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What tools do you use regularly? What tools for Producers and Leaders are usually in life and work on the daily?
I have many tools that I use for a variety of scenarios. I have separate tools for film production, personal / business finances, blogging, backups, hardware, etc. There’re also certain productivity tools that are useful no matter the industry or project too. I’m going to start listing out various products / services I use regularly. Instead of putting it all out at one fell swoop, I’ll make continuous updates here.
If you’re looking for tools to help with creating your own blog or website, head over to the Blogging Tools page.
VPN – China Must Have Tool
I spend a good part of the year in China, so I need a VPN to access some of the tools I use on a regular basis. China is known for the Great Wall and its Great Firewall. Most people know they block sites like Facebook and Twitter, because of the fear of false information spreading, amongst other concerns. But some sites will also be blocked to allow Chinese domestic companies the first opportunity to gain market share in China. Even if a site isn’t blocked, I’m usually on VPN, because other sites will have certain restrictions if they see the user’s IP is coming from China. The only time I don’t use VPN is when I’m using a Chinese site that geo-blocks content, like online video sites.
You can check to see if the sites you regularly use are blocked in China with Comparitech’s Tool
There’s more to what’s available, so it seems like “China Tools” will be a separate post. The key takeaway here is – if you’re in China, you need a VPN.
I have a couple different ones I use as they work slightly differently. I’ve tried many different ones too, to varying degrees of success. But during sensitive times, the best one is the first one, WannaFlix. Maybe I’ll add others I’ve used in the past if there’re questions about different VPNs.
- WannaFlix (save 30% with the affiliate link, $83.88 per year) – Wannaflix’s best servers utilize V2ray technology that results in less privacy, but it’s good for speed, because It’s less of a VPN as it is a proxy. But…it works with Netflix, Disney+ and other online video sites. Proxies shouldn’t be an issue if you’re not doing anything nefarious. This requires more technical setup and tweaks. For someone who is able to follow directions with WannaFlix’s guides, they should be able to set it up. The last big plus is they have a China server, meaning if you’re outside of China, you can use a China IP to use for China-only online video sites. They have a 3-day free trial or a 30-day guarantee if you want.
- ExpressVPN ($99.95 for 1st year) – This is one of the most popular VPN’s in China. I’ve been using it for 8+ years. It’s easy to setup and use, but with its popularity, it’s also a high target for the Great Firewall. During times of sensitivity in China, it’s rendered unusable. Over the last few months, I’ve barely used ExpressVPN, because I’m not able to reliably get onto a server with decent speeds. I do have friends around China who say it works for them, so it could be my city and particular ISP. Where you are in China and your ISP might make a difference. They do have a 30-day guarantee, so you can ask for a refund if it doesn’t work for you.
- VyprVPN ($60.00 for 2 years) – This is a more under-the-radar, but its strong overall. When I am in BJ, it works well. But again, in Southern China, not so well like ExpressVPN. I do like its privacy and security with no logging. Usable with Netflix and other online video sites. The best part of VyprVPN though is the price at $30 per year / $2.50 per month. If you’re outside of China and looking for no-logs privacy, this Swiss company can’t be beat.
Productivity / Project Management Tools
There are many products, services, and online platforms I use to get myself and projects organized on a daily basis. The good thing about what I use is that most have a FREE Plan or are inexpensive for the value you receive.
- ConvertKit, Free or Paid – A popular email marketing software that’s built for bloggers and great with email automations. It’s on the higher side of costs, but it’s also worth the price if you have a larger subscriber list. If you’re just starting out, you may want to try one of the other options like MailerLite or MailChimp that have better Free plans. For those who do want to try it, ConvertiKit just started a free plan and if you sign up through the referral link above, you’ll unlock the ability to send emails to 100 subscribers for free to start with. Otherwise you’ll need to refer someone else first, before you can send to 100 subscribers.
- Fiverr, Free to Sign Up, Freelancer Fees Vary – Various Services – Logos, website designers, developers, copywriters, video editors, photographers, social media marketers for Instagram / Youtube / Facebook, and many other freelancers are available on Fiverr. There are freelancers available for all budget sizes. I’ve used Fiverr freelancers for all sorts of gigs. I have a few favorite freelancers that I use on a regular basis. You’ll definitely want to go through all the work and if they don’t have enough samples on the website, ask them to share samples and/or their portfolios, so you can review their work. Make sure you vet them. With Fiverr acting as an escrow, it gives me peace of mind that I can be refunded if the freelancer does not do the work.
- ProtonMail, Personal Email ($5/month) – Secure Email based in Switzerland. This has become my main personal email, because of the end-to-end encryption they provide. They do have a Free Plan with 500MB, which isn’t much nowadays due to attachment sizes. With a need for more email storage, I purchased their Plus Plan for 5GB (although they recently gifted 5GB to early subscribers, so I have 10GB now). I purchased during the Black Friday sale, which was a good deal and if you can wait for that, you should. One great reason for paying is their ProtonMail Bridge app that allows for end-to-end encryption while using Apple Mail and other third-party email clients that support IMAP and SMTP. The Bridge is only available for the desktop. For my iPhone, I need to use their iOS app to continue having the encryption.
