Securing Port 443: The Gateway To A New Universe

At Wordfence our business is to secure over 4 million WordPress websites and keep them secure. My background is in network operations, and then I transitioned into software development because my ops role was at a scale where I found myself writing a lot of code. This led me to founding startups, and ultimately into starting the cybersecurity business that is Wordfence. But I’ve maintained that ops perspective, and when I think about securing a network, I tend to think of ports.

You can find a rather exhaustive list of TCP and UDP ports on Wikipedia, but for the sake of this discussion let’s focus on a few of the most popular ports:

  • 20 and 21 – FTP
  • 22 – SSH
  • 23 – (Just kidding. You better not be running Telnet)
  • 25 – Email via SMTP
  • 53 – DNS
  • 80 – Unencrypted Web
  • 110 – POP3 (for older email clients)
  • 443 – Web encrypted via TLS
  • 445 – Active Directory or SMB sharing
  • 993 – IMAP (for email clients)
  • 3306 – MySQL
  • 6378 – Redis
  • 11211 – Memcached

If you run your eye down this list, you’ll notice something interesting. The options available to you for services to run on most of these ports are quite limited. Some of them are specific to a single application, like Redis. Others, like SMTP, provide a limited number of applications, either proprietary or open-source. In both cases, you can change the configuration of the application, but it’s rare to write a custom application on one of those ports. Except port 443.

In the case of port 443 and port 80, you have a limited range of web servers listening on those ports, but users are writing a huge range of bespoke applications on port 443, and have a massive selection of applications that they can host on that port. Everything from WordPress to Drupal to Joomla, and more. There are huge lists of Content Management Systems.

Not only do you have a wide range of off-the-shelf web applications that you can run on port 443 or (if you’re silly) port 80, but you also have a range of languages they might be coded in, or in which you can code your own web application. Keep in mind that the web server, in this case, is much like an SSH or IMAP server in that it is listening on the port and handling connections, but the difference is that it is handing off execution to these languages, their various development frameworks, and ultimately the application that a developer has written to handle the incoming request.

With SSH, SMTP, FTP, IMAP, MySQL, Redis and most other services, the process listening on the port is the process that handles the request. With web ports, the process listening on the port delegates the incoming connection to another application, usually written in another language, running at the application layer, that is part of the extremely large and diverse ecosystem of web applications.

This concept in itself – that the applications listening on the web ports are extremely diverse and either home-made or selected from a large and diverse ecosystem – presents unique security challenges. In the case of, say, Redis, you might worry about running a secure version of Redis and making sure it is not misconfigured. In the case of a web server, you may have 50 application instances written in two languages from five different vendors all on the same port, which all need to be correctly configured, have their patch levels maintained, and be written using secure coding practices.

As if that doesn’t make the web ports challenging enough, they are also, for the most part, public. Putting aside internal websites for the moment, perhaps the majority of websites derive their value from making services available to users on the Internet by being public-facing. If you consider the list of ports I have above, or in the Wikipedia article I linked to, many of those ports are only open on internal networks or have access to them controlled if they are external. Web ports for public websites, by their very nature, must be publicly accessible for them to be useful. There are certain public services like SMTP or DNS, but as I mentioned above, the server that is listening on the port is the server handling the request in these cases.

A further challenge when securing websites is that often the monetary and data assets available to an attacker when compromising a website are greater than the assets they may gain compromising a corporate network. You see this with high volume e-commerce websites where a small business is processing a large number of web-based e-commerce transactions below $100. If the attacker compromises their corporate network via leaked AWS credentials, they may gain access to the company bank account and company intellectual property, encrypt the company’s data using ransomware, or perhaps even obtain customer PII. But by compromising the e-commerce website, they can gain access to credit card numbers in-flight, which are far more tradeable, and where the sum of available credit among all cards is greater than all the assets of the small business, including the amount of ransom that business might be able to pay.

Let’s not discount breaches like the 2017 Equifax breach that compromised 163 million American, British and Canadian citizen’s records. That was extremely valuable to the attackers. But targets like this are rare, and the Web presents a target-rich environment. Which is the third point I’d like to make in this post. While an organization may run a handful of services on other ports, many companies – with hosting providers in particular – run a large number of web applications. And an individual or company is far more likely to have a service running on a web port than any other port. Many of us have websites, but how many of us run our own DNS, SMTP, Redis, or another service listening on a port other than 80 or 443? Most of us who run websites also run MySQL on port 3306, but that port should not be publicly accessible if configured correctly.

That port 443 security is different has become clear to us at Wordfence over the years as we have tracked and cataloged a huge number of malware variants, web vulnerabilities, and a wide range of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) that attackers targeting web applications use. Most of these have no relationship with the web server listening on port 443, and nearly all of them have a close relationship with the web application that the web server hands off control to once communication is established.

My hope with this post has been to catalyze a different way of thinking about port 443 and that other insecure port (80) we all hopefully don’t use. Port 443 is not just another service. It is, in fact, the gateway to a whole new universe of programming languages, dev frameworks, and web applications.

In the majority of cases, the gateway to that new universe is publicly accessible.

Once an attacker passes through that gateway, a useful way to think about the web applications hosted on the server is that each application is its own service that needs to have its patch level maintained, needs to be configured correctly, and should be removed if it is not in use to reduce the available attack surface.

If you are a web developer you may already think this way, and if anything, you may be guilty of neglecting services on ports other than port 80 or 443. If you are an operations engineer, or an analyst working in a SOC protecting an enterprise network, you may be guilty of thinking about port 443 as just another port you need to secure.

Think of port 443 as a gateway to a new universe that has no access control, with HTTPS providing easy standardized access, and with a wide range of diverse services running on the other side, that provide an attacker with a target and asset-rich environment.

Footnote: We will be exhibiting at Black Hat in Las Vegas this year at booth 2514 between the main entrance and Innovation City. Our entire team of over 30 people will be there. We’ll have awesome swag, as always. Come and say hi! Our team will also be attending DEF CON immediately after Black Hat.

Written by Mark Maunder – Founder and CEO of Wordfence. 

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The 5 best time blocking apps in 2022

If you’re like me, you often find yourself feeling like there’s not enough time in the day—and by often, I mean pretty much every day. When there’s no time to waste and you have to nail down your priorities, adding structure and consistency becomes a necessity. That’s where time blocking apps are an excellent way to manage your schedule: they force you to plan out every minute of your day.

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Some time blocking apps work better for people who are more visual, while others are better for those who need more organization. Some apps are geared towards solopreneurs and freelancers, while others are designed for folks who work as part of a corporate team. That’s why I spent several weeks testing dozens of time blocking apps—to figure out which ones were the best for which people.

Whatever your reason for time blocking, one of the time blocking calendars here should speak to you and your needs.

The 5 best time blocking apps

What is time blocking?

Time blocking is a time management technique where you schedule how you’ll spend your time during every minute of every day. Each task you need to complete gets time scheduled on your calendar, so you can make sure you have the bandwidth for every to-do list item.

Most people’s work calendars look like this:

Google Calendar screenshot where only meetings are scheduled

Your meetings are there, and the rest of your time is just assumed to be open. A time blocked calendar, meanwhile, fills in all of those gaps: 

Example of a time blocked calendar, where both meetings and tasks are scheduled

Time blocking as a time management technique was popularized by Cal Newport, author of Deep Work. Newport says he dedicates 10-20 minutes every evening to time blocking his schedule for the next day, but when you choose to block your time and create your schedule depends on what works best for you. You might create your schedule every day when you get to work, at the end of every work day for the next day, or at the beginning of each week for the rest of the week.

Additionally, you can approach the time blocking method in a couple of different ways. You might schedule time blocks for specific tasks around your meetings and other commitments, or you might choose to schedule time specifically for meetings and other commitments.

For example, instead of accepting meeting invites for whenever people send them, you may block off Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for working on tasks and leave Tuesday and Thursday open for people to schedule meetings. Then, you can break those big sections for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday down into specific tasks—daily or weekly, based on your priorities.

example of time blocking in chunks

Scheduling time for tasks forces you to think about how long each task is going to take you to complete, which, over time, can help you form more realistic estimates.

What makes a great time blocking app?

How we evaluate and test apps

All of our best apps roundups are written by humans who’ve spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. We spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it’s intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We’re never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.

You could just use your calendar app to time block your schedule, or even a sheet of paper, but dedicated time blocking tools make the process a lot easier. Here are the criteria I used to determine the best time blocking software:

  • Integration with your current calendar. Being able to sync a calendar with a time blocking planner saves time and helps keep schedules error-free, so this is a must-have.
  • Ease of use. Some apps are just downright hard to figure out, so it was essential that my picks had a simple, intuitive interface that was easy to navigate.
  • Calendar and tasks in one place. No one wants to deal with having their projects and to-dos scattered in too many places. The purpose of a time-blocking app should be to simplify, which means being able to find and review your tasks in a central place.
  • Customization. While the ability to customize features like colors, themes, lists, alerts, and notifications is of varying importance, I chose apps that I felt provided enough flexibility to fit most people’s day-to-day needs.
  • Integration with other tools. Integrating your time block planner with your calendar is just the standard, but integration with other apps and tools is a wonderful cherry on top.

Best time blocking app for daily planning

Sunsama (Web, macOS, iOS, Android) 

Sunsama, our pick for the best time blocking app for daily planning

Sunsama is by far the best-designed app on this list. The app wastes no space, and after setting it up, you’ll immediately understand how to use it. There’s a task list, sorted by date, and there’s a sidebar with a calendar. You can flip this around if you want, but either way, it’s quick to drag tasks over to your calendar, making it convenient to jot down all your duties for the day and then focus on planning them all out accordingly.

Another neat feature is the ability to properly categorize all your tasks. Most time blocking apps have some kind of tagging aspect, but Sunsama takes it a little further with what they call contexts and channels. Contexts are essentially overarching categories, like Work or Personal. Within those categories, you can create sub-categorizations, like Focus Time, Creative Time, or Family Time to further drill down the organization of tasks.

Where Sunsuma really stands out is how it helps you plan out your day. Sign on in the morning, and you’ll be asked which tasks you have to work on, how long you think they are, and when you want to do them all. It really makes the process of blocking your day painless, and there’s even support for sending a summary of your plan for the day over to Slack in a single click. When nearing the end of your day, Sunsama will prompt you to jot down what you finished that day and what you didn’t get to, which I found a nice way to regroup before logging off.

The app is full of little touches like this, and the result is that time blocking your daily to-do list feels easier here than in any app we tested. And integrations with Trello, Gmail, GitHub, and Jira mean you can drag tasks over from a variety of apps. Google and Outlook calendars are both supported. The main downside: there’s no free plan. 

Sunsama pricing: Starts at $20/month. No free version, though there is a 14-day free trial. 

If you’re looking for a Sunsama alternative, try Timepage. It’s not a traditional time blocking app, but the sleek interface and added features, like weather reports and RSVP reminders, make it a worthy option.

Best time blocking app for project management

HourStack (Web, macOS, iOS, Android)

HourStack, our pick for the best time blocking app for project management

HourStack is well-suited for teamwork, with the ability to add multiple users and manage an entire team’s workflow. But it also works well as a task tracker app for individual professionals who just want to keep track of their work, monitor how much time is spent on each task, and block time out to focus.

