What to do when “Working Smarter” Doesn’t Work

NBC shows the stark change in technology use in the last seven years.

Are you a productivity junkie? I am, or at least I was. Since college I’ve been obsessed by finding the best life hacks, web apps and productivity tools to automate my life, be effective and efficient and simply get more done in less time. I love learning about this stuff, but I’ve lost interest lately. Let me tell you why.

I’m experiencing the law of diminishing returns. When you start learning how to be more productive, you can shave hours off of your work day. After years and years of research, though, the improvements keep getting smaller and smaller. Because I know that the likelihood of discovering a technique that will have a huge impact on my productivity has been dropping steadily, the hope and excitement have started to wane. Continue reading

Tuesday Tech Tip: The (almost) Perfection of Wunderlist

wunderlist logoI’ve tried more to-do list apps than I care to admit. It’s kind of disgusting. Besides the fact that I love new technology and apps (to the point of absurdity), the main reason is that I’ve always become dissatisfied about some aspect of whichever app I’m using. Not to mention, (as the rest of you procrastinating productivity nuts know all-too-well) that it’s always better to try out a new to-do app than to actually do something on the list. Heaven forbid.

In the past, I’ve touted the awesome robustness that is Remember The Milk. It remains the ultimate to-do app. I found that it was simply overkill for me and I didn’t like that they charged forty-some-odd dollars just to use it on my iPhone. I don’t mind the price tag, I’ve paid it in the past, but the pay-for-mobile just rubs me the wrong way.

Anyway, today we’re talking about the super-simple, very-free alternative, Wunderlist. I follow a very loose version of GTD, and I find that Wunderlist adapts beautifully. It should also be said that what Wunderlist lacks in robust features and options, it makes up for in eye candy.

Here’s how I use it:

  • Any to-do that requires more than one step is a project (see GTD link above). In Wunderlist, I just add a new list, name it, and I’m on my merry way.
  • Getting Things Done is all about the Next Action. I use the “star” feature in Wunderlist to keep track of what’s next for each project.
  • For a weekly review, I update all of my projects and star the tasks I can take immediate action on.
  • During my work day, I just take a peek at Wunderlist online or on my mac, my iPad or iPhone (it’s free for all devices, ridiculous PC and Android users included. *friendly smirk*)
  • I immediately look at the “starred” tab and can see all Next Actions (And which list/project they belong to! Hallelujah.)
  • Then it’s just a matter of knocking out as many top priority to-dos as possible in the time I have.

Do you use a to-do list app, prefer pen and paper or just guess all day? How could Wunderlist simplify and organize your life?

Be like the Roomba®

For those who missed it, the Roomba® is a semi-magical device that automatically vacuums the floors in your house. It works by sensing walls and changing directions. It’s also known as a popular ride for cats.

For today’s productivity tip, I think we can learn a lot about emotion-proof decision making from the Roomba®. So often, when something doesn’t go our way, we get really upset. We run into the figurative wall and then we bang our heads against it. We pout, we point fingers, we blame ourselves. We sit there, angry and frustrated, with our heads leaning against the wall.

So how can we learn from the Roomba®?

The Roomba® doesn’t get upset when it runs into a wall. It is programmed to sense the wall and simply change direction. What would happen if you lived your life like that? Instead of feeling sorry for yourself or beating yourself up, what if you simply kept moving (in a slightly different direction)?

The only way to take emotions out of the equation is to give up some of the ego. When we have expectations (and base our future happiness on them) we set ourselves up to be disappointed. And when things don’t go as planned, we think it’s because we are flawed and we take it personally. But the wall doesn’t have to be proof that we suck. The wall can simply be a sign that it’s time to change course, even if just by a few degrees.

The Roomba® doesn’t take the wall personally, it just changes direction and keeps living it’s purpose, which, as far as I can tell, is to be an excellent cat ride and a mediocre vacuum.

