When I’m not reminiscing about the days of card catalogs and telephone books, I’m busy looking for ways to make my workday easier.
Luckily, for those who get nostalgic like me, you don’t have to completely abandon old-school routines to fit in the contemporary content marketing world.
We now have the luxury of combining classic organizational methods with the latest technologies to stay on top of our crazy schedules and take our online businesses to the next level.
I decided to ask some of the smartest people around — the Copyblogger editorial team — about the tools that help them the most.
After contributing a few of my favorites as well, here are ten of the tools we use every day, both newfangled and old-fashioned, to help you discover even more ways to be productive.
Jerod Morris, VP of Marketing, gets a lot of email — so much email that if he wanted to stay at inbox zero, he’d never get any work done.
He checks and processes his emails twice a day, which gives him time to focus on other important aspects of his job. The only problem with this strategy is that he doesn’t want to ignore urgent emails that land in his inbox while he’s doing other work.
Enter AwayFind. The service can alert you via phone call, text, or push notification when you get emergency messages from anyone you pre-select, as well as when you receive certain keywords in messages (like “ASAP”).
Your AwayFind account has its own inbox, so you don’t get sucked into the email vortex when responding. And the service allows you to send an autoresponder to people not on your VIP list, so they’ll know you’ll get back to them during one of your email processing sessions.
The cost starts at $5/month.
2. Gmail’s labels, filters, and archive
Stefanie Flaxman, Manager of Editorial Standards, can’t concentrate without an organized inbox, so she uses Gmail’s free labels, filters, and archive to keep her email use efficient.
Her email process entails creating labels for common email topics and archiving messages after she’s attended to them. Then, if she needs to reference a certain email, she can quickly find it under its label.
For example, she uses the “Blog Posts” label to file emails she gets with blog post text scheduled to run on Copyblogger. When she’s ready to edit a post at a later date, she knows exactly where to find it — in her “Blog Posts” folder.
Filters allow you to automatically label email that meets certain criteria, or even set messages to bypass your inbox and land in a specific folder. You can send all of those board meeting minutes for that organization where you volunteer to a specific folder, or filter hate mail from that one person directly to the trash.
SaneBox is my solution for when my inbox runs amok.
For around $7/month (more with multiple email addresses, less with an annual subscription), it uses an algorithm to filter less important messages into a folder called SaneLater. Past behavior, such as when you open and respond to messages, informs the algorithm, but you can retrain it using rules you create.
I love SaneBox for when I’m traveling because it allows me to quickly scan messages sent directly to me, and not worry about the newsletters and marketing emails accumulating in my SaneLater folder until, well, later.
A fancy software tool doesn’t always trump pen and paper. Pamela Wilson, Director of Special Projects, says that Post-its are key to her productivity. She uses four-by-six-inch, lined Post-it notes ($12.99 for a five-pack) for her daily to-do lists.
“If my tasks don’t fit on one of those pages, I know there’s a good chance I’m overestimating what I can actually get done in a single day, something I’ve always struggled with,” Pamela says.
Even if you use a different project management tool, a list of tasks on a Post-it can help make your daily workload manageable without losing sight of the big picture.
Another bonus? Crossing an item off of a physical list may feel more satisfying than checking off a task in Basecamp — and you can always use software for long-term project management and Post-its for outlining each day’s tasks.
5. A kitchen timer
A tool co-founder and Chief Content Officer, Sonia Simone, can’t live without is a kitchen timer, which she says gets her to sit in her writing chair when she’s having trouble finding the right words.
Making yourself sit down and write for a set amount of time can help you put the finishing touches on an article that’s almost complete, brainstorm ideas and topics for upcoming posts, or even just get thoughts out of your mind as you work through an issue you’re not quite ready to write about publicly yet.
Or you can experiment with timed writing exercises to get your creative juices flowing.
The cost? Pick one up for around $7.99, or use the one that’s already in your kitchen. There’s a meditation timer you can use on your phone, as well.
