How to Take Back Your Time & Increase Your Productivity — Plus 11 Great Productivity Tools

Did you ever finish a day of hard work and feel like you got nothing done?

Believe me, you’re not the only one. Time management is a challenge for many professionals, and web designers are no exception.

If you’re also a freelancer, how well you manage your time may also affect how much you earn. So, it’s important maximize your productivity whenever you can.

Unfortunately, we all have many demands on our time. Often, it’s the little things that slow us down the most–things we might not even think about.

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In this post, I’ll show you how to increase your productivity by identifying three common problems that keep us from being as productive as we should be. I’ll also share 11 productivity tools to help you get better control of your time.


3 Things That Make Us Less Productive

What are the things that slow us down?

Some of the most common barriers to productivity include:

  • Time management. You can’t really be more productive until you learn to manage your time. Most of us waste much more time than we realize. First, learn how you are spending your time. Then you can learn to make the best use of it.
  • Finding files. Even if you have a very organized system for storing files, it’s easy to forget where you put a particular file. And there’s always the possibility that you stored the file in the wrong place. But searching for a file on your computer can be time-consuming.
  • Going through email. How many emails do you receive a day? If you’re like most of us, only a handful of the emails you receive actually require your urgent attention. But often we spend a lot of unnecessary time in our email inbox.

Fortunately, there are many fixes for these productivity barriers. Some of the fixes include changing your habits. Here are a few easy ways to boost your productivity by changing your habits:

  • Make it a point to do your hardest or most urgent tasks first. That way if you run out of time, at least you’ll accomplish something.
  • Develop a file organization system that makes sense and stick to it. Always back up your files–losing a file can mean hours or even days or rework.
  • Limit the number of times you check your email each day. Most of us check our email too often. Once in the morning and once before the close of business should be enough.

Even with these simple productivity fixes, you may need more help. Fortunately, there are many tools to address each barrier to productivity.

4 Tools to Track Your Time

Knowing exactly how you spend your time is the best way to figure out how to get more done. How you actually spend your time each day may surprise you.

Once you know how you actually spend your time, you can eliminate or streamline unnecessary tasks. Knowing how you spend your time will also help you create more accurate project estimates.

Here are four time management tools you may find helpful (in alphabetical order):

  1. Chrometa. This tool works in the background to keep track of what you do on your PC. There’s also an app for iPhone or Android users. You’ll need to log offline or phone time manually. This is a good way to tell exactly how you spend your day. If you bill by the hour, you can export the information to a billing application. At the time of publication, pricing started at $19.00 a month.
  2. DeskTime. DeskTime is geared for groups or agencies. If you manage a design team or own an agency, you may like the way this provides productivity statistics comparing workers. They are currently testing an iPhone app. At the time of publication, pricing started at $9.00 a month and there was free trial available.
  3. Toggl. With this tool, you can automatically track the time it takes you to complete a task with the timer or manually enter your time. This is probably the simplest time-tracking tool, so if all you want to do is track the time you spend on each task, this may be right for you. When this article was written pricing was $5.00 a month and there was a free 30-day trial.
  4. WorkflowMax. This software includes not only time tracking features, but also project and document management tools as well as lead management tools. It now also includes a time-tracking widget for the Adobe Creative Suite that many designers use. When this article was written, pricing for WorkflowMax started at $15.00 month. There is also a free 14-day trial.

3 Tools to Find Your Files

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If you’ve ever spent time searching your hard drive for a missing file, you know what a nuisance it can be. It can also take valuable time away from your day.

Fortunately, there are tools available to speed up the process. Here are three of them (in alphabetical order):

  1. Alfred. If you have a Mac or need to find information online, this search app will save you time. It can even search your iTunes music collection. This is one of those little apps that can make a big difference in how you work. The basic version is free, although you can upgrade to the Powerpack.
  2. CopernicDesktop Search Home. This tool has been around for a while, but it is still useful. It works with Windows operating systems. Best of all, the home version is currently free.
  3. Everything . This tiny tool lets you find things on your Windows machine very quickly. This software is freeware.

4 Tools to Manage Your Inbox

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Most of us hate dealing with email. There are always those emails that you don’t quite know what to do with. Just looking at a full email inbox can be overwhelming.

In alphabetical order, here are four tools to help you make sense of your email:

  1. Gmail Filters. If you use Gmail, you can set up filters that automatically send messages from certain senders or with certain subject lines or even delete certain messages. This tool is part of Gmail and is free of charge.
  2. Mailstrom. This tool is in beta testing, but it has gotten lots of good reviews. The tool is designed to help you achieve “inbox zero” by allowing you to sort through messages in a variety of ways. A free trial is available.
  3. SaneBox. This tool uses algorithms to determine which emails are most important and moves the rest to folders. It also tracks your sent emails and lets you know when you need to follow up. When this post was written, prices started as low as $2.04 a month. Currently, there’s a free trial available.
  4. Triage: Email First Aid. This iPhone app makes it easier to manage email from your iPhone. Simply swipe a message to archive or save it. It’s a super simple concept, but if you handle email on your iPhone, you’ll appreciate it. At the time of publication, the app cost $1.99.

Your Turn

What are your biggest productivity barriers? What methods or tools do you use to overcome them?

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5 Responses

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  • John Bedford, August 16, 2013

    As a lawyer, time tracking is a big part of the job. Those all look like good tools for that purpose.

  • PowerLancer, August 16, 2013

    Great list! Please include http://www.powerlancer.com too! It’s a productivity tool (with time tracking, CRM, project management, and task management) created specifically for freelancers!

  • Katypeterson, August 19, 2013

    Thanks For Sharing the useful information!!

  • Mary Iannotti, August 20, 2013

    Nice article Laura and thanks for sharing the time tracking tools. Social media can be time consuming for me so I schedule my time on social networks. When my plate isn’t too full I try to get on social networks at short intervals a few times a day. This has helped me prioritize my social activity and keep it focused.

  • Laura Spencer, August 22, 2013

    Great comments! I’m glad you liked the information. :)