My complete list of creative, business & productivity tools

Published by Nela Dunato on in Business, Productivity, Tips for creatives

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably mighty curious about what other creatives use to do their work and run their business. I mention my tools when I write about my process, but now I’ll lay them all here and go into more detail about them so you can easily find whatever you’re interested in.

I regularly update this list as I acquire new tools, but I also preserve information on older ones that may still be a useful option for those on a tight budget.

My complete list of creative, business & productivity tools

Table of Contents

Graphic design tools

You’ll notice a theme here. While Adobe software is almost prohibitively expensive (at least in Croatia), I don’t see myself switching to different brand anytime soon. In most cases, the cheaper software (such as Affinity, which I’ve also tried) just doesn’t cut it.

Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop CC is a part of the Creative Cloud suite of Adobe products. (Standalone programs you pay for once and continue using forever are no longer available.)

I’ve been using Photoshop for the longest time—I believe I’ve made my first photo-montages back in 2002. Later I’ve started using Photoshop for graphic design as well.

Today I use Photoshop for:

  • Digital art and illustration.
  • Website style guide designs (before Adobe XD was available).
  • Blog and social media graphics.
  • Editing photography.
  • Editing the scans of my traditional art and lettering.
  • Creating complex graphics that aren’t possible in Illustrator or InDesign.

There are plenty of features in Photoshop that I’ve never used, but I’m pretty happy with the wide range of capabilities it provides.

Adobe Illustrator

I’ve only started using Illustrator since I’ve transitioned to the Adobe Creative Cloud—since I’m paying for all this anyway, I might as well use it.

Before this, I used an open source vector program Inkscape. I still love Inkscape because it’s less cluttered and faster than Illustrator, and it’s pretty powerful. All of my logos and vector illustrations done before 2014 were made in it. (Check my Komfor logo design process to see a bit of my workflow in Inkscape.)

That said, I like Adobe Illustrator better for 2 reasons:

  1. Better support for print, and CMYK and Pantone color systems.
  2. The interface and keyboard shortcuts are similar to other Adobe programs I use.

Because of that, I use Adobe Illustrator for:

Adobe InDesign

InDesign is my second favorite Adobe program after Photoshop. Its main purpose is to create designs intended for print.

I use InDesign for:

  • Brochures
  • Business cards
  • Posters
  • Flyers
  • Magazines
  • E-books
  • Printed books
  • PDF documents of any kind
  • Digital interactive workbooks (like The Human Centered Brand Workbook)
  • Conference talk presentations

I no longer use any kind of office software to create documents and presentations—I do it straight in InDesign.

If you’re wondering what the difference between Illustrator and InDesign is: InDesign is built to handle a large number of pages and different types of images, while Illustrator works well only for few pages and is not meant to be used with raster images. InDesign is not meant for drawing—you can draw simple vectors in InDesign, but it’s better at managing imported vector or raster graphics.

Wacom Intuos3

I’ve had this tablet since 2007 and it’s still working wonderfully, and never had as much as a hiccup. *knocks on wood*

Wacom Intuos3

I’ve never bothered to upgrade to a newer model simply because there was no need. This one works so well, and I’ll continue to use it as long as it works, or until I switch to a large screen tablet.

Wacom Intuos Creative

Since Intuos3 is huge and takes up half of my desk, I wanted a tablet I can use to work when I travel (trackpad and mouse just aren’t an option).

Enter A5-sized Intuos Creative, formerly known as Bamboo. This is not the “real” Intuos. What was formerly Intuos (high pressure sensitivity, better surface, better grip pen with a pen stand) is now Intuos Pro. Now they’ve changed the names again, so the newest version of this might be called Intuos Draw or Intuos Art something like that.


Every website I’ve created in nearly a decade—whether it’s for my clients, or my own projects—is running on WordPress.

