The hardest thing to do in a startup or any project is simply staying on top of your to-dos, getting back to emails and keeping everything in check. Luckily there are some highly talented developers out there who genuinely want to make your life easier, but cutting through the crap and getting to just works isn’t always easy. Here are the tools I use everyday, and best of all they don’t cost me a cent but save me thousands in frustration and missed opportunities.

Task Manager

I recently found a killer task manager from a new company (August 2010) based out of Germany. The company is called Wunder Kinder and has named this little gem “Wunder List”, and it blows away all the other task manager apps I have paid real money for. It’s truly cross platform, currently support Mac OS X, Windows and iOS with Android soon on the way. This is important for those of you still sadly stuck on Windows but transitioning one device at a time to the promise land with your iPhones 😉

The design is simple and elegant, especially when coupled with their free online syncing accounts and shareable task lists which are perfect for sharing with small teams or your personal assistant. Simply want to create a task list that others can see? They cover that too, so head on over and check this bad boy out.

Branded Email, Calendar, Docs, Messaging

Most of you probably already have a GMail account, which is the popular email provided by Google. However, what you might not know is that Google offers a more professional version of this service called “Google Apps” – and it is my lifesaver.The idea is that Google has taken all that they have learned from GMail and packaged it nicely in a way that allows you to brand it. That is instead of (obscure name)@gmail.com, you are now able to create something like travis@thecollegestartup.com which is way more professional and makes your life easy if you have to verify ownership of a domain – score!

Now here is the startup pro-tip, when you check out their service you are going to be pushed towards their super sized, take over the world package. If you are anything like I was in college there are two problems with this…

1. You don’t have the money to spare, even the ridiculously affordable $50/year for an amazing service

2. While you are passionate about what you do, lets face it you aren’t quite a big enough deal yet for all that storage

So what now? You want to look just as established as the next guy, but shelling out cash for email just isn’t feasible for whatever reason. Well when you get to the home page for Google Apps, you will find something interesting in the footer.

That’s right, there is a free version nicely tucked away down there! There are a few differences compared to the version that they really want you to sign up for (and do a great job of shoving you towards). Firstly there is a limit to the number of accounts that can be used under this domain, but it’s around 25 so that won’t be a problem for 99% of you. Additionally it has ads to subsidize the cost exactly like GMail does as well as skipping Postini spam filtering in favor of the default GMail spam filtering which luckily is still quite good.

Now once you get this setup you will have access to all the Google services you love under your own branded experience. This includes docs, chat, email and others. On top of all that you can get Apps to layer on top of Google Apps that add even more value and functionality to your work flow through plugins with accounting, expense, crm and others that keep everything nicely tucked in together.