Time Management

50 Free Productivity Tools

The number of tools and apps which claim to magically boost our productivity can be overwhelming. So I’ve gathered here over 50 which I particularly like for my writing life and online business. Almost all are free, or have a good free option for getting started.

It’s important, of course, not to collect productivity tools for the sake of it. You need to be sure a project is worth doing and fits the bigger picture of how you want to spend your time, before getting seduced by a shiny tool. I was surprised that my list extended beyond 50 tools I claim to “use”, and this exercise itself made me think hard about why I “need” so many for my work.

50 Favorite Productivity Tools | Pauline Wiles

Nonetheless, I’m sharing them here in the hope you discover something that might help your daily life and productivity. As usual, a handful of these suggestions are affiliate links.

Key:

# These are the few tools I pay for, as I believe they offer great value
* These tools have a limited free level, but you’ll likely find you need to upgrade to use them satisfactorily.

For the other productivity tools listed, I believe you can get great functionality at the free level.

The Basics

1) Google! No surprises here. Like many people, I use G-everything: from email, calendar, drive and maps, to domains and hangouts.  Special mention to the snooze and send later features in Gmail.
2) My local library: I wanted to give my library prime position in this list. The learning and entertainment I get from borrowed books is colossal.
3) LastPass: I wish I could say I’ve got all my passwords stored safely in this one-stop manager. Like many folks, I struggle with password management but haven’t quite got my act together with LastPass. I’ll get there one day!
4) Catalog Choice: Allows you to (mostly) opt out of pesky free catalogs sent to your home. Great for reducing clutter and helping the environment.

Design & Images

5) iStockphoto: # Typically where I start looking for book cover images.
6) Shutterstock: # Ditto.
7) SC Stockshop: * Beautifully styled stock images, but not cheap to purchase.
8) Gimp: The name is terrible, but this is an excellent open-source (= free) fully-featured graphic design package. Not for the faint-hearted though; do expect a learning curve.
9) Etsy: # I’ve found some lovely art for commercial use through Etsy at reasonable prices.
10) Unsplash: My preferred source for beautiful, free pictures.

Keeping my thoughts in order

11) Trello: I’m a massive fan of Trello for its ability to drag-and-drop tasks, color code, make separate lists, and more. Even better when used with the List Layouts for Trello Chrome extension.
12) A single (paper) notebook: For paper planning and random notes, I scribble in just one place, then transfer to digital as soon as possible.
13) Agendio: # iIn the past, I’ve splurged on a custom-designed planner to optimise my daily schedule. It’s pricey, but a lovely way to treat yourself. See my review here.
14) Evernote: I have mixed feelings about Evernote, and trying to format notes often drives me crackers. Nonetheless, I have loads of random snippets stored here.
15) Pinterest: Also important for sharing my work.
16) Goodreads: Unlike many writers, I only really use Goodreads to track my own reading piles. (I’d particularly caution other authors about paying to run giveaways on Goodreads.)
17) Castbox: My current favorite app for listening to podcasts.
18) FutureMe: Write a letter to your future self! Incredibly illuminating, when it arrives.
19) FollowUpThen: Somewhat eclipsed by Gmail’s snooze, but a good option to scheddule email reminders.
20) Calendarpedia: Excellent source for printable calendars, to help you sketch out your month or year.
21) Calm: # Wonderful meditation app. Includes stories to help you sleep, and masterclasses too.

Communications (real-life & online)

22) Meetup: Not free if you want to host gatherings, but many wonderful options to browse as an attendee.
23) Eventbrite: A rich spectrum of new ideas for events local to you.
24) Twitter
25) Skype: Not my favorite collaboration tool, but my parents can manage it, which has made a huge difference in trans-Atlantic phone calls!
26) Zoom: Again, not without a glitch now and then. But pretty good at the free level.

Website

27) MailMunch: My main tool for newsletter signup forms. I have two separate lists (for fiction and productivity) and MailMunch handles this well. They even have tech support for folks on the free level.
28) Hustle: Another signup form I use currently.
29) Answer the public: Good for keyword research, although the interface is rather quirky.
30) Elementor: I adore this plug-in, which allows really attractive WordPress page designs. Well worth the time to learn it.
31) miniOrange: 2 factor security for WordPress. It’s no fun having your site hacked!
32) Hello Bar: Displays an attractive call-to-action at the top of the page.
33) Wordfence: Great free option to notify me of major security issues in WordPress.
34) WordPress: Until recently, I would have recommended WordPress without hesitation. Now, my opinion is evolving. I think for some writers, there are better options. More on that soon.
35) Digital Ocean hosting: # I have extensive tech support from my husband, so I wouldn’t recommend this deploy-your-own-machine choice for most people. I’m including it here for completeness.

Video

I’ve only dabbled in video and, while I’ll probably return to it in future, I’m not actively producing video content just at the moment.

36) HippoVideo: * I’ve had success recording my screen and web cam at the same time with this tool. Note the free level is pretty limited.
37) SoapBox by Wistia: * A nice tool to help you record both yourself and your screen, but again, the free level is a bit of a tease.
38) Kdenlive: Another of my beloved open source programs, this one to edit videos. Do expect a learning curve initially, and save frequently because crashes seem part of life here!
39) Renderforest: * Make short animations and logos online. Again, the free level probably won’t keep you happy for long.

Sharing my work

40) Tailwind: # Scheduling tool for Pinterest and Instagram.
41) Hootsuite: Scheduling and curation tool for Twitter.
42) Recurpost: Recycle evergreen social media posts. I only use the Twitter part.
43) Mailchimp: No longer offers quite as much for free as it used to, but still a good choice to get started with your email list.
44) Stop forum spam: Wonderful site which helps me weed out fake signups from my email list. Good if you run a forum, too.
45) Medium: # I’ll be jumping on here any day now!
46) Buffer: The main tool I use to share something later on Twitter. They offer all the main social networks also.

Book production & promotion:

47) Calibre: To create epub files from my word processor.
48) Sigil: To edit and tidy those epub files. Only for those who want to get into the weeds of ebook editing!
49) Booksprout: To seek more book reviews.
50) Prolific works: Ebook giveaways.
51) LibraryThing: Another platform I use to offer review copies.

I’ve tried many other promotional book sites for paid advertising but with mixed results. Not only that, but things change: until this year I would have raved about BookBub, now, having recently had my fingers burned with a loss-making promotion, I’m more hesitant to recommend.

There are, of course, oodles more sites aimed at authors and their needs. I don’t have enough experience with them to offer an opinion here.

Selling my work

52) Gumroad: If you’re just getting started with digital products, Gumroad offers a commission-only plan which is attractive. There are lots of thoughtful features too.
53) Kit: I’m still experimenting with Kit, but it’s a nice way of curating products you’d like to recommend to others.
54) Square: I use Square to take payments, and also to offer online appointment scheduling.
55) Kindle Direct Publishing: Need I say more?

Let me know:

  • Are there any of these productivity tools you love, too?
  • What did I miss out?
  • Do you want more details on any of the above? I’m happy to answer questions or provide an in-depth review.

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