I am no longer maintaining this post. My tools list has moved here.
Working for myself & remotely for the past few years has had me experimenting with a slew of apps & productivity hacks. More significantly, I’ve transitioned from the approach of “FREE IS BEST” to “paying for a tool can be worth it.” My needs are not going to exactly match yours, but this is what I’ve found to be most helpful for my work.
All apps listed are actively used by me. Those with * are referral links.
Sprout Social*: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram management & analytics. I use it to schedule tweets, compile beautiful analytic reports for any time frame, monitor brand keywords, read through my private Twitter lists & to instantly respond to any inquiries for my clients. This is a paid program, but SO worth it, especially if you’re finding yourself scattered across multiple networks. I use both the web app and the mobile app. This is best if you have an active Twitter presence. As of November 2016, I’m now a contributing writer for their blog.
Later: When you’re busy or if you want to plan a number of posts out, this free desktop & mobile app allows you to schedule Instagram posts. Other perks of Later is the ability to load multiple accounts, “search & repost” function, bulk upload of images, and their free offer of link in bio.
A Color Story: My newest editing obsession. It’ll take photos and make them pop colorfully on your feed. It’s free & is packed with a lot of features that match with Adobe Lightroom, without the Adobe price tag.
VSCO: My second option for editing any photo I take with my phone. So many presets & adjustments that you can make!
Snapseed: My third option for editing. I use this after I’ve edited in VSCO and mainly only for selective editing: choosing a spot on a photo & brightening it.
Facebook Pages, Twitter, Facebook: I keep native apps on here as a backup to all the 3rd party apps I use – because *usually*, the companies try very hard not to break these apps upon updates. Always have a backup to 3rd party apps!
Canva: Canva is a lifesaver if you’re ever in need of a quick design to accompany your social post. The paid brand account keeps tabs on your colors & fonts, but the free account is just as good. If you’re feeling not-so-confident in your design skills, take some of their e-courses!
ToDoist*: I paid for this app, but the free version is also good. For different clients and projects, I create to-do lists that help me keep on track. The recurring to-do feature is very helpful, even for personal items like watering my plants every Monday. *I receive two free months of Premium if you use the link to upgrade to Premium.
1Password: I paid a lot for this… but it’s also saved me a lot of headache on trying to remember all of my passwords. I’ve generated 33-character passwords, saved them & never have to remember them. I’ve also saved my passport & other identifying items into it as a backup.
Dropbox*: I save all my receipt copies into Dropbox, categorized by year & then
Feedly: I have my RSS feeds divided into 27 categories, so I can easily scan headlines throughout the day and save them to Pocket to read later. This is basically where I read the internet. I very rarely visit individual websites. And if yours doesn’t have an RSS feed? Then I almost never read it. Follow my feeds.
Pocket: For the last six years, I’ve received an email from Pocket: “You’re in the top 5% of users!” Wow. So I read a lot of articles, apparently! I integrate Pocket into my browser, on Tweetbot & on Feedly. Everywhere I’m able to read an article, or be linked to one, I will save it to Pocket.
Trello: I used to work with developers and report bugs as part of my job. Since I manage my own website and tweak the custom settings often, I find myself reporting bugs… to myself. How do I keep it all straight? I use Trello. Here’s an example of how to use it for web development. Here’s a guide on how to create an editorial process for your blog. Since I wrote this, I’ve transitioned most of my Trello boards to Airtable (below) but I would still recommend Trello if you need something simple!
Dubsado*: This is my CMS system. I use it for onboarding, forms, new client inquiries, contracts, and client portals. I also love that their free trial isn’t limited by time. You can have up to three clients for free (I tested one
Dreamhost*: For my hosting and domain registrations, I use Dreamhost. They’ve been quick to respond to any issues and they have a relatively easy-to-use control panel. *You receive $50 if you sign up for the Unlimited shared hosting & I receive a $50 credit.
Revue: I’ve used this newsletter software for about four years now. If you want all of the analytics, this isn’t the one for you. If you want something that’s easy to put together and is nice to look at, then I recommend Revue.
Ulysses: I purchased Ulysses for the Mac because my previous writing program wasn’t working anymore. This uses markdown but has some great tagging and organizing features. The exports to various formats and link to WordPress & Medium have been very helpful for publishing.
Bear: I use Bear on the Mac and iOS to take notes. In an effort to streamline all the places I take notes, I’ve decided to store them all in one place. I have notes that are tagged with #clientcall and by whichever client. It’s pretty, it’s seamless, and it’s easy to search. I pay for the Pro plan.
Grammarly: The web extension is immensely helpful for correcting your writing on the go. I’ve paid for the pro plan so I can have even more corrections.
Hemingway App: To clean up any confusing sentences, Hemingway tells you which reading level your writing is at and where you might have run-on sentences.
Write or Die: When you really need to write and nuance is an afterthought. In the worst mode, the words will start deleting themselves if you stop typing.
Hotel Tonight: Last-minute reservations in large cities for up to 7 days in advance. This has proved helpful for those last-minute trips I make! Code “JCHEN567” will get you $25 off your first booking.
Key Ring: Because I’m never going to carry around 45 different store loyalty cards. Scan them in. Forget about them.
AnyList: I use this to track my shopping list! It can remember past items, too, which comes in handy when I’ve already entered a specific brand.
Noonlight: Designed for college campuses, but has off-campus usefulness, too. Whenever you’re walking to a place where you might feel unsafe, hold the center button down. Release and enter your keycode when you arrive. If you let go at any point and do not enter the code, emergency services will be called.
You Need a Budget*: I used this for my personal finances last year and it has worked wonders on my own budgeting and financial projections. It took more than the free trial period to get a handle on their method but it worked well enough that I set up a budget for my business finances, too! *Using the link means we both receive a free month when you subscribe.
Daylio: A mood-tracking app. The free version is very robust. I paid because I also wanted to see my mood analytics. It has excellent customization so you can add different moods and activities that fit your own life. But if you get overwhelmed, they also have some easy templates to help with that. The colors are also really nice, as they help me visualize my moods as they change.
Day One: A journaling app. It could be argued that you could use either Daylio or Day One for the same things but I wanted one to be mood focused and the other more bullet journal style. You can add multimedia along with text in the app. I personally do a “5-min PM” where I write three things that happened that day and one thing I’m proud of. It’s low commitment and helps me remember what happened each day.
Parcel: If you have issues with managing your deliveries, then this app at $3/year is a no-brainer. Put them all in one view, name each shipment however you want, and then get notifications for each one (if you want).
Metromile*: I’ve used this car insurance for 8 years now in two different cities. As someone who does not drive frequently or on a daily basis, the per-mile insurance (with base pricing) is very nice. Plus, the meter you insert also tells you of any important engine codes that pop up and where you’ve parked. *I receive a $25 Amazon gift card if you use my referral link.
Olive and June*: I purchased the mani and pedi complete systems. A lot of thought went into designing these two systems and doing a home mani-pedi is now a nice self-care routine for me. *You get $10 off your first purchase of $50+ and I get a free nail polish.
I’m sure I missed something on here… so I will continue to update this post as I find more useful tools.
Last updated on October 14, 2021.
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