I’ve tried different content management systems available, and I like WordPress best. The interface is nice, there are a ton of plugins for every purpose imaginable, and a vibrant community of users who happily offer tutorials, resources and answers to your questions, so it’s very easy to get on board.

I prefer self-hosted WordPress sites to any other CMS (like Squarespace) because I like the option to take things apart and tweak them as I wish. The SaaS systems just feel too constricted.

Genesis Framework

I bought the Genesis Framework prior to learning how to create my own themes from scratch, so it would enable me to build themes quickly. Turns out making themes isn’t that difficult, but Genesis provides some additional functionality I like. I don’t use it on all my projects.

Pantone Color Books

Pantone Colour Matching System is the industry standard and makes picking the colors and showing to the client how they’re going to look in print very easy.

Pantone Bridge color book is the first one I purchased, since it includes the closest CMYK values.

Pantone Bridge Color Book Coated

I’ve gotten the Pantone Metallic inks book as well, for those special projects that ask for an elegant, luxury vibe.

Because Pantone swatch books are both expensive and bulky, I got a few cheaper light-weight color books that I can take to meetings, or for special purposes:

LightCraft Light Box

I bought the Lightcraft A4 Ultra-Slim Light Box the last time I visited London. Naturally, I had to comb through all the arts & crafts stores I could find, and got home with a ton of goodies, but this was one that I was the most excited about. I’m over the Moon that I can finally re-draw my sketches without having to resort to taping papers to my window (as I’ve demonstrated in this post).

Lightcraft A4 Ultra-Slim Light Box

I’ve been using it for my hand-lettered logo design projects, as well as to copy my sketches to high-quality paper for final art.

Sketching tools

Sketching on paper is an essential step in my creative process. I’ve written about my sketching kit in the context of drawing before (and I updated my sketching kits information again in 2021), so I won’t elaborate on every single tool in detail here.

Graph paper and a sketchbook

Currently I’m using these tools to draw my early design concepts and hand-lettering:

Sketching tools: pencils, pens, markers, watercolor and templates

The sketchbook, and a small pencil case with my basic sketching tools goes with me wherever I go—you never know when inspiration can strike.

Art & illustration tools

Many of the graphic design tools I’ve already mentioned double as my art supplies, so go back up a bit if you want to see those. I’ve also listed the contents of my portable sketching kits in an earlier video and post that I won’t repeat.

I don’t make a living from my artwork, so I’m not using the most expensive materials available. I try to be frugal, but I also value quality, so I’m always doing my research to find underrated brands that fit into my budget.

Sketchbook with a mixed media Dark Crystal fan art of Skeksil with art supplies: watercolor paint, water-soluble pastels, ink pens, and pencil


I don’t have a favorite brand, since I’m still experimenting with different types of paper and I haven’t found “the one” that is perfect for all my mixed media needs. Here’s a list of my most used papers:

  • Canson Montval 300gsm & 400gsm cold press cellulose watercolor paper – I used it for my oldest watercolor and acrylic paintings since it’s pretty affordable, and I still find it good enough for most purposes. I especially recommend this paper for watercolor beginners – do not waste your money on XL!
  • Canson ArtBook Mix Media 224gsm paper – this is a much nicer paper than their XL range, and I painted some of my book illustrations on it. But it warps a lot and watercolor lifts off too easily, so now I use it only when I don’t need heavy watercolor washes or layering.
  • Magnani Italia 300gsm cold press 100% cotton watercolor paper – excellent quality at half the price of Arches. I use it when I need to use heavy wet in wet washes and layers.
  • Arches 300gsm cold press 100% cotton watercolor paper – excellent quality, I use it when I’m not able to find Magnani Italia in local stores.
  • Fabriano White White 300gsm drawing paper – very smooth paper that I use for ink, colored pencils, and gouache.
  • Kreul Mixed media 300gsm 50% cotton paper – hot press surface that I like to use for a combination of watercolor and colored pencils.
  • Canson Imagine 200gsm mixed media paper – I’ve only used it for comics so far. It works great with ink and light watercolor washes.
  • Strathmore 400 Series Toned Mixed Media 300gsm paper – I’m partial to the gray color, but tan is nice as well. I like it for water-soluble pastels, as well as color and watercolor pencils.

