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Best Small Business Productivity Tools for 2024



Picture of a desk with a journal, computer and coffee mug.
Whether a journal or computer, you need to have a system to capture your to-do

As a business owner, it is crucial to write down your thoughts, ideas and plans. If you are relying on your memory, your phone roll on your camera or little slips of paper all over the place, you are missing out on opportunities to grow your business, which may even cause you to lose business.

Some examples of content you need to capture:

  • ideas of ways to improve your business

  • notes on customers

  • standard operating procedures

  • events and appointments

  • Goals and reflections

  • content marketing

Without capturing those ideas and having a system to organize and use those ideas, you lose the benefit of ideas that can help you streamline and grow your business. Furthermore, you can’t scale your business if you don’t have this information accessible to other people.

If you are in the planning stages or are a solopreneur, the analog systems may be sufficient, but anyone working with a team or wanting to scale will need to digitize.

There is a certain magic to writing things down, so even though I believe we need to use digital products to take our business to the next level, there is something magical in putting pen to paper. Read on to learn my recommendations for the tools to capture your ideas and turn them into action. Writing things down has a certain magic.


Key Takeaways

  • All business owners need a system for capturing their thoughts and managing their to-do lists.

  • There are a variety of different solutions depending on your needs and comfort levels.

  • My top recommendation is Notion because it is powerful and allows you to scale, but it is simpler than other solutions so more appropriate for newbies and technophobes.


Old-School and Analog solutions

 

Composition Book

You can start with an old-school composition notebook to write everything down in.

Pro-tips:

  • use only one notebook at a time. Don’t have a different one for each topic or project, or you may write things down in a different notebook and forget where you wrote it.

  • make a table of contents.

  • use colors, visuals, signs, symbols and tables to organize information in your notebook.


Pros

  • Most basic so the easiest to get started with

  • everything is in one place (pro tip - make a table of contents and number your pages)

  • personalize it how you want - can display anything you want, get creative with drawing and colors (look at Pinterest and YouTube for journaling and bullet journals)

Cons

  • it fills up

  • you have to carry it around with you

  • you can’t use it with a team or client

  • you can’t easily edit

  • you can’t capture ideas while you’re driving

  • can spill and ruin pages

RoteRunner



If you want more organization than a composition book, I suggest a planner with a calendar and focus tools. My personal recommendation is RoteRunner. If you want to power that up, you can subscribe to something like Silk and Sonder, which has an app with daily reflections and sends you a new journal on the theme every month. Pro-tips:

  • take time to use goal setting and reflection and get clear on where you want to go with your business, and evaluate the steps you are taking to reach your goals.

  • Use the daily agenda sections to plan out and focus your days.

  • Keep it next to you on your desk so you can quickly remind yourself of your focus for the day.

Pros

  • like a composition book, you have one place to keep all your notes

  • It has more structure to focus your thoughts and find your notes.

  • doubles as a planner, so it helps you organize your time

  • encourages goal-setting and reflection

  • You can leave it on your desk open to your week to make your focus and priority items immediately visible.

Cons

  • it costs more than a composition book ($30 for 6 months)

  • may get overwhelmed by all the tracking

  • need to have it with you

  • may have to rewrite to carry over repeat events on your calendar

  • can’t share it with other people

Starting to get technical - Electronic Journals

 

These work on the same concept as a paper journal, but you can have them on your computer, tablet or phone, so they are with you everywhere. Here are the ones I have tried, with some short pros and cons.


Roterunner

Just like the paper version I reviewed above, but it is digitally available and can be downloaded onto an iPad or computer.

Pros

  • Has the organizational features that I described above.

  • When used with GoodNotes on the iPad, you can have the pleasure of writing into in by hand.

Cons

  • It isn’t a true app, just a pdf, so you must type into a pdf or use an app like “GoodNotes” to use it.

  • It becomes difficult to access since you must open another app.

  • It is not truly electronic, so you can’t search your writing.

Goodnotes

Goodnotes is a beautiful notetaking app. Honestly, I can’t tell you why I love it so much, but it is like having a million composition books in my iPad. I use my Apple pencil and keep my journal in there. Every morning, I sit down and write out my thoughts in it. I also use it to import PDFs that I want to mark up or fill in like worksheets. For me, it is pure pleasure using my Apple pencil to write my notes in Goodnotes.

