21 January 2015 - Dave Jackson

The top 6 productivity tools for a digital agency in 2015

We all want to be more productive, anything that claims to make our lives easier is worth exploring. In 2015 we will spend a lot of time using tools and methods to improve productivity and efficiency and will increase our capacity to get things done. I wanted to share some of the tools and methods we use here in The Friday Agency that we feel are worth a look.

Software has become a utility, a lot of the good services out there have recurring fees and monthly bills can mount up if you don’t keep an eye on it. Make sure everything you pay for is adding value, do an audit every few months to make sure you are not wasting your cash.

As a digital agency, we have an ever-evolving process for how we develop websites and manage digital marketing campaigns, we are always reviewing our processes and there are a number of software tools that help us on our way. We have a checklist of criteria before we take a look think about employing a new tool or method.

  1. The net result between time spent managing the tool and the time it saves needs to be positive.
  2. Any software should be cloud-based. We try and stay away from anything that is only present on a single device as we all work from a number of devices depending on where we are at the time.
  3. Collaboration is key, if the tool will allow you to share data and knowledge then it’s a big plus.
  4. Limit the amount of GTD apps (Getting Things Done) you use, how many lists do you really need?

Basecamp

Basecamp is a web-based project management tool where team members and clients can collaborate. It’s a single place to share files, have discussions, assign & track tasks, and keep up to speed on deadlines. We have been using Basecamp for a number of years and we find it great for projects big and small. If used correctly it can be a really powerful tool for any type of project. Costs start at about €17 a month but we use the package that’s €42 as it allows us to manage more projects.

www.basecamp.com

Zero Inbox Policy

This one isn’t about a specific product but more a way to manage email. We all spend too much time with our heads in our email, my feeling is that people are too quick to hide behind it and a lot of typing time could be saved with a quick call or face to face (remember that?), you don’t save time or build real relationships by only communicating by email.

I use a zero inbox policy, this means that my ongoing goal is to have an empty email inbox, I archive every email that I have read or actioned. This way I know that anything that is still in my inbox needs action. My inbox becomes my to-do list. I have been using this policy for about 6 months and I couldn’t recommend it more. Emails don’t get missed, I never forget to reply to an email and the satisfaction of getting to the end of the day with a clear inbox is great.

Dropbox have a mobile and desktop App called Mailbox (update Dec ’15, now defunct) which will help with this, it has some great features but the search in the desktop Beta I tested was very poor so I quickly went back to Apple Mail until they fix the bugs.

If you do nothing else this year, take on a zero inbox policy, it gets things done and relieves email fatigue.

Base CRM

We recently took on Base CRM as a tool for tracking leads and our sales pipeline, its a little too early to give a full review of this web-based service but based on a few months usage it seems to be working for us and is worth the €13 a month. It has great real-time reporting, sends reminders and organises leads based on stages. The UI is clean, intuitive and easy to move around — being visual people this is key to any of the tools we use.

www.getbase.com

Bullet

There are no fulltime accountants working in Friday just yet but we like to be very organised and keep on top of our finances. Bullet is a cloud-based accounting web app that claims to automate your accounting and payroll. Bullet has all the features we need and makes everything from billing, payroll, VAT returns and estimates easy to manage. The Bullet team is always there to help and have even implemented some of the UI and feature suggestions we have shared with them. It has a nice UI and the best part is that Bullet is an Irish company.

Your accountant won’t like Bullet, you will rely on accountants less and less as you get used to the system. The other reason your accountant will not like Bullet is that it is not as flexible as some of the more complicated tools such as Sage, simplicity always requires compromise of features and Bullet are working to get this balance right based on customer feedback.

Bullet is not a not for everyone but it has made running our business much easier. We get great reporting, credit control has improved and payroll is a breeze. Pricing for Bullet starts at €4 a month and builds depending on the features you need.

www.bullethq.com

Reminders

Apple have a very simple and usable Reminders App that comes pre-loaded on all iOS and OS X devices. It’s a To-do list app where reminders can be set based on time or location. So let’s say I walk out of the office it can remind me not to forget my keys. Lists can be shared and reminders can be set with Siri. I use this every day. Reminders sync beautifully between devices using iCloud and its free to all Mac and iOS users.

Browserstack

Testing is a huge part of our day, everything we create has to be tested, retested and tested again on multiple devices, platforms, and browser versions.

Browserstack.com provides a paid service where we can test our work on all the main platforms, browsers and relevant verisons using a single browser. This is a huge time saver. In the old days, we had to jump from PC to Mac to tablet loading up different OS and browser versions. At €30 a month its not cheap but cheaper and faster than having multiple testing stations.

www.browserstack.com

We’d love to hear your views on this and if you know any other tools that do a better job than the ones we covered. Please leave your comments below.

Update September 2015

Since writing this post we have started using a whole new batch of productivity services and Apps and I wanted to share them with you. Thanks to Melanie Gardner who posted a comment below we have discovered InVision App, this is a game changer for presenting and collecting feedback on UI and UX artwork to clients remotely. This really has changed how we collaborate with our clients, well worth the money, check it out.

We have also started using a time tracking App called Timely which allows us to see how much time the team here in the studio are spending on a project and it gives us great reporting that shows us if our pricing is working for us and our clients as well as where we can become more efficient in how we use our time on projects. Works great via your browser as well as the mobile app and if you are lucky enough to have an Apple Watch there is an App for that too.

The last is Slack, this is a widely used messaging app for team collaboration. This is used by us all every day to collaborate and share thoughts, links, and visuals on what we are working on internally. It’s like Skype or any other IM client but on steroids with the features you always wanted such as organising chat topics into subjects or projects, Drag and drop file sharing, private groups and it’s all highly searchable.