You start by blocking time for the day/week. Then, when you’re ready to start on each task, click the task, and select Start to initiate a timer. When you’re finished working on the task, you can complete it if it’s finished, or if you run out of time, you can roll the task over to work on it again later. In the Reports section, you’ll see detailed metrics for the time estimated and spent on each task. And as bonus, you can integrate HourStack with Google Sheets to export all your insights, which is very useful when you need to present or share your time spent with people who don’t use HourStack. I also personally loved how visual the platform was—you can see all your tasks and events for the week as cards on your dashboard (Sunsama actually does this similarly, too).

HourStack will pull events from Google Calendar and Outlook 365, but it doesn’t add those events directly onto your HourStack calendar. Instead, you’ll see them in a sidebar on the right side of the screen and can drag and drop them onto your HourStack calendar.

The main downside to HourStack is that it doesn’t have a place to keep a to-do list. Instead, you’re mostly using your calendar to capture your to-dos. But it does have native integrations with apps like Trello, Todoist, and Asana, so you can see your to-dos from another app within HourStack to plan and schedule in one place. There are also integrations with HubSpot, GitHub, and Google Sheets—plus basically every other app, thanks to HourStack’s Zapier integrations, which let you do things like automatically adding new calendar events to your HourStack calendar and vice versa.

Add new Google Calendar events to your HourStack week

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Google Calendar, HourStack

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Add new HourStack entries to your Google Calendar

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Google Calendar, HourStack

Google Calendar + HourStackMore details

HourStack Pricing: 14-day free trial. Personal plan starts at $9/month.

Timely is an HourStack alternative that also allows you to track billable projects within a team. One of the biggest differences is the lack of an actual timer—instead, it uses a Memory app to track time automatically, which is nice, especially if you’re working on other projects in the background.

Best time blocking app for Trello or Jira users

Planyway (Chrome, Safari, Opera)

Planyway, our pick for the best time blocking app for project management

If you use Trello or Jira as your to-do list or project management tool, Planyway lets you block time on your calendar using those tasks. 

You can easily create and place all your tasks into your pre-created Trello lists (or create new lists within Planyway), and then just drag and drop them onto the Planyway calendar. Connect your existing calendar, and you’ll see those same tasks or events with the rest of your schedule. The app did take a bit of time to think about integrating with my Google Calendar, but after a few refreshes, it wound up working just fine.

Planyway also gives you the option to connect it to your Google, Outlook, or Apple calendar, so you can see your calendar appointments in context. On its Free and Basic plans, Planyway supports one-way syncing: you can see your Planyway cards in your calendar using an iCal URL, but you can’t see your calendar events in Planyway. Two-way syncing that keeps both calendars in sync is available on the Pro plan.

Planyway Pricing: The Free plan includes one-way calendar syncing; from $3.99/month for the Pro plan that includes two-way calendar syncing and recurring tasks.

Best time blocking app for an all-in-one tool

TickTick Premium (Web, Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, Chrome, Firefox, watchOS)

TickTick, our pick for the best time blocking app with a built-in to-do list

TickTick Premium lets you compile your tasks in a to-do list and then block time for those tasks on your calendar. But TickTick offers a feature that the others don’t: a Pomodoro timer. So if you want to combine time blocking with the Pomodoro Technique—or if you’re looking for the best task management app with built-in time blocking—TickTick Premium may be the best option for you.

Adding tasks to your calendar in TickTick isn’t as simple as it is in some of the other apps. Instead of dragging and dropping tasks onto your calendar, you have to take a few steps. While adding a task, you can use natural language processing to add a due date—for example, you could type “walk the dog tomorrow.” Do that, and your task will have a due date. If you forget, that’s ok: you can edit a task and select a due date. It will then show up on your calendar as an all-day event—you can drag it to whatever time you want.

TickTick can also pull events from your existing calendar and display them on your TickTick calendar; or you can set it up to push TickTick events to your main calendar. You can’t manage calendar appointments in TickTick, though—the appointments from your calendar are basically only there for reference. But it’s enough to plan your day.

Another neat feature to take advantage of is the Eisenhower Matrix. The name may sound a little intimidating, but it’s actually very simple. You can use the matrix to organize your tasks according to Urgent & Important, Urgent & Unimportant, Not Urgent & Important, and Not Urgent & Unimportant. This system essentially provides a way to properly prioritize and tag your tasks with a simple drag and drop. As someone who can get overwhelmed with the number of tasks on my plate, being able to see a visual representation of my tasks prioritized was a huge help.

You can integrate TickTick with thousands of apps using Zapier’s TickTick integrations. This is great for adding tasks to your calendar or pulling in tasks from other apps like Gmail or Slack.

Create TickTick tasks from new saved Slack messages

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Slack, TickTick

Slack + TickTickMore details

Add detailed events in Google Calendar for new tasks created in TickTick

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Google Calendar, TickTick

Google Calendar + TickTickMore details

TickTick Pricing: The free TickTick product doesn’t include a calendar view; from $2.79/month for TickTick Premium that includes the calendar view and RSS feeds to and from third-party calendars.

Best free time blocking app for Apple users (and hyper-scheduling)

Sorted^3 (iOS, macOS, Apple Watch, iPadOS)

Sorted3, our pick for the best free time blocking app for hyper-scheduling

Sorted^3 is the self-proclaimed app for hyper-schedulers—and as someone who self-identifies that way, I’d absolutely agree.

Sorted^3 has an excellent onboarding flow. When you sign up, you’ll be immediately directed to a tutorial showing you how to use app shortcuts and other unique features, like Magic Select (more on that in a bit). While the amount of information may seem overwhelming at first, it does a superb job of guiding you through all the features that are available to you as you start using them. 

On the hyper-categorization front, there’s a tab for lists that has sections for errands, notes, links, and groceries, so you can put any tasks or information that you want to store for later—but you can also schedule out any tasks from the lists as well.

Back to Magic Select. This feature lets you quickly highlight multiple items in your schedule. This means you can delete, recategorize, retag, or reschedule multiple tasks without too much effort. Surprisingly, out of all the other apps I tested, none had this feature.

You’ll also get an auto-scheduling feature. You can add all your tasks to the schedule section, assign a certain period of time for each one, and then let Sorted^3 do the heavy lifting of blocking out time for all your tasks. You can even add an automatic buffer period between tasks, and you’re able to move things around after they’ve been scheduled.

Sorted^3 also has some nice Apple-specific features. For example, you can sync to iCloud and can take advantage of Siri to plan out tasks.

Sorted^3 pricing: Free; PRO version is $14.99

SkedPal also has great auto-scheduling capabilities, and it’s worth a look if you like the idea of Sorted^3 but don’t use Apple devices. SkedPal’s time map feature allows you to throw a task into a category, like Focus Time or Weekends, and then automatically schedules it within that task category.

Do you need a time block app?

You might decide that you don’t need a dedicated app for time blocking, and that’s fine. Here are some other ideas: 

  • We included TickTick in the list above, but some of the other best to-do list apps also have basic time blocking features, including and Todoist
  • Honestly, any of the best calendar apps could work for calendar blocking. Just add your tasks as calendar appointments. 
  • Serene is a distraction blocking app that also works great for planning your day. It’s not exactly a time blocking app, but might be better for some people. 

Also worth noting: if you already have a great to-do list app and a great calendar app, you could just connect the two using Zapier.

Add incomplete Todoist tasks to Google Calendar

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Google Calendar, Todoist

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Create Google Calendar quick events from new Google Tasks

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Google Calendar, Google Tasks

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Add new JIRA issues as detailed events in Google Calendar

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Google Calendar, Jira Software Server

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But if you want everything in one app, one of the tools in this list should do the trick. Each app offers a free plan or free trial, so you can try them all and pick the one that works best for you.

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Stripe vs. PayPal: Choosing a payment processor in 2022

As far as I’m concerned, a card swiper is a card swiper—I’m not paying attention to the specific logo on the device when I’m making a purchase. But what might be a pretty inconsequential difference to consumers like me will have a big impact on sellers. 

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You need to make sure the processor you choose can integrate with your selling platform, that it supports the transaction types you use, and that it has the features you need. And when it comes to fees, choosing the wrong payment processor can cost you hundreds—or more, if you’re selling at scale.

Two of the most popular payment processors are Stripe and PayPal. If you’re trying to choose between the two, here’s what you need to know.

Stripe vs. PayPal at a glance

I’m just going to put the bottom line up front: Stripe is the better choice in nearly every scenario. PayPal has a seriously complicated fee schedule that adds up quickly, and even basics like a virtual terminal or a recurring payment tool require a subscription plan plus an added monthly fee. Stripe offers most of PayPal’s paid features for free or for a much cheaper per-transaction fee, and their regular fees are lower, too.

That said, you can’t put a price on the value of PayPal’s universal brand recognition. Particularly if your customer demographic skews a little older or less tech-savvy, you may find customers are more willing to input financial information via a platform they’re already familiar with. In reality, Stripe and PayPal are both equally secure, but the fact remains that some people are set in their ways and would rather forgo a purchase than adapt to a new payment processor.

Keep in mind that we’re evaluating these platforms as payment processors—not for personal money transfers or even for particularly large invoicing projects (though both platforms do have invoicing tools, which I’ll get to later on).

Ease of use⭐⭐⭐  A little trickier to set up, since Stripe’s checkout gateway must be integrated with your site⭐⭐⭐⭐  Very easy off-page checkout setup; customizable gateways available with upgrades are just as tricky to integrate as Stripe
Costs and fees⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  Simple “% + fixed cost” fee schedule with uncomplicated pricing for add-ons like recurring payments and invoice management⭐⭐  Complicated pricing with different “% + fixed cost” fees for each type of transaction; difficult-to-parse fees for upgrade services that are required in order to access key features that also cost an additional fee
Recurring payments⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  Recurring payment setup is included at no extra charge; users can gain access to advanced billing tools like recurring invoices for a low additional per-transaction fee⭐⭐ Merchants need a paid account (Payments Advanced, Payments Pro, or Payments Pro Payflow), and it costs $10/month to be able to accept recurring payments
Pay later options⭐⭐  Available via third-party integrations with high per-transaction fees⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  PayPal Pay option included with no additional fees
International payments⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  Simple, low-cost added fee for international transactions and currency conversions⭐⭐  Higher added fee for international transactions and currency conversions, plus base “% + fixed cost” fees have different fixed costs for each country 
Customizability⭐⭐⭐⭐  Fully customizable checkout gateway included at no extra cost⭐⭐⭐  Customizable checkout gateway and on-site checkout options require Payments Pro ($30/month) or Payflow Pro ($25/month) accounts
Currencies/transfer types supported⭐⭐⭐⭐  All major credit cards, 135 international currencies, crypto, and ACH debit and credit transfers; Venmo transfers not supported⭐⭐⭐⭐  All major credit cards, 25 international currencies, Venmo transfers, and crypto; ACH transfers not supported

What’s not different?

If you’re torn between Stripe and PayPal for your business, disregard these factors—they’re (more or less) the same on both sides.