6. Moleskines or other lined notebooks
No matter how sleek and sexy your new MacBook Air is, there’s something about regular, old notebooks with lined paper. Sometimes they help you express your thoughts and feelings more easily than typing away on a laptop.
Stefanie is fond of Moleskines, which she uses to work out ideas before going digital. And she’s in good company. Similar notebooks were used by the likes of Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway going back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
But if you don’t want to spend $12.95, any lined notebook will work. Use it to meet your daily writing goal.
Another bonus? You can write your little heart out at a cafe without worrying about finding a power outlet.
Writing and editing
7. Google Docs
Both Pamela and Sonia are big fans of Google Docs, which they use for everything from joint venture product planning to results tracking to co-authoring web content.
What’s so great about Google Docs? The web-based word processor works across platforms, so it can be viewed by anyone regardless of whether they’re on a Mac or PC. It also allows multiple people to collaborate on a document, creating and editing work in real time.
I’ve used Google Docs at conferences to keep track of tools and articles that speakers reference, and shared the link with other attendees via Twitter, using the event hashtag. It’s easy to share the link to a file, so you don’t have to worry about emailing or uploading to Dropbox.
There are multiple settings, so you can control who sees a document, and whether they can simply view it, edit it, or comment on it. Adding links and images is straightforward and simple.
Amazingly, it’s free.
As an editor, I’m a bit of an evangelist for Draft, and here’s why. When writers submit articles to me as Microsoft Word documents, I have to use the Track Changes feature to edit.
When my comments or questions for the writer are long, instead of showing up on the page, they show up on the side of the text in tiny comment boxes, and it’s very difficult for writers to know which comments relate to which sections of text.
If using Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature makes you want to bang your head against the wall, consider Draft as an alternative. This beautifully designed app is incredibly efficient for collaborative editing.
If I add text to someone else’s document, the additions are highlighted in green. Deletions are highlighted in pink. Draft displays comments next to the appropriate section of text, and you can view multiple versions side by side.
The writer can accept or reject changes, and there is a version control feature — so you can go back to a previous edition, if needed.
Best of all, you can upload documents from Draft directly to WordPress, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and MailChimp.
Draft can be used for free, but you can support it by paying $3.99/month (or $39.99 annually). The paid version has a few additional perks, and proofreading, which Draft refers to as “editing,” is also available for an additional fee.
WordPress obviously helps you connect with your audience online, but Chief Copywriter Demian Farnworth uses it as a writing instrument as well.
He likes to write drafts directly inside WordPress itself, even if he has to turn in a Microsoft Word document. Why? Because it helps him code the article with html. Later, he can simply copy and paste the coded text into any other file format.
It also allows him to review his draft on an actual web page to give him a better sense of how the published article will look.
“And now that WordPress has distraction-free writing, it’s approaching the simplicity of other platforms like Medium and Ghost,” Demian adds.
Prices for a self-hosted WordPress website with excellent hosting will vary.
10. Rainmaker Platform
Many of you already listen to the New Rainmaker podcast, hosted by Brian Clark and Robert Bruce. And many of you have also signed up for the New Rainmaker Training Course, which includes seven foundational lessons (audio and text formats), three webinars (with transcripts), follow-up lessons, and case studies. (The two week training course is currently free for a limited time.)
How do Brian and Robert easily manage all of these different components of their website, so that they have time to focus on creating episodes of their popular podcast? The Rainmaker Platform, naturally.
The Rainmaker Platform is a complete, turnkey website solution for serious content marketers and online entrepreneurs. It contains the tools to build a content-driven website without the hassle of finding hosting, battling to achieve solid SEO, dealing with maintenance, and performing upgrades. Rainmaker takes care of all of those time-consuming tasks for you.
You can actually do much more with the Rainmaker Platform, which also includes 27 different mobile responsive designs built on HTML5. Experience this brand-new online sales and marketing engine for yourself through the free trial.
Over to you …
When you find systems that work for you, they can help jumpstart your writing and provide peace of mind during your workday.
To share your favorites, including any helpful secret weapons we may have missed, head on over to Google+ to join in the discussion.
Flickr Creative Commons Image via ntr23.