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This One’s Free: 10 Basic Tech Tips that Make a Difference

This One’s Free: 10 Basic Tech Tips that Make a Difference

Old_Gears

    Coaching is usually about ‘the big change’: generating significant new business strategies or leadership behaviours. But along the way there are dozens of small adjustments that make a big difference as well. Many of those are in the realm of technology.

    Especially when working with small businesses and lone entrepreneurs, I suggest to a variety of tools and approaches to build capacity and pull down obstacles. Here are 10 tips that are drawn from interactions I have with clients every day.

    A word on security. This article does not deal with security issues. If you are using off-site servers, Bluetooth connections, storing data on your phone, etc. there are significant security issues. Lifehack, Google, About.com, and other sites can provide important, current information on these issues. Or talk to your local technology guru. Just so you know.

    That said, here we go:

    1.  Learn how to share and export files

    • Regardless of which bookkeeping software you use, learn how to export to an Excel spreadsheet or a CSV (comma separated value) file. This allows a coach or consultant to review your financial situation easily (without charging you for re-entering the data manually!). Most financial software will have a ‘Save As…’ or ‘Export…’ item under ‘File’. Check it out.
    • CSV files are also a standard format to export contact information from your PIM (Personal Information Manager) like Outlook or Entourage. When you export your contact information for example, you can load it into a spreadsheet for mail merges, or upload it to services like Constant Contact to create electronic newsletter campaigns.
    • When you send documents (such as resumes, reports, or business plans) by email for review you want to be sure that the document arrives looking exactly the way you sent it.  You also want to protect your documents from malicious or accidental alteration. The best way of taking care of both concerns is by saving the document as a PDF (Portable Document Format). A locked PDF document arrives looking EXACTY like you sent it, and cannot be easily altered. Newer versions of most office and graphics software can save, print, or export in a PDF format. There are also a number of free- or share-ware programs that you can download which will convert almost any document or picture file into a PDF.

    2.  Be systematic in using folders and files

    • Whether it is individual document names or whole file systems, create a name- and location- system you can repeat. You will save time and reduce errors. For example, I have a ‘New Client’ folder that has all the empty sub-folders I normally require for client documents. When a new client comes on board, I simply copy and rename the ‘New Client’ folder and I am ready to start populating the already-named sub-folders with new documents. That way I know each document I create has the same home for each client.
    • Ever looked for a file in a certain folder and not found it there? We are creatures of habit. As likely as not, you will look there again the next time you want that file. Unless there is a clear reason not to, when you do find the file, consider moving it into the folder you first looked for it in.
    • When naming files, use a standard structure so that a) the name tells you what you are looking at and b) your files sort properly when you open the folder. One tip for this is to name files ‘year-month-date-filename.doc’ for files that you have multiple versions of (e.g. 2009-07-23-newsletter.doc), and set the sort criteria for that folder to be ‘date – most recent first’. That way each time you open the folder, the files are sorted so you can see the file you worked on most recently at the top of the list.

    3.  Backup

    I know. Unbelievably boring. But really, if you don’t back up your stuff you are asking for trouble. And today, with the various back-up solutions available, there is no reason to have that icy cold feeling creeping up the back of your neck when you realize something really bad has just happened to your computer.

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    • If your software has an auto-save function, use it. How long should the interval be between auto-saves? I don’t know. How much work are you OK with re-doing? 10 minutes? 20 minutes? 2 minutes?
    • Full-system backups. Today you can get external hard-drives, off-site network backups, and back-ups that occur while you sleep or while you work. One of my favourite backup utilities is SyncBack SE. The technology is cheap and easy to use. There is no excuse.
    • Smart phone as backup. Your smart phone can do a lot of cool stuff. Did you know you can use it to store your contact information and calendar? A good smartphone like a Blackberry, IPhone, or Palm will easily store all of your contact information and your calendar, and keep it up to date. These phones come with software to allow you to synchronize data with your main computer. You can ensure that both devices have the same calendar and contact information. Never a bad idea. Which brings me to the next item…

    4.  Sync or sink!

    Did you know that your phone can synchronize your contacts, calendar, tasks, notes, and more, with your computer? If your phone and computer have Bluetooth built in, you don’t even have to plug anything in. Increasingly through off-site servers and Bluetooth, you have the ability to store key word processing, spreadsheet, PDF and other documents on your phone as well.

