As a general rule, software applications exist to provide convenience and to streamline work. They usually offer a variety of efficient tools to help you boost productivity.
But what if I told you that no matter what app you’re using, it’s likely you’re not using it to its full potential?
To get more out of your day-to-day tools, learn to unlock the power of templates.
Take word processors, for instance. Every time you create a new document, you’re starting from scratch. That’s ideal, and necessary, if you’re creating something new, innovative or fresh. But, if you’re creating a document that has a universal design, you’re just wasting time.
No matter what app you’re using, and no matter what type of project you’re embarking on, it probably already has a pre-made template available. If that’s not the case, you can usually create your own templates to call upon later.
Taking this approach to daily productivity can improve your life by saving you time, helping you produce great work and maybe even by helping you discover new formulas for your day-to-day tasks that you hadn’t thought of.
So, when you commit to using templates, it’s important to know what makes a template worth your time in the first place.
How to Spot a Good Template
The first step to choosing any template is determining exactly what you need out of it. What are you going to use it for? What kind of information are you going to include?
Of course, this is also going to depend on the app you’re planning to use. That brings me to my next point:
Make sure you understand the full scope of the application you’re getting the template for. Make sure you understand the full scope of the template, as well.
In other words, what kinds of things will you be able to do with it? Are there any changes or edits you can’t make? What limitations or restrictions do you need to remain aware of? Are there elements that must be presented in a certain way?
Any good template is both flexible and customizable. You should be able to mold it into exactly what you need, if it isn’t that way already.
Right now, these tips seem generalized, but you’ll understand their value as soon as you dive in and start looking for a template. Remember to write down and specify what you need out of the template first, and go from there.
Templates for Popular Apps
Next, we’ll take a look at some example templates for several popular apps. Take note of the type of templates highlighted, and try to do the same for your own apps — especially if they’re not on the list.
Through effective templates, you can unlock the true potential of your apps and take your software experience to the next level.
Asana, if you’re not already acquainted, is a team-based project management tool. More importantly, it’s a social organization tool for small to large teams, complete with inline chatting, interactions and more.
It allows you to stay in touch with your team, create and organize projects and assign duties to team members. You can organize projects in a variety of ways, with different tasks to make up a whole. There are multiple tools and features to augment your experience, too. For example, anyone can attach files from cloud storage services, like Dropbox, or upload them for online access. This allows you to easily share files between team members.
Unlike some of the other apps on this list, you cannot download pre-made templates for use in Asana. But, you can create your own templates to use whenever you need them.
There are a couple ways to do this. You can either create a template from scratch, with the full intention of using it as a template from the get-go, or you can turn an existing project or task into a template, allowing you to save the current structure.
This is great for tasks like creating new client checklists, product marketing content, quality assurance plans, onboarding materials for new hires and more. You can save the current structure or layout as a base to reuse and modify for future tasks and projects.
The full resource for working with templates in Asana can be found here.
Asana is free to use for teams of up to 15 people, or $8.33 (billed annually) per member for larger teams.
One of the best things about Canva, an online image editing and design tool, is that there are a ton of templates available to work with.
Canva is basically the less-complicated Photoshop of modern graphic design. It’s powerful, and there are a ton of resources available from within the app to create the graphics you need for blog posts, print resources and more. You can leverage existing shapes, clipart, font styles, and visual elements to produce exactly the type of graphic you need.
Choosing an existing template to work with in Canva is joyously simple. Just start the app and you’ll be presented with a variety of options to choose from.
What you may not know is that, with a Canva for Work account, you can create and save your own branded templates for use anytime. This is straightforward as the options are right there in front of you.
There is a workaround you can use for the standard version of Canva for personal use. The app automatically saves any previous documents you have created, provided you signed-in. Make sure to do so, create a new document and then populate it with generic images and content.
Later, you can edit the existing document by creating a copy and going from there. It’s just like having a custom template!
Canva Basic is free to use, but there are restrictions on the content you can include in your graphics. You can pay individually to use certain graphical elements from within the app, and costs will vary.
Canva for Work is $12.95 per month for each designer on a team who needs access to the tool, and that price is discounted to $9.95 a month if you pay on an annual basis.
Kanbanize, a popular Kanban and agile management tool, has built-in support for custom card types and templates.
The tool is used to streamline work processes by providing a visualized progress board. It’s essentially a digital version of the Kanban process. You create what’s called a project board that acts just like a blackboard or whiteboard. Then, you create task cards for all the different steps that need to be done in order to complete your project — these act like sticky notes. These task cards are assigned to individual team members and help you keep track of what’s been completed and what still needs to get done.
Normally, you would need to create task cards and project boards from scratch, editing all the individual attributes, fields and details as you go. To make things simpler, Kanbanize allows you to create templates of these elements.
