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10 Free Tools for Collaboration

10 Free Tools for Collaboration

    With so many people working from home, it’s no surprise that the last few years have seen significant increases in the range of collaboration tools available online. They didn’t just capitalize on a growing trend; they helped to propel it. Here are ten great, free tools for collaboration, including some of those we use here at Lifehack.

    Ta-da List

    Ta-da List is a collaborative list application. If you need to make up any kind of list with your team, this app is free and does a good job, primarily because there’s no feature-creep and it’s not bloated software. This is what we use at Lifehack to keep a list of article topics going among the editorial team, and also a convenient way to receive article assignments in a loose format.

    TimeBridge

    TimeBridge is a scheduling app that integrates with your Google Calendar, Exchange or Outlook availability and enables easy scheduling of meetings across timezones. This is another app we use at Lifehack to schedule meetings across four different time zones, which we then hold in…

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    Campfire

    Campfire, from the makers of Basecamp and Backpack, is a web-based cross between instant messenger and chat room that has been designed for business groups and collaborative teams. The free account only allows four simultaneous chatters, which is enough for our editorial meetings. Campfire has one of the best transcript storage features I’ve seen.

    If you’re looking to have a free discussion with more than four team members, I’ve found Skype to be decent at the job — except for its poor transcript implementation (if you Skype guys are reading, a transcript feature makeover would be great!).

    Google Docs & Spreadsheets

    The giant in any collaborative tools list. Google Docs has one of the best web-based collaborative document editing implementations around. That said, I reckon 50% of a good collaborative word processor is a loud and obnoxious note that tells you someone else is working on the document already! These days Google Docs also has quite an extensive collection of templates that’ll help you shave off a few minutes of basic document setup time.

    Writeboard

    If you want something a little less heavy than Google Docs, Writeboard is lightweight and simple yet provides excellent control over the revision history of your document and allows you collaborate with others on a simple document in a fluid and intuitive way. It’s impossible to ever lose a great idea using Writeboard, which is one of the few free offerings from 37signals (the makers of Campfire, Basecamp and other products).

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    Evernote

    Evernote, the fantastic note taking software, has sharing capabilities so you can bounce documents back and forth with other users. You can flesh out ideas or even write entire collaborative books this way. While you can do this with Google Docs too, it’s a huge hassle to get notes from one app to the other when it’s not necessary (and Docs, while handy, is not optimal for taking notes).

    Mixin

    While TimeBridge is very handy for scheduling meetings across timezones, it relies on everybody selecting a few times they can make a meeting and then the software picks the best matches. Mixin takes some of the guesswork out of the process and instead of forcing you to try and “feel out” where your collaborator’s gaps and availabilities may be, allows you to see it all visually. It doesn’t replace TimeBridge, but it’s very useful especially when nobody in the group can seem to find a time that works for everyone.

    Task2Gather

    There are heaps of task managers that are web-based. I don’t think you could count them all if you tried. But Task2Gather is an option that is better suited to project management and team collaboration than most other options out there. If you want the app that marries project management for teams, with personal task management, try this one.

    MediaWiki

    The wiki software that powers Wikipedia is well-known amongst geeks as one of the ultimate collaborative systems, allowing you to do everything form collaborate on documents to leave messages for each other that are attached to those particular documents. If you’re the type who gets an email about a project but forgets all about it by the time you go to work on the project next, that particular frustration disappears with the help of the Talk page.

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    I’ve also found MediaWiki excellent in setting up training documentation for teams. Use a wiki to tell your team of bloggers how to format their entries correctly and which CSS classes to use in images, and provide a style guide while you’re at it.

    MediaWiki requires a bit of geekery and knowledge to get set up, but it’s worth the effort if you’re willing to put the time and effort into learning it.

    Delicious

    If you work in any kind of environment where links fly back and forth for people to review, Delicious is more useful than you may think. The bookmarking service that once had a bunch of dots peppered throughout its name has multiple collaborative uses.

    Many bloggers, myself included, allow readers to tag their bookmarks as for:username (such as for:joelfalconer) so we can review them in batches. Bloggers constantly get readers and other bloggers suggesting links, most frequently for self-promo, and it’s very helpful to our job but often is hard to manage.

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    Most fields require that teams be up to date on news, new products, industry opinion and so on and Delicious’ for: tagging system allows the people in your team to keep each other up to date without throwing links in their inbox every five minutes.

    WordPress

    If you’re looking for a collaboration-friendly blog, WordPress recently got some great upgrades that make it an excellent choice. I wouldn’t suggest anything else for a multi-author blog. As I mentioned earlier, half of a good collaborative system is a warning that someone else is editing the article in question, and WordPress supplies that. But even better, it now has a revision history system that allows you to peck through and find that obscure quote you accidentally deleted while you were fixing image sizes. Or if a disgruntled blogger on your team vandalizes everything before leaving, it’s pretty easy to fix everything up.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on March 30, 2020

    What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

    What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

    If you’ve got a big block of free time, the best way to put that to use is to relax, have fun, decompress from a stressful day, or spend time with a loved one. But if you’ve just got a little chunk — say 5 or 10 minutes — there’s no time to do any of the fun stuff.

    So, what to do in free time?

    Put those little chunks of time to their most productive use.

