From time to time, people ask me about the various tools I use to run my business. There aren’t many, honestly, because I’m cheap! I only invest in a tool after a lot of research and when I absolutely need it. In fact, I went years with DIY’ing all sorts of things, like using an Excel spreadsheet for “accounting” and manually adding content across my social media platforms.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I realized my stubbornness about spending money was actually costing my business big time. As an example, at my hourly rate of $100, I easily spent $500 or more per month marketing my business on Pinterest. I could spend of that on Tailwind and automate most of that process. No-brainer, right?
Sadly, I had a-ha moments just like that about each of these tools and regretted waiting so long to invest. I think a lot of us solopreneurs make that mistake. It’s hard to part with money, especially for something you could do yourself. But if you actually think through the time you spend bootstrapping things vs. the low monthly fees for the various programs, it quickly becomes clear that many tools are worth their weight in gold.
So, here are 6 must-have tools in my business. The ones I’m willing to pay to use every month (and I promise, that’s saying a lot because dayum I love money!).
Also, you know me—I like to be totally transparent. I’m including affiliate links for each of these. If you sign up, I get a small reward (typically in the form of a free month or discount on my fees). If you’re going to sign up anyway, why not let us both benefit, right? And again, you know me—I wouldn’t recommend something I don’t use, believe in, and recommend. That’s why there are only 5 things listed here…I’m only telling you about the tools I actually use each month.
This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase via a link here, I’ll get a commission.
The price is the same for you whether you use my link or buy directly from the vendor.
I finally stopped my Excel spreadsheet madness this year and started using QuickBooks like a grown-up business owner. It integrates with my business bank account/debit card so I don’t have to remember to manually track expenditures anymore. I can categorize income/expenses and it adds repeat items automatically. I also use it for invoicing, which is leaps and bounds better than my old-school method of making them in Word and tracking them in Excel.
Investment: $10/month (you pay only $5/month for the first six months)
I launched my first course in 2017 and thought about bootstrapping it using YouTube and a password-protected page on my website, but then thought better of it after chatting with other more experienced course creators. I started on Thinkific, but in 2018 I upgraded to Podia. You can read here why I made the switch, but in short I’ve become a die-hard Podia fan. It allows me to host my courses, sell digital downloads, and manage my membership community. It does more than the competition and costs less. You can’t beat that.
I really resisted paying for a scheduling system. Why pay when I can just add events into my iCal? The truth is I have a ton of appointments—virtual coffee dates (integral to growing your network), interviews for my podcast and for the masterclasses for my membership community, and discovery calls for my mentoring work. Managing all of that was cumbersome back when I had to go back and forth via email to nail down times with people. Now I can just send a link and they can book themselves into my calendar. The system sets different available times based on the type of appointment, and it integrates with my iCal and my Gmail, so I can easily block off time without having to go to the Acuity site.
When I started my email list in 2016, I used Mailchimp because it was free and easy. As my list grew, I wanted to do things like automatically send my opt-ins, create automated welcome and sales sequences, and segment my list based on purchases. That’s when I switched to ConvertKit. I paid someone about $200 to help me set everything up, but now it’s pretty straightforward to add new opt-ins and sequences, write regular newsletters, and manage my subscriber list. Also, paying for a list based on its size has made me more inclined to prune cold subscribers on a regular basis (something I never did before because I was so caught up on vanity metrics). Now my list is more engaged than ever, with an average open rate of 40%.
Investment: $49/month (I was paying $29/month, but recently moved up to the 1,000-3,000 subscriber plan)
For the longest time, I used Skype (free) for video calls. The problem, though, was figuring out how to record those sessions if needed. Also, they didn’t allow for group calls. I like to provide recordings of my mentoring sessions so my clients can review them as needed. Also, I host virtual co-working and masterminds for my membership community, so I need to be able to host dozens of people. Enter Zoom. This very cool, and super affordable, tool solves all my problems. I’m also using it to record my podcast interviews.