  • Credit cards accepted: Both Stripe and PayPal can accept all major credit cards. 
  • In-person, online, and keyed transaction capability: Both apps allow users to take orders in person, set up a checkout online, or input credit card information manually (called a “keyed transaction” or “virtual terminal transaction”). PayPal does charge a higher fee on keyed transactions, though.
  • Card reader costs: Terminals (the full-scale card processor you would see at any shop counter) cost $249 for both platforms. Stripe’s handheld card readers cost $59, while PayPal charges $29 for your first reader and $79 for additional devices. Unless you need an absurd number of card readers, it more or less balances out: if you bought two card readers, it would only cost $10 more with Stripe than with PayPal.
  • Chargebacks, disputes, and refunds: Both platforms’ chargeback and dispute fees are similar ($15 for Stripe, $20 for PayPal), and their refund policies are identical (no additional fees for refunds, but the original processing fees from the purchase are not refunded). 
  • Quality of security tools: Both Stripe and PayPal offer two-factor authentication, data encryption, advanced risk monitoring, fraud detection and prevention, and a number of other high-quality security tools. The price of these tools is a different story—we’ll go over that in a bit more detail further down.
  • Reporting tools: Both platforms have decent reporting capabilities, with options to generate basic transaction reports and payout histories. PayPal’s reporting capabilities are probably slightly better than Stripe’s, but neither is so impressive that it should function as a tie-breaker. 
  • Integrations: Both platforms have broad libraries of apps that can be natively integrated, and both apps integrate with Zapier.

Learn more about how to automate post-purchase marketing with PayPal and how to automate your payments with Stripe.

PayPal is easy to set up and use, but Stripe allows on-site checkouts that you can customize to your brand

If you’ve ever made a PayPal purchase before, you’re familiar with the standard off-page checkout process that takes place on the PayPal site. It’s absurdly easy for the buyer—and the brand name is enough for people to trust it—but it takes you off the page you were purchasing from.

Screenshot of a PayPal checkout screen

Stripe is designed to be integrated directly with your shop so that the customer remains on your website throughout the entire checkout process. It also allows you to customize the checkout gateway to match your shop’s brand and aesthetic. PayPal only offers a customizable on-page checkout flow to users with a subscription to Payflow Pro ($25/month) or Payments Pro ($30/month).

But here’s the rub: setting up an integrated checkout gateway is a little tricky in both cases, and requires some basic programming knowledge (or the patience and technological aptitude to follow a how-to video really, really closely). So if you don’t care about having a branded on-page checkout page and just want something easy, PayPal has an option for that; Stripe doesn’t. 

Stripe’s setup dashboard can look overwhelming to non-coders.

That said, you can hire a freelance programmer on Fiverr to set up a checkout gateway for around $30. So if you couldn’t code your way out of a paper bag but you still want the nicer checkout experience, paying someone else to do it isn’t going to bankrupt you.

PayPal’s pay later and invoicing features are free, but nearly every other type of transaction will be cheaper with Stripe (and you won’t have to worry about hidden fees) 

There’s no other way to put this: PayPal’s pricing structure is a nightmare. It took me, without exaggeration, hours to figure out PayPal’s fees, and that was just so I could write this post. Not only is the percentage fee different for each type of transaction, but you need to consult a different table to find the fixed fee that applies to each different payment type as well.

The specificity of the payment types PayPal lists is bananas, and there’s a different fee for almost every one.

Screenshot of PayPal's list of fees

Stripe charges 2.9% + $0.30 for online sales and 2.7% + $0.05 for sales made in person. That’s it. There are a few different fees for specific scenarios, like ACH transfers and wire payments, but the vast majority of sales will fall into one of those two categories. In addition to their blissful simplicity, Stripe fees are also cheaper than most PayPal fees.

That said, the two pricing advantages that PayPal has are its free pay-later service and its free invoicing tools. Stripe doesn’t offer a native pay-later option, but integrates with third-party platforms Affirm, Afterpay, and Klarna instead—each of which charges a hefty 6% + $0.30 fee per transaction. Invoicing with Stripe is free for the first 25 invoices per month, after which it costs an additional $0.04 per transaction. Its “Plus” invoicing option costs 0.5% per transaction, but it grants access to advanced invoicing tools that allow you to automate things like invoice collection and reconciliation.

PayPal’s paid tiers are confusing, and they require users to pay extra for features that are included with Stripe

Stripe doesn’t have tiers. It collects its fees primarily on a per-transaction basis, and those features that are considered “extras” cost a small additional per-transaction fee—usually a few cents or a few tenths of a percentage point. 

As I mentioned earlier, users who want to create a custom integrated checkout gateway with PayPal need to pay to be able to do so. The Payflow Pro plan allows merchants to fully customize their shopping flows, and costs $25/month plus an added $0.10 fee per transaction. Stripe offers this same service for free.

The other paid PayPal plan is Payments Pro ($30/month). This subscription allows merchants to access PayPal’s Online Card Payment Services; however, each service costs an additional fee on top of the subscription price. These features include things like account monitoring, fraud prevention, virtual terminal access, and even the ability to accept recurring payments—which all cost an additional $10-30 per month each.

Stripe offers recurring payments, virtual terminal access, and fraud protection for free. More advanced features, like recurring invoices and advanced fraud protection, cost a small per-transaction fee; no premium subscription required.

Stripe or PayPal: Which makes sense for you?

PayPal looks like the better choice for solo operators and small business owners, primarily because its setup is so familiar. But keep in mind that most users will pay a premium for the privilege of that easy setup in the form of high fees and monthly costs for essentials like recurring billing and virtual terminal access. 

To help you visualize what each service might cost in practice, here are a few basic transaction scenarios and what they would cost with each platform.

$100 sale, paid online via credit card$3.20$3.48
$100 sale, paid online using saved payment information$3.20$3.98
500 sales, $100 each, paid online using saved payment information$1,600.00$1,990.00
$20 monthly recurring payment, paid online via credit card$.88/month$61.09/month (transaction fee plus Payments Pro subscription and recurring billing tool access)
500 monthly recurring payments, $20 each, paid online via credit card, with advanced fraud protection in place$450/month$634/month (transaction fees plus Payments Pro subscription, recurring billing tool access, and fraud protection)

If you’re only making a handful of sales per month and you aren’t selling big-ticket items, the difference between Stripe and PayPal’s fees will be manageably small. But once you start selling at scale, in almost all scenarios, PayPal is going to cost you a few hundred dollars more than Stripe per month. The main barrier to entry for Stripe is its more complicated setup that requires a developer to install.

Source :

The Gmail shortcuts you should actually be using to navigate your inbox

No one likes email. We’re always looking for ways to spend less time in our inboxes with filters, templates, and auto-replies. But there’s another small change you can make to keep your emailing as quick as possible: Gmail shortcuts.

How to turn on Gmail shortcuts

Spend less time in your inbox

Automate Gmail

Yes, you need to turn shortcuts on. If you try these Gmail shortcuts without turning them on first, you’ll be slamming that C key into the void. So if you think your Gmail keyboard shortcuts aren’t working, try this first.

To turn on Gmail shortcuts:

  1. Click the Settings gear in the top-right corner, then See all settings.
  2. Scroll down to the Keyboard shortcuts section, and choose the Keyboard shortcuts on option.
  3. Scroll to the bottom, and click Save Changes.
Gmail keyboard shortcuts not working? Turn them on in Settings.

Congrats! You can use all of Gmail’s shortcuts now—here are the ones you should start using right away.

1. Browse through your emails

Prefer using keyboard navigation over mouse? Flip through the email threads in your inbox using K to go to the previous email and J to go to the next email.

Gmail next email shortcut: showing what it looks like to navigate through the inbox with shortcuts

Press Enter / return to open the selected thread. Then:

  • Press U to go back to your inbox. 
  • Press ] or [ to archive the message and go to the previous or next message.
  • Press # to delete the message.
  • Press Shift + U to mark the message as unread.

2. Jump between categories

Gmail also has “jumping” shortcuts that instantly take you to your desired inbox category. Use the following combos to visit different categories:

  • Main inbox: G + I
  • Starred conversations: G + S
  • Snoozed conversations: G + B
  • Sent messages: G + T
  • Drafts: G + D
  • All mail: G + A

If you like to use Google Tasks and Gmail together, you can even go to the Tasks window by pressing G + K.

3. Compose new emails

Here’s a universal and easy-to-remember one: composing a new message. Press C, and the trusty New Message window will pop up.

Composing a new message with Gmail shortcut

4. Add CC and BCC

When you open a compose window, it keeps the CC and BCC options nestled for you to click and add fields for them. Add those fields instantly using the Gmail shortcut Ctrl / command + Shift + C (CC) or Ctrl / command + Shift + B (BCC). 

How to create a Gmail shortcut

You can change your Gmail shortcut keys to better suit your workflow. Here’s how to customize Gmail shortcuts:

  1. Go back into the main settings menu you used to turn on shortcuts, then click the Advanced tab.
  2. Find Custom Keyboard Shortcuts and choose Enable. Gmail will send you back to your inbox. 
  3. When you visit the main settings menu again, you’ll see a new tab titled Keyboard Shortcuts.
  4. Click that tab, and you’ll get a menu where you can customize your shortcuts as much as you’d like.
How to create a Gmail shortcut: customize Gmail shortcuts in the settings menu

Do more with Gmail

Want to go even further? Here’s a list of every Gmail shortcut, courtesy of Google itself. And here are a few more guides to make you a Gmail power user:

How to start an eCommerce business: A step-by-step guide

I’m pretty much always thinking about the prospect of starting an eCommerce business. I like my job, but I do not enjoy labor, and the siren songs of any number of passive income streams call to me daily. Tragically, however, I am not cut out for entrepreneurship. I spent a few years freelancing full-time in my early 20s, and I nearly bankrupted myself—I just never did any work.

If you’re thinking about diving into eCommerce entrepreneurship, you should have a clear and thorough understanding of exactly what it takes to be successful as an online seller. So before you start loading up on craft resin or earring hooks, read on to find out exactly what it takes to start an eCommerce business.

Pros and cons of running an eCommerce store

You don’t have to search very far to see what it is that draws people to the idea of starting their own eCommerce business. No micromanaging supervisors to answer to or fat cat executives living off of the fruits of your labor, and without any physical assets or locations, you can go wherever you want and still run your operation. 

Sell more and keep your customers happy

Automate your eCommerce

In short, many people are drawn to eCommerce selling because they think it’s their key to freedom. To those people, I say: au contraire. In many ways, eCommerce sellers are more limited than regular employees. 

Sure, I may have to answer to my manager, but if I mess something up, there’s no chance of her requesting a refund on my last paycheck or claiming the work I emailed her got irretrievably lost. I may not make my own hours, but since my salary is fixed, I can take days off knowing that there’s no chance of it impacting how much money I make. You need to decide for yourself whether the benefits of launching an eCommerce business outweigh the risks of flying without the safety net of job security to fall back on.

How to tell if eCommerce is right for you

In the same way that some kids are terrible at homework but are great test-takers, there are some personalities that do thrive under the pressure of relying on their business’s success for their survival. When it comes to employment vs. entrepreneurship, there is no objectively better, more flexible, more independent choice—there’s just what works better for you.