Pros

  • All the same pros as a composition book.

  • Unlike a composition book, when you make a mistake, you can easily erase!

Cons

  • It isn’t truly connected or interactive. For example, I can’t make a task into a to-do with a reminder that pops up and I can check off.

  • It becomes difficult to access since you must open the iPad app.

  • Like composition books, you can lose the information you wrote down because it isn’t really searchable, and information stays where you enter it.


DayOne

I haven’t used DayOne for business purposes, but I love the journaling features. You can use it on multiple devices, and type in notes, attach photos and geotag everything. If you want to use it for personal journaling, it will provide you prompts as well. I use it for family scrapbooking. My husband types up highlights of the week, and I add the pictures. We can then print memory books of them.

Pros

  • Available across devices (originally Apple only, but I believe it has branched out).

  • You can attach photos and auto-tag weather and location.

  • It’s easy to see and search past entries.

Cons

  • Not helpful for tracking to-dos and project planning.

  • It becomes difficult to access since you have to open the iPad app to use.

Microsoft ToDo

If you are new to using digital tools to manage your tasks, I suggest starting with something simple like Microsoft ToDo. It is free and available even if you don’t use MS Office. It’s a great way to start capturing and organizing your to-do lists. You can start with gift lists, books you want to read, shopping lists, etc.

Pros

  • You start with a clean slate every day.

  • You can categorize, add subtasks, assign to others, make repeating events, include files and links, put dates

  • it’s free

  • it’s easy and intuitive - can be simple or rather complex

  • It can integrate with Microsoft Office and show up on the dashboard

  • satisfying when something disappears after you check it off.

Cons

  • won’t be able to handle complex projects and change the displays like into Kanban boards, tables and calendars

Advance your Game by Jumping on the Digital Bandwagon

 

I don’t want to get too into the weeds here, but I will give a very basic introduction to each of these and then explain why I have settled on Notion and why.

All of these have a free version you can start out with to try and see how it feels for you. Each one has its pros and cons, and sometimes it just boils down to ease of use and preference for you.


All of the following options work on the same basic principle. All of them are basically a super advanced task manager. Basically, imagine you are putting in all your information in a spreadsheet, but you are able to change how you view, sort and filter the information so it pulls out only what you need. For example, you can see it as a traditional table, but also as cards in columns (Kanban), a timeline, a calendar, etc. All offer different levels of automations, incorporate AI, options for using with teams, and have lots of different templates to get you started.


I would group Trello and Asana in one category and ClickUp and Notion in another because ClickUp and Notion both have the added ability almost to replace an Office suite. Both ClickUp and Notion use MarkUp and are designed for document management. I now prefer putting my documents in Notion to using Google because of the tags and level of interactivity. As an added bonus, these documents can become live wikis that you can use as public facing web pages, employee manuals or a multitude of other uses.


Trello

Trello was the go-to task management software for freelancers and solopreneurs for many years. I found it to be more limiting than the others, and I was frustrated that I needed to pay to get the different views (which is something I use a lot.) I haven’t spent too much time on Trello, because it quickly seemed that the other options had a lot more to offer. If you plan to keep your business small and maybe just do freelancing, this might suffice, but if you want to plan for future growth, I would choose one of the other 3 on my list.

Price: Versions from free to $10 per person per month, but need to pay the $10 to get all the different views.

Asana

I really love Asana and it wasn’t until I started using Asana that I started to appreciate task management software. At its core, Asan is more designed for larger teams, and is not meant to be a system for documentation. You can do most of what you need with the free version, but you will need to pay if you want to access it on your devices like you phone or iPad. Once you pay, you may be surprised to find that you can’t buy a license for just one person - the minimum is 2. That’s because at it’s heart, Asana is really more focused on the enterprise solution. Because of that, it is very powerful, but it probably has more features than you will ever need, even though you will need to pay to use it to access on all devices.