I don’t know if I have the words to describe my love for SmarterQueue. I’ve been using Hootsuite for free for years, and I hated the idea of paying to schedule social media posts. I only switched to this program recently, and it’s already my favorite tool. It replaces everything I managed on Hootsuite (Facebook page, Twitter, and LinkedIn), plus can manage Instagram and Pinterest. What’s so great about it? You can create content categories—tips, blog posts, quotes, as examples—and fill them up with evergreen content. Then you can let those posts recycle as many times as you want. There’s also a cool drag-and-drop calendar where you can plot out which categories will be used at which times on which accounts. Like, seriously, this thing is so incredibly robust for the price. I can’t get over it.
In all, I spend $187.98/month on tools for my business. At a billable rate of $100/hour, I’d have to handle all of those tasks in less than two hours a month to make it worth the DIY route. Impossible. Now I’m here kicking myself that I waited so long to invest in my business. That I spent all those years pulling out my hair trying to do things I hated, found overwhelming, or just plain sucked at (not to mention struggling to find free bootstrapped workarounds) rather than spend basically 2 hours of income each month on them.
So, if you’re reading this thinking, “Oh boy, that sounds familiar. I am totally DIYing things I shouldn’t,” then take my advice and start investing in your business. It’s really true that you have to spend money to make money. Just be sure to spend it wisely!
Oh, and if you’re a paper planner kind of person like me, check out this list of my favorite planners.
I’m so excited because it’s time to share my annual roundup of awesome planners! The 2018 planners I’m including here are made for creative entrepreneurs by creative entrepreneurs. Plus, they are all kickass women. I think that’s pretty freaking cool.
When I put this roundup together for the first time last year, I didn’t know if anyone would read or care about. In fact, that 2017 planner roundup became the most popular post on my blog (wow!). It still gets hits EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.
I’ve been working on my 2018 roundup for many weeks, and now it’s finally time to share it with you! This year’s list includes some repeats from last year, along with a few new ones I’d not seen before. Isn’t it great there are so many planners to help us stay on track in 2018? No matter your organizational needs and personal style, there’s something out there that’s perfect for you. Hopefully, you’ll find a great match in this list.
(This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase via a link here, I may receive a commission. The price is the same for you whether you use my link or buy directly from the vendor.)
Kathy Pine started her first company at age 25. After navigating the challenges of balancing entrepreneurship and early motherhood, Kathy realized she had a passion for helping women pursue their dreams and she began making inspirational and practical paper products. She created her first planner with a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2017. Since then, the Inspired Year planner has become the flagship product of her One Love Paper Co.
The Inspired Year Planner ($49) is the ultimate goal-setting calendar for busy creatives who are juggling it all. Its no-nonsense approach, functional design and roomy pages provide everything you need to stay organized and inspired. Designed with goal-setting and work-life balance in mind, this planner is uniquely suited to manage your busy days while making space for your dreams. Thoughtful prompts allow you to reflect, so you can focus on meaningful work and be intentional with time for family, home and self-care.The get-down-to-business planning pages allow you to reflect on what matters most to you, balance your priorities, and get organized. Warm and inviting, with beautiful quotes and loving inspiration throughout, it is like opening up a piece of art every day to allow you to create your own life masterpiece.
Learn more or order at 1LovePaper.com.
Yvonne Heimann created the ProtoPreneur Planner after spending hundreds of dollars on other planners that never seemed to “do it all”. Life, business, goals, gratitude – all those things in a thousand different places. Nothing coherent and totally inefficient.
The ProtoPreneur Planner ($53) is your DIY Life & Business Coach, helping you self-coach or boost the 1:1 work you do with your coach. A fully integrated business plan, areas for project planning, finances, personal goals, social media, gratitude, and even workouts helps you balance your life and pay attention to the things you know you should do to kick A$$ in this weird thing we call life. All wrapped up in a nice vegan leather sleeve you can use for years to come, just slip in a new insert.
Learn more or order at AskYvi.com
Whitney English faced an overflowing email inbox, a hand-scribbled to-do list, a pile of meeting notes, and felt overwhelmed and disorganized back in November 2011, She needed a solution—quickly. And so the concept behind the Day Designer™ was born.