    By syncing your computer with your phone, not only will you keep your PIM items up to date, but you have created another form of back up!

    5.  Dig a little deeper

    A colleague or client will sometimes mention that they are planning to buy an expensive piece of software to solve a specific problem. Most of the time, the software they are considering is overkill. It is not that the software is no good or that it won’t solve the problems that they want it to, it is simply a question of ROI. The investment in money and training time is often not justified by the return on productivity.

    The solution? Dig a little deeper into the software you already have. Have you actually watched/read any of the basic tutorials for your office suite or bookkeeping software? Most people are surprised at how much they can do with what they already have on their computers.

    If a certain functionality is missing, there is a very good chance someone has plugged that hole with free software you can download or use on-line. I am experimenting with Tungle for example, an online solution that allows people to book appointments in my free slots. The online bookings are automatically synced with my Outlook calendar. And it is free.

    6. Learn your sums

    While spreadsheets were originally invented to handle basic bookkeeping functions, where they really shine is in modeling possibilities and options. The more sophisticated stuff is for full-time spreadsheet specialists, but there are basics that I use almost every day in making financial recommendations to clients.

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    Spreadsheets allow me to compare various averages and ratios, changing some numbers and seeing the different results instantly, without having to redo the calculations every time.

    Knowing how to create a basic budget, including sums, averages, and ratios, in a spreadsheet can give you greater control over your finances.

    7.  Calendars, tasks, & alarms

    Our minds can only hold about 4 – 7 pieces of information at one time. Why take up that precious memory capacity remembering to stop at the dry cleaner when you could be thinking about how to deepen relationships with customers?

    There are many tools available for your smart phone and your computer that can manage your schedules and to-do lists.  I prefer these tools to using paper. Why? For me, the big advantage of digital PIM tools over paper are:

    • The information can be synchronized between devices (no book to lose or forget);
    • They can actively remind you of things that need to be done (so you don’t to have to remember to check your book to remember what you need to do);
    • They can be set to schedule your repeating events and reminders, daily, weekly, monthly, etc. This saves you the time of having to write every repeat event down. When the schedule changes you don’t have to erase and rewrite.

    8.  Email & SMS Text

    Email is more than just a way of communicating. One of the most powerful benefits of email is that it is a great way of tracking and organizing communication.

    I love face-to-face conversation, but there are times when I am glad that there is a way of tracking exactly what was said when there is a disagreement. Even little disputes like the date or time of a meeting can be confirmed in a way that is not possible otherwise.

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    Email is also the easiest thing to organize. Simply create folders representing the way you organize your information (see Item 2 above), and drag/move the emails in.

    A lot of professionals haven’t caught on to SMS (small message service) “texting” as a communication channel. Obsessive texting about trivial things is a huge time waster, and can give the illusion that meaningful communication is taking place. Furthermore, text messages can’t easily be organized like email. All of that said, texting is a useful tool because it can be done between different kinds of phones, not just the more expensive and complex smart phones, and because it is fast and discrete. If you are trying to figure out which movie theatre someone is meeting you in front of, you may not want to send an email. Further, there are times when you want to send someone a short quick message and a phone call is not appropriate (say if they are already in the theatre). Sending a text message can handle that.

    Telephone calls, email, and texting each have their strength. Like Social Networking the trick is to know when to use the right tool.

    9.  Social networking

    This topic is much larger than can easily be covered in a brief list like this. But every business person should be aware of it. In my experience there are four main social networking platforms that every business owner and leader should understand.

    Facebook. This is so far the least business-oriented of the networking platforms. I recommend to most clients that they keep Facebook for their personal social network. I know Facebook is working hard to reposition itself, and there are a growing number of experts providing reasons and approaches to using Facebook in business, but so far I have not seen enough potential for return to invest the time.

    There is one exception: Facebook is a powerful and cost-effective way to advertise. Facebook allows you to advertise to people of pre-determined demographics, and allows you to set a fixed budget that relates to the number of times your ad will appear on the pages of people who fit the profile you are looking for. For the right product or service this can be powerful.

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    YouTube. Like Facebook, YouTube started as a non-business platform. However, recently a growing number of businesses are using YouTube to post low-cost, guerrilla-style video promotions. If you have a business that has a significant visual component or can educate the public through video, Youtube can be a powerful tool. Don’t know how to shoot and post a little video about your business? Get one of your Generation Y employees to show you how it’s done! They can even show you tools that allow you to shoot, post, and promote videos on YouTube, all from their smart phones!

