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March 16, 2017

8 Productivity Apps So You Can Make the Most of Your Time

Business Tips

Reading time: 9 min.

I don’t admit this to many people, but the CFO at my last job told me I was unemployable a few months before I quit.

He might as well have said “You are a failure.”

I was a former sorority president, newspaper editor, Leadership Consultant, and agency worker … all. my. LIFE, I loved hard-work and discipline. Unemployable — at the time — meant all that was worthless.

I sobbed that night.

It was a booming restaurant start-up, and I was hired for ONE job as a publicist & marketer: get more eyes on us. As palatable as the old operational systems were to company culture, classic millennial and PR-agency trained, I still operated on the concept that billable time was paramount: don’t waste a client’s time … they’re paying for it, after all!

Soooo … if that meant pushing against old processes that were slowing down my job, well, I couldn’t help but mention it. Multiple times, and clearly too many. 😬

Finding myself in his office explaining myself again about some ideas I had, he leaned forward and said in a beautiful Scottish accent, “Ya know Ashlyn Cartah, you’re unemployable.”

But here’s the thing: Fast forward a few months, and I found the Unemployable podcast. And a Tim Ferris interview in particular:

“To me, one of the biggest quagmires & complications of traditional employment is this focus on presence over performance … I’ve never been particularly inclined to employment of any type myself. I’m just not very good at it. I think that with an obsession over effectiveness and efficiency in process, I just see glaring holes everywhere, almost INEVITABLY, wherever I end up. If I’m underneath someone else, that leads them to feel like I’m chafing at authority and being a general pain in the a** … which I probably am.

“That’s frequently resulted in any parting ways with different companies: I’m better suited to running my own ship, however well or poorly I do that.”

– Tim Ferris

I was dusting the living room.

And I grinned over at Tim coming out of the Sonos speaker.

I wasn’t “unemployable.”

I’m just wired to close up gaping holes with productive hacks, that’s all.

Is that you too, friend??

8 Productivity Apps that will help you max out your time as a creative entrepreneur or blogger

Today, I wanna give you 8 practical apps that help me take personal responsibility for my time, BUT …

… while admitting efficiency holds a fascinating power over me, I totally admit this:

Some of these 8 things are luxuries.

If you work for someone else, meeting scheduling …. time tracking … and requesting to be “on email” and in your inbox for only 2 hours a day … those are LUXURIES.

But, I believe that taking managerial courage over your time — entrepreneur or not! — leads to a more full life-portfolio.

Let’s hit it!

Oh, and I also talk about a printable time tracker worksheet in the article. You can grab it here!

Here are 8 things that have helped me cut the nonessential in my creative small business!


1. LastPass, free

Here’s your gateway drug. If you’re like me, you clock in a cool 45 minutes a week hunting down passwords and clicking “Lost Your Password?” on a myriad of websites.

My lil’ ol’ brain is no match for computer brilliance asking me to invent a new, never-before-scene password for every login I need.

Um, can’t handle.

Minor annoyances and inconveniences, but you can wipe them out without much effort by installing LastPass! I’d heard of it for months — likely you, too — but until I installed it the other month, I had no idea how great it was.

Here’s how:

  1. Install LastPass in your browser and create an account.
  2. Start clicking “save” every time LastPass pops up when you go to a new website.

Need more? Here’s a step-by-step article!


2. Toggl, Free

This wouldn’t be a good productivity article if I didn’t include a time tracker, eh? I “bill” my time to different work tasks during the day, and Toggl makes it easy to click a “start time” button.

If you do any client work, I HIGHLY recommend tracking it!

Do I use it every day? Nah. I should, but it helped me at least get started, and see how long my copywriting and calligraphy packages actually take.

If that’s too intense — or you just love you some analog — here’s a link to a printable time tracker for you. Print one out and keep it on your desk for a week … I promise your eyes will pop at what you find!

Oh, and if you wanna good read, check out “What Successful People Do Before Breakfast” — SO stinkin’ good. And quick!


3. StrengthsFinder, $15 once

Guess I needed to spend $15 for something to tell me in black-and-white something I always knew: I’m good at learning, info-collecting, strategy, and visioncasting. (My strengths are Achiever, Input, Learner, Futuristic, Strategic.)

For some reason, this made time management click, seeing those 5 words stare back at me.

Again, this is probably something you’ve heard of or even taken, but unlike a Myers-Briggs personality test (INFJ represent!), it had a direct effect on my use of TIME.

“Spend your time here, Ashlyn,” those 5 words say. “THIS is what you’re actually good at.”

Just download the app, pay $15 for the quiz, and you’re done. Don’t go buy the book … I think you can pass on it, but that’s my personal opinion. 😉

If you’ve taken StrenthsFinder, I’d love to know what you are! Let me know in the comments below!