The Day Designer ($59) is the original daily planner. It’s a simple and easy system created to help women find balance and productivity. There are yearly and monthly glances, but this one is all about the daily pages. There is a focus on the top three things you need to do each day, and there is also a ton of space for daily events, to-dos, notes, meal planning, gratitude, and more. If you’re a daily planner user, it doesn’t get better than this.
Learn more or order at DayDesigner.com.
Jenna Murillo has felt a sense of magic with paper since childhood. She’s energized by turning a blank canvas into something beautiful, and that’s what led her to planner design. “Designing a product that’s a stunning and functional tool for others was always a dream,” she says. “In 2015, fueled by the encouragement of friends and family and a fire inside of me to create, I fulfilled that dream.”
The Refresh Weekly Planner ($39.95) is back for 2018 in the same portable size you know and love, with weekly, monthly, and yearly overview layouts, a goal planning section, and lined pages for easy tear-out notes throughout the year. New this year—the inclusion of December 2017 so you don’t miss a beat when transferring planners. The weekly layout section now features “focusing on” and “grateful for” sections, designed to keep you in a focused, positive frame of mind.
Learn more or order at JLynnDesignery.com.
Ilana Griffo decided to make a planner when she couldn’t find one that fit her needs. “As a design student, I wanted a place I could doodle, take notes, and stay on track of my classwork,” she says. In the last five years, Griffo’s planner has evolved to reflect her creative journey and her customers’ needs. She’s an illustrator and designer, and founder of Sugar & Type. She’s fueled by puppy kisses, dessert, and beautiful typography.
The Rule The World Planner ($36) is jam packed with tools to help keep you on your toes. Each month has a monthly overview, a weekly list for goals and to-do lists, budget pages, coloring pages, and hand-lettered inspirational quotes. The daily spread helps you prioritize and get sh*t done! You’ll have access to free printables to add to your planner when you purchase.
Learn more or order at SugarandType.com.
Hillary Alberta got into planner design because she struggled to find balance with work, school, and time with friends and family. “My better half asked the simplest of questions one night before going to bed, ‘Why not make your own planner?'”, she recalls. “That was the start of Happy Balance Planners.”
The Happy Balance Planner ($36) is a goal-planning system that helps the dream chasers frame their day through the lens of their goals. It includes a Goal Funnel that helps you break down your big goals into smaller, actionable steps that will add up with the help of yearly, monthly, and weekly goal worksheets. Choose between a daily or weekly layout and multiple cover options.
Learn more or order at SherbertShop.com.
Tonya Dalton started her first business in 2009 and in just two years the company flourished, but something was missing. In the summer of 2014 she closed up shop to start inkWELL Press. Tonya helps women use productivity to pursue their big goals and end each day feeling satisfied and successful.
The 2018 liveWELL Planners from inkWELL Press make organizing your busy life easier. The three different styles of weekly planners you can choose from will help you set your goals with intention thanks to sections like the monthly goals focus, the daily habit tracker, and more. Their flagship 2018 liveWELL Planner | Wood Chevron ($54) is the original goal-setting planner. It’s designed to help you live a life focused on your personal priorities and goals. After all, productivity isn’t about getting more done, it’s focusing on getting the important things done. It’s about living with intention.
Learn more or order at inkWELLPress.com.
Eve Tokens says she created a planner to keep her life on track. “I was using a bullet journal for managing my personal life, Trello for my online business, and my phone calendar to keep track of both and random other appointments,” she says. “It was too much, and I found I was getting less done than ever before.”
The Perfect Project Planner ($40) is a simple 8×10-inch, undated planner (inspired by the Epic Blog planner from Regina Anaejionu.) It covers everything in your personal and your business life—Google Stats, bills and income, books, goals, and more. Taskmaster pages break down every project through completion, and there are simple tick boxes to mark off when tasks are complete.
Learn more or order on Amazon.
Helen Jerlach is a parent of three and an entrepreneur with a couple of businesses. “There’s always more to do than there’s time to do it,” she says. “I’m always looking for the perfect system that will make juggling all the different parts of life seem easy and effortless. Even with the best of intentions, I have realized that I need to see everything on the wall in front of me to see how everything fits together.”
The Annual Focus and Goals Wall Planner is a well-designed 90-day planner that looks good enough to hang on your office wall. It allows you to keep the big-picture view. It breaks the year down into months, and breaks each month into your specific goals, focus, and results. It keeps things simple and keeps you moving forward.
Learn more or order at DesigningaHappyLife.com.
Deana Uhrig created a planner to help women keep organized and help them find daily time with God. Her biggest prayer is that her planner keeps people focused on God as they plan their days.
The Anchored Press Devotional Planner ($49) is a Christian planner full of Bible verses and devotional content. Each weekday includes a devotion written by a different (godly, gifted and inspiring) contributor that focuses on a specific theme. Following each, you’ll be guided through a full week of reflecting and growing in that area of your life. Also included are meal planning, goal setting, notes pages, prayer request pages, pockets, and other organizational tools.
Learn more or order at AnchoredPress.com.
Tiana Gustofson struggled for years as a work-from-home entrepreneur in the music and media businesses. She had to-do lists but felt like she wasn’t getting anything done. She also struggled with keeping contacts organized. She did some research on the habits of successful people and used what she learned to create a planner.
The Freedom Planner ($30) is an all-in-one undated 90-day planner, contacts manager, and success and goal organizer for the sales person, entrepreneur, or network marketing professional. It includes a daily calendar, social media checklist, and self-development and weekly goal setting.
Learn more or order at YourFreedomPlanner.com.
Anung Villay is the mastermind behind Courageous Creativity, a place for introverts and homebodies to go on with their life and live with some adventure.
The Fulfill Your Dreams Planner ($17.99) will help you plan out your goals and break everything down into small steps so you can actually can get it all done. It’s laid out in bite-sized tasks that will help even the laziest, most unmotivated person take action.
Learn more or order at CourageousCreativity.co.
Ashley Staum spent the last year working with Pace Creative to make her designs more simple and classic. “A slower, more mindful version of the designs we’ve offered in the past,” she says. “This goes along with our message of setting fewer goals; setting goals you have a true connection to, and shifting your focus away from their outcome and towards the journey, the actions you take in working towards your goals.”
The Daily Planner ($46) is for those who like to see their days planned out from beginning to end. the 6-month planner provides all the organization you crave along with the portability you need. It provides space for daily appointments (including half hours), daily to-do lists, notes sections each day, an action plan each quarter and month, and monthly pages for future planning.
Learn more or order at ShePlans.com.
Ashley Shelly started designing planners soon after creating The Budget Notebook, her first official product, because customers asked for it and she felt the time was right. “I’ve been a planner user for years, but I always wanted to improve on the designs I saw,” she says.
The Ashley Shelly Planner ($49.95) combines logical planning with inspiration. The 2-page Creative Spread at the beginning of the month helps you identify what make your days the best. It also has thick inside pages, a built-in bookmark, monthly overviews, weekly layouts, two notes pages each month, 10 notes pages in the back, and icon stickers.
Learn more or order at AshleyShelly.com.
Minimalism isn’t a new concept. The idea of scaling back and living with less first gained traction in art and design of the 1960s. The pendulum swung toward more lavish living in following decades, but now many people are finding a renewed interest in the minimalist lifestyle.
I’m one of those converts (*sort of). For nearly a decade, I’ve been focusing on collecting memories rather than stuff. Each time I haul another bag off to Goodwill, I feel lighter and happier. Ridding my home of clutter not only frees up physical space—it also clears room in my mind and heart for new experiences, which bring me more joy than any handbag or knickknack ever did.
*To be clear, I’m not a perfect minimalist. While I make efforts to scale back and get rid of things I don’t need, my home isn’t stark white and my wardrobe includes far more than a perfect 33-item capsule. I think minimalism is about doing with less where it makes sense for you.