    LinkedIn. This is a business-only site that is like Facebook only on the surface. Under the hood they are very different. Privacy controls are tighter and even your profile is more like a resume. LinkedIn’s singular focus on business and professional networking has created an environment that is a fertile ground for networking, career and job seeking, and professional development. Formalized referral systems, common-interest groups, business and personal branding opportunities, etc. are all well thought out and work well. If you are a professional or business owner/leader and you don’t have a profile on LinkedIn, you may be missing an opportunity to grow your network in a powerful way.

    Twitter. This micro-blogging site (limits you to 142-character posts) is rapidly becoming another powerful networking and communication tool for professionals. Businesses are using it to keep customers informed about new promotions, and many professionals are using it to share ideas, links to useful articles, and announcements of events in their communities and markets. When a post catches on in Twitter it can go ‘viral’ in hours and find its way to thousands of people. Increasingly, stories about significant events (as defined by the people who care about them) are spreading rapidly on Twitter even before they hit traditional news channels.

    An interesting note on Twitter is that unlike other social networking channels, it is not being picked up by the majority of adolescents/Gen Y’s. There is a great deal of debate about why this is, and my two cents are that it is so ‘content’ oriented in its structure and as a medium that it does not lend itself to the repetitive and relatively inane use to which channels like SMS texting are often put. It is difficult to restrict your messages to a limited group of ‘friends’ so it doesn’t function well as a purely social tool. Tweets really are ‘micro-blogs’ with a focus on ideas and information (at least the ones anyone reads), and both users and non-users seem to have unconsciously reinforced that reality (for a hilarious proof that not everyone ‘gets it’ check out http://tweetingtoohard.com/ )

    10.  Think of your smart phone as a digital Swiss Army Knife

    You can use smart phone for telephone calls, email, and/or texting. But it is also a powerful tool that can make your professional life easier in many other ways. Here are some tips and tricks:

    • Use your phone’s unique ring-tones or signals for different events. Want your phone to remain silent unless a key client or family member phones? You can set your phone to do this.
    • Want to get a discrete signal that your meeting hour is almost up? Set your phone’s clock or timer to vibrate at a certain time.
    • Want to remember where you parked your car at the airport? Take a snapshot of the area with your phone’s camera.
    • Record voice memos when you don’t have the time to write a note
    • Calculate tips or bill splits at lunch.
    • On some smart phones you can now find an address or retrace your steps using built-in GPS.
    • You can store and update shopping lists, check out movies playing in your neighbourhood, and access Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter on your phone.

    Remember, this is just a list of activities and solutions that I have found useful in my own practice or in the work of my clients. It isn’t even close to exhaustive. If you want to know more about some of the things I have mentioned, or wonder if technology can solve a particular problem, feel free to contact me!

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    Last Updated on July 27, 2020

    20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    Are you usually punctual or late? Do you finish things within the time you stipulate? Do you hand in your reports/work on time? Are you able to accomplish what you want to do before deadlines? Are you a good time manager?

    If your answer is “no” to any of the questions above, that means you’re not managing your time as well as you want. Here are 20 time management tips to help you manage time better:

    1. Create a Daily Plan

    Plan your day before it unfolds. Do it in the morning or even better, the night before you sleep. The plan gives you a good overview of how the day will pan out. That way, you don’t get caught off guard. Your job for the day is to stick to the plan as best as possible.

    Here’s How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity.

    2. Peg a Time Limit to Each Task

    Be clear that you need to finish X task by 10am, Y task by 3pm, and Z item by 5:30pm. This prevents your work from dragging on and eating into time reserved for other activities.

    3. Use a Calendar

    Having a calendar is the most fundamental step to managing your daily activities. If you use outlook or lotus notes, calendar come as part of your mailing software.

    I use it. It’s even better if you can sync your calendar to your mobile phone and other hardwares you use – that way, you can access your schedule no matter where you are. Here’re the 10 Best Calendar Apps to Stay on Track .

    Find out more tips about how to use calendar for better time management here: How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space

    4. Use an Organizer

    An organizer helps you to be on top of everything in your life. It’s your central tool to organize information, to-do lists, projects, and other miscellaneous items.

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    These Top 15 Time Management Apps and Tools can help you organize better, pick one that fits your needs.