Should I Hire Someone or Not? A Guide for Small Business Owners

So many business owners want to know when the time is right to hire someone. Entrepreneurs hate giving up control of their business. By the time they’re actually considering getting help, they’re usually buried so deep, the thought of finding, hiring and training someone is totally overwhelming. Here’s a quick guide for you to decide if hiring should be your next step. As a bonus, I’ve included the most common fears wedding pros share (and how to challenge those fears) when it comes to the “should I hire someone” debate.

Well, is it time to hire someone?

Tuesday Tech Tip: Treat Email like Mail Not Texting

Instant Gratification: By turning off instant-notification of new email messages, you put yourself back in control of your workday (and your email).

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Ivan Pavlov discovered classical conditioning when he realized that his dog salivated when he would walk into the room (with or without food). The concept was simple, you bring the dog some food on a regular basis and before you know it, the dog has an automatic response.

You are not a dog. And yet when your phone chimes each time you get a new email you (just like the dog), begin to salivate (figuratively, hopefully). You read it and (more often than not) start to respond right then and there. Do you keep your email open all day? Most people do. We have to stay in touch, right?  Continue reading

Tuesday Tech Tip: Write on PDFs for Free

Today’s tip is a quickie. PDFescape allows you to edit PDFs quickly and easily for free and without signing up. What it lacks in looks (and maybe ease-of-use), it makes up for in simplicity. For those of us who don’t have, use or understand fancy design programs, it’s an earth-killing hassle to have to print off every PDF that comes our way just to fill in a couple of blanks and a signature.

Here’s the play-by-play:

  1. Upload the PDF to www.PDFescape.com
  2. Add your text and images (I like to drop in a .jpg of my signature to skip printing).
  3. Click one button to download the new version to your computer.
  4. Email the form.

Presto! It’s just that easy. And it beats the heck out of getting a PDF emailed to you, downloading the attachment, printing it out, signing it, scanning it and emailing back, then recycling (or heaven forbid, throwing way) a single sheet of paper that was useful for the thirty seconds you needed it.

Save the earth, save your sanity.

 

Tuesday Tech Tip: 3 Evernote Tips for Business

Instant Gratification: By using the slick Evernote iPhone app and unobtrusive browser plug in, you can capture images, audio and text on any device and easily find things later. Evernote even searches the text inside of pictures so it’s perfect for scanning notes or business cards.

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20130126-140545.jpgFor the uninitiated, Evernote is a simple way to keep track of your digital life. You can store notes, pictures, ideas and just about anything else. It’s absolutely free and available on any device. However, if you upload a TON of stuff, you’ll need to upgrade to the premium version for around $45 a year. I want to tell you about my three biggest uses for Evernote.

1. Store Business Cards
I’m not a fan of collecting business cards. But, because you’re a wedding entrepreneur, you’ll inevitably end up with a drawer full of business cards from photographers, DJs, planners and limo drivers. Instead of digging through the drawer when you want to find that florist you met last year, scan the cards with the Evernote iPhone app. Since Evernote has an ever-improving OCR (reading text from pictures) technology, you can search your entire collection and Evernote can find what you’re looking for, just from the words in the picture. It can even read (legible) handwritten notes. How badass is that?

2. Research
Whether I’m doing research for a blog post or trying to find someplace to live, Evernote is awesome for keeping all of the pieces organized. I can create a “notebook” to store everything for my project, which we’ll call “Jeff’s awesome new house.” As I’m walking down the street, I’ll remember that my new house simply must have space for a fireplace. I can use the iPhone app once more, but this time to record a quick audio note saying, “deal breaker: house has to have a fireplace.” *Note: I don’t think Evernote can search (the content of) audio files yet, but I’m crossing my fingers that they’ll roll this out soon. After all, the technology to transcribe voicemails has been around (even if it’s terrible) for years. All you need to do is create a title for your file and slap on a tag like “deal breakers.”