The tool allows you to modify pre-made templates of task cards so that you don’t need to create them from every time. It’s especially convenient if there are attributes that you use regularly, and you can do the same with project boards to keep fields and attributes consistent across multiple projects.
Setting up a template in Kanbanize is pretty intuitive but if you prefer detailed steps the site also has easy-to-follow instructions on its Card Types & Templates page.
Kanbanize offers a free trial for up to 1,000 actions. After that, it’s $9 per team member per month (billed annually) for smaller teams of up to 20 users. For larger organizations, it’s $15 per user per month.
Google Docs is a cloud-based word processor that’s extremely versatile. If you’ve ever used Microsoft Word, OpenOffice or similar tools, it’s almost exactly that, with exception that it’s an online app. There are also mobile and tablet versions of the tool so you can edit docs on the go, and there’s an offline feature for when you need to leave your protected Wi-Fi bubble.
Like most word processors, you can download premade templates for creating documents with the tool. The kind of template you need clearly depends on the project or content you plan to work on. For example, there are templates for calendars, cover letters, resumes, invoices, business plans, project timelines and so much more.
You’ll find some of the best premade Google Docs templates highlighted here.
You can also create your own template easily by saving a document with the base content and then copying that file later for editing.
Hootsuite is a super-powerful social marketing tool that allows you to manage social accounts and post content to various social networks.
What makes it great for businesses large and small is that it offers several concise analytics tools to go along with the social content you post. You can track engagement levels, views, outreach percentage and more.
One of the excellent features of Hootsuite — and there are many — is that you can create templates of custom social messages. This allows you to reuse content that you would continuously post. This is a feature sorely lacking from most social networks, especially from the perspective of many bloggers and small business owners.
For example, let’s say you have a promotion going on all month that you want your social followers to know about. Rather than creating a new social post from scratch every single time you want to send out the promotional content, you can store the message as a template to call upon later. Then, throughout the course of the month, you can open up that template and schedule social posts — identical or slightly edited each time.
If you’re wondering how to set up templates, you’ll find detailed instructions here.
Hootsuite Pro, which allows up to 10 users, is $9.99 a month billed annually. Hootsuite Business, which is for larger teams, does not have a listed price per user so you’ll need to get in touch with the support team for more info.
Running a business, big or small, is not an easy task, especially when it comes to managing finances. FreshBooks is an accounting tool that reports it can free up an average of two whole days per month for clients that would otherwise be spent performing regular accounting tasks.
It’s a QuickBooks alternative that works great and has a minimal, yet capable, interface.
I can’t go over every single feature of the service because I’d be here all day — there’s a lot. What I can talk about is the excellent template support the app offers.
FreshBooks already has a pre-made template tool for generating invoices and estimates. You can customize templates right from your account admin panel. This allows you to cut down on the time you’d normally spend creating these types of documents by customizing the necessary information and fields up front. That way, when it’s time to send out an invoice to a client, or generate estimates, you only need to edit a small batch of info.
FreshBooks is $39.95 a month for the Premium plan, which allows you to bill an unlimited number of clients and create an unlimited number of invoices and reports. If you only need to bill 50 clients or less, you can nab the Plus plan for $24.95 a month, which offers an unlimited number of invoices and reports, too.
Zapier is a powerful tool that can help you automate tasks by defining a series of triggers and actions. Through the app, you create something called a “zap,” which serves as a general rule, or template, for the action you’d like to perform.
The tool can be used to connect two Zapier-supported apps to one another to accomplish work.
For example, you can set up a zap, or rule, that automatically saves Gmail attachments to your Dropbox account. You can also set up rules for creating a Trello card on a weekly basis, filling new rows in Google Sheets with RescueTime summary reports and much more.
Essentially, every rule or action you create in Zapier is a template.
This tool is invaluable for business owners and those who work in fast-paced environments. You can automate a variety of tasks through well over 500 third-party apps like Facebook, Dropbox, WordPress, Google Drive, Evernote and more.
Think of all the time you could save by automating mundane tasks that you carry out on a regular basis.
Zapier has a wide selection of payment tiers that range from Basic ($20 per month) to Business Plus ($125 per month) and Infrastructure ($250 per month). The number of rules you can create depends on the subscription plan you choose.
What Templates Will You Start Using?
Templates, so long as they are effective, can save you a lot of time and effort. They allow you to skip over general steps in document and task creation tools to get right to the nitty-gritty. With all the apps listed above — and many not mentioned here — you can load up a template and edit specific fields to get exactly what you need.
We could all use a little extra time and, by leveraging templates, you will afford yourself exactly that.
So, how will you use templates to make your life a little easier? Which are the templates you already use? Tell us in the comments section below!
Image Credit: Helloquence