keeping track of timeA couple of years ago, I wrote a post on the five productivity tools I found myself using frequently. Since times change, and apps/platforms come and go, I thought I’d take a fresh look at how my daily toolkit has changed, and share that with you.

Image: gothick_matt via Flickr, CC 2.0

Note that I use Gmail almost exclusively, so if that’s you, you’re in luck. If not, well, you’ll have to see if they work for your particular set up. Without further ado, here are 20 tools to help you grow your business, by keeping you efficient, productive, and in the know.

Email, contacts and calendar/scheduling tools

1. Boomerang for Gmail: I still use (and love) it. It’s a great way to schedule emails ahead of time (say you can’t sleep and you’re catching up on emails), so that you can clear your backlog, or take care of responses, but not look like a crazy person who is up all hours of the day and night (even if you are, there’s no need to show it). It works as a Firefox/Chrome plugin and there’s also a version for Outlook.

2. Boomerang Calendar: also part of the Baydin (Boomerang’s dad) family, BC is a newer addition to the Boomerang suite. Basically it helps you schedule meetings right in your Google calendar, by detecting (usually quite accurately) times being discussed via email. I don’t really use it all that much, but it’s handy to have.

TimeBridge3. TimeBridge: now that my beloved Tungle is a thing of the past, what I do like to use for scheduling is TimeBridge. I love my personalized meeting URL, and I much prefer TimeBridge to some of the alternatives, like vCita and Doodle… I honestly don’t know why, I just like TimeBridge better. However, I’m not ruling out a change in the future (vCita especially, since it has some pretty neat features). Check out Janet Fouts’ post on why she loves it so.

4. AwayFind: What AwayFind does is send auto-responders to anyone who emails you, telling them… whatever you want to tell them. Usually it’s something like, “I’m really busy working on client work, so don’t freak out if you don’t hear from me immediately.” And you can let them know how to contact you if it’s urgent, etc. You can also set certain people as “important,” and AF notifies you when they, and only they, email you. So it literally “finds” you when you’re “away,” and hacks away the shackles binding you to your email. Founded by my friend Jared Goralnick.

5. Soocial: a really nice online address book, and something I prefer greatly to Plaxo, which is what I used to use, until it decided it wanted to be something other than Plaxo. I love that it syncs between multiple sources (it has a complete list on its site), which helps avoid dupes.

6. Write That Name: I’m pretty sure Shaun Dakin turned me onto this (perhaps Soocial too, but definitely WTN), so thank you, Shaun! WTN “automagically” detects contact info from the emails you receive, and adds them to your address book. I’m not using all the features, like its multi-account feature, simply because I haven’t had the time to play around with it enough… so there’s lots for you to look at. And if you decide to sign up (there are free and paid versions), please use this link, because then I get credits on their “thanks barometer”… and who wouldn’t want that? They also have really good customer service.

Time tracking and invoicing

Harvest7. Harvest: I was a huge Toggl fan… in fact, I still have an account there, but since Nick Perez (who you can thank for designing the lovely new SBC Inc. website) introduced me to Harvest, I haven’t looked back. I use it to track time for pretty much everything I do (ok, everything that is business related), and I love its invoicing and other features as well.

New business and relationship management

That just doesn’t sound right, does it? The thing is, business depends on relationships, so when you have tools that help you grow your relationships, they can also help you grow your business. Now please don’t go around thinking I’m saying you can automate relationship-building… you can’t. But you can keep track of who you meet, what’s going on with them, etc. etc. etc.

8. Newsle: many thanks to my friend Derek Skaletsky of Traackr for turning me onto this. Newsle syncs with your social networks, and then sends you an email when any of your contacts are “in the news.” Remember how Gist used to work? This is like that, though it’s actually neater and cleaner (I used to have a lot of trouble syncing Gist). So with Newsle, you can send a congratulatory note, post to their Facebook wall, etc., when they are quoted in a cool way. Good for us all, great for brown nosers.

Side note: Tungle was acquired by RIM… and shut down. Gist was acquired by RIM… and shut down. None of this makes me want to switch back to using a BlackBerry from my iPhone.