In all that time of scaling back, however, I hadn’t considered how minimalism might help my business. When I found out I was pregnant in 2015, however, I immediately knew I’d need to make some big changes to prepare for the juggle of being a business-owning mom. So, I decided to apply minimalist concepts to my work life.
Here are few changes I made that I think can help any entrepreneur (parent or not). Even if you’re not a minimalist per se, if you’re looking for ways to scale back, do less, and reduce stress, give these a try.
Dump the stuff
Look at everything sitting on your desk or crammed into your briefcase. How much of it do you actually need? Touch each item and honestly assess whether you’ve used it in the last month and if you could survive without it. Say goodbye to anything that doesn’t make life easier or happier. I’ve whittled my workspace down to a desk, laptop, microphone, external hard drive, a couple of thumb drives, and a pen and planner.
Clear mental clutter
Facebook groups, email lists, social media, and the like can be great resources, but they can also quickly lead to information overload. Analyze every list, group, and site you’ve joined and leave those that don’t provide job leads, valuable networking, or useful education. After this exercise, I stopped investing energy in Google+ and Twitter, and left a handful of Facebook groups and most email lists.
Are you one of those people who always have 20 tabs open in Chrome, an inbox with 1,000 unanswered emails, or a computer desktop littered by document icons? It’s time to clean up your act! I store everything on Google Drive (using logically labeled folders) and use Trello to organize my projects and to-do lists. Whatever tech or paper tools you prefer, the point is to find a system that provides a place for everything and helps you keep everything in its place.
Set a schedule
Simplifying your business isn’t a one-time fix. It requires constantly checking in with yourself to be sure you’re not falling back into old habits and losing focus. I set aside time on the first day of each month to review and renew my minimalist efforts. I delete old data/documents, return my inbox to zero, unsubscribe from any new unwanted emails, etc.
Just say no
This one is hard for many of us, but it’s so important to living simply and peacefully. Don’t agree to tasks that are unnecessary or that don’t fit your area of specialty. Dropping bad clients and rejecting tasks I hated not only relieved stress, it made room in my schedule for the types of clients and work I really wanted. Win-win!
I’m a working mom and, as if that isn’t already a challenge, I’m a part-time working mom. I admit that productivity happens to be one of my hot buttons. As I worked more on my book (launching in early fall 2017), I realized that productivity is actually a big part of working part-time. I work about 25-30 hours each week, which includes time in the evening as necessary.
My perspective on productivity is that I try to make the most of my work hours, so that I have more time to do what I want. For me, that mean time with my young boys, once they’re home from school. For you, it could be hanging out with family or friends, learning a new skill, or even starting a new business.
Here are 5 tips that help keep me on track when it comes to productivity and time management. They might be small changes or, for some, they could be big shifts. See what applies to your situation.
Pre-Planning the Night Before
The night before is so important when you’re trying to be productive. Remember, you can look at productivity from many angles; it’s not only in the moment when you’re working.
Professionally speaking, I use the night before to plan what I’m working on the next day, especially since my prime work time is in the morning. I might grab bullet points for blogs I’m planning on writing or jot down a few ideas for an email response to a client. You get the idea. Use the night before to gather what you need and prepare, so you can hit the ground running the next day.
If you have kids, you can use the night before in many ways like getting kids to pick their outfits or packing the baby bag for daycare. Some moms make lunches for kids the night before. I don’t do that, but I do things like wash fruit for my kids’ lunches, put snacks that don’t need refrigeration into backpacks, etc. Do whatever will help you be quicker in the morning. You can also use the time to pick out your clothes, especially if you have a meeting or presentation. Don’t wait to do that until the morning of. What happens if you can’t find the skirt that goes with a jacket you want to wear or you realize there is a spot on the shirt you had selected in your head?
Batch Your Time
Batch your time. Instead of going back and forth between activities in your business, do things in blocks of time. You spend a lot of mental energy going back and forth between business activities such as writing, answering emails, and answering calls, etc. I get into a zone on what I’m doing and it helps me be more efficient with my time.
