Everyone wants a smooth workflow. The word itself says it all. You want the work to flow as you focus intensely and produce results with minimal time wasted. Yet we all know that’s not how our workdays turn out.
Thankfully, there are tools you can use to get rid of distractions and time-consuming processes. Think of them as shortcuts that enable you to focus on your work rather than all the superfluous details.
A McKinsey report on social technologies found that simply by tapping into powerful applications, we can improve global productivity by 20 to 25%. The apps include those that can improve communication and collaboration between teams, saving time and improving performance.
The finding speaks to the enormous potential for each business or institution to raise employee productivity by equipping them with the right tools.
So here are some essential workflow apps that can produce the results you want for maximum employee productivity, divided by function:
- Workflow & Process Automation
- Task Management
- Time Management
- Team Communication
Workflow & Process Automation
Automating time-consuming workflow processes is the first fundamental step to improving productivity. From purchase orders to invoices, the least amount of time employees spend on paperwork, the more they can get back to work.
The following tools let you do exactly that by tackling all the manual, mundane tasks that take away from more important work.
frevvo is visual workflow software that comes with pre-made templates for commonly used forms, including:
- Purchase orders
- Travel reimbursement
- Time sheets
- K-12 consent forms
- New employee onboarding
- Time-off requests
Having a tool like this allows anyone to quickly access a form, customize fields, and process them faster by setting up conditions like “send automatically to CFO.”
It gets rid of time lost pinging people in different departments for access to a form. This often happens via email and results in email flooding and important emails getting buried. Instead of filling out forms by printing, signing by hand, and scanning it back online, or through a cumbersome PDF annotator, frevvo makes it easy to fill out from anywhere on any device.
A highly flexible tool that works with almost all major software apps, Zapier basically connects the apps you use with one another so you can avoid the hassle of switching back and forth, copy/pasting or other time-consuming tasks.
This works by creating “zaps,” which describe a set of automatic actions you can set up. For example, if you want Slack to notify you every time you get a new email on Gmail, you can set up a “zap” for this behavior. Another example is if you want to automatically copy a message on your Slack channel to your Google Sheet.
The possibilities are endless and a tool like Zapier enables you to create quick shortcuts for a number of processes so you don’t have to do things manually.
Another big function in any team is managing projects. This doesn’t just apply to project managers. Each project or individual task involves communication and collaboration. The more you can rely on an app to keep track of all your tasks, the less time you have to spend on chatting and verifying steps with your team members.
Good task management software allows you to easily see what’s happening in each project at a glance, see who is working on what, and organize according to deadlines. It also involves an element of visual, drag-and-drop design for minimal clicks to save time on organization.
It’s extremely helpful to have a single location where you can see all the task details. Asana lets you do that through intuitive design. You can invite any team member to a “board,” which you can arrange by project or department, e.g. “Marketing,” “Client A,” etc.
You can assign each task to the appropriate team member, include all project briefs, info, and relevant attachments to the task, and set a due date. Commenting and tagging team members is easy and anyone can see the task history by clicking on the task.
If Asana is geared more towards team collaboration on tasks, Evernote comes in handy for personal organization. It functions as an online notebook where you can save all your notes and files on-the-go.
While it’s possible to share “notebooks” or “notes” and collaborate with team members through its chat feature, Evernote is most useful as a place where you can gather all your ideas, images, etc. for your ongoing projects and tasks.
Evernote’s “Web Clipper” allows you to save any page on a website automatically to your notebook so you can refer back to it later. The app also comes with a to-do list function so you can check off tasks as you complete them.
A somewhat newer addition to the task management marketplace, Notion is like a combination of both Asana and Evernote. Its aim is to enable people to work through just one app rather than opening several.
You can use Notion as your primary project management software for your team, use it to clip articles from the web or take notes and create to-do lists and spreadsheets. It even comes with a “Lightweight CRM” that lets you input all your customer data and organize according to where they are in the sales pipeline.
Basically, it’s an app that incorporates all the features you’d find across different applications all in one place.
Let’s face it. Time management is a struggle for most people. There just never seems to be enough hours in the way to get stuff done. But when it comes to time, Peter Drucker was right when he said in his book, The Practice of Management: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
If you don’t have a clear idea of exactly where your time is going, you’ll always be playing catch-up. Knowledge is power in this regard. The following tools help you measure your time so you can improve how you’re managing it.
One of the simplest, most effective time-tracking tools out there, Toggl uses a timer to track each project, then compiles the data into a weekly report. Everything is customizable so you can track according to the task, client, project, or whatever field you’d like to assign.
Using the timer is as simple as clicking the “play” button, then the “stop” button to stop tracking. It also takes your idle time into account so that if you forget to turn off the timer while you leave your computer, you have the option to discard those minutes.
You can generate reports according to a date range, as well as project, client, etc. so you can see exactly how much time you’re spending and where. Both desktop and mobile apps are available.
According to researchers at Hiroshima University, we hit our prime productivity when we work for 52 minutes and take a break for 17. This sounds similar to the Pomodoro Technique, developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, which advocates for four 25-minute work sessions with short 5-minute-or-less breaks in-between, followed by one long break of about 20 minutes in length.
There are many apps that replicate the Pomodoro Technique or allow you to set your own preferred stretch of time for working and relaxing. Focus Booster is one of those apps that uses minimalist design to align with its goal of helping people focus.
You can use its mini timer that follows the Pomodoro Technique, or input time manually. The app is available across devices including Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android.
Last but not least, logistics in team communication can sometimes eat up a large chunk of time. McKinsey’s study shows that we spend 28% of our days on average simply reading and answering emails, amounting to around 2.6 hours.
By using communication tools that set up meetings with a single click rather than through a flurry of emails, you can hopefully whittle down those 2.6 hours to something way less. Here are just a few options available for you to do so.
We’ve all been there where we take 5+ emails to set up a meeting.
“Are you available at X?”
“Sure, let’s do it!”
“Great, speak to you soon.”
Then two hours later, you get this message:
“Actually something came up, will you be available tomorrow at 10 instead?”
“I can do 11, if that’s okay?”
Calendly is an app that lets you pick which hours you’re available on the calendar so that the other party can take a look and set up a time that works for them. No emails, just simple clicks. Once you select a time, both parties get email reminders and an entry on their calendars.
To change the scheduled time, you can access the calendar again and repeat the process. Again, no emails. Just a few clicks and you’re all set.
Zoom is one of the most popular video conferencing tools on the web. It integrates easily with tools like Google Calendar, Calendly, Slack, and Zapier, so that sending meeting invites becomes an automated process.
Participants will get an email containing a link to join the meeting at the given time. There’s a recording feature so you can make a video of the meeting. It’s a flexible tool that accommodates for different types of video use, from interviews to team meetings to webinars.
Compared to other similar tools, it has a high number of integrations available, which makes it a preferred choice for those who’d like to automate meetings through other apps.
With so many workflow apps available that are designed specifically to automate business processes, it’s easier than ever to eliminate manual tasks from your workday. By getting started with these tools, you’ll see an immediate improvement in productivity.
Once you’ve set up these processes in place, you can come up with even more ways to make life easier for you and create room for more important, creative tasks.