5 Tools to Improve Your Productivity, Creativity & Efficiency

We could all use tools to increase our productivity, creativity and efficiency. Below are five tools that I have either been using for years, or just adopted, that have helped me, as I'm sure they can help you too.

1. 99designs.com

99designs is a site that I was recently turned onto and it's really cool. If you need a great logo designed for your business, this is the way to go. Before I tell you how it works, let me tell you about the old way of getting a new logo. The old way was to first look at several designers' portfolios to see which one had created logos that you liked. Then you would hire one designer. Next you would write down and give them your design specifications. Then, you would hope that they came back to you with a solid design, or one that was good enough that with a few tweaks could be improved.

Needless to say, the process took a long time, and more times than not (I say this from lots of experience) produced less than optimal designs.

Now, let me tell you how 99designs.com does it. First, you post a design brief, which is easy to do since the site leads you through some questions.

Next, you set your budget (amounts generally range from $100 to $600). Then, designers from around the world submit design concepts to compete for your business. During this process, you can rate the designs and provide feedback to help the designers deliver what you want. In the final step, you choose the winning design and pay the designer the amount you set, and the designer sends you their completed design (along with copyright to the original art work).

So the key points are 1) you don't have to spend hours finding designers and judging portfolios, 2) you don't pay anything (except the $39 fee to 99designs.com) until AFTER you see the design you want, 3) you get lots of designs to choose from, at least one of which is usually great (the higher your budget the more designs you get; for $300 you can get up to 100 submissions usually).

2. PDF995

PDF995, located at pdf995.com allows you to transform any document (e.g., Word file, Excel file, web page, etc.) into a PDF document. Best of all, there's no cost to download it. I used to use the official program from Adobe, but it's expensive and constantly crashed my computer.

I often use PDF995 to convert Word files to PDF files. This usually makes the file size smaller and ensures compatibility for whoever wants to view the file. It is also good for copyright protection (makes it harder for others to copy your work). I also use PDF995 a lot for converting web pages into PDF files. A lot of times I come across web pages that I want to reference later. Sometimes I bookmark them, but oftentimes the page may change. So, I PDF the page and file it away so I can access it whenever I want in the future.

3. Firefox Plugins

For those who have not yet tried the Firefox browser, I highly recommend it. Not only is it very fast and stable, but there are tons of plugins that make it more productive. A few plugins that I use are MeasureIt (allows you to quickly measure the dimensions of anything on the web page you are visiting), ColorZilla (allows you to click on any pixel on the web page to see its precise color) and FireShot (allows you to quickly take a screen shot and manipulate it (e.g., crop out sections; add comments; save file).

These are just the tip of the iceberg. Here is a full directory of Firefox plugins: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/

4. Bubbl.us

A mind map is a visual diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. Creating mind maps are great for mapping out new projects or ideas, particularly if they are not linear. For example, if you want to create a new ebook, you may start with the word ebook in the center. Then you may draw a line to "creation" which will then have sub-sections for research, writing, etc. Another sub-section of the word ebook would be marketing, which would then have its own sub-sections. Etc.

My frustration with mind mapping is that, while easily done using pen and paper, I prefer a digital copy so that I can distribute it to my colleagues and/or modify it over time. And traditionally, creating mind maps with programs such as PowerPoint, took forever.

Enter Bubbl.us, a new online tool that allows you to create, save and modify mind maps REALLY easily. Give it a try. You'll be amazed at how easily it works and it's totally intuitive to use. And currently there are no fees.

5. Springwise.com

The final tool I'd like to tell you about today is Springwise.com. Springwise has created a network of 8,000 "spotters" from around the world who "scan the globe for smart new business ideas, delivering instant inspiration to entrepreneurial minds." On the site, you'll learn about businesses like Wonderpizza, a pizza vending machine developed in Italy, and Dogtree (dogtree.com.au), an Australian social network that helps dog owners find playmates and walking friends for their dogs.

Springwise is great for inspiration and brainstorming. It gives you unique concepts and ideas that can really get your creative juices flowing.

I hope you can use these tools and ideas to help you and your business. If you have any comments or questions, or want to post your own tips to help your fellow entrepreneurs, please add them in the comment section below.
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Jeffrey Shilling says

FANTASTIC tips Dave! I use Firefox exclusively (using ColorZilla for a while) & will add MeasureIt for sure. HERE'S MY TIP to extend the benefit of 99designs.com: Say 99designs creates your logo & you want business cards or other print material without the hassle of comparing printing companies, negotiating rates & fees, managing the order etc. "COLORPRINT360.COM" is the place to go for all quality & cost conscious entrepreneurs. KEY POINTS: 1) PACKAGE PRICING at or below what one can find locally with Free Shipping, Quality Guarantee + NO UPCHARGES for proofing, folding & scoring (common fees added to print orders); 2) VAST SELECTION [i.e. business cards, posters, brochures, stickers, forms, you name it...]; 3) PROOF ONLINE, free telephone support, use your own designer or their professional design services. COMPARE FOR YOURSELF: where else can you get 1,000 full color, 2-sided business cards printed on 16 PT card stock, with a UV glossy front & matte finish back plus free shipping for a mere $56! * I've since switched all my printing to colorprint360.com & believe they're definitely worth adding to this fine list of ways to improve Productivity, Creativity & Efficiency. CHECK OUT THE SAVINGS by registering @ http://www.colorprint360.com with Registration Code: 09RD0127
Posted at 5:53 pm
Meg O'Dea says

Love the pdf995.com tip. I've needed it - or had to use Illustrator when it wasn't necessary.
Posted at 10:09 pm
Liviu Caliman says

Great tools. Thank you. I also found this website useful, it's worth a look: http://www.makeuseof.com/
Posted at 5:02 am
Alla says

Perfect tips, easy to use and to work with. I think I shall teach it my son - great for school presentations and teaching as well. It's like ABC, it can be developed further. Many thanks. Alla
Posted at 6:27 am
Michel Henein says

A couple weeks ago, GT turned us on to yousendit.com as an easy way to send relatively large files (rather than using ftp). I've been using it non-stop! Thanks for the tip!
Posted at 7:52 pm
Sara says

Wow, bubble.us was such a blast to use! Thanks for sharing Dave.
Posted at 11:57 pm
Ibrahim | ZenCollegeLife.com says

This looks like great stuff. I use most already, but I hadn't heard about bubble.us. Thanks!
Posted at 5:25 pm
Allison says

Have you tried Mindjet (mind mapping software)? We use it for everything at our office. All maps can be converted to gantt charts, MS Word, PPT and PDF. Very useful. Allison
Posted at 12:57 pm
Tim Malone says

How can software possible improve creativity - software can't think. It's time we stopped relying on machines and used our brains.
Posted at 7:41 am
Michael says

Wow! The theory of "Net Weaving" at its finest! Imagine a global business community where everyone is sharing useful tools and helpful bits of information without fear? Well, I'm ridiculously excited and will be sure to pass this very useful information on ASAP! Thank you!
Posted at 7:15 am
Michael says

Please, allow me to add my two cents! Give SlideShare (www.slideshare.net) a shot. They have an unlimited amount of sample slide/Power Point presentations from various industries for purposes ranging from pitching VC's to general corporate meeting presentations. Great ideas for your next pitch.
Posted at 1:16 pm
Jaime says

Great article! I love the mind mapping site. That is awesome and I can't agree more how difficult the mind mapping process was and also the time it took. I think we all know that if we get an idea, we need to be able to quickly record our ideas as most of the great ideas come when you least expect them. Thanks, Jaime Knox
Posted at 11:14 am