3. Stay Productive and Never Forget
Have you ever found a super interesting article online and didn’t want to lose it so you just read it, even though you meant to be working on something else? Who am I kidding, you probably did that today. In fact, you might be doing right now. Never fear. You can use the Evernote WebClipper browser extension to easily clip things from the web that you want to find later. I have a “movies to watch” tag as well as a “fun for later” tag. Anytime I need a movie to watch, I just search Evernote for anything tagged “movies to watch” and I’ve got a good list of things I want to see. I use my “fun for later” tag to store articles, websites, concepts and TED videos I want to watch later. The power in this is less in being able to find good stuff later (which is completely awesome) and more in my newfound ability to save something for later so I can stay focused on whatever I’m currently working on.

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Everyone has a different use for evernote. You can store meeting notes, recipes, ideas, plans and just about anything else your little heart desires. One alternative I’ve been pretty impressed with is GetPocket, but I haven’t used it enough to recommend. I’d love to hear what others are using and why they like it better than Evernote.

I’m dying to know. How are you going to use Evernote?

*I only endorse products I use and love. I don’t get paid for it. I’ll let you know if that changes. -Jeff*

Am I Planning or Just Worrying?

Regret lives in the past, worry lives in the future. You live in the present. Stay awhile.I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. I’m a business owner so it’s important that I make plans and projections and know where things are headed. Right? Most of the time, it’s helpful to think about the future. But sometimes it’s not helpful at all. When my planning starts turning into worry, I’m in trouble.

The reason worrying is so dangerous is that our thoughts have incredible power in our lives. Businesses have collapsed just because the owner kept thinking about the worst-case scenario. And I’ve seen my businesses blossom when I am focused on what I want (instead of what I don’t). But that’s not all. We have powerful imaginations. So even though there is only one actual future, we can worry about a hundred different outcomes at once. Scary, huh? Continue reading

Guest Post: How I Created a Viral Blog in 4 Months

CT Designs Inc logoI am so grateful to Jeff for asking me to share the story of how I was able to dramatically increase my blog traffic… Our numbers are still climbing and I couldn’t be happier.

My blogging history was sporadic at best. I would post maybe once or twice a week if I found the time. I wanted more traffic, but always thought I was just too busy to be a consistent blogger. I read somewhere that Google search engines are friendlier to blogs who’s content is refreshed 3-4 times per week.

Well starting in September 2011, I did just that and my blog traffic went through the roof. The following are some steps I took and hopefully they can help you as well:

  • I began to produce more content for my blog. Sounds elementary right? Honestly though, while it may seem daunting, as long as you can block out some time to store up multiple blogs, you won’t fall behind.
  • I made sure that my blog titles were more search engine friendly than they were “pithy”. It is always tempting to title your blog in a witty fashion, but its not always best if you’d like for your blog to pop up during searches. Continue reading

Solotasking: A Simple, Pen-and-Paper Technique to End Procrastination

StackTaskMulti-tasking is a myth. It sounds like a great idea, but it doesn’t work. Single tasking (or “solotasking”) is the “it” kid right now for good reason: your productivity explodes when you narrow your focus to one thing at a time. And while you may not realize it, chances are good that your to-do list is secretly eating away at your sanity.

Every time you take a look at that list, your mind starts working on every item simultaneously. So while you’re hard at work trying to focus on the first item, your brain is processing, “wow, how am I going to do X, Y & Z all by five today?”

The following is a simple, pen-and-paper solution for actually getting important work done now. I call it StackTask:

Step One: Make some cards
You can use anything you can write on, but I recommend using something substantial like 3×5 cards (cut into smaller pieces). I happen to have a ton of leftover cardstock I’m re-purposing and it works perfectly. I cut the sheets into 1″ x 2″ cards.

 

Step Two: Write each of your top-priority tasks on one card
Try to keep the total between five and ten. If you blow through all of these tasks early, just start this process again with the next tasks. Make sure the tasks are specific, measurable and short enough Continue reading