The batching also helps you schedule time for the things in your business. For example, have time you dedicate to working on your client’s business or times of the day you work on and respond to email. Even schedule time to talk to clients or potential clients. Some people I interviewed for my book dedicate specific days for some of these activities. If you want to start implementing this, especially the dedicated days to specific activities, it might take some retraining of your clients’ expectations.
I also use Pomodoro technique to make the most of my batching. I work for 25 minutes and then I take a five-minute break. I’ve done it for so long that I naturally stop about 25 minutes into something. And I make the most of those 5 minutes — check social media, put load of laundry for the washer. The key is that whatever the 5-minute task is, I have it ready to go. I’ve already sorted the laundry or maybe that’s a 5-minute task. I already know what I’m posting on social media. It might take practice to figure out what you can fit into 5-minute windows.
Work on Top Priorities First
When you have a long to do list, it can feel good to check several things off. Don’t do it, though. Focus on what you need to focus on first. Prioritize your list and get to must do’s before your general to do list. That way, if nothing else gets done because your priority took longer to do than expected, it’s still done. This might be a shift in how you think, but part of productivity is being efficient with your time and making sure key projects, goals, etc. are done.
Have 3-5 Specific Goals for the Day
Don’t try to achieve too much and feel disappointed when you don’t. Having 3-5 specific goals for a day, including a top goal or priority, is reasonable. But those goals can’t be large, such as redo website. Each of those 3-5 goals is a bigger goal, broken into more bite-sized chunks. That way it’s more reasonable and more likely to be something you can complete. It’s even better if you can clearly show how multiple tasks keep moving your forward and don’t forget to prioritize your goals.
Self-care Helps with Productivity
It’s really hard to be at your most productive when you’re not taking care of yourself and making sure to meet your own needs. Especially if you’re a working mom, you might be working on everyone else’s needs and forgetting your own.
Self-care doesn’t have to be a daily or weekly visit to the spa. It can be making sure you have healthy food choices for your lunch and snacks (not only for your family), taking time to exercise, and getting enough water and sleep. If you want to include a daily moment, my trick is to do it before I get out of bed. I do a daily check, while I’m still in bed to see how I’m feeling. I can make any adjustments almost immediately. And, honestly, there are days when I need to do a quick meditation to get into the right mindset. My favorite tool for this is www.calm.com.
Is there an aspect of being productive that you struggle with? Do you have any easy-to-implement tips that work for you in the area of productivity? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Suzanne Brown is a wife and mother to two young boys. She works as a strategic marketing and business consultant. In addition to her consulting, her current passion project is writing a book, which will be out in September 2017. As research for her book, she interviewed more than 110 professional part-time working moms and the book is sprinkled with their insights, advice, and stories. Suzanne blogs weekly about topics related to work, family, time management, productivity, networking, and work-life balance at www.mompowerment.com.
Block scheduling be a powerful method for maintaining focus and improving productivity. While no one system works for every person, there’s no way to know whether time block suits your personality unless you give it a try.
What is Time Batching & Block Scheduling?
Time blocking is essentially “batching” your like tasks and then assigning each batch its own time slot in your calendar.
First, group your work into buckets. As an example:
- Client work (meeting with clients, working on their projects
- Admin (invoicing, replying to emails)
- Content (researching, writing blog posts)
- Social media (creating graphics, scheduling posts)
(Other ideas for buckets: sales, marketing, meetings/calls, email, reading, education, down time, planning)
Then, create blocks on your calendar for each bucket of like tasks (typically, a minimum of an hour).
Option 1: You schedule time each day for each bucket, spreading the work out over the week. So, Monday through Friday, you might spend 1 hour on admin, 2 hours on content, 2 hours on client work, and 1 hour on social media each day.
Option 2: You dedicate each day of the week (or perhaps half days) to each of your groups of work. So you might do admin work on Mondays, client work on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, content on Thursdays, and social media on Fridays
Whichever approach you take, the goal is to carve out concentrated chunks of time that are each dedicated to a single type of work.
Why Use Batching & Block Scheduling?
This approach helps you focus and be more productive by reducing distraction.