Streak9. Streak: I wrote a pretty extensive post not that long ago about why I love Streak as a CRM plugin for Gmail so much, so please go read that if you haven’t already. Especially if you are a micro-business owner, like myself, you want to look into this. It works great, and it’s free. What’s not to love?

Honorable mention: Rapportive, which would give you a snapshot of whoever you were emailing, including their last few tweets and links to their LinkedIn profiles, etc. Unfortunately, since Gmail has switched everyone over to the new “Compose,” it doesn’t work, even though I’ve seen posts saying there is a workaround (I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work for me). If Rapportive figures out a workaround, it will make a lot of people happy. But don’t hold your breath.

News

theSkimm10. theSkimm: I stumbled on this via a post Mark Drapeau wrote a while back. At the time I felt even more overwhelmed by trying to keep multiple balls in the air, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to subscribe. Since then, I’ve become mildly addicted to it. And while I still try to read my daily newspaper (albeit on my iPhone or iPad) and go through my Feedly (I decided I might as well get used to it since Google Reader is going away), I enjoy theSkimm’s take on current events (for the most part).

I especially like that if don’t have time to read up on everything that’s going on (honestly, who does?), I can quickly skimm through the email and feel somewhat intelligent. Be warned; if you don’t appreciate being talked to in a “Sex and the City” tone of voice, you probably won’t like it. But if you’re curious enough to check it out, please use this link since it may get me a free Starbucks gift card or something.

Content curation & social media management

Yes, I know we’re getting a little grey and drizzly here, but seeing as how we share what we read, and we share socially, I’m just putting them in the same category (if you have a better idea, please let me know for future posts!).

11. Feedly: so … we all went through Google Reader withdrawal and started looking around frantically for an alternative. I’d signed up for Feedly a while back, and have just started using that as my RSS reader of choice. I love that it integrated Buffer a while back, and it’s a great way for me to go through my favorite blogs fairly quickly, curate and share what I like, and then save what I want for later.

Post Planner

12, 13 & 14: Buffer, HootSuite and Post Planner: I wrote about these a while back and they’re still as good as ever… in fact, better. I recently tweaked my Buffer settings and am currently using it to share content primarily to Twitter and LinkedIn. I still love HootSuite for multi-account and platform management (even more useful now that I have a virtual assistant). And Post Planner is my go-to for scheduling to Facebook (and yes, of course there’s real-time activity too, but it’s great to be able to schedule some content).

15. Triberr: I’ve been using Triberr for a couple of years now and am enjoying getting to know Dino Dogan, the founder, better. He’s a terrific guy and has great passion for what he does. I struggle a little bit with the pressure to keep up with all my tribes, but that’s my problem, not Triberr’s. And it does make curation very easy.

16. Do Share for Google+: this is a nifty Chrome extension that lets you schedule posts to Google+. It started out a little clunky, but has improved considerably. If you’re still trying to figure out how curation to Plus fits into your life, definitely check it out.

Voice and video

17. Join.me: Karelyn, my VA, introduced me to this. I was on a Skype chat with my mom a few weeks ago, and realized I could no longer share my screen (unless I wanted to up my Skype subscription to a premium one… and I don’t see any reason to do that). That’s what Join.me lets you do, and it’s free. Can’t argue with that.

18. FreeConference: I want to say FCC was one of the first services of its kind, but I’m sure someone will read me the riot act if I do. So I’ll just say that it’s been around a while, and it still works great.

Speek19. Speek: a much newer conferencing service, this dispenses with a bridge line, PIN, etc. Instead, you just give those calling in your personalized Speek URL and when it’s time for the call, they visit the URL and Speek calls them. There apparently is no charge for the service, though I assume you’ll pay normal telephone charges. Currently it’s available in the U.S., though those abroad can join via their computer.

20. MobileDay: a very neat iPhone/Android app that syncs with your calendar, and dials into conference calls (that would be the not-Speek option) for you. It also integrates with Salesforce, so could help you save time there, but since I don’t use Salesforce, I can’t comment on that functionality.

These are the programs, extensions, plugins and apps (well, a few apps) that I currently find most useful. What about you – what are your tech and efficiency solutions? Do share, I’d love to know!

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke