Those of you who know me will know that I absolutely love online tools and applications. I use them every single day and they’ve become a crucial part of my success when it comes to productivity and efficiency.
Now many of you may be thinking, I don’t use many online tools or applications, what’s Jo talking about?
But I guarantee you all use more than you might think.
That’s because you’ll have taken for granted many of the tools/apps you use on a daily basis, but without them your working life would be considerably different.
If you use an online email service, such as Gmail, for managing your emails and Facebook for elements of your online marketing efforts, you’re absolutely taking advantage of online tools and apps.
Monthly Online Apps/Tools Podcast
In fact, my huge fondness of online apps and tools is the subject of a monthly podcast with the lovely Phil Byrne, strategic director at Positive Sparks.
Each month, Phil and I discuss our top/favourite online tools and apps for the month.
Our latest podcast (link at the bottom of this post) focuses on some apps you might not have heard of.
For example, we discuss RSS tool Feedly, which I started using when Google Alerts was pulled, and has now become my go-to app for content curation. I won’t give too much away as I want you to listen to the podcast (obviously), but I will say that Feedly has transformed how I curate content for both myself and clients.
I also talk about an app that I signed up to ages ago, but never got round to using. It’s called Zapier and it’s an app integration platform that is similar to If This Then That in nature, which I’ve talked about in a past blog post.
I’ve so far created several ‘zaps’ as they’re known and it’s turning out to be a really useful tool. It integrates with loads of other apps that I already use and has bags of potential.
Phil also talks about YouCanBook.me and Niume, an intriguing content sharing system that I previously hadn’t heard of, but sounds like it could be a great collaboration tool.
Join my Facebook Group!
I try to share my penchant for online apps and tools with as many people as possible whenever I can because I know how many benefits some of them can bring. That’s why I recently created a Facebook group in which people can talk about just that.
It’s called Online Productivity Tools & Applications and it’s open to anyone. There are only a few rules, the main one being that no spam is allowed. Other than that people are free to post links to their favourite apps or online tools that they use and discuss the numerous benefits they afford.
I’d love for you to become part of the group because I really do think it provides a lot of value. Even if you learn about one new tool or app a month it will have been worth it.
You can find our favourite apps/tools for October podcast here. Be sure to subscribe to the channel so you don’t miss out on any in the future.
And here are the links to the apps we talk about:
My decision to move to rural France back in 2011 was not one that I took lightly. It involved a huge amount of courage, but was made infinitely easier by the support I received from friends and family. I’m now enjoying a much better work/life balance than I ever have before and a lot of stress has been removed from my life.
But (there’s always a “but”, right?), while working remotely from home obviously has many advantages and perks, there’s also a side to it that many people don’t see or perhaps don’t consider. And that’s that it can sometimes get rather lonely. Couple this with the uncertainty that often comes with running your own micro-business and you can find yourself in desperate need of someone to talk to/vent at/bounce ideas off of.
The bottom line is that it’s bloody hard work to cope with all the pressures of being self-employed. I’ve got to manage my time effectively; handle peaks and troughs in work (and, therefore, cashflow); and deal with a degree of isolation. This is in addition to knowing that I have foregone the basic employment rights that regular employees enjoy, such as sick pay, holiday pay and access to a workplace pension scheme.
So, with all this in mind, here are my top three tips for overcoming the loneliness and uncertainty that working remotely can bring:
Make the most of video calls
Don’t just hide behind your inbox and fire off emails all day long. Skype, Facebook’s own built-in chat and Blab all offer a way for you to see your colleagues and clients, as well as talking to them.
It might not seem that big a deal, but it makes such a difference when you can see the facial expressions of the person you’re talking with. It’s often the closest you’ll get to experiencing that being in an office feeling.
Take regular breaks
Regular breaks are needed throughout the working day to give your mind and body a rest. In modern office environments, conscientious employers insist their employees take regular breaks, but when you work from home there is tendency to neglect them.
Even if you just get away from your computer for a cup of tea or coffee in the mornings and afternoons, and treat yourself to a proper lunch break, it will make you feel a lot more relaxed.
Customise your environment
The beauty of working remotely/from home is that you have total control over your working environment. If you’ve got photos of things that make you smile, make sure they are nearby while you’re working. The same goes for other creature comforts that make you feel contented.
