Updated: Feb 17
As a small business owner for over 10 years, who is also a mother of two, whose office is located at home, and whose profit from her business is a significant part of the household's income, the race to get as much as possible done in a limited number of hours was and still is a daily one. Yes, even nowadays that my kids are adolescents. Over the years I've developed methods to increase my efficiency, in all tasks of life and the business, including those from the least-liked administrative arena. Thanks to these methods my productivity is very high, despite the multitude of tasks I always seem to have (as new ones are born all the time!). So this post (first of more to come) is especially for anyone who wishes to accomplish more each day, and especially for my fellow self-employed business owners. Many of the tools and methods I use, have been successfully adopted by my clients as well, and of this I'm very proud.
There are two pre-requisites to get much done: a high level of proficiency and skill in one's line of business and quite a bit of self-discipline. Over and above these, one of my secrets lies in the efficient use of digital tools, created to make our lives easier and more orderly - and order is important, as it always saves both time and money. In this post, I will review two tools with a focus on how to use them correctly - Digital Diary (Calendar) and Tasks Management App.
A diary, any type of diary/calendar, helps maintain order and focus. But a digital diary has many advantages over a regular paper diary. Until you start using it, you will not believe how much your efficiency can improve. Why is this so? For many reasons. But let's start with some basics and definitions. A Calendar is used for setting "events", which are occasions we need to get to, usually with others (meetings, medical appointments, exams etc.) and also "recurring events" i.e. events which repeat themselves at fixed times (lessons, regular weekly meeting with a client etc).
A digital Calendar is so convenient for setting up recurring events, much more than a paper diary. It's just so easy and fast! Another strength is the speed with which one can find events in it – both future and past entries. In addition, because one can set how long before the event one wants to receive an automatic reminder, it does not matter if one is in front of the computer or away from it with just one's smartphone at hand – one is unlikely to ever miss an "event", as the phone app and the one on the computer (web) are synchronized and the reminder will pop up on both devices. An example of such a calendar is Google Calendar.
Meetings with clients I schedule directly in this Calendar, from which I send them to the clients' calendar (via his/her e-mail, by adding them as guests of the events). I make sure to include in the event a link to the online meeting or a physical address, as well as what they should bring/prepare, where to park and even a navigation link. If you receive an email with such an invite – be sure to read the details and click on "Yes" (or Maybe or No if it doesn't suit you to attend at that time or at all), so that the sender will understand that you did receive it and will attend (or not).
In addition, in a calendar of this type, one can choose a colour for each type of "event" - e.g. work, medical, leisure, fitness, admin and even a color for each family member. This feature really helps me to understand my day with a quick glance. I hope that Google Calendar introduce more features relating to this as some are sorely missing e.g. wider colour range, ability to rename the colour name and/or ability to choose an event type which will be automatically coloured in the calendar according to our preset colour.
One of the useful functions of a digital calendar, as mentioned, is "search". In 2 clicks I find when I did something or when I set up anything in the future, be it a dental appointment, a client meeting or my next Pedicure. In order for this to be possible, the event should be created with a proper Title, which needs to include appropriate and specific keywords. If we do this, then when we search we just need to place a relevant keyword in the search window (customer name, "hairdresser", "pedicure," etc.). In this manner one can check real fast if it's time to make another appointment or meeting. This is so much more efficient than flipping back and forth in a paper diary, trying to find when something was penciled in for.
Another action which is really quick and easy in a Digital Calendar is rescheduling or cancelling an appointment, and it's done without annoying and ugly deletions which always end up occurring in a paper diary. By the way, there is no need to delete appointments from the Digital Calendar once they have occurred - I don't know who invented it but I have come across people who do this, it is unnecessary and does not make sense at all.
In a few countries, some professions are required by the Tax Authorities to record client meetings in a regular paper diary (in pen). In my country that's the law, so just for this purpose I still have a small paper diary (of course the meetings themselves are also entered in the digital calendar).
Digital calendars have additional types of meetings and functions, decide for yourself by trial and error if using them is useful and beneficial for you. And now for the second tool. I am the queen of TO DO's. I love them and they really help me to manage and navigate my life and business. But, I don't write them on paper anymore. In fact, I don't really work with long task lists anymore, but rather - with a dedicated Tasks Management app. I use it for all the tasks of life & business, and especially for those that don't have an "external" push to get them done on a particular day and time (and these are most of the tasks we have, let’s face it). I specifically use "ToDoist" but there are many task management apps.
The big advantage of a Task app over lists is that each task can be assigned to a group according to when I need/want to do it - this week, next week, next month, sometime in the future, without a specific date necessarily. This way, the mental load in my head is much lower than when I look at a long TODO list, so I am free to focus on what I need to finish today, knowing that the rest of the tasks are well stored and set for some logical time in the (near or far) future. Of course, with this tool you can quickly search and find tasks, change them, move them over to a different day or period easily, and mark them as "Done".
This digital tool is especially great for tasks that are recur every month/week but do not necessarily have to be done on a particular day (such as checking yields on savings plans, performing monthly budget tracking, writing a blog post, in my case). One just needs to define them as recurring monthly/weekly tasks and they will automatically pop up at the right time. It is best to create the task with relevant details, including sub-tasks, if there are any.
What should NOT be recorded in a Tasks app?
Meetings (because these we place in the digital calendar)
Lists (e.g. books we want to read, shopping list, a list of hashtags for Instagram posts - these should be placed in a Lists app such as Google Keep)
Details of a particular project (for details relating to projects I use a Projects app such as EverNote or even Excel, depending on the project type and/or at the stage of the project I am at).
Daily household tasks eg cooking, watering the plants (these are so basic I see no need to remind myself to do them! Although I do schedule time in my Calendar sometimes if I want to cook something which takes a long time and requires my constant presence e.g. making Schnitzles for my boys).
These two apps - Calendar and ToDoist - are always open on my computer screen, and every few hours I glance at them to see what I need to do next, move some to a different time slot and the best - tick off the completed tasks. Ticking them off is the best and it spurs me on to continue to complete more tasks.
The wisdom in using digital tools is to use them for the purpose for which they were created, without wasting time on functions that may be cool but do not really serve us. After a short learning curve, I'm sure you'll also find that you have more order in your mind and life, that your productivity goes up (and with it your income/profit from your business), that you have more time to take care of unexpected issues and even have some time for spontaneous fun.
I'd love to hear what you think of my tips and how you use the Digital Calendar and Tasks app! Send me an email.