Updated Sept 2020
Want to make your small business grow faster? Of course you do.
But as a small business owner, your time is extremely limited. Between responding to customer emails, promoting your products, and managing your online store, there isn’t much time left to figure out efficiencies.
The truth is, everyone could be more productive. That’s where productivity tools come in. Productivity tools aren’t just helpful add-ons but crucial must-haves for the growth and success of a business, no matter what size.
The importance of productivity management tools for small businesses especially applies in today’s “new normal” that’s led to the growing popularity of remote teams and employees working from home. Businesses need to be flexible and have options for these folks to be productive, making sure everyone on your team is spending time on the right tasks and automating things that aren’t worth anyone’s time.
But there are thousands of productivity tools out there—how do you know what’s best for your unique business? As a company that’s helped more than a few small businesses grow, we’ve done the research for you and put together this list of the top 11 online productivity tools, the types of businesses they’re best for, and just how they can help up your productivity game.
Check out the whole list of 11, or skip to the free ones:
- How to choose the best productivity tool for your small business
- The best productivity tools for small businesses
- 2 must-have free productivity tools
Spoiler alert: a powerful team messaging platform might be the key you need to more productive work. Grab the free checklist to help you choose the right one for your team or business.
Not every business is the same, so not every productivity tool out there is going to work for every business. Here are a few key things that separate productivity tools that work for small businesses versus larger ones.
Small businesses have smaller budgets, and rightfully so, as they also have significantly fewer users than larger businesses. So, the right productivity tools should be low cost or even free.
Ease of use
The best small business productivity tools should be intuitive and easy to use. Unlike larger businesses, smaller organizations don’t have the time or resources to provide extensive training to employees on how to use complex software. So when browsing potential tools, look for clean, straightforward interfaces.
Ease of implementation
Similar to the previous point, smaller businesses also don’t have the resources to hire full-on tech teams to implement more complicated systems that larger businesses may use. Look for out-of-the-box solutions that your team can start using right away.
The tools below check all three of these boxes.
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Here are the top 11 productivity tools for overall productivity, personal productivity, productive meetings and emails, and a couple more freebies that’ll help take your company’s productivity to another level.
Best productivity tools overall
Best all-in-one team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone tool for teams who need to streamline their communications.
RingCentral is a cloud-based all-in-one communication platform that gives you messaging, video conferencing, and a phone system—in one app:
It lets you connect securely with your team, prospects, and customers over the internet using your smartphone, tablet, or computer with enterprise-level voice quality.
Not only does this eliminate the need for a whole bunch of expensive office equipment, but it gives your customers the impression that you’re in a big office while in fact, you have the freedom to work from anywhere.
At RingCentral, we get that sometimes less is more when it comes to apps. Studies show that 69% of employees switch back and forth between up to 10 apps in a single hour, with some switching between up to 15 apps. If this sounds familiar, then you know all that context switching can overwhelm employees and kill productivity as a result.
RingCentral’s app was designed to unify your team’s messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone into a single platform, so employees don’t need to constantly toggle between different communications apps and instead focus their energy on the tasks that will ultimately grow your business (like closing deals).
Oh, and not only do you have all your communication channels in one place, you can also create and assign tasks in the app. Set a due date, attach any files for context, even color-code the task if you need to:
- Integrate with Salesforce to make and receive phone calls, log calls, schedule video meetings, and take notes directly from your Salesforce account.
- Integrate with Google Chrome to schedule a RingCentral meeting within the RingCentral for Google Chrome extension and invite with Google Calendar.
- Integrate with Slack to post RingCentral meeting details right into a chat.
🤯 On top of all this, RingCentral could save you up to $400 an hour in IT costs.
Explore the RingCentral Advantage for small businesses:
💰 You can also use this calculator to see roughly how much your business could save by using RingCentral to support your team’s communication with each other—and clients.
2. Google Drive
Best collaborative file sharing and storage tool for teams that find themselves misaligned or lacking a source of truth.
Google Drive is the best free file sharing, document collaboration, and file storage tool out there. You get 15 GB of storage on the free plan, which is pretty awesome (beats Dropbox, another popular option that only gives you 2 GB on its free plan).
If you’re going to use Google Drive, you may as well take full advantage of the suite of Google Workspace productivity tools that come with it, including Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Switch out your old-school Microsoft Office programs for these and enjoy real-time collaboration like never before, like commenting and team chat right on any document. All changes are recorded in the document history, including who made them and when, providing your team with a single source of truth rather than siloed documents on individual team member’s devices.