I have a few new brands to test, and if I like them, I’ll add them here.

Watercolor paint

Currently my most used brands are:

  • Royal Talens Van Gogh (pans and tubes) – high quality, affordable student grade
  • Royal Talens Rembrandt (tubes) – artist grade
  • Roman Szmal (pans) – affordable artist grade
  • Rosa Gallery (tubes) – affordable artist grade
  • Winsor & Newton Professional (tubes) – artist grade
  • Winsor & Newton Cotman (tubes) – student grade, not as good as Van Gogh in my opinion, so I’m phasing them out

I prefer brands that I can purchase locally or from nearby European stores, which limits my selection somewhat, but I’ve been pretty happy with these paints.

Some of my most used colors include: transparent gold ochre, quinacridone rose, transparent brown, phthalo blue red shade, pyrrole rubine, dioxazine violet, ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, indanthrone blue, green gold, and cobalt teal.

I only use white and black gouache, and I’m quite happy with Schminke Akademie.

Acrylic paint & mediums

I only use brands that I can purchase locally. I’ve been satisfied with Winsor & Newton Galleria, Talens Amsterdam, and Liquitex Basics paint. I also used Pebeo in the past, but that brand has become unavailable, and I did sometimes run into quality control issues with them. I find that some colors are worth getting in the more expensive brands, while others (with affordable pigments) are just fine in the student range as well.

I use a variety of mediums and gesso from brands such as Liquitex, Amsterdam, Pebeo, Lefranc & Bourgeois and Raphael.


I currently use a waterproof Platinum Carbon Black ink in my Pentel Pocket brush pen and my vintage Pelikan fountain pen.

In my sketchbooks I also use water-soluble inks for a fun pen and wash effect, and my favorites are by Rohrer & Klingner and Diamine.

I wrote an entire article about pens and inks here: Sketchbook Adventures: Sketching with fountain pens


I only use synthetic brushes for ethical reasons. I don’t have access to the most renown brands in my country, so I make do with what I can get here, and occasionally purchase a few brushes online that are in my budget.

My current favorite watercolor brushes include:

  • Raphael SoftAqua 805 sizes 0 and 4 – imitation squirrel, soft, high water capacity, pointed tip (useful for painting large washes around a subject).
  • Princeton Aqua Elite Long Round size 12 – imitation sable, springy, very sharp pointed tip (useful for fine and wispy lines such as hair and branches).
  • Daler Rowney Graduate Flat Wash 1″ – soft and wide. I just use it to wet the paper nowadays, but in the past I used it for large flat and graduated washes.
  • Jackson’s Nylon Retractable Brush size 9 – firm pointed round travel brush. I now use it for most of my travel sketches and find it quite versatile.
  • Pentel Aquash Waterbrush (large) – I use it mostly to activate water-soluble pencils and pastels, but it also comes in very handy for softening edges and lifting paint.

My current favorite acrylic & gouache brushes include:

  • Raphael Precision 8534 flat size 12 – imitation sable, I also sometimes use it for watercolor.
  • Raphael Precision 8524 round size 4 – imitation sable, for details. I also sometimes use it for watercolor.
  • Raphael Precision 8504 round size 3/0 – imitation sable, for very fine details. I also sometimes use it for watercolor.
  • Raphael Kaerell 8792 size 16 – wide, soft filbert.
  • Escoda Primera sizes 4 and 12 – pointed, firm filbert.

In addition to these, I use many of my old cheap brushes for mixing paint, scrubbing, applying gesso and gel mediums, and many other things that are hard on brushes, so I can preserve the longevity of my good brushes.