It takes 15-30 minutes to get back in the zone after we’ve been distracted from a task. That adds up, and dramatically reduces how much you can accomplish in any given week.
When you know exactly what you are supposed to be working on at any given time, you automatically reduce the start-up and slow-down time (or mental drag) that comes with constantly shifting gears.
Also, the longer you work on a single task (or type of task), the more you can get into “flow.” That’s the undistracted state of mind where work becomes meditative and begins to feel easy and fast.
Finally, this process simplifies your days. Instead of checking email throughout the day, every day, you are doing it once a day. Instead of wondering when you’ll ever get to that next blog post, you know exactly what day and time you’ll be writing it.
If you love understanding the psychology behind things, read about the Zeigarnik effect. Basically, uncompleted tasks weigh on us, leading to stress and procrastination. Placing all of our tasks into specific time slots gives us peace of mind. We know everything that we can get to everything that needs to get done.
Batching & Block Scheduling in Action
Creating a batch-block schedule is only the first step. It only works if you actually implement it. In this regard, it’s helpful to use a digital or paper planning system. This allows you to see your schedule in black-and-white, and can help hold you accountable to the blocks you’ve planned. You can use a planner (here’s a list of my favorites), or a time-blocking app like Toggl.
Also, you may find it helpful to use the Pomodoro method. This is a period of focused work, usually 50-60 minutes (or the same as your time block), followed by a brief 5-10 minute break. You may like using a Pomodoro timer to enforce these times.
A few other things to consider as you put batching and blocking in action:
- Prioritize your tasks and block in order of priority. Whenever possible, make your most important batch of tasks the ones you do either earliest in the day or the first part of the week. Life happens and, even with block scheduling, you may find yourself distracted and delayed. You want to be sure you get to the most important work first so it’s least likely to fall victim to interruptions and problems. “My motto is: Until my number one priority is done each day, all else is a distraction,” Gary Keller (author of The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results)
- Consider your energy levels. Are there certain times of day when you tend to have the most energy or feel most creative, or times when you feel sluggish or uninspired? Times when you are most likely to face interruptions? Whenever possible, assign your blocks accordingly. Don’t schedule tasks that require focus when you’re most likely to have interruptions, those that require creating when you are least inspired, or those that are the most difficult when you are the most tired. “Wishful thinking can’t change the reality of your schedule,” Cal Newport (author of Deep Work).
- Humans underestimate how much they can accomplish in the long term and underestimate what they can do in the short term. Tasks are likely to take more time than you anticipate, so allow yourself about double the amount of time you estimate for each batch/block. This will keep you from constantly feeling behind—and if you manage to finish things early, you may actually be able to get ahead!
- Plan for personal time, too. A block schedule works best when it is all-encompassing, not strictly used for business (as we know, personal is professional when you own a business). Create blocks for things like workouts, cleaning, hobbies, meals, family time, social events, etc.
Every two weeks or month, audit your block schedule. Compare what you planned to what really happened. Where may you need to make changes (allowing more or less time to certain tasks, adding in more “flex” or “free” time, swapping days/times for various activities, etc.)?
Treat this like an experiment. Give it a real try before deciding whether it works for you. Also, remember that nothing in life is set in stone. I’ve provided some general guidelines and best practices here, but you can and should adapt this concept to suit your needs. Keep what works and ditch or tweak what doesn’t.
Want to learn more? You may enjoy the book “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think” by Laura Vanderkam.
If I were biased in favor of any business software, that software is Trello. It’s one of my favorite online tools. Offline, I’d have to say my bullet journal is my life, but I use Trello just as much, if not more. It’s a great software I’m able to update and keep track of on my computer and on the go. The best part? It’s free!
It’s great for managing a solo business, but it’s super useful if you’re working with a remote team (learn more about how to use Trello to manage a remote team in this post from TimeDoctor).
