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Posts tagged productivity tools
Staying Productive When You're Your Own Boss

I've had the privilege of being "my own boss" for nearly seven years now, working with clients in a variety of industries but working as an independent consultant or, today, small consultancy. I often hear, "You're so lucky you take any day off you want," from people, and that's sort of true. I feel really fortunate that in the end, I have control of my schedule. But in actuality, I have clients to answer to (as any business has the end user to answer to!) and there's not a big system in place to replace me if I'm out for a day or week.

In the end, whether you're working from home, your office or a shop, if you're a small business owner you are, on some level, working off your own drive and self-motivation. Yes, you can have flexible hours, but that work has to get done at some point, so you need to figure out when. Sure, you can decide on Tuesday that you'd rather Netflix and Chill but whatever you were planning to do then will still be undone on Wednesday. 

And ever since becoming a mom four years ago, I have become extremely focused about squeezing out every hour of productivity from my workdays possible, largely so I can spend more quality time with my children and be present for them during that time. To that end, I've come up with some strategies for business owners (or anyone really) who is looking for ways to amp up productivity that I truly believe allow me to get more work done in a single day than I once could do in two. Here's how I do it.

Take the Overwhelm Out of It

I've worked with dozens of small business owners, nonprofits and startups over the years. In most cases, these are people who are wearing a lot of hats and no matter how cool, calm and confident they are, there's a sense of overwhelm at times. My first productivity tip: being overwhelmed is a waste of your energy.

Whenever I'm feeling like there's way too much going on and I'm getting scattered, whether it's work, kids' schedules or trying to pull together a holiday dinner, I create a plan of action. That's my strategy for taking back the power of the situation. If that's what works for you, do it. Other ways to become less overwhelmed are: take a long look at your tasks and see what deadlines or timelines can be moved around; outsource something (cleaning, babysitting, virtual assistant work, anything); remove the things that aren't essential (there's always something); or go for a run (sometimes a mindset shift is all you need to tackle what otherwise seemed overwhelming).

Make Lists

I am the Queen of Lists, and I take plenty of ribbing for it, but it works for me. Ever since my first "real" post-college job, I've made it a habit of making a list each day as I finish work of what needs to be tackled the next day. This serves me well in three ways.

First, it enables me to take a quick run through what my tasks are for the day and upcoming days to ensure that nothing fell through the cracks so I don't walk in the next day to a missed deadline (nightmare!). 

Secondly, it allows me to walk away from the office and not think too much about work for the evening or my time off. I know that I've squared everything away and I have a plan of attack when I return.

Thirdly, it lets me walk into work the following morning ready to go. I don't need to spend a lot of time floundering around figuring out what I need to start with; I can jump right in.

I also make lists for personal stuff, chores, errands, stuff the kids need to have done. I usually work off a paper list for the day's tasks and electronic lists (via Asana for work and Google Calendar for calls and kids' appointments) for a full list of everything today and in the future. 

Block Schedule

I don't do this every day, but on days where the list is huge or certain projects are going to need to take up huge amounts of time, I create blocks in my day and assign projects or tasks to each one. This not only allows me to ensure that everything actually has time and space to get done, but it also gets me really focused to the task at hand. If I know I have allotted an hour or two hours to do something, I focus on hitting that deadline and am less likely to check Facebook or get otherwise distracted.

Focus on the Task at Hand

Like everyone else, I'm better at being present and focused on what's going on in the moment some days more than others. But overall, I really try to do the thing I'm supposed to be doing at the time I'm supposed to be doing it. At Sky Zone with my kids? I won't take a work call (though I do admittedly keep a general eye on emails.) Deep in a workday and heading to the kitchen for coffee? I'll rinse my mug but ignore that sink full of dishes that can be done while I'm cleaning up after dinner later on.

This sounds simple but a lot of people really struggle with it (I hear it all the time around working from home and avoiding housework!). And it does truly benefit not only your work productivity but also your ability to enjoy your downtime.

Group Like Tasks

There's nothing I love more than getting into the zone or on a roll. While we have clients across a variety of industries, we do many of the same tasks for each of them - ex., pitching the media, copywriting, social media management and the like. When it comes to work, I'll batch like tasks - either focusing on one client for a block or one function (e.g., updating everyone's social profiles or Facebook ads, or pitching the media for a number of clients) for an extended period of time. This allows me to get into the zone and not waste time switching my brain on and off the task at hand.