Here’s a quick self-screener you can use to determine if you’re cut out for online selling:

  • Do you like what you do? This is something you’re going to be spending hours on, day in and day out—and you’re going to have to work really hard to get your business off the ground. Unlike traditional small business owners, you won’t have a staff, coworkers, or a physical workplace; it’s just going to be you, likely in your home, making the thing you sell. If you’re not truly passionate about your product, you’ll be miserable within a few weeks, tops.
  • Are you self-disciplined? It’s not easy being your own boss, especially in an industry as isolating as eCommerce. Many other small businesses don’t have this problem—I taught piano lessons for a period of time and didn’t have a boss then, but knowing that my students were relying on me to be prepared for their lessons still kept me accountable. It’s a lot easier to stay motivated when you’re interacting with customers or a small staff.
  • Do you have a lot of commitments? Anyone who has ever tried to work remotely from their parents’ house can tell you that, for whatever reason, people simply do not perceive solo work on a computer as “real work,” so if you want to run a successful online store, you need strong boundaries and a close relationship with the word “no.” 
  • Can you take on the financial risk? Starting a store on the side while you stay in a day job is one thing, but if you’re making a complete leap to entrepreneurship, you need to be able to get by for a few months or even a year without much income. If you have lots of debt or a family to feed, this might not be the career for you.

Provided you’ve given it some thought and you’re ready to make the leap—or if you’re starting your business part-time until it takes off—you’re ready to get started on launching your business.

Choose an eCommerce business model

When I think of small eCommerce businesses, I think primarily of some of my favorite niche Etsy shops selling things like taxidermied squid jewelry and D&D dice with real mushrooms inside. (I am a very fun person to know at Christmas.) 

But eCommerce selling includes far more than traditional consumer retail. Depending on your needs, you may find that one of these alternatives suits you best:

  • Dropshipping: Dropshipping is a type of eCommerce business where you sell products without carrying any inventory. When a customer places an order on your site, you simply contact the supplier (or have the order sent automatically) and have them ship the product directly to the customer. Dropshipping is a popular eCommerce business model because you don’t need to spend a lot of money up front.
  • Print on demand: Print on demand is similar to dropshipping, but instead of shipping products from a supplier, you have your products printed and shipped by a print-on-demand service. This type of eCommerce business is often used for selling custom-printed products like t-shirts, mugs, and stationery.
  • Retail arbitrage: Retail arbitrage is the process of buying products from brick-and-mortar stores and selling them online at a higher price. This type of eCommerce business can be profitable, but it requires a bit more work than dropshipping or print on demand. You also need to identify a product niche that allows you to do this profitably, where you can be confident that customers won’t just go to the original source to make their purchase at a lower price.
  • Wholesaling: Wholesaling is a type of eCommerce business where you sell products in bulk to retailers. The benefit of wholesaling is that you can get discounts on the products you purchase, which allows you to sell them at a higher price and still make a profit. But this requires a large initial investment since you’ll need to stock inventory in bulk quantities.
  • Subscriptions: Subscription eCommerce businesses sell products or services on a recurring basis, most commonly in the form of a monthly box of curated products (or, in my dog’s case, a monthly delivery of different home-style baked treats). But there are other types of subscription businesses, such as online courses and members-only clubs.

Not sure which way to go? Check out our guide to eCommerce sales channels for more detailed information on how to decide.

Choose a product market

What business model you choose will also rely heavily on the product market you want to target, since not all models will work with all types of products. Naturally, dropshipping won’t work to sell hand-knitted sweaters, while very few people are likely to buy a subscription for artisan coffee tables. The other thing that will help you decide what products to sell is your chosen target market.

A broad target market is the kiss of death for a budding eCommerce entrepreneur. There are over 9.1 million eCommerce retailers in the world, 2.5 million of which are located in the United States. Do you want to compete with between 2.5 and 9.1 million businesses? I didn’t think so.

When you choose a product market, you’re isolating a part of this larger market of retailers that you want to compete within. The more specific your product market is, the fewer competitors you have; the fewer competitors you have, the more likely you are to succeed. In eCommerce, the most successful sellers home in on extremely small, highly specific product markets—also called micro-markets or niches.

How to find your eCommerce niche

A product niche is a very small sliver of a product market that is both large enough to contain a robust customer audience but small enough that it doesn’t contain many competitors. The best way to identify your niche is to start with a product market and whittle it down from there.

Graphic of the five key characteristics of a good ecommerce niche

To choose a product market to start with target products that:

  • You’re capable of creating (at high quality) 
  • You enjoy creating (even at scale)
  • Have a small market/minimal competition
  • People want or need
  • Are profitable

Let’s break down each of these characteristics in detail.

Pick something you’re good at

It’s perhaps the most obvious of the five characteristics listed, but it still bears mentioning: when starting an eCommerce business, choose something that you can do or make well. If you choose something extremely unique and specific that no one else is doing, you may be fooled into believing the lack of competition will make up for poor quality. But the moment you gain some popularity, if someone else can create your product better than you can, your business will be dead in the water.

Pick something you like

Choose something you enjoy making, looking at, and thinking about. More importantly, choose something you won’t hate after the tenth, fiftieth, hundredth, or thousandth time you’ve sold it. Selling can be tedious work, especially if you make your products yourself. Don’t build your business around a product market only to find that you can’t stand working in it.

Pick a small market with limited competition

eCommerce sellers can’t use the same logic and strategy that regular companies do to choose their target markets. You’re one person, with one person’s resources and power—if you try to enter a market where you’re competing with full-sized companies and brands, you’ll be out-marketed and out-maneuvered every time. 

Be specific: instead of lawn services, target the market for environmentally sustainable lawn care in one finite geographical location. Instead of publishing eBooks on finance, publish eBooks on investing for American women ages 18-24. Keep narrowing it down until you’ve found your product niche (more on that later).

Pick something people want or need

This is just common sense: you need to sell something that people will actually buy. Even the biggest brands still mess this up every once in a while (looking at you, Colgate-brand frozen dinners and the Bristol-Myers Squibb nightmare that was the “Touch of Yogurt” shampoo). Don’t wait until after you’ve launched your product to try to match it to a potential customer market. Do your research, and narrow down your target customer’s pains and gains, or the problems they need to solve and the enjoyable things they want to enhance. Make sure there’s a large enough demographic of people who are in the market for what you can provide.

Pick something profitable

There’s no surefire way to guarantee that a product or business will be profitable, but with some thorough research, you can certainly strengthen your odds. Ideally, you want to choose a product market with a strong balance between a large potential customer base and a small number of competitors. You’re also more likely to succeed if your product is truly unique in some way—if you offer a feature or element that no other competitor offers. Keep narrowing down your market until you’ve found your unique niche.

Narrowing down your product niche

Once you’ve identified a promising product market, you can start adding details to whittle your target market down to a target niche. 

For example, let’s say that you make clothes in your free time, and you’re interested in figuring out how to turn that into an eCommerce business opportunity. In the broadest sense, you want to target the clothing industry, but since this is an extremely saturated market—meaning that it contains many, many competitors—it’s not one where you’re likely to succeed as an individual eCommerce seller.

You need to find a more unique product category within the larger framework of the clothing industry. One good choice might be pet clothes, since there are far fewer designers and retailers in the pet fashion industry than the human one. But “pet clothes” is still a pretty broad category, so you might narrow it further to pet clothes that are specifically for dogs. 

When solo eCommerce selling was still a burgeoning market, handmade dog clothes may have been a narrow enough niche to pursue since there were so few non-corporate sellers and even fewer online marketplaces where sellers could compete. But today, you’ll want to get even more specific—perhaps by focusing on dog clothes for specific occasions, like weddings and engagements.

Graphic portrayal of the process of narrowing down a niche

That’s as far as I’m taking this example, but if I were actually launching this business, I’d probably drill down even further just to really make sure that I had my unique micro-market cornered. I might narrow it down by size, theme, or even specific clothing items until I hit on my ultimate niche: floral-themed wedding bow ties for small and medium dogs. (Though there’s truly no limit to how far you drill down your niche—until, perhaps, you reach CelebriDucks levels of specificity.)

Your niche isn’t a permanent designation—if your product does well in your corner of the market, you’ll have more capital to invest in better marketing, audience targeting tools, and maybe even an employee or two. The more your company grows, the more resources and power you have to capture a larger market share.

Set up your store

You’ve found your market, honed your niche, picked your product, and you’re ready to start generating inventory and selling it to your customers. It’s time to choose a platform and set up your eCommerce store.

Choose an eCommerce platform

Talk about a crowded market—there are a ton of different platforms you can use to create a store online. You also don’t necessarily need your own online storefront; you can sell on marketplaces, crowdfunding sites, or a number of other eCommerce alternatives. If you do go with an eCommerce platform, here are a few different guides and comparisons that can help you find the right site for your business:

Set up your store

The platforms above fall into one of two categories, each with different setup requirements.

  • A standard website builder (like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, or WordPress) will allow you to create an entire website, only part of which needs to be dedicated to your actual store’s functions. If eCommerce selling is only part of your business plan—for example, if you’re a professional photographer who sells prints and posters as a side hustle—you would want your site to be dedicated to your store as well as pages housing biographical information, your professional portfolio, booking information, recordings of photography classes or talks you’ve given, online course signups, and anything else that pertains to your career.
  • If your primary goal is eCommerce selling, you’re better off opting for a purpose-built eCommerce platform like Shopify or WooCommerce. Both platforms are capable of many of the same features as a general website builder, like adding about pages, forms, image displays, and blogs. These platforms also grant you access to more advanced features and integrations designed specifically for eCommerce sites, which can help supercharge your selling and help your store gain momentum early on.

Ready to build your store? Check out these step-by-step guides to building your store in the platform you want:

Market your business

With your eCommerce shop all set up, it’s time to throw everything you’ve got into making sure that it succeeds. You can’t wait for your customers to come to you—you need to go out and find, reach, and convert your target audience.

Target inbound sales leads

Inbound sales strategies are designed to draw people to you, instead of the other way around—think search optimization (SEO), paid search, social media, email marketing campaigns, and content marketing. 

Explore potential sales strategies in more detail with these guides:

Use what you’ve got

As a small business owner, your plate is going to be full most of the time (frankly, it will often be full-on, Thanksgiving-style overflowing). If you want to keep up with it all, you need to learn to be efficient about using what you already have and drawing multiple marketing materials out of one asset.

For example:

  • Get into the habit of snapping and recording your day-to-day processes and behind-the-scenes moments, so you always have material for social and website visuals.
  • If you’re researching a topic, if it’s related to your business, consider adding an extra step to turn your research into a marketing email or SEO post.
  • Whenever you design a new marketing asset—an email layout, an Instagram Story, a blog structure—aim to turn it into a template that you can use again, instead of starting from scratch on your next asset.

Marketing as a small business owner is a “work smarter, not harder” game. Get as much mileage as you possibly can out of everything you create, and you’ll free up time and attention that would be better spent on business strategy and growing your company.

Automate as much as possible

There are lots of opportunities to automate parts of the eCommerce process. Invest time in setting up automations at the outset, and you’ll save far more time and energy avoiding unnecessary busywork once your store gets off the ground.

In fact, most of the risks specific to eCommerce entrepreneurship come down to the fact that it’s an overwhelming amount of work for one person to handle, so automating as much of your workload as possible can materially increase the likelihood of your business’s success.

Here are a few guides on the kinds of automation that work best for eCommerce and how to set them up:

The best mind mapping software in 2022

Mind mapping is a creative way to brainstorm and find connections between different ideas. Done right, it’s a great way to come up with new ideas and solutions to tricky problems, outline an article or presentation, and generally just get your thoughts in order.

