The Perfect Productivity Stack (Part 1)

19 September 2020

In my days at agencies and corporate marketing departments, I’ve spent a good deal of time testing various apps and tools with the goal of finding the “perfect” solution. After almost two decades in this endeavor I’ve learned something really important. There isn’t one.

That’s not to say there aren’t some AH-MAZING tools out there these days. There certainly are. We’ve come a long way from the early 2000’s where every team I ever worked on had settled on using spreadsheets for project management. Back then, they were simply the most accessible, most efficient, most affordable, and most customizable option. At least that was the case for small to medium size teams without a huge budget.

Today there are tons of affordable tools that (almost) do it all. But when you get down to it, they’re all missing something. Every. Single. One.

So what do we do about it? We build the best productivity stack we can that meets the specific needs of the business. We search for tools, ask for recommendations, read blogs like this one, and sign up for a million trials (and subsequently receive a bajillion emails), until we finally settle on a system that works pretty darn well (if we do say so ourselves).

Great! Now we can unsubscribe to all those email lists for tools we decided not to use and get back to productivity! (Kidding. It’s much more fun to continue getting email updates daily so you can constantly second-guess your choice and get sucked into trying it again when they roll out an awesome new feature. #amirite?)

Seriously though, your productivity stack is uniquely yours. Not to say it might not work for others as well, but you have to choose what works best for you, your business, your team, and your clients. And while you absolutely want to have the ability to modify your stack to fit an evolving business, you don't want to get so caught up in testing the latest trendy tools that you stifle your productivity. (Take it from a recovering AppSumo addict.)

So what exactly does a productivity stack include? That depends a lot on the specifics of your business, but let's start with the basics.

1) CRM
This is for keeping track of leads, client details, projects and more. The most popular solutions include contracts, proposals, invoicing, payment systems, scheduling systems, and integrations with lots of other popular tools. When you're on your own or have a small team, automation is crucial to productivity, so you'll likely want a solution that includes automated workflows as well. These can take some time to set up, but they're worth it!

My favorites are:

These systems are like the HQ of your business and serve as an all-in-one solution, keeping your business communications and processes streamlined and organized. However, there are some things they don't do very well, especially when you have a team.

Which brings me to the next tool you’ll want to include in your stack ...

2) Project Management Tool
CRMs handle a lot of things very well. Detailed project management is not one of them. When you have multiple projects with multiple steps and timelines, across multiple clients and team members, a CRM system is just not going to cut it. (Unless you're using Plutio, which is equally good as both a PM tool and a CRM tool, but I don't love it.)

At the minimum, you need a PM tool that breaks down your clients/accounts into projects and your projects into tasks and brings your team together to handle those tasks in a timely and organized manner. You need project details, dates, attachments, and more. In addition to the basic features, many also include things like time tracking, gantt views, built in team chats, and lots of other bells and whistles that may reduce the number of tools you need in your stack.

There are SO MANY affordable and comprehensive PM tools out there now that I wish I had access to back when I was working in the corporate marketing world. It's almost impossible to try all of them thoroughly. I suggest narrowing your options based on your budget and few of the features that are most important to you. From there, pick at most five tools to try. Don't get caught up on perfection or popularity, but do keep in mind that you may want a tool with some flexibility to evolve with your business and your team as needs change. Remember, the best PM tool is one you’ll use!

My picks are:

The majority of what you'll need day-to-day will likely be covered by your CRM and PM tool but in addition you may also need some supplemental apps to round out your stack. More on solutions for team communication, time tracking, file storage, and password sharing to come in part two!

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