If you want to play with the big boys, I suggest you take time to learn the software, and I highly recommend the course “Uplevel with Asana” by Louise Henry. With this affiliate link, you can see a webinar and learn some tips and then you have an offer of $500 off for 24 hours.

Price: For most people the version that will work is the $10.99 per month per person, but you will need to buy for 2 people, and you only get that price if you pay for the whole year in advance.

Pros

  • flying unicorns and rainbows when you check your task as done!

  • easy to see what needs to be done now - pulling information across projects

  • easy to make repeatable items for daily, weekly, monthly and annual tasks

  • incredibly robust and pretty easy to get started with

Cons

  • gets messy when you try to personalize repeated tasks. For example, I tried to use as my content calendar, and when I tried to change the content in my weekly tasks for blogs or social posts it started creating multiple version

  • calendar views for the content creation aren’t as easy or user friendly

  • To have the apps, you will need to pay

  • biggest con is that there is no pricing for individuals. The smallest team is 2

ClickUp

ClickUp is giving Asana a run for its money. Because of the document storage and ability to create wikis, you can do more with ClickUp and it is cheaper.

Price: Most businesses could easily do everything they need for the $7 per person per month version.

Pros

  • really seems to do just about everything Asana does for a fraction of the price

  • incredibly robust with a ton of features including time estimates and tracking

  • home dashboard easily integrates information from all your projects and documents

  • easy to integrate a task within a

  • will keep and organize your document library

  • Completely customizable to see what you want to see at all sorts of different levels.

  • Very easy to use for client work to share comments, assign tasks, etc.

  • It will integrate with your calendar so you see your calendar with your tasks in one screen.

  • Endless subtasks and easy to assign dates and people any where in any task or document.

  • you can email and create videos within ClickUp

Cons

  • pretty steep learning curve - expect to spend dozens of hours learning it

  • items I click done on disappear from my content calendar

  • Very easy to get lost and overwhelmed because of all the features, and you may end up making a bigger mess than you are attempting to solve.

  • The ‘lists’ and ‘documents’ are separate so that the item in the list has a text section, but the document would be an attachment to the item, so it is confusing.

  • not easy to sort your Kanban boards if you are creating courses because they are set in the order you create the tags or labels you (so if you change your module order, it doesn’t adjust)

Notion

Notion is a simpler, more beautiful version of ClickUp. This very blog post started in Notion. I clicked the plus button on the calendar view in Notion, then I start writing like a regular document.


Screenshot of a Notion calendar
Calendar view in Notion

I can attach all kinds of tags like when I want to publish it, what theme it is in, links I want to use, and on and on. Whichever ‘properties’ you add, become items you can use to filter and sort and create different displays. I can also easily add icons and images to make my document prettier simply, but also to make it easier to find in other views.


Notion screen shot showing the properties on a Notion item.
Properties you add to items to organize them.

One project I really enjoyed was organizing my son’s homeschool work in one place. I made a card for each task he needed to do. Then I created columns to sort out by subject. The cards are filtered by what is due this week and not currently done. I had it sub-grouped by day, but it was overwhelming for him to see all the days, so now I filtered it so he sees only what he currently needs to do.


Board view in notion showing my son's homeschool assignments
Using Notion for my son's homeschool plan

Price: For most small businesses, the $8 per person per month will provide all the functionality they will need.

Pros

  • each row in my database is also a page - no adding an attachment like in ClickUp

  • simpler and more beautiful

  • easy to add a cover image and icon to every item

  • easy to make any page a wiki

  • easier to move items around and sort columns for course modules

  • can do a lot more on the free version if you are a solopreneur than on any other software.

  • highly customizable for small or enterprise (many very large companies are using it)

Cons

  • No native time tracker

  • no native forms

  • need to pay if you have a team (not required, but you can’t realistically use the workspaces)

Try Notion for free

Because I enjoy Notion so much, I became an affiliate (after I tried all the above). Use my affiliate link to try it for free, and if you decide to buy, your purchase will help fund this blog!

Next Steps

  1. Decide which solution will work best for you

  2. Carve out daily time to learn to maximize your system.

  3. Start using the system by capturing all your ideas, and going to your system to bring focus to each day.

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