Use automation to support brainstorming, delegation, and communication

Learn how

I do most of my mind mapping digitally—and even when I don’t, I often recreate a paper mind map online so that I can have it safely stored and easily searched. (It’s a weird hybrid approach, but it works for me.) 

Over the past several years of updating this list, I’ve tested close to 50 different mind map tools, many multiple times as they’ve been updated and added new features. I’ve also made dozens of mind maps myself, both on paper and digitally. Pen and paper set a very high bar to clear, but these are the five best mind mapping apps that manage to clear it.

The 5 best mind mapping tools in 2022

  • Coggle for mind map beginners and occasional use
  • MindMeister for collaborating on a mind map with a team
  • Ayoa for a modern approach to mind mapping
  • MindNode for Apple users
  • XMind 2022 for personal brainstorming

What is mind mapping?

Traditionally, a mind map is done with a pen (or, ideally, loads of colored pens) and paper. You start by writing a central idea or theme in the middle of a blank sheet of paper. Then the fun starts: around your central theme, you create “nodes” connected by lines, each with its own related idea or theme. For example, if the central theme was “Summer” (say, for a marketing campaign), the first five or so nodes might be “Good weather,” “BBQs,” “Vacation,” “Air conditioning,” and “School’s out.”

From each node, you then repeat the process, drilling deeper into the different concepts. “BBQs” might lead to “Family time,” “Good food,” and “Burgers.” “School’s out” could lead to “Summer jobs,” “Extracurriculars,” and “Alice Cooper.”

Some ideas will also connect back to other ideas. “Family time” could also link to “Good weather” and “Vacation.” “Burgers” could link to “Summer jobs.” But by getting all these branching concepts down on paper, you can start to see the relationships between different things and generate new ideas. Who’d have thought before we started brainstorming that Alice Cooper flipping burgers at a family BBQ (or maybe in a fast food joint?) could make for a killer summer ad?

What makes for great mind map software?

How we evaluate and test apps

All of our best apps roundups are written by humans who’ve spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. We spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it’s intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We’re never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.

Mind mapping with a sheet of paper and a pen is an incredibly intuitive and natural way to work. You just start drawing and go from there with almost nothing in your way.

It does have its downsides, though. Unless you have a gigantic whiteboard knocking around, you’re limited to a fairly small piece of paper. It’s not searchable, and you can’t easily undo things or make edits. And, worst of all, if you lose your mind map, you don’t have a backup. So even though pen-and-paper mind mapping is delightful, it might be worth considering a mind map app.

While each mind mapping tool on this list has its own unique benefits, they all meet at least the following criteria:

  • It’s actually a mind mapping app. A lot of drawing, diagramming, and flowchart apps are marketed as mind map apps—but they aren’t. While you could make a mind map in them, you could also use PowerPoint, Photoshop, or MS Paint. You could even get a key and carve a mind map into your computer screen. Just because something can be used to make a mind map, doesn’t mean it should or that it will do it well. These more general-purpose apps tend to lack the features that make creating a mind map digitally as easy as possible, like automatically linking nodes, brainstorming modes that let you get a lot of concepts down quickly, and search. For an app to make this list, we dug past the marketing and made sure it was designed from the ground up for brainstorming, not for drawing or creating professional diagrams or charts.
  • It gets out of the way. Mind mapping with a pen and paper is a joy. No app is ever going to be quite as intuitive, but it should come as close as possible. After a short learning period to get up to speed, you shouldn’t have to stop and think to create a node, or dig through menus to connect two ideas. The app should just fade into the background—the same way your web browser does. 
  • It offers an unlimited canvas. A digital mind map tool should have a practically unlimited canvas size, so you can make a mind map as big as you can conceive of, connecting huge numbers of ideas if you want. Using an app is all about overcoming the analog downsides, not reinforcing them. 
  • It allows you to attach files. Sometimes you need more than a few words to fully illustrate a concept—and doodling is a big part of analog mind mapping. For an app to make this list, you need to be able to attach images, videos, documents, web pages, and other assorted extras to your mind maps. 
  • It allows you to save and export. You can’t easily edit, save, or share your paper mind maps, so one of the big reasons to go digital is that you can. The best mind map software lets you come back to a mind map later and change it up, save it, and export it in different formats, so you can send it to your colleagues, classmates, or anyone else.

This is my third year keeping this list updated, so I’m very familiar with all our top picks—plus all the apps that come close to breaking into this list but just fall short. To test each mind map app, I use it. I start with some silly concept and just mind map away to see how it works and feels. (I’m always comparing things back to both paper and the other apps.) If it’s nice to use and ticks all the boxes, it goes on a shortlist to be considered for inclusion. If it’s awkward, gets in the way, or doesn’t have a key feature, I leave it off the list (though all the testing notes get added to an increasingly complex spreadsheet, so I can check if things improve next year). From that shortlist, I pull out the best of the best. So, here are the five best mind mapping apps.

Best mind mapping software for beginners and occasional use

Coggle (Web)

Coggle, our pick for the best mind mapping app for beginners and occasional use

Coggle is, in many ways, the mind map maker to beat. It’s fast, intuitive, and easy to use (with great keyboard shortcuts)—even though it’s only available through your web browser. Perhaps best of all, Coggle is free for up to three private mind maps. As long as you save your mind maps as PDFs, plain text documents, or images, you can delete your old drafts and basically have unlimited free mind mapping. If you’re only looking to use a digital option every few months, it’s practically perfect.

The moment you start a diagram in Coggle, you’ll see the central node of a new mind map. From there, you can create new nodes by clicking on the plus sign or—if you want a faster experience—tapping the tab key. There’s a handy cheatsheet of all the keyboard shortcuts in the bottom-right corner of the app, and it’s worth learning to use them.  

Coggle is packed with thoughtful touches. One of my favorite features is that you can format your mind map items and messages with Markdown, so you can get as fancy as you need to while adding your text, images, and links to the canvas. There’s also collaboration built in. If you want to bounce some ideas off a colleague, you can go ahead and add them to your mind map, carry on a conversation in the messages sidebar, or go into full-screen presentation mode to take a step back and do more high-level ideation.

In short, for occasional mind mapping (whether on your own or with colleagues), Coggle nails it, and it’s your best option s for free mind mapping software. Its paid offering is also great, but for $60/year, you can get other mind mapping apps that work natively rather than just through a web browser.

Coggle pricing: Free for up to three private diagrams; $5/month for unlimited private diagrams and extra mind mapping tools (like additional shapes and color control).

Best mind mapping software for collaborating with a team

MindMeister (Web, iOS, Android)

MindMeister, our pick for the best mind mapping software for collaborating with a team

MindMeister is one of the best collaborative mind mapping tools out there. It’s a little less intuitive to use than Coggle, and some features—like exporting your mind maps as a PDF or image, or attaching images and videos—are limited to paid plans, so it’s a less enticing option for solo mind mappers. For teams, though, its collaboration features are great: you can add team members and guests to your mind map, leave comments for each other, and otherwise work together to brainstorm or present ideas.

It also has a sleek modern interface and plenty of customization options (including some more corporate layouts). Plus, it automatically aligns your nodes, which makes it easy to create great-looking mind maps that won’t look out of place in a meeting room.

MindMeister is owned by the same people that make MeisterTask, a web-based, kanban-style project management app. The two tools are integrated, so you can turn your brainstorm session into an actionable project, assigning individual items on a mind map to members of your team, tracking task progress, and syncing it all with your other project boards inside MeisterTask—which even integrates with Zapier.

For an in-depth look at what a sample MindMeister/MeisterTask project might look like, take a look at our article about how to jumpstart new projects with mind maps.

MindMeister pricing: Free for the Basic plan that includes up to three mind maps and real-time collaboration. From $4.99/month for the Personal plan that includes unlimited mind maps, file attachments, and PDF exports.

Best mind mapping software for a modern mind mapping approach

Ayoa (Web, iOS, Android, macOS, Windows)

Ayoa, our pick for the best mind mapping software with a modern mind mapping approach

Ayoa is the follow-up to one of our previous mind mapping picks, iMindMap. It was created by Chris Griffiths, a mind mapping expert and author who has collaborated with Tony Buzan, the man responsible for popularizing mind mapping in the 1970s. Put simply, it’s got a serious mind mapping pedigree—and it shows.

Open Ayoa, create a Mind Map, and you have a choice of making an Organic Map, a Speed Map, a Radial Map, or a Capture Map—though you can also change between them at any time with a dropdown menu. (You can also make a Whiteboard or Task Board if you’re doing some more corporate-style brainstorming, though these features are limited to the more expensive plans.)

  • The Organic Map is the most traditional and mimics the kind of thing you’d draw with a pen and paper. You aren’t confined to just putting words in boxes. Instead, you’re encouraged to label the swooshing, Sharpie-like branches that connect different ideas. It’s a much more natural process than a lot of the other apps.
  • A Speed Map is similar, but with a stripped-down setup designed for rapid brainstorming. You’re almost forced to use keyboard shortcuts, like Tab for a new child branch and Enter for a new sibling branch, as the buttons to do the same are hidden away unless you deliberately click on a node. It’s great when you want to ideate quickly.
  • A Radial Map is a totally modern approach to mind mapping. Instead of nodes and lines, every idea becomes part of a series of concentric circles. A peripheral segment of your central idea becomes the center of its own circle of ideas as you move outward. It’s mind mapping that’s moving beyond the limits of what can even be imagined with paper.
  • A Capture Map is a blank canvas that allows you to quickly add ideas, whether they’re related or not. They float around the page as little thought bubbles. You can then connect them and turn your rough outline into an Organic Map, Speed Map, or Radial Map.

And Ayoa isn’t just limited to basic (and not-so-basic) mind mapping. The chat, real-time collaboration, whiteboard, and task management features make it ideal if you’re part of a small team looking to realize your ideas. It’s also designed to be accessible to neurodiverse people. Ayoa is under rapid development, so it’s worth keeping an eye on their roadmap to see what features are coming down the line. When we reviewed this app two years ago, the whiteboard features didn’t exist. Last year, they were worth mentioning. Now, they’re so good that Ayoa almost made our list of best whiteboard apps.

This year’s surprise feature addition was—an AI-powered brainstorming tool (though it’s only available on the most expensive Ultimate tier). Click Open in GI, then right-click on any node and select IdeasQuestions, or Explain, and it will come up with up to four related concepts. I found it was a little too willing to dive into controversial concepts like weight loss (a problem with many AI-powered tools). Using “Spring” as a test bed, I quickly generated ideas like “go for a morning jog” and “chocolate Easter eggs,” which, when the AI expanded on them, led to suggestions like “go for a morning jog to lose weight” and “develop a healthier chocolate to help with weight loss.” Keep this in mind if you’re going to use it in your workplace.

Ayoa pricingMind Map plan for $6.95/user/month with all mind mapping features. The Pro plan for $13/user/month adds whiteboards and other advanced features.

Best mind mapping software for Apple users

MindNode (iOS, macOS)

MindNode, our pick for the best mind mapping software for Apple users

Most mind mapping apps are web apps, and if there’s a native app available, it’s really just a shell for the web app. It’s fine if you want the collaboration, sharing, and other features you get with an online service, but what if you just want a simple way to brainstorm by yourself?

