Would you like a few tools to make life a bit easier?
A couple of years ago I set up my own business – with very little money, and even less knowledge! I gradually built up a toolkit of free resources and apps which are available online, and these have enabled me to develop a sustainable, and portable business.
Most of these apps and tools are free, one or two have a nominal charge – and most have premium options – which I have rarely felt the need to use.
*Always be mindful of GDPR when using these tools, particularly any that store data.
Most of you will be aware of Microsoft Office 365, so I’m not going to go into much detail here, except to say that this is one tool I use every day! One of the key things I’ve done is to set up several distribution lists, enabling me to send information out efficiently. I will however touch on One-Drive in a bit more detail further down this list, as I have begun to use this much more efficiently in recent weeks.
Zoom is a very useful resource and I use it almost as much as Office 365. It is a video conferencing tool, the free plan allows you to host video calls with up to 100 participants, although there is a 40-minute limit on group meetings unless you upgrade. I look on this as a positive, as it keeps meetings focussed and productive. Calls can be recorded and distributed as minutes.
For 1:1 meeting’s there is no limit, I often link up with a colleague and use it as a ‘Virtual Office Space’ for co-working.
I also use it extensively to record presentations, there is an option to share your screen and an inbuilt whiteboard.
Asana changed my life! A free online Project Management tool, this can support you to structure your work in a way that’s best for you. Set priorities and deadlines, share details and assign tasks. All in one place. Up to 15 users can share a workspace before you need to upgrade – so if you are working on joint projects, this can be a useful way to monitor progress. There is a bit of a learning curve, but you will find lots of video tutorials in the help section – and hundreds more on You Tube.
There are many other project management tools, Trello and Monday.com being popular, but for me, Asana wins hands down every time. I’ve only touched on some of the key functions, but essentially, I can run my whole business and job with this app.
*If you are employed – check with your IT department before linking Asana to other application’s or uploading documents to it. I use it simply as a task management system.
I love Evernote! Evernote is simply a notebook, you can save websites, notes, it has meeting templates and all sorts of wonderful functions. And this is one app which I have actually paid for, although there is a perfectly serviceable free version. Why I pay for the upgrade – because I can then have Evernote on more than one device, ensuring I can access my notes from anywhere, plus – it can actually search my hand-written notes!
One Note is included within Office 365, but for me, it just doesn’t match the ‘usability’ of Evernote.
I like to use Evernote in partnership with my Everlast Rocket Book, a smart notebook which uploads directly to my Evernote account, cloud storage and email accounts. This gives me the flexibility of using pen and paper (or as close as you can get) but the ability to store all my handwritten notes online.
Rocket Books aren’t free, depending on the size, they are around £25 – £35. But they really do last for ever. Pages can be wiped clean and used time and time again – simply upload your notes to any of 8 cloud destinations of your choice, wipe clean, and you are ready to go again.
One Drive is where I store almost everything other than day to day notes. This is a place secure enough for more confidential documents and is my ‘cloud of first choice’. I recently discovered that if you download One Drive to your mobile phone, it now includes a handy scanner, enabling you to scan notes, whiteboards, flipcharts etc and save direct to your One Drive. Very useful indeed and can save lots of time.
Social Media Management purists may well disagree, but for me, Hootsuite is a huge help. A social media schedule dashboard, which, using a free account, enables you to post to three different social media accounts at once. Facebook particularly, tends to reduce the reach that your posts gain when using a 3rd party scheduler; but for me, the ability to be able to schedule 30 posts each month gives an element of consistency. I usually supplement by posting further posts directly into Facebook and Twitter, but always have that back up of scheduled items. Its particularly useful when I go on holiday, as I can ensure we have a social media presence
For social media posts, newsletters, posters and fliers, logos and even presentations this Canva is a (fairly) simple to use graphics tool. A free account allows you to set up ‘brand colours’, and has a fairly good range of images, illustrations, and ready-made templates. Create unlimited designs which can be downloaded, shared or printed. A nice ‘drag and drop’ system which is basic enough for those of us with no prior graphic design knowledge – but sophisticated enough for more experienced folks.
Adobe Spark is another graphics tool which I tend to use to complement Canva; probably personal choice, but although Spark has a few different functions I always find myself drifting back to Canva. However, there are differences, Spark allows you to create images with transparent backgrounds which can then be uploaded to Canva – so its well worth while exploring them both to see which you prefer.
For Time Management & Productivity
Awareness is key when it comes to time management. It is easy to get lost in a task, and it can be difficult to predict how long some jobs take. As a rule, we tend to overestimate what we can achieve in a day, and underestimate what we can achieve in a month. Toggl allows you to log time spent on specific tasks, projects, and clients (or Hubs!) and produce reports. As I said, awareness is key, and it can be a useful exercise to monitor yourself, and find out where your time really is going – are you spending time on the right things?
Brain Focus is a great way to keep yourself on task, and freely available from Play Store or App Store. Work in 25- minute bursts, and build in a 5-minute break at the end of each Pomodoro (Google Pomodoro Technique)
To Rest and Recuperate
Headspace or Calm
We all need to switch off, stay grounded, and destress. Meditation isn’t for everyone, so if its not your thing, feel free to go straight to the next section! I aim to include mindfulness and/or meditation daily; if we can’t spare 3 – 5 minutes for self-care a couple of times a day, then something is seriously wrong.
Link to the website here or download direct to your phone. https://www.headspace.com/
Finally, the tool I use almost every day – I probably don’t need to explain about this one, but just in case, here is the link!
What have I missed? Which tools do you use that you couldn’t do without? Please feel free to let me know!