My two dogs never fail to put a smile on my face throughout the day. Although we don’t all always agree when I’m bouncing ideas off them. Funny that…
I regularly speak to small business owners, on both a personal and professional level, and if there’s one thing they all tell me it’s that when they first started out they tried to wear too many hats. In other words, they bogged themselves down with tasks that they really shouldn’t have been doing and ultimately lost focus on what they should be doing: building their businesses.
Unfortunately, this is one of the pitfalls of running a small business. It’s only when the owners realise that by trying to do everything themselves they’re actually hindering their businesses that things start to change.
But as we all know, hindsight is a wonderful thing and we can all learn a lot from it. That’s why I wanted to share with you some of the tasks that I carry out for my clients. While you will undoubtedly know about most of them, there are a few that may surprise you.
What I want to do is get you thinking about which of the tasks you’re currently doing yourself that could be delegated to someone else. Even if you manage to reclaim just five minutes of your time each day by delegating or outsourcing a task or two, I’ll feel as though I’ve done my job.
Here are just some of the duties I perform for my clients:
Project management – most business owners have got lots of nice little projects they want to undertake, but overseeing them all personally is often a time-consuming nightmare and something that detracts from the overall value of the project.
Newsletters – this newsletter didn’t write itself and yours won’t either. That means you’ve got to spend time thinking about what you want to include and then even more time compiling it. Time that could perhaps be spent doing something more constructive.
Social media management – we keep being told that our businesses need an online presence and one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to achieve this is via social media. But unless your business pages are updated regularly and your audience kept engaged, your social media efforts will fall by the wayside.
Blogging – Like social media and newsletters, blog posts are another necessity for most businesses today. And, like social media and newsletters, blogs are at their most effective when they are regularly updated with fresh content. Can you give your blog the time and attention it deserves?
PA services – general admin duties need to be done, but it doesn’t have to be you who does them, right? Even if they’re mundane, there’s someone out there who would willingly help you with them.
Email management – how many emails do you receive each day that warrant a reply, but not necessarily require a personal response from you? Responding to emails consumes a lot of time and unless those replies produce leads or sales, your time may be better focused elsewhere.
Calendar management – okay, so it’s similar to email management in its nature, but nevertheless it’s still a crucial part of running a business. Much better you concentrate on preparing for client meetings than organising them.
Research – conducting research is something that every small business does from time-to-time. And while the Internet has given us an overload of information at our fingertips, wading through the sea of resources to get to the stuff that matters can take hours.
WordPress management/maintenance – WordPress updates seem to be released on an almost weekly basis nowadays. Couple this with the constant plugin changes that also occur and maintaining even a basic WordPress site can be time consuming. That’s before you’ve even thought about making any content updates.
Data management – as your business grows, so too will all its data. Nothing is more frustrating than not having the information you need to hand. The technology exists to make it so, but all those documents and files still need to be put in the right places.
Did I give you any ideas? I really hope so…
Need a bit more inspiration? Drop me a line and we can talk about it in a bit more depth.
Whether you are a just starting out as a one-man band or you are on track to join the Fortune 500, productivity is king. So why is it so difficult to stay on task, keep your priorities in order and make time for your personal life? We have all done it; we have all fallen into the trap of working harder rather than working smarter. This inevitably leads to becoming frazzled, fed up and in dire need of some R&R with friends and family that you dare not take for fear of dropping a ball in business. It’s obvious that this is a downward spiral, so how do you escape this self-imposed trap?
Improving productivity begins with breaking the bad habits that we have collected over time. Here are some of the most common habits that are holding you back:
Too Much Browsing
I know, there are very few businesses that can live without being online for a large portion of the day, but being constantly plugged-in to a never-ending source of entertainment, news and social media sites, or as you might call it ‘very important business research’, is a major distraction. In terms of my own business, being online is critical, but it’s easy to meander from researching trending topics for my client’s social media strategy to being absorbed into a meaningless (albeit amusing) abyss of tweets, Facebook posts and eye-catching news items. Even five minutes here and there soon adds up and can end up robbing you of valuable hours each week. If you can, put yourself on a strict regime and limit your online activities. You probably already know which sites you need to ignore, so set aside specific times of the day when you are allowed to browse for fun and when it should be business only.