MindNode, a native Mac, iPhone, and iPad app, is perfect for Apple users (and when I’m in a big mind mapping buzz, it’s my go-to app). Start a new map on one device and it instantly syncs to your other devices using iCloud. The app is just as easy to use (and as powerful) whether you prefer to tap the plus icon to add a new node on your iPhone or click it on your Mac. And since it’s a fully native app, no internet connection? No problem.

MindNode also has a load of other features that will keep you happy if you’re deep in Apple’s ecosystem, like a Quick Entry dialog in the Menu Bar on your Mac, Widgets for the Home screen or Notification Center, a Watch app, Apple Pencil support, and integration with popular to-do apps Apple Reminders, Things, and OmniFocus. Select any node, and click Add Task to turn it into a to-do item. Or click the share menu and Export to Things (or OmniFocus), and your mind map will get converted into a project in your chosen app with all your to-dos ready to be checked off. It’s a great brainstorming app that lets you turn a brainstorming session into something actionable.

MindNode pricing: Free limited Mac and iOS app; $2.49/month for MindNode Plus with image support, tasks, themes, and styling options.

Best mind mapping software for personal brainstorming

XMind (Web, Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android)

XMind, our pick for the best mind mapping software for personal brainstorming

If you just make mind maps by yourself and don’t need to constantly brainstorm with other people, then a lot of the tools we’ve looked at are overkill. A lot of development time goes into supporting real-time collaboration, versioning, and the like. With XMind, however, all that same dev energy goes straight into making mind mapping nicer, faster, and easier. 

While XMind is available on the web (if you have mind maps stored in a cloud storage provider like Dropbox or Google Drive), its native apps are what shine. It’s available on Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and even Linux. If you need something cross-platform so you and your family (or professional team) can all use the same app, even if you aren’t collaborating in real-time, it’s hard to beat. 

While it’s subjective, I also feel that XMind makes the nicest mind maps by default. It’s got a slightly hand-drawn style that I wish I could mimic with a pen and paper. It’s professional enough for the office (especially if you use the built-in Pitch mode), but also nice enough that you’ll want to use it by choice. 

Otherwise, XMind hits all the marks you’d expect from a mind mapping app. It’s intuitive to use whether you rely on keyboard shortcuts, a touch screen, or clicking buttons with a mouse. There are enough customization options and themes that you can make your mind maps how you like.

Really, the biggest downside is that, at ~$7/month, it’s expensive for one person—especially when you consider all the features it lacks compared to, say, Ayoa or MindMeister. If a nice solo offline experience is more important than the most features for the money, then it’s easy to recommend. On the other hand, if you’re not mind mapping that often or need to work in a more deliberate way with other people, it’s probably not for you. 

XMind pricing: $39.99 for 6 months (or $59.99 annually) for up to five desktops and five mobile devices.

If you’re wary of subscription fees and want something for personal use, SimpleMind is a solid XMind alternative. It’s available from €24.99 for Windows or macOS (€44.99 for both), $9.99 for iOS, and $8.49 for Android. 

Do you need a mind mapping app?

Mind mapping can be a great way to generate and connect ideas, but unless you do it all the time, you probably don’t need a dedicated mind map creator—or at least not a paid one. Because, when it comes down to it, mind mapping software is just brainstorming software—and you can brainstorm pretty much anywhere. If you want a compromise, Coggle is a great place to start for free mind map software, since the free plan is pretty generous.

Also, reconsider the pen-and-paper method. It’s really hard to beat—which is why there are so many mind mapping apps available and so few on our list—and you can always take a photo of it to save it or share it. It’s not as tech-y as an app, but it works if you don’t make mind maps all the time as part of your job, or even in your personal life.

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The 9 best free stock photo sites in 2022

How to find free stock images for business and commercial use

Stock photo sites are a dime a dozen, so it can be tough to know where to find free, high-quality images that aren’t also on every other website.

And as a freelancer and a business owner, I’ve done my fair share of scouring the web for that perfect stock photo. So I spent several weeks reviewing dozens of stock photo websites—and I narrowed it down to the nine best for your next project. 

The 9 best free stock photo sites

  • Unsplash for the widest variety of free stock images (and integrations)
  • Pixabay for a variety of media types
  • Gratisography for quirky images you won’t see anywhere else
  • Canva for adding simple enhancements and overlays
  • Burst for eCommerce companies
  • New Old Stock for vintage photos
  • Reshot for UX/UI designers
  • 123RF for photo sizes optimized for social media
  • Flickr for interacting with the photography community

How to find the best websites with 100% free stock photos

How we evaluate and test apps

All of our best apps roundups are written by humans who’ve spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. We spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it’s intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We’re never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.

Finding images that are free for commercial use isn’t as hard as it might sound, thanks to a number of sites that aggregate photos, illustrations, vectors, and more. These sites usually let you search and filter by keyword or category, making it easy to find what you’re looking for. But that doesn’t mean every stock photo site is worth perusing.

The best free stock image sites all meet the following criteria:

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  • They must contain images that can be used without payment for both commercial and personal purposes.
  • I focused on sites that have at least 500 photos, but I favored ones that offer thousands of images.
  • A lot of free stock photo sites essentially offer the same pictures. I looked for sites that offered unique images, so your content can stand out.
  • If you plan to use stock photos for your website or branded content, you’ll need high-quality resolutions. Every site on this list offers at least one high-quality download size for its photos.
  • And of course, the website itself should be fast, easy to navigate, and from this century.

When reviewing these sites, I visited each one and signed up for an account if necessary. I explored the site’s menus and conducted a number of searches to see what types of photos would come up. I reviewed the quality of the photos and took note of things like how advanced the search filters were, whether there were high-resolution download sizes available, and if there was anything uniquely useful about the stock photo site in question.

Best free stock photos site for a variety of photos and integrations  

Unsplash (Web, iOS, Android)

Unsplash, our pick for the best free stock photos site for a variety of photos and integrations

With more than three million photos and multiple plugins, Unsplash is one of the most easily accessible and largest collections of stock photos available. 

It comes with native apps like an iOS app, an Android photo picker, Apple TV and desktop wallpaper apps, and even a Chrome extension that randomly selects a background image when you open your browser. Unsplash’s API is also already natively integrated into popular tools like Figma, Notion, Trello, and Squarespace, letting you search and use high-quality stock photos without leaving your favorite platform. 

The site is also easy to use: type a keyword into the search bar at the top of the page, and browse the results to find the best images for your purposes. And if you don’t know what you’re looking for, there are category tabs along the top of the homepage for inspiration.

Another feature that sets Unsplash apart from other free photo sites is its Collections section. Users of the site are able to create Collections—like “Christmas Traditions,” “Autumn,” and “Milkyway“—by curating photos they come across. If you want several similar photos of a specific theme, Unsplash may be your best option.

Best free stock photos site for a variety of media types

Pixabay (Web, iOS, Android) 

Pixabay, our pick for the best free stock photos site for a variety of media types

Pixabay hosts more than 2.6 million photos, illustrations, vector graphics, and videos—all of which are free to use. Click Images next to the search bar to look for images by type, or you can search more granularly by becoming familiar with Pixabay’s advanced search options. Pixabay lets you search by photographer, orientation (i.e., landscape or portrait), size, and even color. The site also features an Editor’s Choice curation section, which highlights the best images chosen by the Pixabay team. Click the Explore dropdown menu in the upper-right corner of the site to see their selections.

If you need a professional-looking illustration—i.e., a hand-drawn image or a computer-generated graphic—you should begin your search here. Royalty-free illustrations can be tricky to find on many free image sites, but Pixabay has loads of them. Just click Images, select Illustrations, enter in your search terms, and that’s that. You can also use Pixabay to search for vector graphics, videos, music, and even sound effects.

Best free stock photos site for quirky images you won’t see anywhere else

Gratisography (Web, Android)

Gratisography, our pick for the best free stock photos site for quirky images you won't see anywhere else

Gratisography doesn’t have thousands of pictures for you to browse through. What it does have is some of the quirkiest images you will find on the web—images you won’t be able to find anywhere else, like a young kid spray painting and an alarm clock that looks like it’s on the moon.

The site is pretty barebones—and its color scheme is distracting at best, with bright neon colors and cartoonish UI elements. Photos are organized into only nine different categories: Animals, Business, Fashion, Food, Nature, Objects, People, Urban, and Whimsical. And while the photo resolutions are high-quality, they only come in one size (and you have to download each photo to find out). 

But if you’re looking for an odd image that will bring your content to life, Gratisography is definitely the place to start.

Best free stock photos site for adding simple enhancements and overlays

Canva (Web, macOS, Windows, iOS, Android) 

Canva, our pick for the best free stock photos site for adding simple enhancements and overlays

Canva is a web-based graphic design tool that makes modifying images easy. If you’re looking for stock photos for a graphic design project—like designing a social media banner or a flyer—Canva is a one-stop shop for your needs. Even with a free account, the platform offers a library of over 1.6 million free images you can use for any purpose.

If you’re planning on enhancing the images you find with simple text overlays or tweaking the transparency or vibrancy of photos on a regular basis, Canva will help you streamline the process. Find photos, and then use Canva’s built-in design tool to enhance them on the spot.

One helpful feature is that Canva automatically generates a color palette for any photo you choose. If you’re building a vision board or a design presentation, you can easily use the hex color codes to keep your project’s color scheme consistent.

Canva does come with a few downsides, though. As I was testing, I noticed that you can’t directly download a stock photo as you would from another stock photo site. Instead, you’ll have to click Use in a design. Canva takes you to the design dashboard with the stock photo on your digital canvas. While this is helpful if you intend to add text or graphics to the image, it’s an unnecessary complication if you plan to download a stock photo as-is.  

Also, many of the best stock photo sites let you choose the size of your photo before downloading it. Canva only provides one size—though the photos are all in high resolution.

If you’re looking for more stock photo sites for graphic design, PikWizard and Kaboompics are both great Canva alternatives. PikWizard is linked to DesignWizard, a design tool similar to Canva. And Kaboompics focuses on color palettes; you can even download your chosen photo along with with the color scheme it uses, which is useful for putting together vision boards and presentations. Kaboompics also lets you choose a custom pixel width when downloading an image, which is a helpful feature.

Best free stock photos site for eCommerce businesses

Burst (Web, iOS, Android) 

Burst, our pick for the best free stock photos site for eCommerce companies

Burst is a free stock photo site powered by leading eCommerce platform Shopify. The platform offers thousands of free images you can use to strengthen your content, including a large selection of business-oriented photos (e.g., retail, eCommerce, money, and products). The site serves up 28 different categories, several of which are broken down into subcategories to make it even easier to find the images you need.

Browsing, searching, and downloading are standard fare, but as an added bonus, Burst and Shopify offer advice on things like how to turn your online business ideas into reality.

Best free stock photos site for vintage photos

New Old Stock (Web) 

New Old Stock, our pick for the best free stock photos site for vintage photos

New Old Stock publishes vintage photos from the public archives. If you think old photos—like a group of men sitting outside a storefront in the late 1800s or a British dispatch rider in France—would match your brand, spend a few minutes scrolling through New Old Stock to see if anything catches your eye.

Unfortunately, the site doesn’t have as much variety as other stock photo sites—and not all of the photos are free for commercial use. The site creator advises commercial users to check with the originating institution’s rights statement through the provided link to the original Flickr posting of each photo.

