7 Smartphone Apps That You Shouldn’t Leave Home Without

7 Smartphone Apps That You Shouldn’t Leave Home Without

Social Media AppsAs 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.

Mail

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.

Asana

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

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.

Dropbox/Google Drive

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.

XE Currency

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.

Twitter

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.

Tools to Streamline your Virtual Reading List

How many blogs do you subscribe to?
Do you manage to read all the blog posts you subscribe to each day?
Are you constantly reading blog posts and not doing any other work?

This used to be me, it was a struggle to keep up with the amount of online reading I needed to do, what with everything going on in the social media world and trying to find relevant content to share with my social media fans/followers. It felt like a really tough slog most days until I found ways to streamline my reading. 

I wrote Reading List Overwhelming You? 6 Tips That Will Help! (here’s a spooky fact, I wrote this on 17 January 2012, exactly a year to the day!) which provided some tips to help you with your ever growing reading list.  I also wrote How to Save Time with RSS! which explains how I went about setting up RSS feed subscriptions for all the blogs I follow.

I use two main tools, one I have mentioned many times before, Flipboard. I use it everyday, I would never be able to keep up with all the articles online without it.  I have tried others but they don’t come close to the Flipboard interface as far as I am concerned. You can download the app on both iOS and Android, so you will need a smartphone to use it. Click here for all my articles mentioning Flipboard.

The other tool, which I don’t think I have mentioned on my blog before is Pocket. I have the app on my iPhone and on my iMac, and I think you can get this as a Google Chrome add-on (please correct me if I’m wrong someone?).

Pocket used to be called Read It Later. When I am going through Flipboard in the evenings and I find a really interesting article, instead of reading it all the way through there and then, I will click ‘read later’ on my iPhone and it will be added to Pocket. As I have the app on my iMac, if I get a spare 10 minutes during the day I can quickly find all the articles I want to take another look at, it’s synced between devices which is great!

This is how it looks on my iMac:

As you can see I have quite a few articles still in Pocket to go through, but it’s a safe place to keep them if I want to refer back to them at any stage. I can even add articles to Buffer (yes, mentioning it again) directly from the Pocket app, which is very handy.

Typically on a daily basis I only use these two tools to keep up with the blogs and social media network articles I come across. If I stumble upon a new blog that looks interesting (like I did yesterday, see the article in my Pocket image above) then I add it to my Google Reader account which automatically syncs it through to Flipboard. Simple!

What tools do you use to keep up with blogs you’re subscribed to, or the latest news online?

Flick the Off Switch More Often!

Well this is a first, I am writing this blog post directly from my iPhone while watching (or listening) to the TV – it’s in French anyway, so I’m not missing much!

It’s nearly 10pm and I suddenly realised I’d forgotten to write and post today’s blog challenge post. I then remembered that I had the WordPress app on my iPhone which I haven’t ever used before.

So today’s blog post is about the importance of switching off from work, ironic yes?

I spend many an evening telling myself to put my iPhone down and read a book, or do something other than work but it’s difficult when you run your own business. Each hour if the day is another hour you could be earning money or finding that new client.

But… when I do switch off one evening (like I did last night) I sleep better and I wake up with tons of motivation the next day.

So here are a few tips on how you can learn to switch off more, even if you’re a workaholic:

  • Start by switching off once or twice during the week, gradually you’ll notice how it benefits the way you work and you’ll want to do it more often
  • If you must work in the evenings, then take time out during the day, even if it’s just an hour for lunch – my favourite thing to do at lunchtime is watch an episode of a TV series I enjoy (most recently that was Once Upon A Time) while chilling on the sofa with the dog
  • At the very least try not to check those emails or social media networks right before bedtime – this is hard for me, but imagine a client sends you an email last thing at night that really stresses you out (it’s happened to me), you spend the night worrying about it and your sleep is disrupted!

So I am going to follow my own advice right now and publish this post so I can switch off before bedtime. Apologies for the lack of formatting on this post (which hopefully I have now made better), the first job in the morning for me will be tidying it up – but at least I’ve not got behind on the blog challenge!

