Archive for Time Management

Businessman with laptop sitting next to swimming poolTechnology is supposed to make us more productive, help us accomplish tasks more quickly, and access the information we need while on the go. While some apps are more likely to mysteriously chew away at our waking hours (Fruit Ninja, anyone?), here are five apps that truly help you make the most of your work day:

(I purposely skipped apps like Skype, Dropbox, and Evernote because… well, they’re pretty obvious choices.)

1) Oktopost. Like it or not, social media engagement is a necessary part of marketing your business. But with profiles and business pages across multiple platforms, it can be difficult for entrepreneurs to establish and maintain a consistent social media presence on each one.

Oktopost provides a simple way to compose, schedule, and post content on Facebook profiles and business pages, LinkedIn profiles and groups, Twitter, and Google+. Posts are saved as “message assets” that you can quickly repost on other pages or social platforms in a matter of seconds. The intuitive dashboard allows you to schedule posts for optimal viewing times and see when your content will be posted to each account via the calendar. You can also access engagement data for each post and campaign so you’ll see which posts give you the most mileage.

You’ll get a 30-day trial without having to provide your credit card information. After connecting all your profiles, groups, and pages, though, you probably won’t want to give up the ability to schedule posts on the fly. Plans range from $9 to $249 a month, depending on the scale of your social media efforts.

2) Unroll.me. Entrepreneurs are always looking for new and useful information, even if it means we have to cough up our email addresses to get it. Over time, though, this translates to hundreds of marketing emails every day. Late last summer, I found out that I was wading through about 500 emails a day, only about 20 of which were important. That’s a lot of time spent skimming over emails from marketers long forgotten.

Unroll.me is a free app that compiles your subscriptions and unsubscribe with a single click. I have to admit, I had a nice little surge of megalomania when I systematically exiled more than 90% of my daily email senders in about two minutes. The app also lets you consolidate your favorite subscriptions in a daily digest (you pick the time of day you want to receive it) so that you can get all of your email reading out of the way at once.

3) Genius Scan. We live in a paperless world, right? Hardly. You might receive vendor invoices and manage projects electronically, but there is still plenty of necessary information floating around on that pesky paper stuff. Genius Scan lets you use your iPhone or Android phone as a portable scanner and organize your scanned documents into categories for easy access.

I love my business lunch tax deductions, but the receipts usually end up wadded up, faded, or casualties of the washing machine. Genius Scan keeps digital scans of my receipts in a dedicated folder, which makes makes tax time a lot less unpleasant. It’s also nice for capturing and organizing snippets from books, epiphanies scrawled on Post-it notes, and business cards. You can even instantly export scanned data to Dropbox so you won’t lose your info when you drop your phone in the urinal.

4) WebEx. A little Skype, a little Google Hangouts, WebEx is an impressive app for multi-participant video conferences. Touches like voice-activated camera switching and the ability to view content and video at the same time make this app a valuable brainstorming and collaboration tool. And since you can record virtual meetings, you can review the conversation later to pick up on anything you might have missed. On screen content sharing with annotations helps amp up the productivity of your business meetings.

5) Prismatic. You need the latest news articles in order to stay on top of your business, but how much time do you really want to spend each day wading through content that doesn’t meet your needs? Enter Prismatic. Think of it as Pandora for news content. You choose the content you want to see, then vote each article up or down depending on its relevance to you. Like Pandora, Prismatic customizes your content as it learns what you want. This app helps you find valuable, timely information in less time.

I certainly didn’t cover every app that an entrepreneur should have at her disposal. What are some of your other favorites?

 

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May
16

A Simple Alternative to Task Lists

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I write a lot about time management, both here and on other sites, primarily because it’s something I struggled with for years. I suspect that quite a few other entrepreneurs struggle with it as well. It’s pretty easy to let time get away from you, especially when you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck. If you don’t manage your work day carefully, you’ll probably end up sitting with your head in your hands at the end of the day, wondering what the heck happened to your time.

Like just about every other entrepreneur, I started out by using task lists to manage my time, just because that’s what I’d been taught to do. Even though I worked that way for about two years, I never really liked task lists.

Why? It reminded me of what I needed to do, but didn’t provide a framework for getting it done. So, inevitably, I would end up staring at my task list at the end of the day… or, more accurately, at all the items on my list that I didn’t accomplish. And that’s pretty disheartening.

A time management system should motivate you, not stress you out. For a while, I gave up lists altogether out of sheer frustration. As you might imagine, though, that didn’t do much for my productivity.

I tried several software applications and complicated “systems” in an attempt to find a better solution than using task lists (or, even worse, winging it). Most were okay, but took up more time than I was comfortable with.

The solution I finally found was simple, easy, and decidedly low-tech (which is probably why it took me so long to discover it). Are you ready for this? *Trumpets sound*

Time Blocking

Now, time blocking is just like it sounds. Instead of just creating a task list and hoping I’ll get all some of it done, I spend a few minutes assigning a block of time to each task. The time blocks, of course, are based on the priority of each task, how much time I need to complete/make headway on each task, and whether I need to work around non-business stuff.

(Oh, and they’re also based on my relative candlepower at certain points in the day. I don’t block time for difficult or research-intensive tasks immediately after lunch or dinner, because I’m usually sluggish after I eat. Instead, I use those times to complete simple tasks that don’t require too much critical thought.)

IMG_20130516_161752When my time block for a certain task is up, I stop working on that task, no matter what. This keeps me motivated because, if I don’t stay on track, I’ll have to put in “after-work” hours to catch up. And frankly, that’s why I have a time management system in the first place — I got tired of my eight-hour work days taking up 13+ hours.

Time blocking also works for me because it’s flexible. Tomorrow’s list will look completely different than today’s, because I’ll have different tasks and some carryover tasks with shifting priority levels. (I’ll also probably have an Owen list from the wife to work around. “Owen (‘Oh, and’) can you fix the attic vent?  Owen can you take out the recycling bins? Owen…”)

Sound simple? It is. I won’t claim ownership of this approach… frankly, because I swiped it from somewhere (although I don’t remember where. But since this fall-of-a-log simple strategy has dramatically increased my productivity and reduced the stress of working for myself, I thought I’d share it with the class.

By the way, if you want to be neat about it, you can do this with Excel or OpenOffice spreadsheets. I usually end up just using printer paper and markers, just because it’s quicker I like playing with markers. Note the nifty color-coding — red for critical stuff, orange for medium-priority tasks, green for the if-I-get-around-to-it tasks, and grey for non-work stuff.

Like what you read? Like or share it on Facebook using the oh-so-convenient buttons below. And feel free to leave a comment to give me kudos, dismiss me as a charlatan, or share your own time management ideas!

 

 

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