Run Yourself like a Business – 3 Apps You Wish You Knew about Ages Ago
Everyone thinks about productivity. How do I squeeze more effective time out of each precious second – not for the boss, but for myself? How do I keep myself on track while wearing many hats, moving all the various work and life projects forward with equitable care and attention? If you’re always the first to know about new software on the market, you can probably skip this one – I’m sure I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. If though, like me, your busy schedule keeps you from being on the bleeding edge of tech, here’s what I’ve found that works.
As a professional services startup with a core team of just four, my company finds itself needing to execute our strategic plan at lightning pace, to take advantage of opportunities in a rapidly evolving market. As Communications Director, that means my devices are my air supply (and fast internet is my water). To get the most out of my investment, I extract every ounce of productivity from them that I can. I’ve found these three apps to be my bread and butter software solutions to wrangle my time, tasks and life, so I can free up space in my brain to enjoy what really matters.
After a long time dealing with just Gmail to handle just two email addresses, I suddenly found myself juggling multiple mailboxes – even worse, multiple identities. That meant I had to be Customer Service when I got pinged on the general info line, Marketing & Communications Strategist at my official work address, and just plain old me when my little sister sends a new video of my adorable nephew. After just okay experiences with venerable veterans like Outlook and Thunderbird (which hasn’t been worked on for a number of years), I wanted to find something fresh. And I did!
PostBox is an extremely useful and streamlined email client for my laptop. Using the Thunderbird code as its foundation, the PostBox developers have made a gem. I found it after an initial disappointment with another new client, and the application has renewed my faith in desktop email clients. A couple add-ons make it my scheduling hub, with events and tasks synced to my main Google Calendar. A great user interface and nifty user modes make it easy to block out distractions when I need to start shoveling work. It’s well worth the $20 you’ll pay, and it comes with a generous 30-day trial so you can put it through its paces.
On my phone, my email is managed by BlueMail. It too offers really great tasking features, so eliminates the need to run a separate app for that (thereby sealing up one of the cracks efficiency falls through). One great thing about both of these apps is that they recognized all my email settings like a breeze – Gmail, Hotmail (old school), and my domain hosting company (BlueHost, if you’re interested[i]).
Usually, companies that utilize remote teams use time tracking software to monitor employees’ computer usage. I use the same software, but turned inward. I monitor myself. Does that sound a little creepy? Why should it? I find it a great way to hold myself accountable, and easily keep track of how much time I’m giving to the various projects I work on. For the job, I use ScreenshotMonitor. It’s free for personal use, relatively inexpensive if you need it for more than one person (or persona), and is pretty unobtrusive.
Key features include being able to sense computer inactivity, so when you come back you can decide to discard the idle time, or record it as time spent on offline work. I love generating weekly reports of my activity, so I always know if I need to allocate some catch-up time over the weekend. Despite the name, I hardly ever look at the actual screenshots it generates (only 3/hr on the free plan) because they’re really not necessary for my purposes. Desktop only, but I don’t need it on my phone anyway.
I have to admit, I cringed when I typed that last header. I’ve been sitting here for 10 minutes trying to avoid those words. But I recently broke down after years of manually posting everything to each of my personal social media accounts (and abandoning certain accounts when the time investment just became way too much) and signed up for a Buffer account. I’ve been using social media management tools for ages, but always only for work, because “real people” didn’t use Hootsuite to schedule their Tweets, did they?
But as my work portfolio grew, and I started to become known in professional circles for my authentic and outgoing self rather than just a title at a company, I had to acknowledge that I was now a dreaded Personal Brand. As such, the value of being able to maintain a steady stream of personal posts became extremely clear. Rather than overwhelm my family, friends and acquaintances with a flood of chatter when I was feeling sociable and starve them with radio silence when I was consumed with crunch time, I could smooth out the flow by letting Buffer handle the posting schedule. Now I don’t mind my crazy midnight flights of fancy that I just HAVE to share with the world – I know I can just dump it into Buffer and not have my LinkedIn colleagues wonder why I am just brimming with insights into the link between intermittent fasting and creativity at 3:27 a.m.
If you, like me, are always looking for ways in which computers can make your life easier, I strongly recommend checking out these apps, if you haven’t already. After a few weeks, you just might find yourself finishing your workday at noon. And when new vistas of time open up in your life, who knows what delightful experiences could be hidden within?
Do you have any hidden gems in your life management arsenal? Share with the class in the comments below!
[i] No connection to BlueMail, as far as I can tell.