Color & watercolor pencils

I rely on European brands, since these are easy to get in my country. I often purchase individual pencils in colors I find most useful, and if I can pick them out at a local store, that’s even better.

Faber-Castell Polychromos 30 colors set in a pencil roll

My current favorite color pencils are:

  • Faber-Castell Polychromos – I’ve reviewed them on my old blog. They have a firm core so they’re excellent for detailed drawings, and they layer very nicely as well. I try to stick to the colors that are reliably lightfast, and this brand does have some issues with incorrect labeling, so I do my own testing.
  • Derwent Drawing – A limited selection of fully lightfast earth and muted colors with an extremely soft core that blends very easily. I use them primarily for portraits alongside Polychromos.
  • Derwent Coloursoft – They’re one of my oldest colored pencil sets, so I used them often in my older artwork. Since they have variable lightfast ratings, in my “fine art” I only use those that are highly rated, and that I was able to confirm in my own tests. But I use them a lot in my sketchbooks and art journals.
  • Caran D’Ache Luminance – Very expensive, so I only have a few colors.

My favorite watercolor pencils are:

  • Talens Van GoghFull review is on my old blog. I purchased them because they’re ASTM-rated lightfast, and much more affordable than Museum Aquarelle.
  • Derwent Inktense – Soft and highly pigmented pencils that explode with color when blended with water. I only use lightfast colors in fine art, but I love using them in my sketchbooks.
  • Caran D’Ache Museum Aquarelle – Very expensive, so I only have a few colors.


My favorite type are water-soluble pastels, specifically Caran D’Ache Neocolor II. I wrote an entire post about using water-soluble pastels on my old blog.

Sometimes I use Conte a Paris pastel pencils on top of watercolor when I can’t get a soft enough blend or a bright enough color with wax pencils.

Epson Perfection V330 scanner

I’ve been happily using this scanner since 2012 and wrote my initial impressions about it on my sketchblog. It’s still working great as of 2023 (and I’m using it almost daily), so that’s a testament to it’s durability. I’ve disassembled it once a few years ago to clean up dust from the glass. In recent months the driver has been glitching so sometimes I have to reinstall it, so I was worried it might be time for a new one, but it keeps soldiering on.

The lid is removable so it doesn’t get in the way of scanning large artworks. I stitch them up manually in Adobe Photoshop, but new Epson models have built-in software that does it.

At any rate, once this one kicks the bucket I’ll be purchasing whatever Epson Perfection model is current at the time. As of now V600 is the more expensive model for professional artists, and V39 is a more affordable home & office scanner.

Autodesk Sketchbook

I use the Android app on my Samsung Galaxy Tab to do quick color studies and to test how certain ideas could look on my traditional work. I take a photo of the painting in progress, import it into Sketchbook, and then paint over it. That way I can try things out digitally without affecting the original. Once I’m happy with my experiment, I use it as a reference to finish the actual painting.

While it’s possible to create complete digital artworks in the app, I very rarely use it for that purpose since I prefer to paint traditionally.

Anatomy models

I have a realistic anatomical training skull model by Cranstein that I purchased on German Amazon. It’s designed for medical students so the top of the head can pop off to examine the interior bone structure, but apart from the seam line, it’s the best affordable skull model I could find.

Realistic anatomical skull model in an artist's studio

I also use two 3D reference model Android apps. I can pose my model and set lighting sources to help me with placing the shadows correctly on my imaginative drawings.

  • Head Model Studio – I purchased the premium version which has a variety of head models (realistic, polygon, skull, muscles, features). I can set the head tilt on the polygon model, so I’ve found that one the most useful.
  • Poseit – Full body mannequin pose app. I’ve only used the free version since it has all I need.

Paint palettes & miscellaneous tools

I’m quite simple when it comes to watercolor palettes. I have one rectangular 9-well porcelain palette that I purchased on AliExpress (I’ve seen them on Amazon too). My other porcelain palettes are a fancy rectangular serving plate, and a few small dip bowls.

