This list of apps assistants rave about will be updated regularly as executive, personal and virtual assistants share new apps for the Thought Penny team to test drive. If you’re an assistant and want to share an app or tool with us, please visit Thought Penny’s EA PA VA Survey.
While you can’t clone yourself and your own assistant probably isn’t an option, Thought Penny’s list of apps assistants rave about will give you tools you can start using now to give you back hours in your week.
Less creepy than an actual clone too!
The moment I am given a new computer I am itching to set up the tools that I love most. These tools have added hours back into my week by:
- increasing my overall efficiency;
- automating tasks;
- improving communication between colleagues and clients;
- keeping resources handy; and
- providing the option to delegate jobs that aren’t the best use of my time.
While some of the links below are affiliate links, you will only see tools on here which the Thought Penny team have used and love.
Here you go list-loving assistants:
- Google Chrome
- Fancy Hands
- Time and Date
Why: It may sound like a boring addition to this list, though I’ve put it first because using Chrome as my Internet browser makes it so much easier to use the tools below through app integration. It also tends to be the most supported/favoured browser for cloud software developers, meaning you’ll run into less bugs and oddities.
In addition, if you connect your Google profile (log in) to your Chrome browser, it will share your favourites and browsing history making it really easy to trace your steps (one of a PA’s many detective skills) from any device – I’ve logged onto Google Chrome when I was at the post office on my iPhone (I don’t use safari on this either as I just don’t find it as user-friendly as Chrome) to find a website I was looking at on my computer earlier which had a name and postal address. Saved a lot of time!
Watch Out: There are a few rare platforms that will favour Internet Explorer (IE), so if something just isn’t behaving, copy and paste the URL into IE – this has only happened to me twice. I run into more problems with IE than Chrome.
Look, just download it before you keep reading – you’ll thank me later!
Why: Hello life changer! I couldn’t tell enough people as soon as I had discovered this GEM. Okay! What does it do already?!?!
Unroll.Me unclogs your inbox. It rolls up all your subscription emails into ONE daily digest email. First step is to click the above link, login with your email credentials and authorise Unroll.Me to manage the emails you choose. You will then get a list of all the subscription emails in your inbox and you get to pick which ones to add to your daily digest, which to leave in your inbox and which to INSTANTLY UNSUBSCRIBE from. Excuse my capitals but THIS IS GENIUS and it eliminates the three-step process (multiplied by however many annoying emails you get) most subscriptions enforce before you can opt-out.
Imagine how much the executive I suggested this to appreciated me when it saved them from 300+ subscriptions.
You then get to pick when you want to receive your daily digest (called ‘Rollup’), which will include an alert when Unroll.Me has found new subscriptions so that you can keep adding/unsubscribing as you go. You can choose from a digest of thumbnails or lists. You’ll also avoid missing an opportunity in an email you might not have opened (remember… the type of opportunity that prompted you to sign up for that newsletter in the first place!)
- It also only works for certain email managers. If you can’t use it for your work email, I’m guessing you’ll still love us for changing your personal email situation (because you can jump ship if your personal emails don’t work and join my love of free Gmail accounts without getting permission from your IT department).
- You’ll hit an unsubscribe limit quickly, though it is free to keep going as long as you share your new toy on social media – super easy and quick.
- This only handles the emails you receive going forward – so you will have to manually take care of all the emails you’ve already received prior to signing up.
Why: Because until I found an app good enough to handle my entire “To Do” list I was trapped between…
the land of insanely using my inbox with additional emails to myself (and many failed attempts at different email folder action lists)
the land of “where on earth is that piece of paper from the impromptu phone meeting as I was rushing out the door yesterday?”.
So why have I decided it is good enough for my entire “To Do” list?
- Hello Inbox Zero (sometimes really it’s true!). I copy the actions from the emails I receive into Todoist and then file the email straight away. I find this best practice helps me to achieve a completely empty inbox.
- Goodbye bits of paper. I can type a quick action via the app on my computer or my phone. It is super quick to add a category (colours optional), due date, reminder and priority. When you need to be quicker still, you can just type a prompt and the action will sit in the Todoist ‘inbox’ for you to prioritise your list later.
- It has a very user-friendly (easy to navigate and learn to use) design.
