Professional Development: 22 Tools for Making You More Productive

Date published: March 10th, 2016 | By Matthew


This presentation was delivered by Matthew Smith ( at ACA NY-NJ's Tri-State 2016 on Thu., Mar. 10th at 9:00 a.m. Click here to open a PDF copy of the notes.


You are constrained by time and money, but not by productivity — in the office, productivity is an x-­factor. There are new tools (web­-based services) that can help you increase your productivity. Here I will present our 22 favorites (with an emphasis on marketing). We have organized these tools into six categories based on how we use them in our office: security, organization, collaboration, marketing, website management, and innovation. All but three of them are free.



1. Gmail: Gmail offers an excellent user experience. It’s easy to use, it’s customizable, and you can extend its functionality.

2. Boomerang: Boomerang is a Gmail extension that helps you not forget things. It returns emails to your inbox like a boomerang.

3. Google Chrome: Google Chrome is a web browser you can log into. You can access your account with your own preferences and customizations from anywhere in the world. I maintain two accounts, one for work and one for home. This keeps everything separate: my email, my online accounts and my bookmarks.

4. Google Calendar: With Google Calendar, you create multiple calendars and share some with colleagues and others with family. For me, Calendar also serves as a central repository for information, like confirmation numbers and hotel addresses. Calendar syncs with other Google apps like Maps.

5. GQueues: GQueues is a robust task manager that syncs with other Google apps like Calendar. It’s customizable and easy to use.

6. Solve360: Solve360 is a database. It’s cheap, robust and easy to customize. It works on a subscription model, which sets up the incentives properly. It integrates with other accounts like Google and MailChimp. They have excellent tech support.

7. Instapaper: Instapaper makes it easy to save articles for later.

Privacy and Security

8. LastPass: LastPass remembers your usernames and passwords for you. It creates passwords that are long, unique and gobbledygook, which makes your accounts more secure. With LastPass, the only password you need to remember is your LastPass password — making it the “last password” you’ll ever have to remember. It integrates with Chrome.

9. Google Drive: Google Drive is storage. Instead of storing information (like documents) on your hard drive, or on external drives, you store them in the cloud. This makes it easier to work because you can access your documents from anywhere — you’re not limited to one computer. It’s safer than storing documents on your computer because if your computer crashes you don’t lose anything.

10. DuckDuckGo: DuckDuckGo is a search engine that doesn’t track you like normal search engines do. This is helpful when I am trying to determine how my website is ranking for various keyword phrases because my browsing history and my location are not factored into the search results.

Hiring and Collaboration

11. Upwork: Upwork is a site that helps you hire contractors for small marketing-related jobs. Contractors are people all over the world who have set up accounts to do web-based work ($5/hour goes alot further in Bangladesh that it does in the US). Each contractor has a profile with information from past jobs, including ratings from previous employers (who are other people like you).

12. Crew: Crew exists because it’s hard to hire designers and developers: there is a real risk of getting it wrong. Crew has vetted a few hundred designers and developers. You fill out a brief (like an RFP) with your needs and your budget. Crew connects you with 5-6 businesses which submit proposals. Crew helps you make a hiring decision, then holds all the money in escrow, monitors your project’s progress, and steps in if there’s a disagreement (which I haven’t experienced yet).


13. Heatmaps tell you where your visitors are clicking on your website. Heatmaps have helped me better understand what our users are looking at and clicking on. This information has improved the design of our site.

14. Bluehost: Bluehost is a web-hosting service, one of thousands out there. I was drawn to them initially because of their cheap entry-level service. However, I have stuck with them for many years because (1) they have excellent customer service and (2) they offer consulting services on the side when I have questions about or problems with my website.

15. User testing is a process whereby you ask someone to use your website while you watch. You watch where they click, what they read and (most importantly) where they get stuck. User testing helps you improve your website because it gives you a user’s perspective (yours is a designer’s perspective). hires testers for you and then records their visits — it’s expensive but super valuable. Visit for a free “peek”.

16. Google Analytics: ‘Analytics’ refers to a website’s data — who visited your site, where they came from and what they did during their visit. Google Analytics is a remarkably powerful tool, and it’s really helpful for lead generation businesses like yours and mine.

17. Varvy: Varvy offers resources and information on search engine optimization (SEO). The site was created (and is still maintained) by some random guy who really likes helping people. His expertise is top tier, his delivery (the user experience) is exemplary, and it’s all free.

Marketing and PR

18. iStock: iStock has the best royalty-free stock photos I have found. It’s affiliated with Getty. The images are expensive but worth it if you get leads from blogging or from presentations.

19. Unsplash: Unsplash offers the best free stock photos I have found. It’s unbelievable. (Side note: the story of Unsplash’s growth is edifying and one that IECs can really learn from.)

20. Edgar: Edgar is the Cadillac of social media automation. ‘Automation’ means using an app to schedule your social media posts, like for Facebook and Twitter. Edgar doesn’t just schedule your posts, it also recycles them, helping you build a library of material you are really proud of. (Free alternatives but not as good: Hootsuite and Buffer.)

Brainstorming and Innovation

21. Coggle is a brainstorming app — bubble maps. I use Coggle to map out business ideas and blog posts. I create the bubbles, then drag them around and draw connections between my various ideas. It helps me clarify my thoughts when I feel scattered.

22. Seth Godin: Seth Godin is a digital marketing guru. If you sign up for his newsletter, you will receive insightful marketing tips by email. Including Godin here is a nod to the myriad bloggers who publish free, high-quality marketing advice. Find a few bloggers you like and follow along. They can help you keep of new tools.