Running Smoothly: My Productivity Tools.

Posted on May 6, 2015 in business
Hey Jess To Do List

My to do list for today. Not bad!


Who knew that I would love doing admin work for my business? Really. I look forward to organizing invoices, writing to do lists, analyzing how my time is spent – the works.

Okay, so maybe you’re not quite as enthusiastic about business admin as I am. Or maybe you just haven’t found the productivity tools that suit you. Here are the apps and programs I currently use for keeping my business running smoothly.


My personal accountant.
I have fallen in love with budgeting. I initially used YNAB for my personal expenses, but once I launched Hey Jess it made sense test out YNAB for my business as well.

I tested YNAB along with some other money management programs like Wave and Freshbooks, and YNAB was the clear winner for me. I particularly like that it specializes in personal accounting – the great user interface, customer support, online lessons and all – rather than having too many bells and whistles. For instance, I did not need the invoice template features from Wave and Freshbooks because I prefer to keep all aspects of invoices in my control.

Price: Free month trial; $60/one time for the software.

My invoice organizer.
This is one tool that I just have not found a replacement for… yet. As I mentioned in my YNAB spiel, I prefer to handle invoicing manually rather than using automated services and templates. Thus, I stick to excel for organizing and keeping track of my invoices. I record details for each invoice: client name, invoice number, amount, date I sent the invoice, date the client paid, and if the payment was sales tax exempt (i.e. work for a non-profit). I have Excel do the dirty work for me when it comes to math, adding up my revenue for each month. And you know the grid is color-coded.

Price: Included with the Microsoft Office Suite; prices range

My contract keeper.
While I haven’t explored the depths of this program just yet, I use it for the basics – sending contracts to clients so they can sign digitally. It is much quicker than old-fashioned faxing or scanning, plus it sends you alerts about your contracts and keeps them organized. They offer templates to use, or you can upload your own custom documents. So far, so good with this program!

Price: Free for 30 documents per month; $8/month or $48/year for pro version 

My time tracker.
While I was a Harvest fan for the last few years (see my ode to Harvest), I needed to find a more affordable time tracking tool once I went out on my own. I initially used Excel, but it was tedious. Once I switched to Toggl I was so much more efficient when it came to time tracking and prepping invoices.

I use Toggl’s free version, as it has everything I need at this stage in my business. I have each client and project organized and color-coded; I use the Chrome widget; and I send Toggl’s automated reports to clients who like to see more details about where and when our time was spent.

Toggl is a good choice if you are looking for a more affordable alternative to Harvest or similar larger-scale time trackers.

Price: Free; or $5/month for pro version

My file keeper.
Upgrading to Dropbox Pro was one of the best decisions I made as a new business owner. I now have 1 TB of storage – much needed, as I’m frequently working with large Illustrator files and raw photo files. I can now easily send these files to my clients, feel confident that they are stored safe in the cloud, and access them anytime and anywhere I need.

Price: Free for minimal storage; or $99/year for 1 TB storage 

My email buddy.
Ah, trusty Gmail. I went ahead and set up my business email address – – as a Gmail account. I spent an evening color coding, categorizing and organizing my inbox, and I have been pretty consistent keeping it at inbox zero and categorized. I have stuck with Gmail over other email software because it is familiar, has a ton of widgets and features, and I can access it from anywhere.

Price: Free for domain; $5/month for custom domain 

My to do list organizer.
I first started using Todoist while I was working with INK – it was great for organizing team to-do’s among clients – and I continue to use it for Hey Jess.

I particularly like Todoist because I can plan out my tasks far in advance. For instance, if I have a major project to tackle over the next month, I can break the project down into smaller tasks and schedule each task to be due on specific days throughout the month. This way, I know I can take it one step at a time without forgetting any key aspects of the project or important deadlines.

Todoist also has some great features, like a Chrome widget, project categories, reminders, a mobile app and group projects.

Price: Free; or $29/year for pro version

My lifeline.
Nothing beats the feeling of putting pen to paper. Every night I write down all of my to do’s for the following day on a fresh piece of lined paper, which sits right next to my computer at all times. I draw little boxes next to each line item – marking them off throughout the day fuels my productivity. And when it comes down to it, this list is what keeps me on track each week, day, or even hour.

Once the day ends, I toss that piece of paper and start all over for the next morning. This helps me feel prepared so that when I wake up I am relaxed and ready to tackle the work ahead.

Price: Check your junk drawer for an extra pen and scrap pad


So what about you? What are some of your go-to productivity tools – whether for business or personal use – that you just can’t live without?

- Jess


  1. Ella
    June 15, 2015

    bookmarkеd!!, I reall like you web site!

  2. semestra i europa
    June 23, 2015

    ӏ couldn’t refrain from commenting. Well written!

  3. Paula McConnell
    November 27, 2017

    Hiya Jess!

    All great tools – I use them too. I haven’t stated using YNAB for business yet… but I will soon. How do you do it? Do you have a separate budget for just business stuff? (Actually, can you do that?) More info, please!

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