Productivity on a Budget: These 3 Tools Stand Out from the Rest

 Photo credit:  Carl Heyerdahl

Photo credit: Carl Heyerdahl

If you run a startup or work for a non-profit, you need to meet high expectations on a tight budget. Over the years, I've experimented with countless productivity tools and methods. The following rise above the competition to help you get your work done quickly and affordably.

At the minimum, the tools that made the final cut passed two key requirements:

  • The availability of free/basic plans that allow users to truly get a feel for the product
  • Compatibility with David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) productivity method

These two seemingly simple requirements quickly narrowed the field. Read on to see which tools of the trade rose to the top. 

Wunderlist (Microsoft To-Do)

The foundation of a good productivity routine is a to-do list, or in GTD terms, a "capture device." I've tried almost every option out there, judging each one on the following criteria:

  • Offline functionality
  • Appealing interface
  • Ease of use
  • Multi-platform compatibility (desktop, mobile, and tablet)

After years of experimenting, Wunderlist has emerged as the clear winner when it comes to to-do lists. Microsoft purchased Wunderlist in 2015 and is working toward replacing it with Microsoft To-Do. Hopefully, the change will only be skin deep. If, however, the transition goes awry, there are alternatives.

Once you are familiar with Wunderlist, check out the following tips:

  • For some ideas on how to apply GTD to your lists, check out this guide.
  • Keep your personal and work to-do lists separate but linked by creating two accounts: one with your home e-mail address and another with your work e-mail address. Then, bridge the two accounts with a single shared folder.


For complex projects that involve small teams, you'll need something more than a to-do list. Asana, developed by former Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and ex-engineer Justin Rosenstein, is the tool of choice in this category. When it comes to project management software, all of the bells and whistles in the world are meaningless unless your team is actually willing to use it. Fortunately, the Asana team recognized this and delivered a product with an intuitive interface that's a joy to use.


Full disclosure: when Evernote started cutting features from its basic plan, I made the switch to Microsoft OneNote. After the dust settled, however, I ended up back in Evernote's camp (at least for the time being).

Although OneNote is constantly improving, it still syncs slowly (or sometimes not at all). That's a deal-breaker for a product in this category. Although Evernote's basic plan is lacking (no offline notes and device restrictions), I can afford to make an exception since I use it as a personal "reference library" that I rarely need immediate access to. I keep anything that I might need at a moment's notice in Wunderlist.

Bonus: Additional Useful Tools

Are you a social media manager? Trello makes a great content calendar. This post will help you get started right away.

Need to track time for your team and your projects? Toggl has got you covered with a convenient, data-driven solution. 

Although Pocket is most famous for archiving and curating news articles, it doubles as the ultimate productivity tool. It's an excellent way to quickly tuck away all of those tempting articles and social media posts that are a constant distraction from getting things done.