- One email can have many actions in it with different due dates and levels of importance – I put these all into Todoist separately so that I can file the email and rarely need to refer to it again, this includes the actions that aren’t explicitly listed in the email such as steps I can take to make life easier for the person I support as an EA.
- I’m no longer emailing myself reminders – 3am notes to phone this person to chase that goes straight into Todoist via my phone.
- I’m no longer emailing myself mini action lists from my one-on-ones and phone calls with the person I support – I open Todoist and type them straight in there (a habit worth working on)!
- I’m no longer the BCC in my own emails – as I write an email I’m adding actions in Todoist when I need to follow up the person I’m emailing or follow through with something I promise will be done. If I’ll need to forward the email if action isn’t taken by a certain date I’m still taking it out of my inbox with an app called Boomerang (I’ve included this in the list below)!
So if you get all of the above for free, why did I sign up for the premium version?
Because, with premium:
- You can add labels – e.g. I add @phone to all the actions that require me to make a phone call. So if I’m waiting for someone who is late for a meeting, I’ve hit peak hour at the post office or I find myself in any other situation where my time is being wasted while my to do list keeps growing, I can pull out my phone, hit Todoist and start making those calls (because remember I don’t have as many emails to read ;p). I also use those situations to run through and mark actions as complete (with just a swipe!) or reprioritise (so easy to postpone to tomorrow, next week or next month!).
- Location alerts! Receive task alerts on iOS or Android when you arrive or leave a certain location (no more “whoops, just walked past shops and I needed milk for that meeting!).
- Easily add detailed notes as an attachment to a task– you can copy and paste an entire email in notes attached to the task in case you’ll need context or detailed instructions later.
- More reasons here: https://todoist.com/premium though I did enjoy using the free version for a while first 🙂
Why: Do you start reading an article which has lots of links embedded, all of which you want to read, or search for something to help you with one project then spot something that will help you with another?
Suddenly you’ve got 50 browser tabs open, but you keep finding more?
First, read this article if you still think multi-tasking is something to be proud of:
Now, add the Pocket extension onto your Google Chrome (told you to just download it!). Once installed, pocket allows you to bookmark the page AND it allows you to add tags.
So keep working on project A and save that article you just opened, which has nothing to do with A, with the tag Project B using Pocket. It will be ready to read with all the other articles with the label Project B when you’re up to working on whatever Project B is.
I use Pocket to tag articles I want to read later to see if they’re good enough to share on my Thought Penny social media channels. When I’ve read the article I remove that tag ‘curate?’ and change it to ‘curated’ if I share it or ‘don’t curate’ if I didn’t think it was up to scratch. The icon in the corner of Chrome changes colour so I know I’m not sharing the same article twice. That’s my plan anyway!
Does the person you support write articles, books or other forms of content? Introduce them to pocket – I save the articles I read which inspire me to write my own articles, then when it comes time to doing said writing I look at all the articles with the same tag so that I can include them as references and make sure my own article has original content.
At times I can have shocking internet at home. This is why the main reason I love pocket is that it allows me to sync the sites with the Pocket app I have on my iPad. That is, I can read all the pages I save to Pocket offline as long as I have taken my iPad to the land of phone signal and opened Pocket to allow it to sync.
Free trial for 14 days, after which it is free for 1 event type.
Why: You know those meetings that take longer to set up than the actual meeting will go for?
I now use a calendar booking tool called Calendly to eliminate email and phone tag. I set up an account for the person I’m supporting, set her availability preferences for different meeting types then shared unique links for the different meeting types.
I make the first phone call to set up a meeting and for certain familiar clients I even start with a variation on this email:
I just left a voicemail message for you in regards to ***
Would TIME on DATE suit you for a *** meeting/call/coffee with PERSON?
Alternatively, you can use this link to book a time directly in PERSON’S calendar (and send yourself a calendar invite): [calendly will give you a link for your unique booking type to put here].
Of course, please feel free to call me to arrange if this suits you best.
This calendar booking system has saved me many back and forth emails and phone messages. When I would normally email because it is too late in the evening to call a client (yes I’m guilty of working in front of the TV too), it has allowed me to send an email that results in half the meetings being booked before I arrive at work the next day.
