Productivity Tools to Help Your Work Smarter

hard work Associations Now May/June 2016 Issue By: Katie Bascuas

Battling a bloated inbox? Need to send a quick message to a coworker? There's probably a productivity tool that can help. Here's a look at the latest peer-recommended apps and software that are helping association professionals perform at maximum efficiency.

One of the most common frustrations among busy association professionals is a lack of time. With so much to do and only so many hours in the day, it can be a challenge to balance competing priorities and projects. But, thankfully, there is a plethora of productivity tools, software, and applications to make it easier.

Just ask Beth Ziesenis, tech tool advocate and founder of Your Nerdy Best Friend. "In the area of productivity, association executives can find tools to help with almost every type of association task," she says. "They can manage projects and bring teams together. They can tame their email inboxes with email triage tools, such as the Outlook app. They can automate small tasks with IFTTT and Zapier. The possibilities are really endless these days."

With so many options, where do you start? Ziesenis recommends identifying your productivity blockers—getting lost in email or falling down a social media hole, for example.

"Once you figure out what type of tool you need, ask your IT department—or your teenager—what they would recommend," Ziesenis says. "It could be that other people in the office already have a great system that you could piggyback on and make your team even more connected."

Another great source for recommendations: other association executives. Here, they share the tools, apps, and software they use to manage projects, streamline procedures, communicate better, and stay calm in the process.

Project Management

Asana

Asana is my go-to tool for staying organized. It's a free project-management system that organizes to-do lists. I use it both personally and professionally to track deadlines, check off completed items, see upcoming tasks, and communicate with my team about the status of projects.

I'm a big fan of the mobile app version, which is especially great for when I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea that I want to capture and follow up on in the morning. It's great having all your to-dos in one place instead of floating around in multiple lists and spreadsheets, and it helps make me and my team much more productive.

—Lindsey Knight, CAE, executive director, Raybourn Group International, Indianapolis. Email: [email protected]

Jira

We've got about 65 employees in our association and use Jira project management tools to keep our projects moving forward quickly. With internal IT and marketing teams, it's important to be able to have one platform that's used across the building, and the dashboards and calendars have helped us anticipate capacity challenges before they hit us as well as prioritize organization-wide projects.

Jira has also been helpful in terms of staying clear on who's responsible for particular projects as well as the current project status. As with any tool, there's a learning curve. But if you can get both marketing and IT staff working off the same platform, I'd say that's an achievement in itself.

—J. Scott Douglas, senior director, membership and business development, National Strength and Conditioning Association, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Email: [email protected]

Organization and Work-Life Balance

Instapaper

If you are like me, you come across many interesting articles that friends and colleagues share and tweet during the course of a week. But some of those articles often take a backseat to more urgent work.

I rely on Instapaper to help save those "long reads" for an evening commute or an uninterrupted lunch break. Instapaper is all about optimizing the digital reading experience. When you save an article to Instapaper, it extracts the article text and leaves the clutter behind. What you are left with is a focused experience that makes reading online enjoyable.

Instapaper also offers a useful Chrome extension, which allows you to instantly bookmark articles to read later, and it features social media integration that allows me to save articles directly from my Twitter feed.

One of my favorite "premium" features is the ability to send a compilation of up to 50 articles to my Kindle. You can even schedule it to send a daily or weekly digest. That feature alone provides a big productivity boost.

—Tom Jelen, director of digital communications, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Rockville, Maryland. Email: [email protected]

Cam Scanner

If you're copier-challenged like me or just don't have access to a scanner, CamScanner is a lifesaver. I use it to scan and email signature pages and other documents, as well as to capture and save notes and receipts. You can also pay for the premium version, which allows you to send faxes; sync files with Box, Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, and OneDrive; make document collages; and more.

—Maggie McGary, marketing and communications manager, Society of Fire Protection Engineers, Bethesda, Maryland. Email: [email protected]

Calm

My favorite productivity app right now is called Calm. The mindfulness meditation app helps me to step away for a moment and slow down my mind so that I'm more focused and less stressed.

I started using the app as an experiment to help deal with sleep issues that were preventing me from getting a restful night's sleep and causing brain fog at work. According to the journal SLEEP, a joint publication of the Sleep Research Society and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the U.S. workforce suffers an estimated $63 billion in lost work performance each year due to insomnia.

My office has a beautiful view of the Potomac River, but the windows don't open so I can't hear the outdoors. With the Calm app running in the background I can hear the sounds of the water, wind, and birds, which align my senses.

I'll even open Calm in a browser on my desktop and select the Mountain View scene. As I toggle back and forth between my browser and Office applications, I'm reminded of the beauty of nature, and I pause for a deep breath.

Critics are quick to point to our smartphones as the culprit of digital distraction and our shrinking attention span, so I love flipping the script and using my phone to strengthen my ability to be fully present.

—Erin DiMenna, director of membership, WateReuse, Alexandria, Virginia. Email: [email protected]

vCita

Recently, on ASAE's Collaborate platform, event professionals were discussing tools to help schedule conference attendee appointments with staff or exhibitors. I mentioned vCita. It's an online scheduling platform that takes all the back-and-forth hassle out of scheduling one-on-one appointments with those who normally wouldn't have access to my calendar.

VCita syncs with my work calendar, eliminating double bookings. The service speeds scheduling because people who want a meeting can see the available blocks in my calendar and schedule a time that best suits them. It also sends out reminder emails reducing no-shows and keeps calendars private because only available times are displayed.

I use vCita primarily for scheduling qualitative member interviews. It can also be used for calls with vendors, content providers, or members, or for business development calls or any one-on-one call with someone outside your office.

—Amanda Kaiser, qualitative member researcher and blogger, Kaiser Insights LLC, Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. Email: [email protected]

Whats App

As an association management company, we plan a lot of meetings each year, and sometimes the challenges we encounter are largely outside our control. At a recent conference on an island, for example, we discovered there was virtually no cellphone service in the entire hotel. To push through this setback, our team used WhatsApp.

The free app enables users to call and text using WiFi instead of cellular service. This is a huge advantage in event spaces that have unpredictable and unreliable cellphone coverage, and also in international locations, which can lead to massive roaming charges for users without appropriate international plans.

Our team was able to quickly and easily download the app and communicate seamlessly with each other from all areas of the beautiful, sprawling location in order to keep things running smoothly and efficiently.

—Whitney Barton, digital marketing specialist, Bostrom, Chicago. Email: [email protected]

Communication and Scheduling

Whoozin

I wouldn't go back to managing volunteers the way I did before I found Whoozin.

In the association management world, managing volunteers or committee members can be like herding cats and squirrels. This is especially true if you're a professional in a small-staff association where you are many things to many people and committees. Whoozin takes care of your meeting invitations, reminders, communications, document sharing, and meeting polls.

Similar to programs like Doodle, Whoozin polls meeting attendees on their availability, which allows me to then select an appropriate meeting time. I can also use the tool to manage multiple groups. I currently use it to manage four of my association's committees to capture their RSVPs. I even receive notifications from my committee members, like "I'll be late" or "Something came up." Furthermore, I can set RSVP and event-attendance reminders to trigger automatically. I also have the option to message specific attendees individually or based on their RSVP status.

From your volunteers' perspective, invitees can download auto-generated calendar reminders as well as any custom meeting document attachments—usually a meeting agenda.

—Jacob Wilder, director of communications and technology, Building Owners and Managers Association of Georgia, Atlanta. Email: [email protected]

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Work Smarter, Not Harder."]

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is an associate editor at Associations Now in Washington, DC.