There’s a whole industry built around our desire to be more productive–tools and resources to help us manage our time, energy, commitments, etc. We can spend a lot of money buying tools and taking courses, many of which are excellent and helpful. But there are free alternatives as well and I’ll talk about those today.
There are many free (or low-cost) productivity tools to help you focus and make time for what’s most important
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would take to simplify my life, which includes thoughts about simplifying my budget. I spent some time thinking about and researching tools and resources we can use for free, which can help us to be more productive and focus on what really matters.
Managing our tasks
I love OmniFocus and have paid for it for years. There are other good paid apps too, such as Todoist and Nozbe. But after doing some research I discovered some alternatives to these apps that are free.
- Paper and pen, of course. Literally a notepad and pen, or paper planners (not totally free, of course, but can be quite inexpensive).
- There are free versions of Todoist and other paid apps (which may have limited features).
- Google products, such Google Docs, which is a simple list in a word processor document (you could do the same in a Word document if you already have MS Office.) There is also Google Keep (this link explains How to use it), which lets you create notes, reminders, and more and is available on Android, computers, iPhone, and iPad.
- Apple products–apps that come preinstalled on your Apple devices, such as Notes and Reminder.
- Notion–a very versatile new-ish (or new to me) software that can become a hub for your life–to-do lists, notes, planning, etc. This app is free for individual use and there are apps for Windows, Mac, mobile devices, which will all sync.
- There are free versions of shared tools like Asana and Trello, which use a very visual approach to task and project management.
Managing our commitments
To keep track of where we need to be and at what time, we need a calendar of some type, whether paper or electronic. If it is an electronic calendar, preferably it will come with alerts and reminders. I use Fantastical, which I love, to sync all my various calendars (personal, TPW calendar, calendars I share with Mike). Fantastical is a paid calendar and although for me it’s worth the cost, there are also free alternatives.
- Paper calendar — wall or desk/paper planner (not totally free unless you receive one as a freebie from a business)
- Google Calendar
- If you have/use Apple devices, iCal
Learning new productivity skills
There are lots of sources of paid trainings, sponsored by various apps and productivity experts. I receive, almost weekly, invitations for paid webinars on various productivity-related topics. There are also tons of books (I’ve bought them all!) on various productivity topics, but the costs add up and if you buy them they take up space. You could spend a fortune learning new skills to be productive, but there are also free alternatives.
- Podcasts (of course) – the usuals, like Beyond the To-Do List, Productivityist, Organized 365, but there are hundreds more. Use the search function in Apple Podcasts or other podcast platforms and search productivity, or organization, or time management, or whatever topic you want to learn more about.
- YouTube videos – I’ve watched a number of videos about how to use Notion, for example, and there are lots of YT channels about time management, how to use various productivity tools, and more. There have been previous TPW guests like Amy Landino, Alaina Fingal at The Organized Money, and Kay Patterson (The Organized Soprano) who all have very helpful YouTube channels. They all offer paid services, but you can learn from them for free by following them on YouTube. For more information simply go into YouTube and search whatever you want to learn about. Some examples of productivity-related videos:
- Library–you can borrow digital books as well (Libby app)
One of things we need in order to be productive is to find motivation and stay inspired, and there are lots of ways you can get that motivation. We have talked a lot about facilitated mastermind groups, which I offer. Coaches can also help educate and motivate us and are worth the investment. But if you don’t have the funds to invest at this time or want to allocate your money for other things, there are free alternatives.
- Accountability partners – find a friend who has similar interests in being productive and making a life that matters. Reach an agreement that you will encourage each other, as well as hold each other accountable in whatever area you’re working on.
- Self-created mastermind group – I’m a member of a “self-facilitated” mastermind group that meets via Zoom every other Tuesday morning. You can be a part of a mastermind group without having to pay for them and can find lots of information online for how to facilitate and form one.
- Podcasts like Brooke Castillo’s The Life Coach School Podcast. There are others too, just search topics related to motivation or inspiration.
- YouTube videos – there are many inspirational and motivating Youtube channels; you just need to search them using keywords.
Developing better focus
In order to be productive in areas that are important to you, you have to have the ability to focus on the work that is at hand. I struggle with this myself and will be talking about this more in an upcoming episode. There are paid tools to block access to websites (e.g., Freedom) or to play music designed to aid focus (e.g., Focus at Will). But there are also free alternatives you can use.
- Curate your own playlists from the music you own or on services you already have. I like to play instrumental music while I work.
- Intentionally set up your workspace for productive, focused work.
- Declutter and reorganize your workspace to minimize distractions.
- Create rituals for work to train your mind to focus when it’s time. Light a candle with a particular scent (or diffuse particular essential oils that are thought to help with focus), do a mind dump, use a specific pen/paper/etc.
- Turn off your wifi access when you need to do focused work that doesn’t actually require internet access.
- Take regular breaks that let your mind rest so that you can focus better.
There are many tools and resources out there to help us be more productive, and investing in your own productivity is a good idea. But productivity doesn’t have to be costly, and seeking out free tools and resources can be a part of your strategy for using your resources wisely and making a life that matters as you define it.
What do you think? Questions? Comments
What did I miss? Can you recommend any free tools that help you be more productive? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email.
Resources and Links
- 20 Best (and Free) Task Management Software to Help You at Work
- Apple iCal
- Google products suite
- Apple Notes
- Apple Reminders
- Beyond the To-Do List podcast
- Productivityist podcast
- Organized 365 podcast
- Amy Landino’s YouTube Channel
- Kat Patterson-The Organized Soprano YouTube Channel
- Alaina Fingal at The Organized Money Youtube Channel
- The Life Coach School Podcast
- Focus at Will
- Amy Landino on The Productive Woman
- Kay Patterson on The Productive Woman
- Alaina Fingal on The Productive Woman
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