No more having to email documents back and forth and call it “collaboration.” No more confusion about which document is the most up to date. And a whole lot more productivity.
Google Drive also has a handy Backup and Sync feature that can automatically back up any files you save on your computer to Google Drive and let you access them without having to open the web app. Just another way Google Drive lets you find everything in one place.
- Integrate with RingCentral to reduce the need to switch between multiple apps while working in the RingCentral app.
- Integrate with Evernote to consolidate different types of content from Google Drive into a single, living note.
- Integrate with Trello to add a file in Google Drive to a new card in Trello.
Best project management tool for teams with a lot of items in their backlog or a lot of pieces moving at one time to track where each task is at a glance.
Perfect for visual organizers, a Trello board is made up of multiple swimlanes to represent the different steps in your workflow (e.g., “To do,” “In progress,” and “Done”). You can simply drag and drop tasks or “cards” to the appropriate swim lane as they move from one stage to the next, giving you a birds-eye view of where all your tasks are at.
Cards can be assigned to people and be given due dates. They can be filled in with more details and even contain subtasks to break large tasks down into smaller ones.
Trello can help your team be more productive by serving as a centralized place to drop tasks into. Because everyone’s tasks are in one place, it provides great visibility to your team so they all know what everyone else is working on and stay on the same page.
Your small business has big goals, and while those goals are easy to remember, the minuscule steps that go into making them a reality aren’t so much. Trello can help with that.
- Integrate with RingCentral to get your Trello notifications and tag coworkers directly from within the RingCentral app.
- Integrate with Google Drive to drag and drop files and folders to Trello cards.
- Integrate with Slack to create Trello cards right from Slack messages.
Personal productivity tools
4. Google Calendar
Best time-planning and scheduling tool for teams that struggle with finding time or that are trying to figure out where all their time goes.
Google Calendar is a beautiful, minimally designed calendar app that works on almost any device (it’s actually the default calendar on Android phones, but works great on iPhone as well). It integrates with a whole host of other apps, making it the perfect time planning app for small businesses.
It only takes a matter of seconds to create new events no matter what device you’re on, and you can invite others to these events as well with an option to RSVP so you can see who’ll make it. Your calendar will automatically sync across all your devices.
If you also happen to use Gmail (more on this app later), Google Calendar will even automatically create events based on the emails you receive, like travel itineraries or appointments. More time saved, less work for you.
- Integrate with Gmail to send event invites to other Gmail users right from your calendar.
- Integrate with Slack to schedule meetings and project discussions for better collaboration.
- Integrate with Salesforce to add sales proposals and leads to Google Calendar to plan and track all your sales meetings.
Best note-taking tool for employees who constantly need to jot things down.
Evernote is a centralized place to store all your notes, documents, images, and brain dump into. It’s accessible on all your devices, so you can see your notes and make new ones from anywhere. The Evernote Google extension even lets you clip information from web pages right to your Evernote notebook.
You can take notes either by typing them or through voice-to-audio. Evernote will automatically save and sync your notes to your account. This increases productivity by eliminating the need to cover your monitor with sticky notes—you can simply use the search function in Evernote and find exactly what you’re looking for within seconds.
Because you can access Evernote from anywhere, you can jot things down as they come to your head so you won’t forget them by the time you get back into the office. This is especially helpful if you’re constantly jumping between devices.
- Integrate with RingCentral and simply attach your Evernote notes in your RingCentral conversations for quick reference.
- Integrate with Gmail or Outlook to save documents directly from your emails to your centralized Evernote notebook.
- Integrate with Google Drive to drop your Google Drive files right into Evernote to add context to your documents.
Meetings productivity tools
Best free team messaging tool for small teams that need to be able to reach each other quickly and easily.
Slack is a popular instant messaging app that’s aimed at reducing the number of internal emails your team sends back and forth, which is its productivity factor right there. It supports voice, video calling, and screen sharing and is free for teams of up to 10 people.
Within the Slack app, you can create one or multiple channels, each of which can either be set to public or private to a few select team members. This helps keep conversations on one topic in a single chat.
But the thing that really sets Slack apart from other messaging apps is its library of apps. Whatever functionality you can think of, there’s probably an app for it. From automatic meeting minutes and automatically saving attachments to Google Drive or Dropbox, to adding tasks to your to-do list manager. While some of these apps are paid, a large chunk of them are free making Slack a perfect, cost-effective option for small businesses.
- Integrate with RingCentral to start a RingCentral video meeting from Slack.
- Integrate with Trello to attach Slack conversations to Trello cards for context.
- Integrate with Gmail to quick-reply to your emails from Slack.