There’s a bit of hierarchy to Trello and how to use it. You can set up teams. Your business can be a team, your wedding can have a team, and then anything personal could be a team (you can have multiple teams). The next step is the board, which holds the information (you can have as many boards as you want). Within each board, you have lists—again, as many as you want. Once you have a list, you can start adding cards, which are task-related items. A card is what you write the information on. A quick recap: A card goes on a list, which is housed on a board, which can be added to a team or by itself.
Why use Trello?
I know it can feel like there are a million project management systems available—Asana, Todoist, and Wunderlist. After spending some time with pretty much all of them, I’m obsessed with Trello. I’m a visual person. I like being able to see where I am with a project, and Trello is perfect for someone like me. I’m able to move cards along a pipeline I set up.
For example, I have an editorial calendar board. My pipeline includes lists in this order: Blog ideas—>blog posts outlined—>blog posts written—>blog posts scheduled—>blog posts published—>and photo/graphics ideas. I write blog post ideas in the first list, then move each down the line as I get it outlined, written, scheduled, and published. I do the same with our personal bills and tasks in other boards.
The great thing about Trello is you can color coordinate boards. Figure out what colors make sense for you and your life. The colors I use are:
- Green for personal
- Blue for business
- Orange for my fiance
- Pink for our wedding
Coordinating tasks for each board are highlighted in my bullet journal with the same color. Everything on my Google Calendar also has the same coordinated colors. See how everything starts to line up and get connected? Start with getting your personal board set up. Add tasks, keep track of bills, and write down lists you need for your home and relationships.
If you’re getting married, setup boards to track sending thank you cards, your wedding day timeline, guest list and the seating chart, and a bridesmaid board. If you run a business, set up boards for clients, your editorial calendar, a launch board, and even a goal board.
Find Templates to Use
The easiest way to get started is to find templates to use (the experts on the Trello blog have created some amazing templates). If you’re looking for wedding boards, here are a couple. If you want help creating a goal board, here’s a blog post with a template you can copy.
I got a launch board and yearly planning board from Lupita Santana. She’s offering them to you after you sign up for her newsletter list. I’m on one of her boards almost every day! Do yourself a favor and go get a copy of any of the amazing boards she’s created.
This is the hardest part. I don’t know how many notebooks, planners, tools, and software I’ve spent time setting up because I was sure it was finally going to get me to the place I knew I wanted to be. I am still not there, and it’s not because the notebooks and tools were bad. It’s not because they were wrong. It’s because I never used them after I set them up.
It’s all about how much effort and time you put into actually using the tool. It’s how you actually use it to improve your life and your business. Commit to using it everyday for a month. Even if it’s just you reviewing everything you’ve done or need to get done, open it every day. Any time you have an idea or a concept you’d like to explore further, add it to Trello. You won’t ever lose it and you’ll be able to come back to it.
Organize Your Life
Now you’ve set up your personal board and gotten some boards, it’s time to get your life organized. Turn on a timer for 15 minutes and brainstorm everything you need to do for your home. Any errands, home improvement projects you want to do, and things you need to remember (ie, changing the air filter on certain months) should all go into your master list for your personal board.
Once you have a good start on your personal board, switch to your business board. Brainstorm all tasks, contacts, and ideas you have around your business. Add them to the board and then interact with it on a daily basis. Use Trello as your ever-evolving to-do list and keep track of everything. Seriously, you’ll be amazed at the power follow up has in a business. I’ve advanced in ways I didn’t even know was possible, all because I was able to track where I was through Trello.
(Editor’s Note: Looking for a comprehensive guide to using Trello for your business? The awesome chicks at Think Creative Collective have a super affordable course called Trello for Business that will help you become a Trello pro. I’m not an affiiliate; I just think this course is an incredible value and wanted you to know about it!)
Kaylee White is the content strategist and creator for photographers and creative business owners, behind KayleeWrites.com. She’s pursued event planning, marketing strategy, blogging, and social media management in the past. She only seriously considered writing and helping entrepreneurs with their content strategies after her mom pointed out she was always writing! Kaylee is nuts about productivity and being organized, and uses planning hobby to help small biz owners plan their content, figure out what they’re going to produce in a year, and help them get it written. If you have any questions or are interested in working with her, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.