20 Outstanding Tools to Maximize Your Time

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I’m off stuffing my face with copious amounts of poultry and mashed potatoes but I planned ahead so that you don’t have to miss out on your daily dose of Design Shack!

If you’re like me, the holidays drastically cut in to your work time. You don’t get the luxury of having less to do, only less time to do it! If this sounds like you, check out the 20 amazing tools below to help maximize your time. Dedicating yourself to using just a few of these will boost your productivity levels to an all-time high.

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This article is part one of a four-part series on how to improve your small business or freelance operation. We’ll cover everything from time-saving tools to earning extra money and even deciding on the best career path. Brought to you in partnership with Heart Internet Reseller Hosting.


We all know GTD apps are a dime a dozen. They’re quite the fad right now and new apps continue to pop up on a daily basis. Some of us are so addicted to GTD apps that we can’t actually get anything done because we’re too busy playing with all the different solutions.

Consequently, I chose the selections in this category carefully. You already know about Remember the Milk and Backpack so I wanted to present a fresher more unique collection with a few choices you may have not tried yet.

Each of the apps below represent an excellent way to manage your daily tasks. Some of them are included because of their unique perspective while others represent the best of the traditional selection with the highest value (often free). Be sure to stop by each of the sites below so you can decide which is best for you!


Producteev is hands down one of the best free productivity solutions on the market. You get all the power of desktop apps like Things with the convenience of anywhere accessibility and even a free iPhone app that stays synced with the web service.


If you haven’t tried Producteev yet, start here and the options below may not be necessary. Reoccurring tasks, calendar and list views, tags, contexts; it’s all here along with a bunch of other great features that you won’t believe they don’t charge you to use.


TeuxDeux is one of those rare apps that changes the way you think about an entire category, not through complexity and endless features, but through simplicity. TeuxDeux presents you with your task list a week at a time. The completely unique five day view has become my favorite way to look at my week.


If you’re looking for a dead simple solution that’s free and has the potential to really change the way you work, check out TeuxDeux. There’s also a great TeuxDeux iPhone app for only $2.99.

Action Method

Action Method is another solution that brings a lot of unique innovation to the table. Action Method is built on the philosophy that any project, no matter how big or small, can be broken up into five basic elements: Action Steps, References, Backburners, Discussions and Events. Combine this with a box-filled interface that’s unlike anything else in the GTD world and you’ve got a really great way to manage projects and get your team on the same page.


Action Method and its accompanying iPhone app are available in a limited (but generous) free plan and an affordable professional plan.


Like Producteev, HiTask is an app that blows away much of the competition with what you get in the free plan. Task scheduling, time tracking, report generating, and more. If you’ve got the budget, the team plans allow for tons of collaboration and communication across projects and even supports custom branding.



Doit.im excels at being anywhere and everywhere you want it to be. They have free versions for the web, Windows, Windows Mobile, Android, iPhone and even iPad (decent and free iPad GTD apps aren’t easy to find).


The interface is simple and elegant. It provides all the features you need without distractions or clever themes. If you’re looking for something professional and sleek, try this one today.


Nirvana not only has a great task management web client with all the standard features, they also have lots of built-in support for another tool that you can’t live without: email. You can email tasks to Nirvana, receive email reminders and even export your entire library of projects and tasks to email.


Web Design & Development


Launchlist is a super simple concept with an incredibly practical implementation. You can waste hours and hours combing your new site to try to ensure that it’s ready to go live and still miss something as massively important as validating your code.

With Launchlist, you can save time and stress by walking through their simple preflight list of things to check before you hit that publish button. If you don’t think you need it, go ahead and launch that site and wait for all the errors your users point out on day one!


There’s also a pro version in the works with lots of customization options so be sure to keep an eye the site for news about the new version.

gridr buildrrr

Grids systems are an increasingly popular way to perform rapid CSS layout. Many web designers swear by them while others shun their supposedly non-sematic ways.

If you’re in the camp that loves grids but wishes that the existing systems offered more flexibility, try gridr buildrrr. Using it you can build your own grid system in seconds with custom values for the number of columns, column width, margins and gutter.


This tool can save you tons of time, both in the actual development stage and purely in the planning stage when you’re still trying to customize a grid system to your own purposes.

Grid System Generator

The previous tool was nice and simple and perfect for anyone not too picky about which grid system they want to use. However, if you’re already keen on a specific system, it might render the site useless. That’s where this tool comes in.

Using the Grid System Generator, you can build a custom grid based on 960.gs, Golden Grid, 1KB grid or the Simple Grid. This allows you to use the syntax and styling you’re familiar with while setting your own widths.


Again, this can save you tons of development time. Fiddling with a grid system that you didn’t create can take hours and so can changing your designs to meet the specs of an existing system.

Instant Blueprint

Instant Blueprint is a fantastic little tool that gets you up and running on a web project in no time. It accomplishes this by building a custom starting framework based on your specifications.

