Often the hardest thing about working in design has nothing to do with the actual creative process, and everything to do with being organised and productive. Creatives tend to have a bit of a reputation for being chaotic, and while that's something of an easy truism, we can mostly agree that maybe our working setups could stand being just a little more orderly.
You might be just about keeping on top of the admin side of things and hitting those deadlines, but we can all use a little help sometimes. Whether you're a freelancer or an art director, with the right apps to hand you can add a vital extra layer of structure to your workflow, have more time to spend on the important creative side of things and even avoid those all-nighters. Here are eight apps that'll help you maximise your productivity without bogging you down in tedious admin. For more tips, see our guide to the best productivity tools.
The best way to get things done is to have a to-do list, and then do everything on the list. However, while that works just fine for simple tasks, more complex projects require a more sophisticated to-do list, and you'd be hard pushed to find a better one than Wunderlist (opens in new tab). It's free, it runs on just about any platform you care to name, and it enables you to create multiple to-do lists of any size, add reminders and due dates, share them and assign tasks to other people, and plenty more.
This one's a bit of a double-edged sword. Slack (opens in new tab)'s without doubt an excellent way to communicate with a team and ensure that everyone's on top of everything, but it can also become a bit of a time sink. It's like having a big chat window open all day, and unless you're extraordinarily disciplined you can lose plenty of hours to enjoyable off-topic and entirely unproductive conversation. Make sure you disable desktop notifications.
Time, as we all know, is money, and often it's not enough to just get things done. You also need to know how long it's taking you so that you can charge accordingly (and also identify things that take up too much of your time for not enough money).
Toggl (opens in new tab)'s a simple but effective time-tracking app that'll help you do just that; the basic version is free to use and comes in desktop and mobile versions that sync together, and once it's set up you can start breaking down your working day, boosting your productivity and winning back your time.
When you're working on a creative project you never know when you might have a brilliant flash of inspiration, and it's useful to have an app that enables you to organise all your random thoughts and ideas.
Evernote (opens in new tab)'s the go-to solution for that situation; it's a note-taking app that enables you to jot down thoughts and also grab images, links and chunks of online articles, and stash them all in their own workspace. You can sync your stuff across multiple devices and also add reminders that'll send email alerts for important tasks. The basic version's free to use, but if you need more advance collaborative tools there are plenty of paid choices.
If Wunderlist isn't quite up to managing your life, or if you need something that can cover everything from to-do lists through to more heavyweight project management, Trello (opens in new tab) is probably what you need. You set up your projects as Trello boards, drag cards onto them to represent tasks, complete with priorities and deadlines as well as the option to add checklists, files and links if you need, and you're good to go.
There are also Power-Ups, cards that enable you to bring third-party services into your workflow, plus plenty of collaboration tools to keep things ticking along. Trello's free to use, and of course there's a more advanced paid version available.
Over the course of the average day you're likely to be bombarded with a whole stack of interesting and useful things online, plenty of which you'll want to look at again later on but then completely forget about. Avoid losing vital inspiration with Pocket (opens in new tab); it's a neat little app that you can use to stash all that exciting online stuff and then return to it later.
It'll hold articles, videos and other content – not only from the web, but also from services such as Twitter, Flipboard and about 1,500 others – and it can also download content for viewing offline, plus you can share links with other Pocket users or post them via social media. The free version works just fine if you don't mind ads; the Premium version removes them, makes your content a permanent resource and also has useful search tools.
Passwords are a pain. It used to be that you only had to remember a tiny handful of passwords, but now you're likely to use any number of online services and websites that each have their own passwords and also require that dreaded combination of both upper and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters. You can't remember them all, so let LastPass (opens in new tab) sort it out for you.
Available for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, it'll generate strong and secure passwords for you that are available on whatever device you're using so you can log in anywhere, and it'll also remember payment and shipping details for online shopping. The basic version is free to use and will save you loads of time waiting to reset those forgotten passwords; premium options are also available.
For a simple way to set up virtual meetings and conference calls, Join.me (opens in new tab) is a great choice. You create your own personalised meeting link to share with others, and they can paste it into their browser to join in, without any client software to download, or just dial in through a dedicated number.
You can set up audio or video meetings, with the useful option to share screens to present ideas, and meetings can be scheduled and recorded. You can set up a free trial and create your own join.me URL, and if you find it useful the prices start at $10 per month for meetings of up to five people.