    5. Know Your Deadlines

    When do you need to finish your tasks? Mark the deadlines out clearly in your calendar and organizer so you know when you need to finish them.

    But make sure you don’t make these 10 Common Mistakes When Setting Deadlines.

    6. Learn to Say “No”

    Don’t take on more than you can handle. For the distractions that come in when you’re doing other things, give a firm no. Or defer it to a later period.

    Leo Babauta, the founder of Zen Habits has some great insights on how to say no: The Gentle Art of Saying No

    7. Target to Be Early

    When you target to be on time, you’ll either be on time or late. Most of the times you’ll be late. However, if you target to be early, you’ll most likely be on time.

    For appointments, strive to be early. For your deadlines, submit them earlier than required.

    Learn from these tips about how to prepare yourself to be early, instead of just in time.

    8. Time Box Your Activities

    This means restricting your work to X amount of time. Why time boxing is good for you? Here’re 10 reasons why you should start time-boxing.

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    You can also read more about how to do time boxing here: Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks

    9. Have a Clock Visibly Placed Before You

    Sometimes we are so engrossed in our work that we lose track of time. Having a huge clock in front of you will keep you aware of the time at the moment.

    10. Set Reminders 15 Minutes Before

    Most calendars have a reminder function. If you have an important meeting to attend, set that alarm 15 minutes before.

    You can learn more about how reminders help you remember everything in this article: The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    11. Focus

    Are you multi-tasking so much that you’re just not getting anything done? If so, focus on just one key task at one time. Multitasking is bad for you.

    Close off all the applications you aren’t using. Close off the tabs in your browser that are taking away your attention. Focus solely on what you’re doing. You’ll be more efficient that way.

    Lifehack’s CEO has written a definitive guide on how to focus, learn the tips: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    12. Block out Distractions

    What’s distracting you in your work? Instant messages? Phone ringing? Text messages popping in?

    I hardly ever use chat nowadays. The only times when I log on is when I’m not intending to do any work. Otherwise it gets very distracting.

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    When I’m doing important work, I also switch off my phone. Calls during this time are recorded and I contact them afterward if it’s something important. This helps me concentrate better.

    Find more tips on how to minimize distractions to achieve more in How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done

    13. Track Your Time Spent

    When you start to track your time, you’re more aware of how you spend your time. For example, you can set a simple countdown timer to make sure that you finish a task within a period of time, say 30 minutes or 1 hour. The time pressure can push you to stay focused and work more efficiently.

    You can find more time tracking apps here and pick one that works for you.

    14. Don’t Fuss About Unimportant Details

    You’re never get everything done in exactly the way you want. Trying to do so is being ineffective.

    Trying to be perfect does you more harm than good, learn here about how perfectionism kills your productivity and how to ditch the perfectionism mindset.

    15. Prioritize

    Since you can’t do everything, learn to prioritize the important and let go of the rest.

    Apply the 80/20 principle which is a key principle in prioritization. You can also take up this technique to prioritize everything on your plate: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    16. Delegate

    If there are things that can be better done by others or things that are not so important, consider delegating. This takes a load off and you can focus on the important tasks.

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    When you delegate some of your work, you free up your time and achieve more. Learn about how to effectively delegate works in this guide: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

    17. Batch Similar Tasks Together

    For related work, batch them together.

    For example, my work can be categorized into these core groups:

    1. writing (articles, my upcoming book)
    2. coaching
    3. workshop development
    4. business development
    5. administrative

    I batch all the related tasks together so there’s synergy. If I need to make calls, I allocate a time slot to make all my calls. It really streamlines the process.

    18. Eliminate Your Time Wasters

    What takes your time away your work? Facebook? Twitter? Email checking? Stop checking them so often.

    One thing you can do is make it hard to check them – remove them from your browser quick links / bookmarks and stuff them in a hard to access bookmarks folder. Replace your browser bookmarks with important work-related sites.

    While you’ll still checking FB/Twitter no doubt, you’ll find it’s a lower frequency than before.

    19. Cut off When You Need To

    The number one reason why things overrun is because you don’t cut off when you have to.

    Don’t be afraid to intercept in meetings or draw a line to cut-off. Otherwise, there’s never going to be an end and you’ll just eat into the time for later.

    20. Leave Buffer Time In-Between

    Don’t pack everything closely together. Leave a 5-10 minute buffer time in between each tasks. This helps you wrap up the previous task and start off on the next one.

    More Time Management Tips

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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