We’ve looked at tools for project management, tools for monitoring business performance, the best accounting software solutions, top CRM platforms and tools to help with automation in our series of posts on the best SME software options available today. It’s clear that we’re living in an era of unprecedented machine enhanced assistance for the modern growing business, and this can really lower the barrier to entry for a lot of people stuck between an idea and a successful business. However, tools and software can only support your work and aren’t going to run your business for you (no matter how much the doomsayers might suggest AI is ready to take us all on). So the human element remains vital.
One of the areas where we can best use technology to complement our own skills is through “hacking” or enhancing productivity. Rather than asking software to take tasks away from us (such as in the case of automation software or where your accounting platform can make calculations so you don’t have to), in asking tools to provide support around the tasks we want to focus on, great boosts in efficiency can be found. Productivity tools have come on leaps and bounds in recent years and we’re talking far more than just simple task lists or distraction blockers. By utilising the right combination of tools to suit your needs you can improve your output considerably and deliver more in less time, allowing you to find greater capacity for long term thinking and visionary growth of your business.
Productivity tools come in many different guises, from the simple to the complex, and different individuals will respond better to some than to others, depending on a whole host of factors. What works for one person may be a hindrance to the next, so it’s important to make sure you work out what’s right for you and then commit to the tools you can feel the positive impact from. We’ve assessed some of our favourite productivity tools and concepts here so take a look through and see if there’s an app that can help you find an extra 20%.
Incorporating Todoist into your small business’s productivity toolkit can be a game-changer. As a versatile task management application, Todoist excels in helping users stay organised, productive and focused. Its ability to function as a robust project management tool allows for the creation, management and monitoring of diverse projects, making it a valuable asset for small business operations.
You might think a to do list app is a bit overkill if you’re already making use of a more comprehensive project and task management system (such as those we recommended in our best project management tools for SMEs post). However the simplicity of a daily list of tasks to complete is a tried and tested productivity winner and many people find the routine of jotting down what you aim to complete in a day each morning, then crossing off each task as it’s completed, to be uniquely reassuring and satisfying as a way of maintaining focus.
Obviously there are thousands of to do lost tools out there, but Todoist is rated among the very best with good reason. You can make it as simple or as complex as you like, depending on your preference and it’s this flexibility that stands it apart in a crowded market. The basic app is free and integrates with your email and calendar apps for easy synchronisation. However for more advanced features you can enjoy the Pro plan for £4 per user per month or the Business plan costs £6 per user per month.
This is a gorgeous app that offers a variety of workflows to help you get the most from each day. Sunsama can actually integrate with existing task management tools like Asana, Todoist, Clickup, Trello and Notion so you’re able to pull in tasks that are already on your agenda, then you can schedule them into your day as they fit. Sunsama understands how you work to determine how much activity you can realistically expect to fit in to your day, around any existing calendar commitments, and then alerts you if you’re expecting too much of yourself.
Because every task is assigned a channel (e.g. marketing, client work or internal meetings etc.) and an estimated time to complete, you can quickly visualise your day and block out the periods you need to be working on certain activities, helping to reduce distractions and procrastination. The process of timeboxing your tasks synced with your calendar can be very effective in keeping you focused and on schedule to end your day when you want to, instead of finding you’ve taken longer than anticipated on various tasks, whilst getting distracted by ad-hoc requests and emails etc. which then means either having to work late or pushing back deadlines.
Additionally the app encourages you to journal about what you want to achieve in a day and week, then reflect at the end of each as to how far you got towards your goals. This can be a really meditative process that helps you to better understand your true capacity and acts as a nice daily wrapper as you switch off after a day’s work. Its £16 per month cost might seem steep compared to other time management and productivity tools but it’s well worth taking advantage of their 14 day free trial to see just how you get on with it. Many who use Sunsama daily swear it pays for itself in efficiency savings.
OK this one isn’t an app specifically, so much as a concept that many people find can significantly improve personal productivity. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. It is named after the Italian word for tomato, inspired by the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo used as a university student. It works by promoting enhanced focus and concentration through setting a series of (usually 25 minute) timers in which to do distraction free focused work. By breaking down tasks that require high concentration into manageable intervals, users can get more done and avoid fatigue or burnout.
Its popularity has ballooned in recent years and followers of the technique are almost cult-like in their devotion to it. In fact it has given birth to a whole subgenre of apps and tools that help Pomodoro disciples with their focus. One example is the excellent Forest app which you can add to your phone and then each time you commit to a Pomodoro session you can plant a virtual tree which will grow for as long as you don’t become distracted and try using your phone whilst the timer is running. Make it to the end of the Pomodoro session without being distracted and your forest has a fresh new tree.
This is classic gamification of a concept to help motivate users who are swayed by this type of app, but it also does great work as the more you use the app, the more Forest plant real trees through the Trees For The Future organisation, meaning you’e not just helping yourself, you’re helping the planet!
There are also many Pomodoro timer apps with various levels of functionality from the super simple Pomofocus through to the more advanced and customisable Focus To Do. You’ll also find many modern project management systems come with their own in-built Pomodoro timers, highlighting just how popular this time-management concept is.