I made my own stay-wet palette for acrylic paint, which is better than some commercial palettes I’ve seen. I was lucky to find a plastic tray that is the perfect size to fit a kitchen counter sponge, and it closes with a laminated A4 card secured by electrical tape. I line the palette with baking paper. I’d like to eventually replace it with an airtight commercial stay-wet palette, but this one has been serving me well for many years.

I don’t have a favorite masking tape, since it’s super difficult to find good ones where I live and I mostly buy them when I travel.

All my pencil sharpeners are made by KUM.

If you’re wondering about a specific thing I haven’t mentioned, feel free to ask in the comments!

Photography & video tools

Blogging and sharing my work on social media requires taking good quality photos and videos. While I’m by no means a professional, I do enjoy photography a lot, and videos are becoming a more important part of my media expression. To see the kinds of photos and videos I make with these tools, check out my YouTube channel.

Sony α NEX-5TL Mirrorless Digital Camera

My old DSLR camera didn’t have video, so I needed something new with HD video capability. Mirrorless cameras just became popular at the time, and after some research I’ve settled on the Sony α NEX-5TL. (It had many new versions since, and the model names changed to a four-digit designation.)

Sony NEX-5T mirrorless digital camera

I love this camera. It makes excellent photos, so I gave my DSLR away. It’s smaller and lighter than DSLRs. The video is pretty good, and audio is decent if I stand close enough. The few things I dislike about this camera is that it doesn’t have an external mic port, and that it heats up tremendously while shooting longer videos (which is the issue with all Sony Alpha models), so I had to find workarounds for that. There are some great tips on YouTube if you’re running into this problem as well.

Sigma 30mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens

A couple of years after buying Sony α with a kit lens, I purchased a gorgeous Sigma 30mm F1.4 E-Mount lens that significantly upgraded the quality of my photos and videos. (You can see the difference it makes in indoor recordings if you compare my 2016 and 2019 videos on YouTube.) It’s perfect for low light conditions, so now I’m able to film videos at any time of day, no matter what the weather is like. (Previously I was only shooting videos in bright daylight.) I’m totally in love with this lens and would recommend it to Sony camera users, and it’s also available for other camera system mounts.

Sigma 30mm F1.4 lens on a Sony Alpha NEX-5TL mirrorless camera

Aputure A.lav microphone

Since recording sound with a camera results in less than awesome audio quality, I needed an inexpensive mic that would provide decent sound for my videos. Enter Aputure A.lav lavalier microphone. It came highly recommended by one video producer (outperforming lapel mics that were twice as expensive) so I decided to give it a go. What I like about it is that it has a ton of adapters, so I can record audio on my laptop, desktop, and phone. (Sadly not my camera because Sony has a proprietary mic port.) There is some audible white noise when recording, but it’s easily removed in any audio editing software. I still use this microphone for my video intros.

Thomann t.bone SC 420

This is a tabletop “podcasting” microphone. I asked a friend who is an audio-video engineer to recommend something for my budget, and he told me about this affordable German brand. I liked that this Thomann t.bone SC 420 came with a desktop tripod, a pop filter, and a protective carrying case. I like it very much so far, and I’ve recorded all my newer voice-overs on it.


My newest is the Daylight Techne LED Artist & Drafting Lamp, which can be attached to any drawing surface, including easels. I’m able to point it at the surface without it shining into my eyes. Most of the time even the lowest setting is quite enough for drawing, but I increase it for video recordings. It doesn’t take up any space on the desk, and doesn’t require a diffusor because the light is distributed fairly evenly across the surface, so it’s much more practical than my previous setup.

My work desk with the Daylight Techne LED Artist & Drafting Lamp

Before I purchased this lamp, I used a very bright Philips LED Daylight 100W equivalent bulb for my old desk lamp along with a diffuser. I still use it as a key light with a cheap light bouncer I got from Aliexpress to lighten the shadows. (Before I had the bouncer, I used a large styrofoam sheet. Whatever you have around the house works!)