The Noisy Workspace
Background noise is an invasive niggler that wants to rob your brain of its train of thought. Whether you work in a shared office with a boisterous sales team or a cosy home office with a pneumatic drill outside and the neighbour’s baby piercing your eardrums, noise pollution will drive you crazy. Don’t just plough on through it and expect to be productive. You can’t always control the noise around you, there is no diplomatic way to tell Janice from accounts that her shrill laugh is destroying your day, but you can choose whether to stay and listen or move to a quiet space. Even if it takes you an hour to get across town to a tranquil spot, the time will be won back and multiplied with the new-found efficiency of your day.
Obsessive Message Checking
Your clients, your business partners, your team and your suppliers all want a piece of you and you want to keep on top of it all. Checking your emails every ten minutes, responding to every messenger pop-up immediately and answering the phone in the middle of a complex task can wreck your concentration and leave you reeling. Your important to-do list gets forgotten and prioritisation goes out of the window. Most people in business do not really expect immediate responses to every communication. You can make it known that you are only available on chat tools at certain hours and limit email checking to perhaps four or five times per day and still give an excellent response time. If you need to get your head buried into a tricky task, there is no harm in diverting your phone to voicemail for an hour or two, closing all of your communications down and just getting the job done. You will feel better for it, do a better job, get it finished faster and have more time to respond thoughtfully to all of your enquiries.
Not Taking Breaks
You might get an extra hour of work done in that lunch break, but at what cost? How often have you had a stroke of genius while making yourself a cup of coffee or taking a short walk? Stepping away from your to-do list can put it into perspective and allow your brain the freedom to wander and think creatively. Even if you don’t get a light-bulb moment unexpectedly while tucking into your well-deserved lunch, you will at least be refreshed and ready to face the rest of the day rejuvenated and refuelled.
Refusing to Change
You have a system, a schedule, a process. It’s worked in the past and you still trust it despite the fact it no longer fits your evolving business. If you are struggling to keep on top of things then it is time to admit that the system is out-dated. It’s scary trying new things but employing new processes, changing things around and adjusting your routine could save you so much more time in the long run. You might take a few wrong turns along the way and lose a little time here and there, but if you just blindly keep doing the same things, you will keep getting the same results. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Engage with that entrepreneurial spirit that got you started and take some risks.
Working with a virtual assistant can improve your productivity, not only because they will pick up the smaller, menial tasks you don’t necessarily like doing but they are also great at helping you create systems and processes.
With 302 million monthly active users sending 500 million Tweets per day, Twitter can feel like a double-edged sword. With such a huge audience of consumers, comes competition from other businesses all vying for their attention. In order to stand out from the crowd and avoid being drowned in a sea of Tweets, your brand needs all the help it can get. A clear strategy based on thorough analysis is paramount if your business is to continue to engage the right users, grow its following and garner goal-orientated results.
Luckily, there are swathes of Twitter tools available to help you accomplish just that…but where to start and which to choose? Many tools have appeared and disappeared over the last couple of years. One word of caution when using any 3rd party applications; do keep abreast of policy changes on social media platforms. Some tools do have issues, if they have break Twitter’s Ts&Cs, they will stop working altogether.
Before you get lost in the mire of endless options, consider first which areas of your strategy need the most support. Choose a tool that fits the need, experiment with it, learn its nuances and test the outcomes before introducing additional tools. Not only will this result in a fair test of the tool in question, but it will also prevent the inevitable melt-down that results from trying to do too much learning at once!
I have experimented with a number of tools for both my own social media efforts, and those of my clients. Here’s my pick of some of the Twitter tools I use for success:
Primary feature: Time-of-day tweet optimisation
You have spent a great deal of effort in creating the perfect tweets for your audience, but are they being buried in the rabble? Tweeting often is important, more than once per day if you can, in order for you your voice to be heard. Regular tweeting alone is not always enough though, at peak user times, everyone (including your direct competitors) has the same idea. Tweriod helps you identify the optimal time to tweet in order to get the biggest reach. A simple and easy to use tool, that will help you stay one step ahead of your competitors and see your messages cast the largest possible net.