    Everyone works differently, so the best use of your free time really depends on you, your working style, and what’s on your to-do list. But it’s handy to have a list like this in order to quickly find a way to put that little spare time to work instantly, without any thought. Use the following list as a way to spark ideas for what you can do in a short amount of time.

    1. Reading Files

    Clip magazine articles or print out good articles or reports for reading later, and keep them in a folder marked “Reading File”. Take this wherever you go, and any time you have a little chunk of time, you can knock off items in your Reading File.

    Keep a reading file on your computer (or in your bookmarks), for quick reading while at your desk (or on the road if you’ve got a laptop).

    2. Clear out Inbox

    Got a meeting in 5 minutes? Use it to get your physical or email inbox to empty.

    If you’ve got a lot in your inbox, you’ll have to work quickly, and you may not get everything done; but reducing your pile can be a big help. And having an empty inbox is a wonderful feeling.

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    3. Phone Calls

    Keep a list of phone calls you need to make, with phone numbers, and carry it everywhere.

    Whether you’re at your desk or on the road, you can knock a few calls off your list in a short amount of time.

    4. Make Money

    This is my favorite productive use of free time. I have a list of articles I need to write, and when I get some spare minutes, I’ll knock off half an article real quick.

    If you get 5 to 10 chunks of free time a day, you can make a decent side income. Figure out how you can freelance your skills, and have work lined up that you can knock out quickly — break it up into little chunks, so those chunks can be done in short bursts.

    5. File

    No one likes to do this. If you’re on top of your game, you’re filing stuff immediately, so it doesn’t pile up.

    But if you’ve just come off a really busy spurt, you may have a bunch of documents or files laying around.

    Or maybe you have a big stack of stuff to file. Cut into that stack with every little bit of spare time you get, and soon you’ll be in filing Nirvana.

    6. Network

    Only have 2 minutes? Shoot off a quick email to a colleague. Even just a “touching bases” or follow-up email can do wonders for your working relationship. Or shoot off a quick question, and put it on your follow-up list for later.

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    7. Clear out Feeds

    If my email inbox is empty, and I have some spare time, I like to go to my Google Reader and clear out my feed inbox.

    8. Goal Time

    Take 10 minutes to think about your goals — personal and professional.

    If you don’t have a list of goals, start on one. If you’ve got a list of goals, review them.

    Write down a list of action steps you can take over the next couple of weeks to make these goals a reality. What action step can you do today? The more you focus on these goals, and review them, the more likely they will come true.

    9. Update Finances

    Many people fall behind with their finances, either in paying bills (they don’t have time), or entering transactions in their financial software, or clearing their checkbook, or reviewing their budget.

    Take a few minutes to update these things. It just takes 10 to 15 minutes every now and then.

    10. Brainstorm Ideas

    Another favorite of mine if I just have 5 minutes — I’ll break out my pocket notebook, and start a brainstorming list for a project or article. Whatever you’ve got coming up in your work or personal life, it can benefit from a brainstorm. And that doesn’t take long.

    11. Clear off Desk

    Similar to the filing tip above, but this applies to whatever junk you’ve got cluttering up your desk. Or on the floor around your desk.

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    Trash stuff, file stuff, put it in its place. A clear desk makes for a more productive you. And it’s oddly satisfying.

    12. Exercise

    Never have time to exercise? 10 minutes is enough to get off some pushups and crunches. Do that 2 to 3 times a day, and you’ve got a fit new you.

    13. Take a Walk

    This is another form of exercise that doesn’t take long, and you can do it anywhere. Even more important, it’s a good way to stretch your legs from sitting at your desk too long.

    It also gets your creative juices flowing. If you’re ever stuck for ideas, taking a walk is a good way to get unstuck.

    14. Follow up

    Keep a follow-up list for everything you’re waiting on. Return calls, emails, memos — anything that someone owes you, put on the list.

    When you’ve got a spare 10 minutes, do some follow-up calls or emails.

    15. Meditate

    You don’t need a yoga mat to do this. Just do it at your desk. Focus on your breathing. A quick 5 to 10 minutes of meditation (or even a nap) can be tremendously refreshing.

    Take a look at this 5-Minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime

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    16. Research

    This is a daunting task for me. So I do it in little spurts.

    If I’ve only got a few minutes, I’ll do some quick research and take some notes. Do this a few times, and I’m done!

    17. Outline

    Similar to brainstorming, but more formal. I like to do an outline of a complicated article, report or project, and it helps speed things along when I get to the actual writing. And it only takes a few minutes.

    18. Get Prepped

    Outlining is one way to prep for longer work, but there’s a lot of other ways you can prep for the next task on your list.

    You may not have time to actually start on the task right now, but when you come back from your meeting or lunch, you’ll be all prepped and ready to go.

    19. Be Early

    Got some spare time before a meeting? Show up for the meeting early.

    Sure, you might feel like a chump sitting there alone, but actually people respect those who show up early. It’s better than being late (unless you’re trying to play a power trip or something, but that’s not appreciated in many circles).

    20. Log

    If you keep a log of anything, a few spare minutes is the perfect time to update the log.

    Actually, the perfect time to update the log is right after you do the activity (exercise, eat, crank a widget), but if you didn’t have time to do it before, your 5-minute break is as good a time as any.

    More Inspirations on What To Do During Free Time

    Featured photo credit: Lauren Mancke via unsplash.com

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