The site’s search functionality also leaves much to be desired. And unlike most free image sites, New Old Stock doesn’t offer any way to filter photos. If you’re feeling lucky, though, click the magnifying glass in the upper-left corner of the site, type in a search phrase, and you may strike (vintage) gold.

Best free stock photos site for UX/UI designers

Reshot (Web)

Reshot, our pick for the best free stock photos site for UX/UI designers

Reshot is a relatively new resource for designers, whether they need stock photos, vector illustrations, or icons. The site’s collection is provided by the design team over at Envato Elements, a paid creative subscription service for templates, photos, music, and more. But Reshot provides free visual resources for designers on a budget.

Unlike many other stock photo sites, Reshot has a wide variety of vector illustrations and icons as well. The site boasts millions of images that are free for personal and commercial use. The website is minimalist in design, with a left-hand menu where you can choose to browse collections of icons, illustrations, or photos. Or if you know what you’re looking for, type your search terms into the search bar and narrow the results by media type and orientation. 

If you find an illustration you like, you have the option to download a vector or PNG—while icons come in SVG code or SVG. And since you’ll likely want to make additions or changes to these images, Reshot makes it easy to download files straight into Figma. 

One downside I noticed as I was testing is that while illustrations and icons have multiple download types, it appears that photos can only be downloaded as JPEGs—and only in one size. Those sizes are in high-quality resolution, but you can’t choose from a variety of sizes. But in general, if you’re looking for ideas or raw images for your wireframes or prototypes, Reshot is a great option. 

Best free stock photos site for optimizing images for social media

123RF (Web, iOS, Android)

123RF, our pick for the best free stock photo site for photo sizes optimized for social media

If you’re looking for free stock photos for Instagram or other social media sites, 123RF makes your search easy. The stock photo site not only provides a variety of free photos and vector illustrations, but it also lets you choose from a selection of download sizes, including Facebook cover, email header, Pinterest post, and even brochure cover. 

These pre-selected sizes can save you hours of cumulative time spent cropping and resizing images for social media. You can even apply a filter, add text, and remove the image’s background directly from the site before downloading it.

As I was testing, I did notice that you can’t reposition an image after choosing a social media-optimized size. So if you choose an image whose focal point isn’t the center, you may run into issues if you pair it with a small or narrow aspect ratio. 

Overall, the site is clean and easy to navigate. And if you’re willing to pay a few dollars per image, 123RF provides a wider variety of images as well as a variety of stock footage and audio for use in your next project.

Best free stock photos site for interacting with the photography community 

Flickr (Web, iOS, Android)

Flickr, our pick for the best free stock photos site for interacting with the photography community

Flickr is a photo sharing social network. The site—which boasts more than five billion images—brings together professional and amateur photographers from around the world.

The thing I appreciate about Flickr is that it places artists front and center. When you navigate to Flickr’s homepage, you’ll immediately see a gallery of suggested people to follow. Click into any one of their profiles to see a “Photostream,” or a feed of their latest and most popular images. Flickr is a great way to discover talented photographers, learn more about the field, and refine your own artistic eye.

The photos on Flickr are known for containing rich metadata, including geolocation information, EXIF data, tags, and more. So if you want to find photos taken in France, select the World Map under the Explore dropdown, and click on one of the pink dots that pop up in that country. If you want to find images of golden retrievers, simply type the term into the search bar in the upper-right corner of the Flickr homepage, and thousands of results will come back. Plus, Flickr lets you search by trending photos and most recently added photos. You can even explore galleries and search specific photographers’ collections by clicking on their usernames.

And if you’re a budding photographer yourself, you can even click Camera Finder under the Explore dropdown to see the most popular cameras currently being used in the Flickr community.

Keep in mind that you can’t use every photo you find on Flickr for free—especially for commercial use. But it’s easy to figure out which ones are usable. Run a search for an image, and then click the Any license dropdown menu and select Commercial use allowed.

If you get sick of seeing ads as you browse Flickr, you can upgrade to an ad-free experience for $5.54/month. The premium subscription also comes with unlimited storage (free users get one terabyte of storage). And if you want to even more with your stock photos, connect Flickr to Zapier to do things like share new Flickr photos on social media or back up new Flickr photos to Google Drive.

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If you’re looking for more sites that prioritize the photography community, Pexels is a great Flickr alternative. Pexels offers hundreds of thousands of photos that are free for both commercial and personal use. The site has a leaderboard and a number of photography contests for contributors, which makes it a great site for finding photographers who are engaged with the platform and constantly uploading fresh content. 

Other stock photo sites to consider

If you’re looking for something a little more unique (and you have the budget for it), you could try a paid option like ShutterstockiStock by Getty, or Adobe Stock. These sites are all very well-established resources for paid—but relatively affordable—stock photos. You can subscribe to any of these sites for $29 per month for up to ten monthly image downloads.  

There are also many niche stock photography sites out there (like Foodiesfeed, which specializes in food photography). So if you’re looking for a specific type of image, it’s worth seeing if there’s a niche site available. These sites might give you a wider range of options in the specific category you’re looking for.

If you’re publishing content on a regular basis, you’ll likely get the best results by using a combination of our recommended sites. Just be sure that you keep your branding consistent: using too many eclectic images can muddy your brand and make it hard to stand out from the crowd.

A note on copyrights

Why can’t you just scour the web for an image you like and publish it? Because creators own the rights to their images, and if you publish one of them without their approval, you may be guilty of copyright infringement. In a worst-case scenario, that could land you a $150,000 fine for each violation, and possibly even jail time. Of course, you’ll receive a cease-and-desist letter first, telling you to take the images down, but even still, you’ll waste time and effort removing them—in addition to the time and effort you wasted finding them in the first place.

But some creators are happy to share their images with others. Creative Commons offers a number of different licenses that creators can use to enable other people to leverage their work freely. Of course, it’s not all or nothing: some licenses allow for personal use, while others allow for commercial use. Some licenses require you to attribute images to creators, while others don’t. Some allow you to adapt or modify an image, while others require you to use it in its original form. When using an image licensed through Creative Commons, be sure to read the fine print and abide by the terms.

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The 5 best morning routine ideas of highly-productive people

A good morning routine sets the productivity tone for the day. But is it really as simple as a morning ritual and a healthy breakfast? After analyzing the advice and morning routines of six top productivity experts, we’ve pinpointed the most common practices of successful people for a productive morning. No matter how much chaos happens when your eyes open, know this: A morning routine for better productivity is a learnable science.

1. Wake up at YOUR right time

“Morning people” are supposed to be the high achievers. The early bird is supposed to catch the worm, right? And a cold shower to wake up? Groan. Where’s the snooze button on that? Can the early (or late) hours you sleep really make a difference?

One 2021 academic study found that waking up just one hour earlier was associated with a 23% lower depression rate. While some people who wake up earlier are more productive, night owls can still have a perfect morning routine that leads to a productive day. Think of it like breakfast and brunch. They’re both delicious, and they both work if you’re hungry.

Mike Vardy, productivity author, speaker, podcaster, and blogger at Productivityist, wrote, “Look, I’m a night owl—and proud of it. Why? Because despite having many say that my sleeping habits make me less likely to achieve, I prove them wrong. I don’t just do that every once in a while. I do it every single day.” The most important thing isn’t what time you get out of bed. It’s getting in tune with your body’s clock for a good routine. 

According to, your body knows what it should be doing and when. Don’t force yourself to be part of the 5:00 a.m. club if you can’t fall asleep before midnight. Forcing yourself out of bed is a recipe for burnout. If you’re not a morning person, your body will only work with you for a few days before it begs for mercy.

Good ol’ science can help you find your most productive time of day.

2. Prepare the night before to eliminate morning decision making

illustration of a brain surrounded by light bulbs

Many productivity experts and successful people spend evenings preparing for the next day. Their recommendation: It leaves mornings free for an early start on important work (and breakfast). 

Subscribe to the idea that an a.m. routine can start in the p.m. Lay out your outfit for the next day. Pack your lunch. And create your checklist or a to-do list. Former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault told Fast Company they end their evenings writing three things they want to accomplish the next day. We have a limited amount of willpower and decision-making ability. Too many decisions in the morning slow us down and drain our brain for the rest of the day. Eliminate morning decision-making for more energy and more time for productivity.

3. Create a morning routine to focus your mind

illustration of a cup of coffee, a notebook, phone, computer, and glasses

Erik Fisher is the voice behind the Beyond The To-Do List Podcast. He’s interviewed over 100 different productivity experts on topics like lifehacking, work-life balance, and creativity. He points out that if you analyze productivity experts’ morning routines, you’ll find a few things in common. Most focus on big picture goals, gratitude, and planning for the day. 

Productivity coach Zack Sexton’s morning routine looks like this:

  1. Water (20oz. often w/ lemon)
  2. Cuddles (w/ fiancée Nikida)
  3. Coffee
  4. Meditation
  5. Read something inspirational (often in sauna)
  6. Shower (if sauna-ed)
  7. Look at calendar
  8. Start first journal entry (including prompts about something learned, things to be grateful for, and what to focus on for the day)

Set your mind on what you want to focus on for the day, and set your heart and mind with the right attitude. Kevin Kruse, author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, starts their morning with five minutes of yoga stretches that accompany:

  1. Mental recitation of their personal mission statement
  2. Listing three items of gratitude
  3. Repetition of their three goals: Health, wealth, and love

Kevin thinks of what tasks he’ll do that day to help achieve each goal. “All that takes about five minutes,” he says.

You don’t need a lengthy meditation routine. Yoga, meditation, journaling, reading, or a quiet walk can help you focus on a positive outcome for the day.

4. Move around and hydrate in the morning

illustration of a yoga mat, a water bottle, a sneaker, a heart, and a clock

When you feel great, it makes it easier to handle the morning alarm clock. If it’s hard just get out of bed, you probably won’t be excited to run to the gym—and that’s ok. Simply moving your body will get your blood flowing and help get your day started.

Many successful people start their mornings in motion. Follow their lead to add some health to your life:

While you’re moving, stay hydrated. What you put in your mug matters. Drink water in the morning to kickstart your day and give you lasting energy.

Jeff Sanders, author of The 5 AM Miracle and host of the podcast with the same name, says his favorite morning habit is to drink one liter of water within the first 45 minutes of bouncing out of bed. “Hydration is incredibly important, especially after waking up. I always find that this larger quantity of water provides incredible energy and prepares my body for the day ahead.”

5. Eat the frog—or tadpole—first thing in the morning

Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways To Stop Procrastinating And Get More Done In Less Time, bases his morning philosophy off of a quote from Mark Twain. “If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.”

The “frog” is your most important task or work—the one you’re dreading the most because it’s large and looming over you. Build the habit of doing your biggest task first for a huge boost of accomplishment first thing.

But procrastination is real, making it even harder to get your day started. Whether you eat the frog or tackle some small tadpoles first, find your ideal morning routine rhythm and get started.

Create your ideal morning routine for a productive day

Mornings don’t have to be rough, and you can learn to become more productive throughout the day. No need to overhaul your morning routine all at once; introduce one new practice a week and track your improvement. They say if you win the morning, you win the day.

