a link. The developers really thought of everything when they created this app, and the more I use it the more I come to appreciate its power.

The ability to embed links is enough to keep me using Notion forever. This is enabled by using cookies and integrations (on Notion's end, with no set-up required), and the drag and drop features on Notion are stunning. Simply navigate your mouse to the right side of the screen for a menu of drag and drop selections. Embedding is one such feature, but there are several others, including the ability to add a new page. Whereas, the left side of the page features a handy menu that appears when your mouse hovers over the area for accessing pages on your team's site.

Task Management

Yes, we already use Trello to manage tasks, but Notion has its uses in this arena as well. Pages can be created for task management, and you can even create lists with boxes to check off as tasks are completed. Even more so than Trello, Notion is a great place to manage internal tasks.

It's always a good idea to have a bit of separation in the environments you work in, because having nuanced boundaries allows your mind to shift gears with greater ease and clarity. Or, if having more than one tool for managing tasks seems unnecessary or burdensome, then you now have two (Trello and Notion) great options to choose from!

Plus, for internal use, operating within Notion is excellent if company documentation (processes and procedures) is already stored within the app. You won't have to constantly switch between sites when referencing company specific information.

It's also fairly easy to use Notion's interface. Not to mention, their customer support team (shout out to Andrea) rocks! It doesn't take long to understand how everything works. The app functions on levels of nested pages and sections. Without a doubt, Notion is one of the best resources for documenting company processes or for creating levels of documentation for any purpose imaginable.



Always More to Learn

Using Trello, Slack, Google Drive, Notion, or a combination of them all and integrating them with one another, creates a powerhouse of productivity and efficiency. If you didn't have many tools at your disposal prior to reading this, then hopefully you can incorporate some of these into your processes and workflow. Let us know if you need help with any custom configurations for any of the aforementioned services.

In Part II, I'll share several more resources along the same lines, such as a tool for digitally signing documents, a web app for logging time for projects, and a tool for designing online ads. So check back soon for another great list that will make your life a little (or a lot) easier.

James David Wade

About James David Wade

James is an automation analyst for Twin Engine Labs' CodePilot.io. He also happens to be our chief documentarian and an excellent editor who enjoys helping our customers better understand what we do.