While I love my system, I am always on the hunt for new tips. Leave your best productivity tactic in the comments!

LIFE-CHANGING ONLINE TOOLS TO SAVE TIME & BE BETTER AT YOUR JOB
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As small business owners who work with many small and medium-sized businesses, startups, and non-profits, we love us a good online tool. When you don't have a big IT department, spending time installing tools or dealing with glitches is a killer. That's why we like to keep it in the cloud with these easy-to-use online tools for productivity, scheduling and basic functionalities that have been pretty life-changing for us. They not only save us time, they make us better at our job. 

Working with a variety of clients every month, it would be nearly impossible to keep our heads on straight about what needed to be done when without structure, and that's what many of these tools are about. They also help us meet our goals for clients, which typically involves spreading their message and story as wide as possible to help brand awareness, sales or any number of other macro and micro goals.

So without further ado, here's a list of the tools we just can't live without! 

Canva for Making Things Pretty, Oh-So-Pretty
We've discussed our love for this online design tool on the blog before. We are NOT designers, but we love that Canva has made it easy for us to create professional, beautiful graphics for our clients when it comes to social posts, the occasional infographic and the like. While we leave the big stuff (websites, branding, etc.) to the professional designers, Canva has really amped up our game in terms of the look and feel of our clients' social presences and allowed us - just for a moment! - to feel like we are designer extraordinaires.

Google Alerts for Keeping an Eye on the Marketplace
You have a Google Alert set up for your business name, right? How about your competitors or other essential keywords or terms? If you don't have the budget for a fancy media monitoring service - and in most cases, that's totally not necessary! - Google Alerts are THE way to go. You can't beat listening to the media through alerts automatically delivered to your inbox every day or in real time. Google Alerts are a great way to develop a list of reporters covering your beat, check up on your industry, listen to what others are saying about you and make sure you know the moves of your competitors.

Asana for Ensuring We Never Miss a Beat
As busy Type-A kinda people, we worship at the altar of Asana. If it's not in Asana, it doesn't exist. The FREE version of this system is plenty robust, allowing you to set up projects, tasks, due dates, recurring tasks, assign things, get a holistic view of every project and even add notes and files to a to-do. But what we love most is that it's simple to use, which means you don't spend a lot of time managing your to-do list (a false sense of productivity if there ever was one!).

Buffer for Keeping Social On Track
There are lots of great social scheduling tools out there, and each of them have their own set of pros and cons -- many are great for one industry, terrible for another. (We strongly suggest you try a few out before committing.) But we've got to give a shout-out to a new fave, Buffer. Buffer makes it super easy to see what's happening across your networks and saves tons of time by optimizing your posts for the best time of day, showing you what's performing well, who's engaging and allowing you to re-post in a single click, and having a kick-ass plug-in that allows you to grab content across the web. Their customer service is also to-die-for, with some of the fastest response time, most manageable explanations and positive attitudes we've witnessed.

Dropbox for Keeping Us Sane, Organized & Spill-Proof
If you live in a world where you fear spilling coffee on your computer, you've got to just move your files to Dropbox. While we (like any responsible business owners) have file backup on our computers, we also do  most of our work out of Dropbox so that we can collaborate and be working off the same info. The added benefit is being able to access work files from anywhere and not stressing about that inevitable soak-down our computer is going to get - as long as we can get to an Internet connection, we'll still have our files while we figure it out.

PressRush, Anewstip, Twitter Lists & HootSuite for Monitoring Conversations
There are a million ways to monitor the conversations happening on social, which are often very different from those happening in the media. We like to do a combination of different techniques. The first and easiest thing to do is to set up some private lists in Twitter to pare down the people you're following into specific categories (ex., mom blogs, Boston media, TV reporters, influencers, power users). That way, when you have something to say, you can quickly look at the conversations going on in the relevant user groups.

HootSuite allows you to do a similar thing, but provides the opportunity to also create monitoring of keywords and hashtags, so you can scroll through conversations with ease. (Pro tip, you can also monitor your Twitter lists in HootSuite.) You can do a lot with HootSuite's free plan.

And we utilize PressRush and Anewstip often to search journalist conversations on social media, particularly Twitter, or check out who's been writing on a particular topic lately. Both have great free versions and are super simple to use - we encourage you to check them out.