Adobe Premiere

Premiere is a professional video editing tool. It’s probably more than I realistically need because I’m a complete video noob, but it’s easy enough to use even with my limited skills.

Samsung Galaxy S6 / Samsung A52s

When I want to take a quick snapshot to share on social media, I shoot and edit photos on my phone. The photo quality is pretty great so there’s not much visible difference in such a small resolution. I also used my phone to record live video streams, until I bought a decent webcam.

Logitech StreamCam

After nearly 2 years of pandemic, I realized that hooking up my phone or tablet for every video meeting was becoming too burdensome, so I finally bought an external webcam Logitech StreamCam. I chose this one because it had the best reviews in that price range, and one of my friends had it as well and her streams looked pretty great. I’m happy with how it works, it can be attached to a regular tripod so I can use it to stream overhead drawing videos as well.


I currently use Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT. It can be turned to almost any angle, including parallel to the desk. It’s also very robust, so it won’t get knocked over if I accidentally tap it with my arm. (Water bottle acts as a counterweight for the camera when the arm is horizontal.)

This is what my filming setup looked like before I purchased the Daylight overhead lamp.

Western Digital My Passport Ultra External Hard Drive

I have a few backup hard drives (the larger WD MyBook as well), and MyPassport is the latest addition that I use primarily for art, design and video storage. I like it because I can fit it in my laptop bag and take it anywhere, so I can work on the road because all my working files are always with me.

After my first hard drive failure in 2004 where I’ve lost my final high school project (that I had to rewrite in 4 days), as well as my early digital artworks and websites, I’ve been obsessive about regularly keeping things backed up.

(I know it technically doesn’t fall into this category, but I didn’t know where else to put it.)

Business management tools

Gmail / Google Workspace

A lot of business management stuff happens through emails: onboarding clients, talking to potential partners, requesting proposals for print jobs or equipment, etc. I move stuff away from email and into Trello (see below) whenever I can, but I can’t completely avoid email.

Gmail Tabs are the best thing ever. I know a lot of people hate them (because your newsletters end up in the Promotions tab), but I love the Promotions tab and having my priority inbox uncluttered.

Labels help me keep stuff organized and out of my inbox. For example, I label all emails relative to finances and taxes “admin” and archive them immediately, and then process them on Mondays during my weekly admin appointment. The rest of the time they’re out of sight.

I used to use the free version of Gmail, but have since migrated to a paid account to get some extra features and to keep my personal and work inbox separate.

Google Drive

Google Drive is my exobrain. I don’t know what I’m not using it for. Here’s just a few things off the top of my head:

  • Writing all my documentation drafts in it (before I design it in InDesign)
  • Storing notes on my processes (standard operating procedures)
  • Keeping my email communication templates
  • Tracking and projecting income in spreadsheets
  • Crafting website content (including this very blog post)
  • Sharing files with clients
  • Storing all my ideas for future creative & business projects
  • Taking notes for courses, workshops, webinars etc.
  • Keeping track of clients, leads and proposals (CRM tools are an overkill for me)

I don’t know if I’ve forgotten something, but you get the picture: I use Drive for pretty much everything.

The reason I love it so much is that I can type my notes (and entire blog posts) on my phone, whenever I get inspired (which is sometimes late at night, or while riding the bus).

Google Meet

I switched from Skype and Zoom to Meet because it integrates well with Google Calendar, and my clients don’t have to download anything.

Google Calendar

In the paid version of Google Workspace, the Calendar app includes a booking option (similar to Calendly). It’s one of the best calendar booking app I’ve tried so far, including the following functionality:

  • Multiple meeting schedules, each with their own settings.
  • Automatically creates Google Meet links.
  • Sends out email reminders.
  • Checks for conflicts within all synced calendars (including my personal Google Calendar).
  • Can add exceptional availability status for specific dates.
  • Drag & drop schedule editing.