Let me know your switching off tips in the comments and I’ll give them a try, I need all the help I can get.

The 5 Applications of Christmas (I can’t live without…)

It’s that time of year again, yes, Christmas is coming and being self-employed you have to try and juggle work around family life and celebrations and try to get things finished before taking time off work.

This year, in my wisdom (not!) I decided to take a trip to the UK the week before Christmas to see family and friends. When I decided on this break I didn’t really think about the consequences for my work. I am technically taking a week off and then Christmas, so I’ve been working really hard this week to get all client work finished and to ensure that I have lots of things in place for when I’m away.

I decided that you may need some help too on how you can organise yourself before you take any time off, so I have put together a quick blog post about my top tools for keeping your stress at bay over the festive season.

Dropbox

As I work with many clients, Dropbox is really important, especially when I am not going to be in front of my computer for the next week or so. I’ve recently formatted some eBooks for clients, and they may want corrections made while I’m away. I am going to take my netbook to the UK with me, Dropbox is already installed. I have copied the necessary files to Dropbox which I may need while I’m away, so I can easily open them up and make any changes needed.  I keep some important documents in Dropbox at all times so I can easily access them. I have Dropbox installed on all my devices, even my iPhone! My websites are also backed up to Dropbox via a plugin, so wherever I am in the world I’ll have access to my website back-ups, you never know when you might need those!

Out of all the tools I recommend here, I think Dropbox has to be the most important of all. I have never had any problems with it, I now have over 7Gb of space available in my account for free which is great. I tried Google Drive with one client, and it just didn’t come close to Dropbox in terms of reliability!

Buffer

I am always recommending Buffer, it saves me so much time and when I’m away it’s a life saver. I have written a few blog posts about Buffer, so it’s probably easier if you take a look at these instead of me explaining it all over again, here are all the posts tagged as Buffer.

Just yesterday Buffer updated their web app and their iPhone app, they look great and I am off over there shortly to make sure I have enough updates in my accounts to last until I return. Check out the Buffer blog for more information about this.

SocialOomph

SocialOomph again is something I rely on heavily for my Twitter updates. I have queue reservoirs set-up which tweet out updates at set times throughout the day. I pay for this service, but again like Buffer it saves me so much time. Automation isn’t ideal for social media, but as I have stressed in many posts before this one it’s necessary to automate some of your social media updates. The kind of updates I add to my queues are blog posts, links to books I have formatted for clients and interesting tips. You have to remember that Twitter is so fast paced, that you want to spread your advice as far as possible and having it on repeat is a great way to get your voice out there. When I say repeat, I have over 200 updates in my reservoirs and only post every 1.5 hours, so it’s not going to cause repetitive updates each day.

Flipboard

Another tool that I recommend all the time. I will be using Flipboard while away from home to catch up on all the blogs I follow and then send them to my Buffer to keep it topped up. If I don’t have the time to read them then I will save them to Pocket for reading when I return home.

My Smartphone

You all know by now I have an iPhone and it goes everywhere with me. If you remember my post Smartphone Addiction: Are You? you’ll remember that I was unsure what to do when the new iPhone 5 came out. Well for those who are wondering what happened, it caused me such a headache it deserves a whole blog post of it’s own (maybe soon). I have an iPhone 5 now, it’s a French one, so have lost the ability to text my UK friends for free, but it does mean I can use 3G when I am out and about which was the most important feature. I have some 3G problems with the iPhone 5, but I am hoping these will be resolved.

Anyway, heading back to the UK means I will have to pay for roaming or not use it at all unless connected to wi-fi. This will hopefully be ok, I plan to check emails in the morning and evening when I am connected to wi-fi and then turn roaming off while I’m out. It will be interesting to see how this is going to work, but I can’t afford the roaming charges.

My iPhone has lots of apps on it which I use for business, Dropbox, Buffer, Email, PayPal, Flipboard, Skype, Evernote, Bank Account, Reminders… as well as all my social media networks.

