Small business owners may have more of a need than most to be able to access their chosen suite of productivity tools from more than one computer or platform. As a business or startup owner you may have occasion to bring your work home with you, or require frequent access to your to-do lists, notes and documents on the go.
Choosing primarily online tools for your productivity workflow is a great way to address the issue of source agnostic accessibility. It's also a convenient method to ensure you have a backup of your important day-to-day items and files in case a particular computer or device fails. One other not insignificant factor in selecting cloud-based tools to keep you and your business on track is cost: the online equivalents of once desktop-bound applications are often much cheaper in both raw cost and maintenance cost, as tool upgrades usually happen behind the scenes and don't require an in-house IT staff to keep up and running.
mobile productivity tools as a logical companion to this piece, and consider your phone platform and setup and how well it may integrate with particular tools as you build out your productivity arsenal.
With the tools on this list, you should be able to check in on your current workflow stack regardless of which machine you happen to be in front of, what operating system it uses, and what browser it's running. Plus, if you have a smartphone as your trusty mobile companion, chances are you'll be able to access your tools from there as well. Check out our previous guide to
One of the favorite and often-mentioned entrants in the to-do list category among productivity geeks is Remember the Milk. Featuring a robust reminder system via your choices of SMS, IM, or email, offline task management, integration with Google Calendar, and tight integration with several mobile platforms, Remember the Milk also has a clean and easy to use interface that Gettings Things Done aficionados swoon over. It also integrates with a number of other web services and third parties including Netvibes and iGoogle, Google maps, Twitter, Jott, the Mac and Linux desktop, and more.
Toodledo is a popular newcomer with a full-featured slate of ways to enter, organize, and sort your tasks. Featuring a tiered freemium service model, Toodledo also has great mobile integration and offers a handy comparison chart on how it stacks up against other popular web-based to-do apps.
Far from being the only game in town, however, Remember the Milk has a number of online to-do list peers worth checking out.
TeuxDeux bills itself as a "simple, designy, free, browser-based to-do app" and embraces a minimalist interface accordingly. Task.fm is another interesting option in the minimalist category, with a source agnostic and natural language approach to getting items in and back out to you at just the right time with various reminder options. Ta-da List is a product from 37signals, makers of other popular web project management tools like Basecamp, Backpack, and Campfire -- so if your small business already uses any 37signals tools you might find Ta-da List an excellent companion. Last but not least, the former Gmail Labs project Gmail Tasks is a simple to-do list that integrates right into Gmail, making it a nice and lightweight option for businesses that already use Gmail and/or Google Apps for email.
If your to-do tastes run on the simpler and less cluttered side of the spectrum, there are several options worth looking into.
It's difficult to write about cloud-based note-taking without mentioning Evernote. You can get notes into Evernote in any number of ways, from email to browser bookmarklet to desktop or mobile app, as well as via the web-based interface and even via Twitter. You can also leave voice notes, plus have Evernote use optical character recognition to scan photos of business cards and other documents, converting printed material into searchable text. On the organizational side, you can create multiple notebooks, tag individual entries, and set up saved searches for frequently accessed collections. Evernote's freemium business model offers a generous amount of monthly usage in the free version and a reasonable $5 per month/$45 per year premium version with a higher usage limit and other pro features.
Google Notebook and Zoho Notebook. Both feature a typical web-based WYSIWYG note-taking environment as well as sharing and collaboration options for your notes and documents that need to be socialized. If you already routinely use either Google Docs or Zoho Office in your business to manage documents, it might make sense to adopt their notebook counterparts for your outboard brain workflow needs.
Two other good choices for cloud-based notebooks that integrate well with their full-featured office suite counterparts are
Springnote and Luminotes. They feature easy methods of linking pages and concepts together, and if you're already familiar with the wiki concept and looking for a lightweight notebook that uses similar concepts you may want to check out these two. Springnote also promotes collaboration via notebook sharing as well.
A couple of online note-taking options based on wiki technology include
Information and News Gathering
When it comes to staying on top of developments in your industry and trends that might affect your business, it can seem daunting to make sure what's most important crosses your desk and your eyeballs. Several related categories of online tools can help sift through the noise and help you pull out the signal, plus safely store information and concepts you may need to retrieve later.
to choose a news reader for keeping tabs on your industry, and by far the most popular web-based offering in that category is Google Reader. And if you prefer a cleaner, more magazine-like view of your Reader feeds over Google's native interface, Firefox users should definitely give Feedly a try. But simply employing an RSS reader doesn't always solve the problem of having too much incoming information to stay on top of, which doesn't always come in at the most convenient time for you to absorb it.
In an earlier article we covered how
Instapaper and Read It Later allow you to create a stack of items set aside for later reading, with a simple and uncluttered interface allowing you to check off or archive items after you've gotten around to reading them. Both integrate with various other tools in your online arsenal, with browser bookmarklet entry and iPhone integration. Instapaper also integrates with Feedly so you can send items directly to it from your feed reading experience, while Read It Later offers a Firefox extension that brings your "to read" stack closely into your browser. Instapaper also allows you to easily generate a printable version of your on deck items, or even download them in Kindle or ePub formats for reading on the go.
A couple of tools can help with the latter problem of specifically storing an article and helping you remember to read it later, perhaps when other duties and tasks have quieted down and you find yourself with some spare moments to catch up on the things you knew you should make time to read at some point. Both
delicious.com, is still flourishing (and now owned by Yahoo). Using a browser bookmarklet you can send articles and web pages you want to refer back to later to your delicious account, plus a short personal note and topic tags. The net effect of collecting many users' individual bookmarks also creates a valuable discovery engine that can turn you on to even more relevant material in your business's industry or niche. Two other options worth checking out include Diigo, a relative newcomer that offers integration with your delicious collection and allows you to highlight and annotate portions of pages, and Clipmarks, which focuses on saving and sharing just the parts of web pages you find most useful.
For longer-term storage of important articles, social bookmarking tools come in handy for preventing your bookmarks from being "trapped" in a single browser on a single machine. One of the original pioneering web services,
The above are just a few of the productivity categories in which online tools can help your current workflow stack stay accessible from almost anywhere. Other web-based tools can help with mobile office needs from calendaring to document collaboration, file-sharing to collaborative presentations, from start pages to contact management and more. Other tools, like Jott Assistant, are out there to help you tie those tools together and access them via other applications you use regularly.
It's helpful to keep a flexible and open attitude towards your workflow and the tools you use, and occasionally take stock of what's working, what's not working as well as it should, and areas where your productivity seems to suffer. If you're willing to spend even a modest amount of time being periodically adventurous with new tools, you could open workflow channels you weren't even aware were blocked, and even infuse your day-to-day and your business with new ideas and new energy.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, melhi