It doesn’t have page redirects or custom email messages, but I don’t need this in my business so it’s fine.


I love Trello so much, I’ve written a bunch of guest posts about it that you can read to get started using it and get the maximum power out of it quickly:

I said Google Drive is my exobrain, but Trello is the structure that keeps it all organized. I use Trello for managing:

  • Client projects
  • Personal creative projects
  • Business development and admin
  • Blog & video editorial calendar
  • Speaking and workshops
Trello web design project board

Trello is free and you can share your project board with unlimited team members, and you really can’t beat that. I use the Standard paid plan which is very affordable and the perfect fit for my business needs. You can join here. Tell them Nela sent you.


Gumroad is a platform for selling physical and digital products. It can handle payment processing, file delivery, coupons, affiliate tracking, memberships, etc. It’s quite similar to Selz and SendOwl, but the reason I’ve chosen Gumroad because I don’t need to pay a monthly fee if I don’t want to—the free account offers all the features I need.

It integrates into my own websites really nicely, so people don’t even have to leave my site to pay with a credit card. (You can see what the payment process looks like on the website for my book The Human Centered Brand.)


Solo is a simple invoicing web app designed for the Croatian market. We have tax laws and regulations that make generic and US-centered software unusable for us, and this product was a godsend.

Solo has a free tier (up to 3 invoices per month) and a very affordable paid tier (unlimited invoices), called Jabba and Solo respectively. The developer is a huge Star Wars fans, a very nice person, and responds to support and feature requests very quickly, so I’m happy to recommend this app.

Adobe Document Cloud

Along with local clients that I meet in person, I also work with clients internationally. This means signing any sort of paperwork in paper form is a hassle. Back in the day we used to send each other agreements by snail mail, or print, sign and scan the documents.

With the Adobe Document Cloud, this process is quick and hassle-free. I upload the PDF file to the Cloud, digitally sign it and enter the client’s email address to share it with them. They receive a direct link and digitally sign it. I get a notification when the document has been signed, and electronic signatures are legally binding in the EU, the UK and the US.

Adobe Document Cloud is a part of my Creative Cloud subscription, so I don’t have to pay anything in addition.

Time Stamp

Popular invoicing software typically has built-in time tracking. Since I don’t use the said invoicing software (because Croatian tax laws), I had to find a separate time tracking solution. There are quite a few, but I’m still set on a Windows program I’ve had for years now called Time Stamp. It’s simple and and old and ugly, but it works.

I use it to track all my projects, regardless of whether I’m charging per-project or hourly rates, because I want to know how much time I actually spend doing things. By paying attention to my time, I’ve discovered that I spend as much as 20% of my time on a project handling client communication—like, whoa. I had no idea. It’s useful to track stuff.

Microsoft SyncToy

I’ve mentioned I like to have everything backed up, even on multiple external drives if possible. SyncToy is a free Windows program (one of their PowerToys apps) that I think should be a system application because it’s so good. I run the backups manually after I complete my workday, and can override any individual file change, which is why I prefer this one over some of the more complex applications with auto-backup features.

Marketing tools


Currently all my email lists are delivered via MailChimp. I like that it’s easy to use, and makes mobile-friendly emails out of the box.

What I don’t like is that it lacks advanced segmentation tools, so delivering more than one opt-in freebie (like an ebook or an email course) to the same person is crazy complicated, if you want them to be on only one email list. I’ve kinda gotten around that by using Zapier, which I’ll mention later.

Social media

I no longer use any social media sheduling tools, because I quit Instagram and Twitter, and my use of LinkedIn and Facebook is quite sporadic.

Productivity tools


Staying focused while you’re connected to the internet is hard. LeechBlock helps me eradicate the need for willpower, and blocks all the websites I’m not allowed to use while I work.