Email productivity tools
Probably the best email inbox tool for any business that uses email!
Email is infamous for killing time and productivity but Gmail actually doubles as a productivity tool, setting it apart from other email apps. It’s also free, and there’s a good chance you and your team are already using it, so there’s no learning curve either.
Gmail has a super clean interface that’s easy to use and not distracting. It also has smart features like the ability to create canned responses, meaning you don’t need to keep typing out the same message over and over again.
What makes Gmail unique is it automatically sorts your emails into folders thus reducing noise and clutter, but you can also create labels to sort your emails even further. For example, you can create a label that automatically forwards any email with the word “invoice” in the subject line to your accountant.
- Integrate with RingCentral to make a call or send an SMS message directly from an email.
- Integrate with Slack to send a Slack message through a new email in Gmail.
- Integrate with Salesforce to get an email in Gmail when an opportunity is updated in Salesforce.
Best email organization tool for teams that have a whole lot of email and not enough time to sort through them or those that want to prioritize their emails automatically.
Sanebox is the personal assistant everyone wishes they had to clean up their email inbox for them. It uses smart filtering to automatically sort your emails into different folders based on importance, so you can effectively focus your time on the high-importance emails first.
It does this by analyzing your email history to figure out which emails you care about and which ones you don’t so much. It’ll then move the not-so-important emails to a @SaneLater folder which hides all your meh emails out of sight until you have time to look at them. (Or until you ruthlessly hit “Send to Trash.” Y’know, whichever.)
It also saves any email attachments in the cloud for you and gives you the ability to snooze emails until you’re ready to look at them, to help you avoid distractions.
Visme is an all-in-one content creation, collaboration, and design platform for businesses, brands and solopreneurs alike.
With its easy to use and intuitive features, beginners and non-designers have a low learning curve to quickly create marketing campaigns, presentations, infographics, social media posts and more.
You can choose from over thousands of professionally designed and customizable templates, interactive design tools, and easy-to-use branding features to save you time and level up your projects.
Remote teams or creators can work simultaneously in projects without clashing. Cut down on time-consuming miscommunications by specifically placing comments throughout the project so creators and collaborators can get edits done quickly and focus on their work.
Minimize tabs and work entirely in Visme by integrating your favorite apps to create an all-in-one workspace that drives productivity. Plus, connect live data from Google Sheets, Google Analytics and other apps, all while visualizing your data in style with Visme’s interactive charts, data widgets and more.
Whether you’re flying solo or you’re working with a team, Visme provides a wide range of free and paid plans that best suit your needs and scales with you and your business.
Best password management tool for teams that use a lot of apps and use different passwords for each of them to log in securely and automatically.
Though many of us are guilty of it, no one should be using the same password for everything—especially not business owners. Why make things so easy for hackers? Don’t be so generous with your company’s data.
Thing is, coming up with good passwords can be tough, and remembering all of them is even tougher. With LastPass, you can generate lengthy, secure passwords that no one, not even you, would be able to remember. Which is why it also saves you passwords for you and lets you log in automatically to every site you need them on. Plus, LastPass can be used across all your different devices, letting you log into the programs you need from anywhere. The only password you need to remember is your LastPass one!
LastPass comes with a free or paid plan. The free one lets you save login credentials for up to 20 accounts, which is generally more than enough for small business users.
The best spelling and grammar checking tool for anyone who writes anything, including emails, documents, presentations, and so on.
Grammarly checks your spelling and grammar for you as you type, so you always sound uber professional in all your written communications. Think of it as a proofreader that wants to make sure you sound as eloquent as possible.
For example, it’ll catch if you forgot to capitalize a name, miss a punctuation mark, or if your sentence could be clearer. It also evaluates the overall tone of your writing with an emoji. A dress shirt emoji means your writing sounds formal. A hug emoji means you sound friendly. And a peace sign emoji means you sound optimistic. Fun!
One thing that sets Grammarly apart from a typical spell-check tool is it gives you a brief explanation of why something is incorrect, so you know what to avoid doing in the future. This not only makes Grammarly a great tool to double-check your writing, but it’s also awesome for developing your writing skills, meaning you’ll get more and more efficient at writing those emails and letterheads as time goes on. And therefore, be more productive.
Start being more productive with these tools today
Having the right tools in your productivity arsenal will help your team stay focused on the tasks that’ll make your small business grow. All the tools we went over in this post are either free, have a free option, or cost very little to use, making them sound investments.
The return on investment? More things done.
Originally published Jul 10, 2020, updated Jan 30, 2023