Primary feature: Discovering relevant, shareable content
Recently launched Fan Page Robot searches and suggests trending content for your audience, enabling you to quickly and effectively retweet interesting content. This tool is no one-trick pony though. In addition to soothing your content curation woes, it will help you identify the best hashtags for your posts, the best times to tweet and even includes a post-scheduling dashboard.
Primary feature: Finding new customers
Twitter is great for keeping in touch with existing customers, building community and even as an extension of you customer support efforts. Responding to your followers keeps them engaged and makes them feel valued. But what about finding new business? TwitHawk enables you to find new customers who might need your products and services, by searching for queries that a potential customer might have posted. For example, if you sell designer menswear, you might search for ‘Where can I buy designer shirts?’. TwitHawk will then do the legwork of filtering through and listing tweets with relevant keywords. You can even target the search geographically.
Of course, there are many other tools available, and you may already have your own favourites, but if you need a helping hand, give these a whirl. They can save you a great deal of time, frustration and even money.
Photo credit: Pete Simon on Flicker
As a professional virtual assistant, I’m all about boosting productivity and improving efficiency. But when it comes to managing day-to-day tasks, communicating effectively and keeping my finger on the digital pulse, few devices afford me more productivity gains and efficiency hikes than my trusty iPhone.
But don’t think I’m about to start singing the praises of my iPhone – I’m not. While it’s been great, this post is all about the benefits of smartphones in general and in particular, how pivotal they can be when we’re ‘on the go’.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while then you’ll already know some of my top productivity tools. And while the following list focuses solely on the apps I use on my iPhone, there are a couple which crossover to my iMac too.
Okay, so first up, quite predictably, is email. Being able to receive, read and reply to my business emails right from my smartphone is absolutely fundamental. It means that I can immediately check if a message requires an urgent response and send one accordingly.
If I don’t have time to type something verbose on my phone or the email requires a more in-depth reply later, then I can send a brief message in the meantime simply acknowledging receipt. This keeps my clients informed and their minds at ease.
Everything I have to do on a daily basis is recorded in Asana. And the fact that there is an associated mobile app boosts my efficiency no end.
Asana enables me to keep track of every task and stay up-to-date with progress from my team members. The mobile version allows me to create new tasks as they come to mind and update existing ones with further info if needed.
Facebook Pages Manager
While the regular Facebook app for smartphones is great for personal profiles, the Facebook Pages Manager is indispensable for anyone who administers a business page – like mine!
Not only can you see notifications as they happen, but you can also garner valuable insights from the analytical data that’s available. Moreover, you can administer several pages all from one app. It really is a versatile solution for keeping abreast of your public pages while on the move.
Buffer is the epitome of productivity and efficiency and the fact that I can access it from my smartphone, makes it even better. Literally, from the palm of my hand, I have a complete overview of all my social networks.
I can schedule updates to be posted as I think of them and also check how my previous posts have performed with the built in analytics. It even boasts Buffer’s URL shortening capability, so I can paste web links and they automatically get reduced as they’re posted.
I use both Dropbox and Google Drive. They’re intrinsically the same and mean that I have access to all my crucial files and documents no matter where I am.
While I don’t tend to create new documents and type for hours on my iPhone, having access to my crucial files means I can send them to clients and check them ad hoc if required. The fact that everything syncs up automatically with the cloud in the background, means that I never have to worry about manually copying my data.
I live in France and have clients all over the world, so keeping track of foreign exchange rates is something that’s pretty fundamental to my business. The XE Currency app allows me to see right from my phone the current market rates. It automatically refreshes and also features a calculator for converting currencies quickly.
Furthermore, you can setup numerous different foreign currencies and see the exchange rate quickly and efficiently across them all.
Much like I use the Facebook Pages Manager for my business page, I use Twitter to keep track of my tweets. While Buffer has a lot of great features, there are times when the official app still gets the nod.
It has a familiar interface, works flawlessly and offers the full range of Twitter features that I need. That’s why it still retains a place on my phone, even when there are other applications that purport to do the same.
So that’s seven smartphone applications that I utilise while I’m ‘on the go’. It could have been a longer list, but these were the ones I felt I used most often while not in front of my computer.
Are there any smartphone apps that you couldn’t live without? I’d love to hear your comments below.