For instance, say you want a folder containing an XHTML 1.0 Strict file with jQuery already loaded into the file along with a CSS-centered wrapper and a few custom divs. No problem, just select a few dropdown menu options, click the download button and you’re ready to go.


Think about how much time you spend setting up each project that you undertake, now consider how much more time you’ll save in a year with this free tool. Now go try it out!


Unless you’re a PHP wiz, converting your PSD into a live WordPress theme can be a time consuming, tedious task filled with confusion and frustration. The learning curve for beginners is quite formidable.

What if there were a plugin that allowed you to convert your PSD to a WordPress theme with very little effort and zero coding knowledge? This exactly what Devine does, and it does so free!


Unfortunately, Divine is a PC-only plugin at the moment but the developers promise that a Mac version is on the way.


Every good web designer knows that it’s almost always the case that content should precede design. This is simply the best way to ensure that a design is achieving its purpose of highlighting the content and making it more user friendly and attractive than plain text.

Jumpchart is a way to focus on and plan the content portion of a site without worrying about initial design. It saves you countless time in redesigns when your client suddenly realizes that he doesn’t like the content flow. The end product is an interactive flow of pages that works just like the final website and is therefore the best possible way to analyze edit, and rethink the information. Once your client is satisfied with the bare bones of the site, you can proceed to the actual design stage and focus on aesthetics from then on.


Invoicing and Time Tracking

As creatives, we tend to find invoicing tedious and annoying. We avoid doing anything until the last possible second and then pull out our hair trying to send in everything on time.

Why not find a solution that you actually enjoy using? The options below are high quality, professional time tracking and invoicing solutions perfect for a variety of professions and purposes.


If you’re looking for a powerful all-in-one time tracking and invoicing solution, Harvest is an excellent place to start. The interface is beautiful and user friendly, the features are awesome and the pricing is competitive.



If you’re a visual thinker, simple timers probably don’t appeal to your needs or interests. Ditch the boring timers and check out Klok, an awesome way to visualize your time throughout the week.

As a bonus, Klok connects to a number of other time tracking options like Freshbooks (seen below).


Freckle Time Tracking

Freckle is what happens when really talented developers team up with awesome designers to create a time tracking application. The interface is super attractive and has a unique, light and friendly appeal. There are also a lot of clever visualizations that allow you to instantly analyze the complex data of how you spend your time.



FreshBooks is the quintessential online invoicing application. It’s easy to use, has all the features you could dream of and is a powerful industry leader with over two million users. Sometimes the most obvious choice really is the best one.



Below are a few more random time savers that I personally love and use frequently. They span several different categories but combine to create an unbeatable set of apps to maximize your time.


If you’re constantly reading emails, briefs or even tutorials for work, you’ve probably wished that speed reading actually existed and wasn’t some fairy tale that someone dreamed up to make you feel stupid. Spreeder might just be what you’re looking for.

Spreeder is an interesting app aimed at increasing your reading rate by showing you only a few words at a time and allowing you to set the rate at which they go by. I was skeptical at first but after playing with Spreeder for a few minutes I was hooked. You won’t be demolishing novels in minutes but with a little effort and practice you can significantly increase the rate at which you read your daily horde of information.



Tracking every cent that you spend is a time-consuming nightmare, especially for small businesses and freelancers. Mint.com makes this process literally effortless. All you do is securely connect your bank accounts to Mint’s free service and BAM, the information starts pouring in.

Mint automatically generates spending reports, categorizes income and expenses, shows you ways to save money and cutback on spending, compares your averages with the rest of your city or country, helps you create a budget and tracks your progress, notifies you of important activity on your account, and a whole lot more.

I firmly believe that you simply shouldn’t be living without Mint.com both for your professional and personal expenses. It’s a read-only service that doesn’t even give its own employees your information so there is zero chance of someone hacking in and stealing your money.



If you own a Mac, go download TextExander. You can setup endless little text snippets that, when typed, expand into a longer chunk of text. For instance, when I type “email#”, my email address is automatically inserted wherever my cursor happens to be. I have macros setup for writing, email, web development (this tool will change the way you code forever) and all kinds of other uses.

The best part about TextExpander is that it keeps track of how much time you’ve saved by using the application. I haven’t been using it for that long and have already saved myself hours and hours of typing.


focus booster

The Internet has made staying focused at a desk job quite difficult. Facebook, Twitter and countless other distractions have the potential to eat our productivity more than just about anything else we encounter.

The Pomodoro technique battles this tendency by allowing you to take short but frequent breaks after extended periods of distraction-free productivity. Focus Booster facilitates this process by serving as a simple but attractive timer that helps you stay focused on your work and alerts you when it’s time to take a break.

Dedicate yourself to using this technique for one week and you’ll be astounded at how much you can accomplish.



That’s all for this time folks, I hope you discovered a few new apps to add to your toolbox. If you can’t use the sites above to help maximize your time, you’re either already an extremely efficient worker or a lost cause!

Help us grow this list by leaving a comment below with a link to your own favorite time-saving tools. Let us know what you like about them and how they compare to the options above.