Other great features include setting event types to send reminder emails to your clients the day and hour before their scheduled appointment, setting buffer times between appointments and customising the content of the calendar invites (I include instructions for accessing our building).
- If you plan on implementing this for an entire team, check out the options Calendly provides which are separate to the standard pricing page.
- If you need to book a meeting for more than one person, try http://doodle.com/. It hasn’t made the list because I haven’t personally used it yet – it may also work as Calendly alternative for 1:1 meetings, which you might need because…
- Calendly only integrates with Google calendar and Office 365 – so if this doesn’t work for you, Google Calendly alternatives.
Why: Because you know that having the same password for everything is asking for trouble though changing them all would take forever and then you’d have to remember them!
Enter LastPass – it asks you if you want to save passwords as you login, alerts you when you have duplicate passwords, generates (and saves) unique passwords as you set up new accounts and you can choose to automatically fill in usernames and passwords when you open a site.
LastPass is more than a password manager, it is a productivity tool!
Here are all the reasons I love it:
- Obviously, my first reason is that you only need to remember one password (get it.. get it… LAST.. PASS.. :p)
- It wasn’t time consuming to save all my passwords
- If you install the Chrome extension you can go about your normal day and LastPass will ask you if you want to save login details as you enter then on various websites.
- If you like to live dangerously and you’ve saved all your passwords in a spreadsheet (hang your head in shame, then put your tail between your legs if you named the file ‘passwords’ or ‘login details’!) you can easily save this as a .csv file then import it into LastPass (then delete the original file and breathe easier knowing your IT department will never find it)
- You can go months without logging into some sites, so this is a great way to make sure you get them all
- It actually makes you more efficient – once it knows the username and password for that URL, the Chrome extension will auto-fill when you arrive. If you have multiple logins you can switch via the drop-down menu (click the *).
- It can also store credit card details – very handy if you make online purchases with your manager’s card as this is information you definitely don’t want to record (guess what, your contacts aren’t a safe place for this!) AND it can auto-fill the credit card details (you can ask to be prompted to enter your LastPass password again first – I like this!)
- You can share passwords and password folders with others WITHOUT THEM SEEING THE PASSWORDS!
- goodbye changing passwords when an employee leaves!
- No more “who changed the password for..” and the time wasting password reset when no one owns up :/
- Set up LastPass for the person you support, create a folder for their passwords you (their EA/PA/VA) need – hello one step closer to an easy handover if you leave or need to hand over to a temp!
I’d recommend signing up with your personal (not work) email so that:
- You don’t have to sign in and out for your personal and work accounts
- Only you have access to the email LastPass will send a password recovery email if, donkeys forbid, you forget the one password you have to remember.
- Which means you can use it to store your personal passwords and only do the set up once!
UPDATE: You can now sync your passwords with LastPass on ALL of your devices (phones and tablets) without paying for premium.
I still pay for premium though – it is an insignificant fee per year to enable me to share a folder of passwords with another user (you could share certain passwords with your boss – I share a couple of mine with my partner). You can get a month of free premium via the link above.
Watch Out: Do make the one password you have to remember a password you never used for anything else and don’t share this with anyone else! LastPass gives you the option to share the passwords within it.
Why: Evernote can be whatever type of organiser you want.
I’m REALLY interested in hearing how other assistants use Evernote. Tell me!
These are the reasons I’m hooked:
- I supported someone who owned multiple businesses and therefor had multiple teams. I set up a notebook called Teams, with individual notes for the different teams/sites (including one for our VA). It keeps track of all the one of projects, as well as the reoccurring tasks of that team. The whole notebook is shared with the person I support and the individual notes are shared with the team members who need to access that team’s note. It allows everyone to add/delete and mark complete (checkboxes!)
- If I’m having an impromptu meeting on a drive or at a coffee stop I can pull out my phone and type in notes – they sync if you’re logged into the same account. I then copy the action items over to Todoist when I get back to the office. ** I haven’t been convinced to move up from the free version of Evernote yet, though they have just integrated with Todoist for paying customers
- The search function is so easy to use, making it the perfect place to store notes such as the branding cheat sheet you created for yourself listing approved brand HEX and RGB colours, font types/styles/sizes.