4. Plann, $8 once

Can I be honest? I think too many creative entrepreneurs focus on Instagram marketing as a strategy to build their revenue streams.Plann Instagram productivity app-Ashlyn Writes

Eek! I said it.

I’ll be honest again: It’s fo’ sho’ helped my business. BUT … at the hourly rate I’ve calculated for myself, 30 minutes spent on the app during the business day is all the time the app can take from me. I can make more money with more high-value tasks, which is something I learned in Todd Herman’s 90 Day Year program.

 

There are SO many creatives building tribes and whiling away the hours on the app, and that’s great, truly.

But just pause and consider. Is it your MOST high-dollar task?

… ’cause maybe it’s not.

Plann helps me cut out time by letting me pre-plan images (I do that on Marketing Mondays!), and drop in some captions.

It’s also the first Instagram app I found that let me house hashtags in buckets — instead of my Notes app — so, it won!


5. Acuity, $10-15/mo.

I think there’s a problem with saying my door is always open!

To keep pace with a flood of 150 emails and numerous unproductive meetings in a typical day … I’m a time-bandit about my meetings.

Here’s the thing. If you don’t tell time what you’re going to do to it, other people will tell your time for you.

Coffee and lunch dates are LOVELY.

Four coffee and lunch dates in a week, I cannot handle: Wes, my family, and my best friends deserve my best, and unfortunately, that means peripheral relationships get the next-best time slots.

(And I’m slowly realizing that’s ok to say. It felt mean at first, but like the book X says, maybe one of the most life-giving, Christ-centered ways we can love one another is by giving each other the grace to realize that we can say no to one another, and trust that we’re stewarding our time as WE trust it’s best handled for the call before us.)

Acuity lets me block out 6 meeting slots on Thursdays — a few always reserved for current clients, and a few for new business calls — 1 virtual coffee meeting a week, and 2 Friday in-person lunch dates a month.

Remember, it’s ok to say no. You’re running a business!


6. Screencast, Free

This one’s easy! If I have the choice between talk-explaining something and type-explaining something …

… I’m going to pick talk-explain.

This website and app download is:

  • How I record little mini-how-to’s for clients when I deliver big copy packages …
  • How graphic designer Lauren Carnes walked me through switching up some things in files she sent over …
  • And how I record me doing a task for my team, like sending a client invoice!

Click here to get Screencast and install it … you’ll have more uses for recording videos than you think you do.


7. Trello, “Company Guidebook Board,” free

Y’all know I love me some Trello (read up on how I use it here). BUT, I needed to eliminate layers and standardize processes … my boards were great, but I needed one master board.

I was CONSTANTLY losing time looking up hex codes, the business EIN, templates, etc.

So, I made a company guidebook page. Here’s how I organize the Company Guidebook (and yes, I’m using ScreenCast here!):


8. QuickBooks, starting at $10/month

I always laugh with Wes when we have money conversations that I revert to fourth-grade-Ashlyn, sitting at the table while my dad tried desperately to explain long divison through my tears. English class captured my mind a tish more than math my whole life, but working to understand my numbers is something I’m a hard-liner for in my business: Knowing your PnL statements, your cash flow, your expenditures, and affiliate income reports is fascinating … and your responsibility as a business owner.

I used QuickBooks on my own for a bit before bringing in the experts at Steadfast Bookkeeping to help me each month, but it’s the best go-to for running quick reports.

Why am I including it? Well, there are great built-in productivity tools within QuickBooks, no doubt (think time trackers, etc.).

BUT, I’m chiefly including it because beforeQuickBooks …

… I did everything manually.

Every Friday, I’d pull out a 14-tab GoogleSheet and manually enter and code each expense and income in my business. It took me HOURS each week, but buddy, it made me learn!QuickBooks took that task OFF my plate with crazy automation, so not a penny escapes unaccounted for … and I get 3 hours back a week. You can use their

Click here to read more about QuickBooks pricing tiers, and see if there’s one for you!


Harvard Business Review ran an article this week “Stop Reading lists of things successful people do.” The title made me giggle, but, I agree: those easy-to-read lists don’t always take into account we have different benchmarks for “success.”

For me at least, success means cutting out the noise the world has to give me more white space to tap into my natural abilities, like writing and info-hoarding. 😁

How do you save time and cut out the noise in your creative business?

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Hey, y'all! I'm Ashlyn.

Freshly sharpened pencil bouquet ready, I'm here to make sure you stand out as a copywriter and calligraphy. I help women like you steward your story well, so you can work from a place of rest—not hustle.

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Welcome to the AW blog! I hook up women with words. Grab a cup of coffee or glass of wine, and enjoy a peek behind-the-scenes of my ink stained life. 

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I'M ASHLYN

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