Living in our digital world has been a blessing and a curse for productivity. For every task we’re able to do more quickly, there are myriad other distractions, interruptions and context switches that keep productive deep work at bay. With regular client meetings, business development and deadline management, it can be especially difficult to stay in your creative flow as a designer.
Thankfully, there are a ton of productivity tools to help protect your focus – from automating low-value parts of your workflow to minimizing interruptions. But which are truly helpful, and which will just become another distraction? We’ve done the research for you! Here’s our pick of the best productivity tools for designers.
While not every design agency charges for their work by the hour, time tracking is still fundamental for setting competitive project rates and improving operational efficiency. It’s also the primary means for tracking project progress and making sure live work doesn’t go over budget. But that doesn’t stop it from being a wildly unproductive manual task.
It’s precisely why Norwegian designer Mathias Mikkelsen created Timely to automatically track time for you. Timely records all the time you spend on every web and desktop app to a private timeline, so all your design work is accounted for. You can see the time you spend on each project down to the app used, from Sketch and Photoshop, to Illustrator and Lightroom. Timely then offers a range of tools to process that time data, whether you want to track project budget spend, balance team resources, or automate time sheet creation for billing.
Prototyping can take up inordinate amounts of time, but Proto.io makes it that bit easier. It’s specially designed to bridge communication gaps and streamline all processes, bringing designers, developers and product managers together under one single platform. You can import your designs directly from Sketch or Photoshop, or design your prototype in Proto.io itself, allowing you to significantly speed up design processes.
No coding is necessary, as you’re able to test the flow, interactions, and animations of your design without entering any code whatsoever. Ultimately, Proto.io makes it quick and easy to build high-fidelity prototypes that give you the same experience and look as you want in your final product.
If you struggle to eliminate distractions, or continually find yourself jumping from task to task, check out Dewo. Billed as your “personal assistant for deep work”, Dewo is all about helping you access and stay in creative flow states. Using AI, it works out when you’re entering deep work and automatically silences all digital notifications to help keep you there. It also updates your Slack status for you, so people know they won’t hear from you right away and you can remain immersed in your work worry-free. At the end of your deep work session, it provides useful insights on how you did – from how you spent you time to the quality of your focus – to help quantify your productivity and improve the way you work.
Most designers are also aware of how harmful meetings can be for productivity – and thankfully, Dewo can help here too. It doesn’t just outsource the low-value task of meeting scheduling – it actively protects the time you have available for uninterrupted focused work, examining your productive patterns and preferences to book meetings with minimal impact on your productivity.
If you’re looking for a more lighthearted productivity tool that can still make a big difference, check out Forest. Forest is an interactive productivity app that helps you put away your phone and focus on the work that’s genuinely important. When you want to get stuck into some deep design work, log into the app and plant a tree; for as long as you focus on your work, the tree will flourish and grow – but if you leave the app before your session has finished, your tree will die!
At the end of a productive day, you might have your own forest of trees – and as an added bonus, for every tree you “plant” on the app, Forest plants a real tree. This app might sound ineffective, but as a highly visual person, don’t underestimate the power of a picture of a dead tree...
If you feel you spend too long jumping from app to app, or relying on expensive design resources, Mason will save you hours of time. This is a tool that’s been designed specifically to consolidate many essential elements of design – from prototyping to QA inspections to documentation. As a front-end feature building platform, Mason allows designers (and all other authorized people) to make quick changes to their frontend experiences.
The attractive visual interface makes it easy for all team members to design visually, and also allows project stakeholders to get involved and make suggestions and changes, minimizing back-and-forth communication. By centralizing product design, creation and management, you’re able to work faster, and because Mason often totally removes the need to use other development resources, it gives you back more of your productive time too.