If only I could format eBooks on my iPhone! 

If I don’t manage to post again over the Christmas period, I hope everyone has a fab time with family and friends and please come back to visit in 2013 as I have some exciting projects to launch in the New Year!

NB. Some of the links contained in this blog post are affiliate links which means if you sign-up using these link it means I may get a commission if you choose to purchase something I’ve shared with you.

Smartphone Addiction: Are You?

N.B. This blog post was written in June.

The Eurostar was running late, trespassers on the line, I still had an hour left to kill and I was bored of my magazine and my iPhone so I thought I would write a blog post.

While sitting in Gard du Nord station in Paris waiting to board I looked around and noticed that pretty much everyone in the vicinity was using a mobile phone, mostly smartphones – I was using one too! I tell a lie there was a woman reading on her Kindle, not her phone.

I have read a few blog posts recently about smartphones, one in particular I remember because the title was ‘Are you sleeping with your smartphone?

I’ve had my iPhone for 2 years now and it goes everywhere with me, currently it is sat on my lap underneath my netbook, while trying to write this post on the Eurostar with it going round bends fast, it’s not easy… The French girl next to me is asleep and I just had to rescue her iPhone from the floor as it flew off the little lap table!

I use my iPhone for many things, I don’t sleep with it but it is the first thing I pick up each morning before I have eaten breakfast and taken a shower. I check my email (business and personal), then I check Facebook (again business and personal), then I check Twitter for any mentions or retweets and I thank those people. I then pop over to Buffer to post out my automated ‘Thanks for following’ tweet to any new followers (I use Ifttt.com to automate this). I think I then get out of bed and get ready for work.

During the day it will sit next to me on the desk and will bing every time I receive a new email or someone retweets or mentions me, I take a quick look to see if it needs an instant reply and if not then I carry on with work. In the evening when I have finished work for the day I sit on the sofa watching the TV and flick through Flipboard, starring things in Google Reader to be added to Buffer, or emailing the links to Buffer instead.

Rumor has it, the iPhone 5 is being released in October and I have a dilemma about what to do. I live in France but my iPhone is currently on a contract  in the UK with Vodafone.

I have a good deal, I get 10 free texts per day back to the UK which does me just fine, as I use WhatsApp with some friends and also plenty of friends have iPhone’s so we can use iMessage for free. I also get 25Mb of Internet free per day, which in general is fine because I don’t tend to use 3G a lot, but there are occasions (like yesterday) when my phone decides to sync so much data that I go over my data allowance and Vodafone send me text messages every few minutes to inform me. I make no calls with my iPhone in France and incoming calls are directed straight to Voicemail so I can decide whether to call people back. It costs me 75p connection charge for up to an hour for every incoming and outgoing call I receive or make.

My dilemma in September when my current contract comes to an end is whether to get a French contract or upgrade my current UK contract. I will lose my 10 free texts back to the UK, but I will gain Internet access (probably not limited). Any calls I make to the UK will no doubt cost more than 75p though, but I never make calls in France and if I do I have a landline to do that (with free calls). Another problem I foresee if I get a French iPhone is that it will be connected to the French iTunes store which I had issues with recently with my iMac purchase. I am English, I want to buy English apps and products even though I live in France.

I use my iPhone for everything, but I wonder whether sticking with my UK contract is the better plan. When I use my iPhone outside of the home (and wifi) it is only to check social media channels and email which I tend to keep within the 25Mb limit anyway.

I’m a freelancer, I work from home and sometimes I need to be flexible with my working environment.  That means when I am out and about I need to be able to check my emails for anything urgent, or take calls from clients during working hours.  In the summer I’d like to sit outside to work, so having a smartphone means I can continue to work away from my desk.

So what would you do?  

I’m not even sure I can upgrade in the UK if I live in France, I think I need to do some more investigation.  I will be totally lost without my iPhone, maybe I shouldn’t upgrade at all and keep my iPhone 4 – do I want to risk losing the contract altogether?!

I guess this concludes that yes, I am addicted to my smartphone!