- G Suite, Business Emails/Docs/Storage ($6/month per user – Extra 20% Off 1st year with affiliate link) – This is what I use for my business endeavors. G Suite’s Basic plan gives me emails, calendars, 30GB cloud storage, Video/Text chats, Docs and more for my custom domains. I have various domains and G Suite allows me to add up to 20 domain aliases and up to 30 email aliases. The only issue with G Suite is working in China due to the Great Firewall, but that’s where the VPN comes in. This is par for China and why I highlighted the importance of a VPN first.
- Lastpass, Password Manager (FREE and Paid Plans) – This is probably the most time-saving piece of software for me. I don’t have to remember account usernames and passwords. The biggest advantage is SECURITY. I’m able to save complex and unique passwords for each site. I’m also able to confirm I’m on the correct site and not on a fake phishing site that’s looking to steal my information. How do I know I’m on the right site? If Lastpass recognizes the site and wants to autofill my username and password, then I’m on the right site.
- Asana, Tasks / Project Management (FREE) – Asana is a great project management site that I also use for managing my Personal Life ‘workspace’ and using it for To-Do Lists. Asana is organized as Workspaces and each workspace has multiple projects. For me to produce my life, I created a workspace specifically for all the ‘projects’ in my life as they all have different tasks. There are many other To-Do List / Task Management apps out there and I’ve tried many over the years, but I still come back to Asana. With project management, you write out a list of tasks (to-do’s) and you check them off. Nothing different from a Personal to-do list, so why bother with two separate apps? The Free Basic plan is great, but if you need more features, it starts at $10.99/month per user. There’s also an alternative, Monday.com, that’s also great and others may prefer the design, but it’s more expensive starting at $39/month for 5 users. I prefer Asana’s design, because I’m able to see more on screen due to its compact design.
- Apple Notes (FREE) – I’ve used all sorts of Note-Taking apps and Apple Notes is the one that I still come back to. The syncs between my laptop, iPhone and iPad are seamless. Not needing to worry about notes syncing is great. Evernote used to be my go-to, but about three years ago, I started to have all sorts of syncing issues and would have multiple ‘Conflict Notes’ that I’d have to manually merge/reconcile. Then the size of the Evernote file also became too large, even though I rarely included any files in my notes, I mainly use text. The Evernote apps on my laptop and phone would take a long time to start up. You can also use Apple Notes online via icloud.com, but I’m not a big fan of icloud.com in general. The UI/UX isn’t pleasant for me.
- Panda Planner ($24.97 for Classic, 15% OFF Code: GIMME15) – If you like old school pen and paper planners, this is the one to get. This will get you organized in planning your personal and business lives. This planner helps to ensure you’re consistently taking actions toward your short and long term goals. Keeping focus on your goals is one of the hardest things to do when everything in your life is disorganized. This planner will help keep the goals in front of you, so your goals are always in front of you.
- Apple Mail (FREE) – I’ve also used all sorts of mail clients (Spark, Airmail, Thunderbird, Outlook, Newton, etc.), but the one I keep circling back to is Apple Mail. It’s simple and works well. I don’t need a lot of the features that other clients provide based on the way I usually work. Since it’s within Apple’s ecosystem, my laptop, iPhone and iPad are all synced seamlessly. I setup and use my personal and business emails together in Apple Mail. I’ve tried to use a different email client for just business emails, but I haven’t found that to work well due to not finding an email client that works as well.
- Apple Calendar + Google Calendar (Both FREE) – I use a combination of Apple and Google here with Apple’s being the main calendar I check. Google Calendar’s sharing / collaboration functionality wins here, while Apple’s doesn’t always work. I need a calendar I can collaborate with others on. For whatever reason, Apple’s doesn’t work.
- Blinkist (FREE Trial, $89.99/year or $14.99/month) – They distill books into audio and textual ‘blinks’ that will give you the core ideas of nonfiction books in 15-20 minutes. It’s a great resource that I use daily if I want to give myself a refresher on books I’ve read. Also offers a great “test drive” into books that I’m thinking about getting to read. I use it on the road when driving or sitting on the subway. It’s great, because it’s not too long and not too short. They have a Free 7-day trial, so you can try it out for yourself and see if it’s good for you.
Those are my main tools for Producers and Leaders to stay on top of projects and life. I actually love to test out new ones, so if you have any suggestions, please leave a comment or send me a message.
You may have also noticed, I’m a big Apple fan, but it didn’t always be this way. I was a young buck, who started programming in BASIC and learned HTML when I got those AOL CDs with free hours in the mail. In fact, I was an AOL CD hoarder, because if you’re not old enough – AOL charged users by the hour. Point is, I loved to customize and figure things out myself. What I later realized as I got older was that my time was becoming more valuable and I needed hardware that ‘just worked’. I didn’t want to mess around with setting up the hardware and networking side. I wanted to focus on creating and producing.