I have set blocks of time when certain types of websites are disabled: no email before noon, no social media until the end of my workday, and after 9 PM when it’s time to wind down for bedtime. (I wrote more about this practice in my post My Top 5 Tips For Preventing Time Suck & Increasing Productivity.)


I use Zapier to connect Gumroad to MailChimp, mainly just to mark when people who are on my list have purchased my book so I know not to send them any promo emails. I know it could do more, but given how well integrated my other apps are already, I didn’t bother.

Low-tech productivity tools

I use my intention journal to contemplate on yearly, monthly and weekly intentions, and write notes about how things went to learn more about how I work best. I also use large sheets of paper and colorful sticky notes for planning big projects and optimizing my business processes.

Intention journal

Recently I’ve also started keeping a studio journal, as well as separate journals for each of my big, important projects (for example, my book).

Media & learning tools


People are saying that RSS is dead, but I beg to differ. I like keeping up with blogs I follow using Feedly, instead of subscribing to a host of newsletters.


Articles can often distract me from doing what I need to do at the moment, so I use Pocket to save all the articles I encounter that seem interesting. I read them later in the evening, or when I’m riding a bus. This way I can take the time to really digest what I’m reading, instead of scanning through posts in a hurry because I need to be doing something else.

There you have it—almost all the tools I use on a daily basis to run my creative business. (If you’re wondering why there’s no computer listed, I work on a desktop PC and don’t really feel like looking up and listing my hardware configuration.)

Are you surprised to see some on the list?

Do you use some that I haven’t mentioned?

Let me know in the comments :)


Some blog articles contain affiliate links to products on Amazon. I’ll get paid a few cents if you buy something using my link, and there’s no extra charge to you.

8 responses to “My complete list of creative, business & productivity tools”

  1. Hi Nela,

    Awesome article.

    Thanks for putting this together.

    I’d recommend to use Shakr for “Video Tools”, I used it for my Facebook ads (I’m managing a small e-commerce) and it saved me a lot of time. Was a bit surprised you didn’t mention it!
    Have you heard of Shakr?

    Anyways thanks for insight!

  2. Thank you, Arthur!

    I’ve never heard of Shakr before. I don’t do video ads, so it’s not something I’ve ever needed.

  3. This was an interesting red, I use a bunch of the same stuff as you do- though I might have a different priorities. Also after going through a bunch of work management applications (Trello, Bootcamp, Redbooth, and finally now Asana) it’s save to say I don’t like Trello at all. I was also interested if you use any special plugins or “mini” software for your Adobe CC. For example I use Vector Magic-far better tool for vectorizing raster graphics than Illustrator’s trace tool, Also Blowup is a must have, for those times that you recive crapy low res photos and you need them in a larger resolution…Nonetheless , great blog!

  4. Thanks Tomislav, glad you’ve enjoyed it!
    It’s great that there’s so many different types of project management tools, because personal preferences do matter. I love using post-it notes for all sorts of stuff, that’s why Trello was so appealing for me – a bunch of post-its you freely drag around the lists and check off :) But it’s not perfect.

    I haven’t used any special plugins lately, but I’m thinking about purchasing FontSelf.
    I never used Vector Magic, but I’ll give it a try to see how it works with my inked pieces. Thanks for the tip!

    Since I’m mostly working with digital media, image resolution is not such a big problem as it is with printed catalogs, etc. I wonder how Blowup compares to the newer interpolation methods introduced in Photoshop CC? (Bicubic is not a fair comparison.)

    BTW, when you get around to starting your own blog, I want to be the first to know ;)

  5. Google Drive is my exobrain too, Nela. ;-)

    IFTTT has changed the way I think!

    Arrangedly has simplified my hierarchy of thoughts — and action.

    And Slack helps to reduce the white noise.

  6. Thanks for sharing your tools, Fiorella :)
    (And what a beautiful name you have!)

    I haven’t heard of Arrangedly before, but looking at the features and screenshots, it reminds me of Trello with its post-it note look.

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