I love technology. I replay in my head the scene from Napoleon Dynamite where his brother serenades his new bride.
“Work Smarter” is not always easy.
When I started my business, I knew technology would help me achieve the efficiency dream of working smarter, not harder. I knew there were tools, some of which I had not yet discovered, which would enable me to be productive and network my systems together.
However, finding and choosing the tools which are right for a business is easier said than done, am I right? In an effort to save you from trials by fire, I humbly submit the following tools would have made my life as a business owner easier.
Let’s start with an easy one! As a heavy user of Gmail, the Chrome web browser and its wealth of extensions, Google Photos, and Google reviews, choosing to go with Google Drive over other cloud storage services was a no-brainer.
Don’t get me wrong: I also use Dropbox and OneDrive (the latter comes with my Microsoft Office package, so why not?). Both are primarily for clients who already utilize those platforms; however, my internal team relies on Google Drive as our home base for homebase productivity tools and storage.
Each client has a dedicated Google folder, each with unique sharing permissions to staff who are authorized to work with that client. My mobile device’s images, videos, and screenshots are automatically uploaded to my Google Drive for easy use in other apps or content. I’m ridiculously proud of my Google Sheets social media content calendar template, which my team uses to generate each new month of content for our clients. We then download CSV files of the content to upload into our scheduling platforms. Even more beautiful is the accessibility to these files from any of our remote devices in case we need to work on the fly. If you’re looking for a great guide to upload your files into Google Drive, Cloudwards has all the screenshots and helpful hints you can handle.
If you weren’t already aware, Google Drive also has tools to create complex forms and surveys and slide presentations. I even dictated this blog post into a Google Doc using Voice Typing. Any tool that gives me an “Aha!” moment regularly receives my ringing endorsement.
For task lists, I veered between using Outlook Tasks and Google Tasks. I’ve never been a huge fan of using Outlook on my mobile device, so trying to manage and oversee my tasks from Outlook became a hassle—not a trait you want to have for your daily tasks. I already use Google Calendar, so I tried to use appointment and task creators to manage my to-do list. Alas, that didn’t work well for me since I use my Google Calendar to provide meeting availability to clients and viewing each task remotely was difficult.
Enter Todoist. Using their free subscription, I am able to add tasks which repeat themselves at specific times and on specific days, are assigned to a specific client or project, and can have notes and reminders assigned to them (premium version). The mobile app is a thing of beauty: I have a quick-add version to allow me to tap in a new task, as well as the full-fledged app which gives me management of the entire task list. The Business plan also allows additional team members to be added for task assignments.
If you’re like me you, you hate reply-all email chains with the fire of one thousand suns. It’s nearly impossible today to have a productive and timely
email conversation when the respondents keep missing each other because they’re tapping out replies. Plus, who really reads their email faithfully anymore? Some of us are so inundated with new inbox alerts, we simply turn them off or tune them out.
My familiarity and heavy use of messaging apps, like Facebook Messenger, are what drew me to start using Slack. The continuous stream of conversation makes it easy to follow, look back for context, mention individuals for a specific comment, add relevant files which are then saved in the sidebar, refer to other channels as needed, and even incorporate fun emojis as appropriate. Using Slack, I’ve created separate channels for each client and then given specific team members access to those channels so they are aware of new items or issues related to their client. I also use Slack to touch base daily with my team, which is made easier by the mobile app. (Don’t you love how mobile apps help the whole work smarter principle?)
Ah, project management. This particular quest led me to try so many tools through so many trials and countless reminders that my “15 days” were up. I worked with project management tools before, but I really wanted one that wouldn’t break my budget, would be easy to use and understand, and would be accessible to external parties (namely my clients who might want to see how things are going).
Trello’s free use is so powerful and versatile that I’ve never cared about the premium level for increased features. Since it’s web-based, any user can access it once they are added by email. While others may set things up differently, I created a template Trello board containing standardized cards and lists which are consistent for each of my clients. I can create checklists, upload attachments from my computer or a cloud-based storage platform (like Google Drive), mention a specific user to alert them to a specific comment or issue, and shift around items and cards with drag-and-drop ease. (For a truly paranormal drilldown into Trello and how it works, check out this great review and walkthrough from The Freelance Effect.)
Oh, and remember Slack? Anytime I add or edit a client’s Trello board, an alert Is listed in that client’s Slack channel so any relevant team members have a heads-up. Want to know how I set that up?
I am a terrible cook (no, really), but the recipes I whip up in IFTTT are to be envied by Martha Stewart.
IFTTT stands for If This, Then That. It’s a free website which connects your online profiles and platforms together through recipes (simple formulas) for a specific result. For instance, I connected my Trello account and my Slack account to my IFTTT profile. Once they were connected, I was able to create the following recipe for each client: if something is updated on my client’s Trello board, my client’s Slack channel will list the update.
This is simply the tip of the iceberg where IFTTT is concerned. I also have a recipe which recognizes when I check in via Foursquare using a specific hashtag; it then adds a new task to my Todoist list for that check-in. I also have recipes to add any new blog post to my Pinterest board for blogs and any new YouTube video upload to my board for videos. You can scroll through the available recipe and account options here; I bet you’ll find at least a handful of ones you can use today.
While this list does not provide all of the tools I use on a daily basis, here’s hoping at least one of these can help you work smarter instead of harder.
I’d love to hear about the tools which help you work smarter. Please share them below!
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