Free Online Tools to Increase Productivity

Having finally settled into a routine that keeps me constantly prepared for this semester’s never ending torrent of schedule conflicts, I can finally begin blogging consistently again. These past few weeks have made me realize that without the tools I use to keep myself productive and on top of my commitments, I would never have the free time to commit to blogging, go to the gym regularly, or maintain my social life. This post will detail all of the tools I use to keep myself productive. They are all internet-based and free. So without further ado:

1)  Gmail

Without Gmail, my life would be a lot more complicated. Gmail has a lot of easy-to-use filtering, labeling, and searching features that makes storing and finding e-mails a breeze. While some people never archive and leave all e-mails in the inbox, I use my inbox as a holder for unfinished tasks and projects. When I complete the task or project, I simply archive the e-mail and search for it later if I need to bring it up again. By contrast, my school offers a web mail account that allows for 50mb of storage. At that rate, I would have to delete e-mails frequently. By archiving them with Gmail’s 7gb of space, I never have to delete e-mails. And thank goodness I don’t. I can recall at least 10 times this past month where I’ve had to dig out old e-mails from last year.

I also use a combination of filters and labels to take e-mails sent from my school’s advising office, my fraternity, and from Residential Life (my current employer) and siphon them out of my inbox and into folders where I can look at them at my convenience. If they contain and task or project that I can’t address immediately, I move the e-mail back into my inbox and look at it later.

Here is a screen shot of my filters and labels.

Gmail Filters

2) Google Calendar

I promise this post won’t become a continual declaration of my love for Google. I just happen to use Google Calendar because that is what I am accustomed to. Your calendar of choice will suffice just fine. A reliable calendar system must be portable and easy to use. Google Calendar syncs with my iPod Touch effortlessly whenever I have access to WiFi (thankfully, my whole campus has WiFi). Therefore, I have my calendar everywhere as long as I have my iPod Touch on hand or a computer with internet access. It is also makes scheduling recurring commitments a breeze. However, I have many productive friends who swear by a physical calendar/planner. If that’s your style, by all means use that instead.

3) Remember the Milk

Before Remember the Milk (RTM), I was using notepad documents on my desktop as a way to maintain my Next Actions list, Project list, Waiting For list, and my Someday/Maybe list.

Side note: For those of you who are wondering what those lists are, I highly recommend checking out Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Even if you don’t agree with everything in the book, there are many great points and a lot of tips that can help just about anyone increase their productivity while worrying less about whether or not their system has captured all of their commitments and tasks.

Remember the Milk is simply an online-based to-do list that has a great layout and is easy to use. A big plus is being able to sort your tasks by priority and due date. I also like being able to log in on any computer and be able to check my to-do list.  The only downsides to RTM are: 1) You cannot order your lists (you’re stuck with alphabetical order) and 2) The iPhone/iPod Touch app requires you to purchase a premium account and the website is not compatible with Safari on these devices. If you hate paying for anything and are devoted to your iPhone, Google Tasks gets the job done and can be accessed for free on the iPhone (although it’s not as pretty as RTM).

And again, if you’re a paper and pen person when it comes to lists, then by all means keep doing that.

4) Joe’s Goals

I happened to stumble upon this website (not actually using StumbleUpon) during a brainstorming session in which I discovered a problem with my productivity system. My short, intermediate, and long-term goals were ending up on the same to-do list as my day-to-day tasks. For example, my goals of eating a big salad every day and doing the daily brain training exercises at were ending up next to “File away Career Development Center activity sheets” and “Stop by academic advising office to change management concentration.” Although these goals were technically actions I wanted to take for that day, they had differing priorities, larger time commitments, and were ending up on the to-do list day after day in a never ending fashion. This constantly bloated up my to-do list and drained me of my sense of accomplishment. That’s where Joe’s Goals comes in.

Joe's Goals

As the screenshot above shows, Joe’s Goals allows you to easily track your goals on a daily basis. You assign a score (+1 or +2 or even -1 for negative habits you want to avoid) and at the end of the day you can see your score and which goals you accomplished that day. Joe’s Goals also comes with reporting features to view charts of your progress over longer periods of time. With Joe’s Goals, I no longer have bloat and clutter in my to-do list, yet I can easily track whether or not I am achieving my goals. If you would prefer to keep your goals off the internet, a well-made Excel sheet can accurately mimic the features of Joe’s Goals.

And there you have it! The free online tools I use to increase my productivity.