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The Right To Disconnect: Why Leaders Should Encourage Employees To Unplug

What is the right to disconnect? The term means exactly what it sounds like—your employee’s right to shut off work after hours without fear of repercussion. As Fast Company points out, legislation is mounting in support of an employee’s right to not be available off the clock in FranceItalySpainIreland, and elsewhere. The European Union (EU) defines the right to disconnect as “a worker’s right to be able to disengage from work and refrain from engaging in work-related electronic communications, such as emails or other messages, during non-work hours.” What do “working hours” look like as the line between home life and work life blurs?

Know this: Overworked employees are overstressed employees, and the business impact of burnout is significant. A 2021 Employee Burnout Report from Indeed found that, “More than half (52%) of respondents are feeling burned out, and more than two-thirds (67%) believe the feeling has worsened over the course of the pandemic.”

A 2020 study from Deloitte estimates that employers lose approximately $56 billion a year in expenses that stem from burnout—including absence, presentee-ism (employees underperforming or functioning at reduced capacity), and turnover costs. And that barely begins to scratch the surface.

Make The Right To Disconnect From Communication A Priority

Employers who prioritize the wellbeing of their employees and their company create an environment where a healthy work-life balance isn’t just encouraged—it’s the norm. Build a culture in which considerate communication is the default. Adjust communication guidelines as needed to protect your employees.

Make Async Communication The Norm

An immediate response from a coworker should be the exception, not the rule, and employees should be encouraged to use asynchronous communication. Provide a maximum response time frame to keep projects moving forward (for example, within 24 hours, Monday through Friday), but let team members know they don’t need to be monitoring Slack, email, etc. 24/7.

Set And Share Working Hours

With employees on flexible schedules and/or across time zones, make sure it’s clear when people are available and when they aren’t. Google Calendar, for example, allows employees to set their working hours. And some teams have loosely scheduled face-time hours to allow for meetings across time zones (such as 9:00am-1:00pm). Encourage your team to set parameters to limit face-to-face meetings that don’t work for everyone. Help employees be respectful of their coworkers’ working hours and avoid scheduling snafus.

Embrace A “Schedule, Don’t Send” Policy

When employees know how they’re expected to communicate, it’s easier to make the decision to unplug once the workday is done. Clear communication expectations alleviate the pressure to check emails during dinner or frantically type up responses to questions that could wait until morning.

Coach teams to schedule Slack messages or emails (in Outlook or Gmail) for the following morning instead of sending them when the recipient is “off the clock.” For communication that’s not time-sensitive, employees should preface requests with language like “this isn’t urgent” or “later this week” so people know there’s no rush to respond.

Encourage Healthy Work-Life Balance

Sure, you may offer unlimited vacation time or flexible hours. But if your employees don’t feel they can take that time off without negative repercussions (like being passed up for a promotion), then they’re likely to burn out.

Model your company’s commitment to boundaries around work-life balance with internal policies that promote flexible work schedulesvacation, and time to relax outside of working hours. Evaluate your organization’s existing policies and ask if they provide clear expectations. And if you’re not doing so already, offer your employees the following:

Hybrid And Remote Work Options

Who can work remotely? And are there different expectations for remote workers vs. office workers? Spoiler alert: In equitable workplaces, there shouldn’t be. 

Could hybrid work be an option for some teams or individuals? While the pandemic forced a mass office exodus, it also created a new landscape of options. Evaluate your building capacity and decide who can safely return, and when. Employees need to know exactly what working remotely or on-site entails to decide what they enjoy and find productive.

Outline Tasks, Expectations, And Goals

Flexible work is great, but it needs parameters for success beyond just sitting at a keyboard for a certain number of hours. Provide employees with written guidelines on how much work they’re expected to complete each week, each month, or each quarter. To embrace flexibility and avoid burnout, employees need guide rails and metrics to know when their work is done.

Remind Employees To Use Their Benefits

Make certain employees understand all their benefits, including health and wellness perks such as mental health services or gym membership. And more importantly, make sure leaders and human resources use positive language when discussing these benefits to encourage their use. If employees feel like they can’t or shouldn’t use their benefits, they won’t, which drives them toward overwork.

Respect Vacation Time—And The Right To Disconnect

A generous vacation policy is only beneficial if employees actually leave the office behind when they’re away.

In the When Vacations Aren’t Enough survey by Visier, over a third of respondents surveyed said their employer expects them “to check in with work during vacation.” And 49% said taking time off alleviates feelings of burnout temporarily, but the prep work and catch-up work takes a toll.

Encourage creativity and productivity by ensuring employees get stress-free time away to recharge without interruptions. Consider the following vacation etiquette guidelines for your teams:

List And Delegate Tasks Upfront

Chances are that coworkers and/or managers will need to step in and help while an employee is out of office. Ask employees to create coverage documents that clearly define who will take care of each task in their absence. This resource gives everyone ample time to connect, gather relevant details, and clarify coverage questions before the vacation begins.

Promote Radio Silence

Remind your team to mute email, Slack or other work notifications while they’re on vacation. And create a shared public calendar or a Trello board where everyone can see out-of-office dates across the team.   

Track Team Updates In One Place

Nothing is worse than returning from vacation to a mountain of messages and trying to figure out what happened while you were gone. Set employees up for success with an enterprise-level work management system to catch all project info, files, and updates in one place.

With these safeguards in place, you’ll enable your employees to spend vacation the way it should be spent—in blissful, guilt-free relaxation! And you’ll reap the benefits of them returning to the office refreshed, inspired, and ready to hit the ground running.

Create A Company-Wide Knowledge Base

Tracking internal guides, notes, onboarding resources, and training materials is often a time-consuming nightmare. In the IDC white paper The High Cost of Not Finding Information,

60% of executives feel that time constraints and lack of understanding of how to find information prevent employees from finding the information they need. With a knowledge base in place, teams can get more done, and save time and effort with a single, organized repository where all knowledge is housed.

A knowledge base tool such as Trello Enterprise can centralize large catalogs of content for your organization. Playbooks, operations, and how-to guides can be found easily by anyone at any time. Knowledge bases benefit companies—especially enterprises—many ways:

A Knowledge Base Ensures Consistency

Ask three people to explain how to complete a specific task, and chances are they’ll all give different answers. With hundreds or thousands of employees, this variation can become problematic, or even chaotic. Knowledge bases eliminate this issue by standardizing how information is explained and/or learned company-wide, saving your team time, effort, and rework.

Knowledge Bases Help Employees Function Autonomously

Questions should always be encouraged, and a knowledge base makes it possible for employees to proactively find answers on their own. A solid information repository eliminates the need to reach out to a manager for clarification and promotes self-direction in the workplace.

A Working Knowledge Base Is Efficient

Repetitive tasks, such as routine training for new hires, is a time suck. With a knowledge base in place, your HR department (or any team with repetitive tasks) can turn training materials into an accessible library of written or video content to save time. Added bonus: New hires have a simpler, more engaging learning process.

With a great knowledge base in place, you can save time, increase productivity, and help employees to unplug. They’ll rest easy after hours knowing their coworkers have access to all the information they need. And team leaders have peace of mind that your internal systems for knowledge sharing are always-on.

Make The Right To Disconnect Easy

Encourage a healthy work-life balance across your org. Decrease burnout company-wide and make guilt-free unplugging a reality for everyone. Protect your teams’ right to disconnect and set up your company for success.

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How to tighten cybersecurity for remote and hybrid teams

Human error can open up your business to serious security vulnerabilities. Add security for hybrid or remote businesses presents extra challenges. Think third-party applications and slow response times from workers in scattered time zones on flexible schedules, and IT has a long row to hoe. In one 2021 IBM report, the average data breach costs $4.24 million, plus $1.07 million more when remote work is the reason behind the breach. And, 17.5% of companies report cyberattacks due to remote work.

Verizon 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report found that “85% of breaches involved a human element.” And that same IBM study found that compromised credentials, phishing, and vulnerability in third-party software were among the top causes of a security breach. What do all of these vulnerabilities have in common? They could’ve possibly been prevented with better cybersecurity skills and awareness for teams.

In one 2021 IBM report, the average data breach costs $4.24 million, plus $1.07 million more when remote work is the reason behind the breach. And, 17.5% of companies report cyberattacks due to remote work.

Employees need a solid understanding of security risks for your business. And these three tactics—with a little help from Trello—can help you build a cybersecurity fortress to protect your remote and hybrid workforce.

Make IT security education part of onboarding

Instill good IT security habits from the start. Work with human resources to ensure IT security training is part of onboarding. Let new team members start their job with a clear understanding of your enterprise’s IT policies and procedures, like maintaining password hygiene or discouraging shadow IT.

Trello Enterprise can help teams with a standard onboarding workflow for new hires to follow, with IT security awareness built in. You can use a template like this 30 60 90 Day Plan, or create a board from scratch. And, of course, you can customize it for your organization or team needs.

screenshot of the 30, 60, 90 Day Plan template for cybersecurity onboarding with a Trello boardUse a Trello board like this one to develop an onboarding system with IT security training

Within this board, you can incorporate essential IT education for each column (or stage) of onboarding. In “Onboarding essentials,” you can add security awareness training in the “Important items” card, or make it a checklist item. In the “Helpful links” column, there’s a “Training resources” card to attach your IT policies and procedures. And within each timeframe column—from the first week to the first 90 days—you can add an IT-related goal.

New hires will become well-acquainted with everything they need to know about enterprise security. And you’ll have helped protect them (and your organization) from outside threats.

Conduct regular cybersecurity training

Cybersecurity threats grow and evolve, and consistent cybersecurity training is a necessity. While many industry experts recommend quarterly training, we recommend a cadence that supports your company goals. 

And there’s plenty to cover. According to the (ISC)² 2021 Cloud Security Report, the top IT security training topics enterprises find valuable include cloud-enabled cybersecurity, incident response, risk-based frameworks, and application security. 

Compromised credentials, phishing, and vulnerability in third-party software were among the top causes of a security breach. What do all of these vulnerabilities have in common? They could’ve possibly been prevented with better cybersecurity skills and awareness for teams.

Use Trello to make a board dedicated to security training topics and progress. You can create columns for topic ideas, such as phishing prevention or mobile security, approved apps, and upcoming training sessions (with dates). Stakeholders can upvote their most pressing initiatives with the Voting Power-Up, an app integration that lets team members decide on the topics they want to learn most. 

screenshot of the Voting Power-Up on a Trello boardAdd the Trello Voting Power-Up to Trello Enterprise to give teams a vote on which security training topics to tackle

Build a knowledge hub of cybersecurity assets

There’s a lot for your remote workforce to absorb when it comes to cybersecurity—IT policy and procedure handbooks, training videos, and more. Your team needs a source of truth for reference materials: An accessible knowledge hub where all IT security resources live.

Building an easy-to-update knowledge base specifically for IT information on a Trello board has many advantages for simplicity and organization:

  • You can quickly make columns for different resource categories, like videos, policies, playbooks, or reporting procedures. 
  • Within columns, a card for each asset nests copy, images, videos, and other related material all in one place. 
  • Employees can ask questions within cards on any resource. They can also comment to let your IT team know if a resource is outdated.
  • Cards are easy to move, and easy to share, across different boards and board views

Promote and protect enterprise security with Trello

Trello Enterprise relies on enterprise-grade security to help build cybersecurity awareness and keep your business safe. 

Security features like single sign-on (SSO)user management capabilities, and mobile device management help teams collaborate and work remotely.

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