4 productivity tools for events pros that are actually useful
Updated: Feb 29
There's a tool for everything these days. Some free, and some not so free. Cue the ancient proverb about you being the product blah blah...
As a freelancer, it's important to find a balance between investing in the tools and services that make you a more efficient and more effective professional, and not saddling yourself with overhead costs. Those little $9 a month subscriptions add up fast.
Here are some of the free tools that I use. It's by no means meant to be a 'best of' or a 'top 56 best tools' or whatever, because the best for you is going to depend on your specific circumstances. Hopefully this is a small insight in to someone else's practice that will help guide your decision making.
1. Wrike (free, with paid plans)
Wrike is a web based project management tool in the same vein as Asana and Monday. The reason I prefer it to the others out there is because it has a perfectly capable free version, feels more intuitive that its competitors, and has some neat features.
I like to keep everything in as few locations as possible. I feed everything in to Wrike: my daily todo list, long term event project timelines, meeting notes and contacts. I even have databases of suppliers that I've come across so that when I'm looking for someone to fulfill that inevitable odd request, I can scan through nicely categorized notes instead of wildly googling for an hour.
The killer feature for me though is the ability to display projects in several formats, most crucially in kanban form. Which brings us neatly on to...
2. Trello (free)
I think I've used Trello for around 7 or 8 years. I have Trello boards going back a very long way. It's like an old friend, and continues to be one of the most intuitive and useful web tools I know.
The thing is, sometimes features are great, but you may walk in to a company that isn't full of coders and need something that the team can easily understand and pick up quickly. Being productive shouldn't mean having to run IT classes for less savvy pros.
Trello is great for a bunch of things, but where it really shines for me is managing approvals processes. It's very visual, and on one single page you can instantly get a sense of how far along you are in getting those three thousand individual bits of creative artwork approved by the client and in to production. Files can be uploaded to individual cards where team members (and clients) can make notes and comments, which is great for tracking feedback on individual items.
Yes, Wrike does have a similar functionality, but for a shallow learning curve and instant usability, Trello wins every time.
3. Streak (free, with paid plans)
CRM can be really annoying. Things that bill themselves as productivity tools kind of lose their impact when you have to spend hours configuring them, constantly manually input data to ensure they're useful, and then spend all day flicking between it and your email.
Streak solves all of these problems, and for me works as a way to track not only leads and conversations that might turn in to leads, but basically anything that needs to move through a pipeline. I've used it to manage RFP's, send invitations to private events, and hire staff. What's great about it is that it overlays seamlessly on to gmail, and almost never needs manual intervention to be useful.
I don't mind annoying my cool teenage self by saying that Streak actively makes me happy.
3. A notebook (sometimes free, sometimes worth buying)
Call me old fashioned, but when I'm doing a site recce in winter, in the dark, in a big open windswept field with no cell service whilst the rain lashes down, I'm not reaching for my tablet to fire up Evernote.
The 'right' notebook for any particular task is a source of hot debate. I think the trick is knowing how to take notes in a way that helps you be more effective, rather than the actual book itself. I stick to using a hardback half letter size (or thereabouts) for note taking. The hard surface protects from the weather, and is useful for leaning on out in the field. I date and title every new note, highlight actions with an 'A' in a circle before the note, and review them as soon as possible. Some of it then gets sent to Wrike.
I also use a letter size square ruled pad for sketching and drawing (these ones from Amazon are great). That doesn't mean I can draw, far from it, but often it's easier to draw someone a diagram than it is to explain.
These are things I use day in, day out and form the cornerstone of how I manage myself and my events. There are a bunch more that I use occasionally (like Smartsheets) but none that I come back to so frequently.
Look out soon for my top 3 picks of software for event pros. Until then, wishing you sold out events for the week.