- Liberate your mind from the emotional toll created by all that paper that just doesn’t have a logical home (you know those scraps of paper that never leave your filing pile or the kitchen counter!). Scan it then throw it out (or file if you absolutely need the original – do you really?!). Evernote can search the document you scan. You can also name the note and add additional keywords to utilise Evernote’s fantastic search function. Now doesn’t that sound better than searching through piles ad folder of paper?!!
- You can keep different data all relating to a project (e.g. product launch, event, change management) in one notebook with a individual ‘notes’ (notes can be anything from to do lists, websites, brainstorms, scanned paper notes, tweets and links to draft content) and share the entire notebook or individual notes depending on the contributor/stakeholder.
Again, like LastPass, I recommend setting up a personal account to use so that you can use it for yourself – I’m yet to convince my husband that this is the ultimate way to write and share a shopping list for home!
Watch out: Don’t make the mistake of setting up team notes and sharing from your Evernote account, instead of the person you support. If you ever have to do a handover, your life will be easier if you don’t need to copy notes over to their account. Also, you need to plan how to work with or train people aren’t comfortable using Evernote, otherwise you’ll end up doing more work instead of less!
Why: I’ve used the phone app at 9.30pm to type instructions for a meeting to be booked in my calendar with a seamstress who could have my bridesmaid dress altered by a certain date. By the time I arrived at work 9am, they had found a supplier a short drive away from my office who could do by the unlikely deadline I provided, booked an appointment and put it in my calendar!
- given them a long list of events to add to my calendar…
- Had meeting notes typed up when they are urgent though I just don’t have time (yeah it looks like I’m just really efficient!!)
I’m giving up coffee to feed my fancy hands addiction! The EA’s PA is awesome!!!!
If you use the link provided, you’ll get 50% off of your first month (full disclosure I will get $15 credit too).
Why: Because I’m no graphic designer, yet I can now:
- Create professional looking image banners for Facebook and other social media platforms (canva provides templates).
- Overlay text on images.
- create images which are the perfect size for social media (via custom pixels for the starting canvas which I got from this article + if you have too much time on your hands, read this article) *I recommend varying the size for pinterest to maximise screen share by extending height per the second article I linked to.
I’m yet to try using it for presentation slides, which is mainly because I’m so comfortable using MS PowerPoint. I’ve created a Todoist task to try it out. I also haven’t yet been desperate enough to trial canva for work so that I can resize a design rather than start from scratch.
Watch Out: Create a separate account for work and home – you don’t want wedding invitation designs mixed with corporate social media art – as you can’t separate them later on (think handovers).
Why: Hootsuite is a social media manager. Rather than logging into each individual social media platform, I can do the following after logging into Hootsuite (hello reducing the need to clone myself):
- monitor all social media platforms (LinkedIn, Facebook etc) in one view.
- set up a social media metrics report customised to my needs, which automatically gets emailed to the users I choose.
- Share specific accounts with specific users.
- Post the same message to all social media channels at the same time.
- If the text is not short enough for Twitter I do one separate post.
- It includes a link shortener which provides you with a shorter link you can track for the automatic reporting mentioned above.
- Schedule posts in advance and review the schedule in calendar or list view (auto-scheduling to suit your preferences available – Hootsuite have told me it picks a time within your parameters which will give you the best chance of being seen in the noisy social media world).
- Share (or schedule it to happen) straight from Chrome – the Hootsuite extension is what I use to share articles I think other assistants will love across all my social media channels.
Watch Out: Hootsuite doesn’t integrate with Pinterest like it does with other social media platforms. You’ll need to look at an integration such as Tailwind.
World Clock – Time & Date
Why: I use this to work out time differences around the globe. Set up your own personal clock for the timezones you refer to often.
Why: Because storing files locally is a thing of the past, I love that I can access what I need from anything with an internet connection and because I’ve found it easier to share content with external parties than with Google Drive (they don’t need an account to access what you share). I’ve also heard it is the most secure cloud storage though I don’t care enough to read into the differences.
Why: LOVE Boomerang. Schedule emails (if you’re using Google/gmail, this can happen even when you aren’t logged in!) AND have them return to your inbox if you don’t get a reply by the time you need one. I think you’ve already thought of how this will make your life easier.. so I won’t go on!