03 Oct How I Automate My Life: Freelance Tips and Tricks
Today, everyone is busy. If you’re a freelancer or work from home, you may find endless distractions plague your day. While you want to focus on actually doing your work, you find yourself in a difficult position – you must market your services, network and somehow magically manage your time as well. Of all the questions I’m asked, without a doubt, the most frequent is: How do you do it all?
It’s not that I’m superhuman. I have some smart apps that make my life more productive. I also have a great team to which I delegate several tasks. (if you’re not into delegation, I highly recommend it! Nowadays, people want to sell you on the idea that you can do everything – and, in a sense, you can. You can learn how to do every part of what your business entails, but it comes at a cost. A slow learning curve, lots of mistakes, built up frustration and mild insanity may all be the result of overextending yourself. Identifying your strengths and delegating your weaknesses can be a major relief!)
Smart apps help you automate parts of your business process so you can focus on the important stuff – you know… the actual work! Some of our biggest adversaries in the productivity department are social media platforms, email correspondence, and poor time management skills. Below, I’ve outlined some of my favorite apps to streamline your workflow. Almost all of them are free, but if they are not I will list them as a paid option (sometimes you have to spend money to make money!)
Automating Social Posts
In order to market your business, you need a digital marketing strategy. That’s just basic business 101 in 2016 (If you are looking for help to set up a digital marketing plan for your business, contact me here). But social posts take a lot of time and energy out of your day – especially if you create them as you go, from day to day. Realistically, you could spend all day cultivating social posts, and then what? You’ve lost valuable time to work on your art, book, business plan, products or services – whatever is important to you.
That’s why I automate.
Hootsuite is a scheduler. It allows you to schedule posts into the future based on the date/time you’d like them to be posted. Hootsuite is free up to 5 accounts, and beyond that, is a paid service of 9 usd a month. I use the pro version since I manage multiple social media accounts for several clients. The pro version also allows for adding team members as well, so my amazing digital marketing strategist, Jess, can organize the material we’ve agreed on for each client.
When I started out as a solo act, I sat down monthly and scheduled my posts for the month, selecting the peak times and randomizing the content for my posts in an editorial calendar. A full day of scheduling would render of month of perfectly planned and timed posts, anything happening in the moment that I felt like posting was lagniappe, freeing me up to focus on other things. I used the free account, so it didn’t require any funds (I know how it is when you are just starting out and don’t have a penny to spare!) and it majorly simplified my life and workflow.
IFTTT is pretty much the coolest thing ever. A client actually showed me this nifty app …and it’s become one of my best bosom buddies. IFTTT is based around the concept of recipes – It’s name If This Then That refers cause and effect. If this first thing happens (for example, I post a photo on Instagram) then I want a second thing to happen (for example, the photo is posted on Twitter as a native photo, meaning it shows up as a photo and not a link to Instagram.)
I really hate the sharing options between platforms (like sharing your Instagram posts to FB – wait I’ve written about why this is such a marketing faux-pas – so let’s say to twitter) because it appears as a link from elsewhere, which is a turn off for the users of the secondary platform. They think – @partygal isn’t actually using this platform, they are just blasting their content everywhere without actually being present. All talk, no listen.
Probably not the impression you want to make with your brand or business. So, that’s where IFTTT steps in. Its recipes allow for native posts, as well as a host of other cool productivity hacks, like linking your time management apps, calendar, and to do list. You can set it to remind you of to-dos or upcoming appointments, to send you a message if inclement weather is coming your way, and a whole host of automated goodies. Plus, it’s free.
A relative newcomer to the scene, Edgar is nothing short of amazing. It’s a paid service (and not cheap) so if that’s not your thing, you can move down to the other sections about email and productivity hacks.
I really kind of love Edgar (Sean beware!) It’s an automated social poster, similar to Hootsuite, but recycles your content and posts, based on your schedule and the category of the content you’ve listed in its library. You never run out of posts, as it continues to cycle them indefinitely.
I personally wouldn’t use this for photo or text posts – to me, that seems quite redundant – however, for blog posts, it’s a dream. Blog posts need reposting! It isn’t enough to post them once because many people may miss the initial post. While social media posts, pictures and 3rd party links, are great to share and engage your audience, your blogs are the cornerstone of your brand, what drives traffic back to your website and ultimately gets you sales/brand recognition/clients/whatever it is that you are seeking with your website.
I have over 300 blogs (I’ve been at it for 5 years!) and reminding people of old posts they may not have read is a great way to maximize the time I’ve already spent writing and creating.
I swear: email is the biggest time suck of all. I could literally spend all day returning emails and never get a thing done. As the biggest threat to my productivity, I try to use a theory called inbox zero, and limit the times when I permit myself to check email.
For me, a cluttered inbox is like working in a messy room. It’s a distraction that weakens my focus. For that reason, I file away my correspondences into gmail folders. It only takes a click to get them out of my inbox – into the trash or answered and into a folder of similar content. I can still access them as a reference, whether for my own records or for a client, but they aren’t filling my inbox and distracting me.
But naturally, many emails have to be dealt with, responded to and acted upon.
That’s where these apps come into play. Even with them, email still takes up way too much of my time. But, at least there is a functional way to reduce its hold on your life. Here are my apps for simplifying my inbox and increasing my productivity.
This nifty app let’s you schedule emails to be sent later. For me, this is wonderfully convenient. I write for the local newspaper, for example, and have to submit my articles at certain times on certain days. I used to set alarms and then hustle to the computer to send it on time – what a pain! Scheduling emails, even if you don’t want to bother someone at 3 am when an idea comes to you, can really come in handy. It’s especially great if you have deadlines or need to remember to send things out in the future.
p.s. this is just scratching the surface – they have automated check-ins and other helpful features if you’re interested.
Do you find yourself writing the same phrases and emails over and over? That’s what the developers at Gmail Canned Responses asked too. And yes, we spend a lot of time saying the same things. Canned Responses allows you to save phrases, sentences or entire emails that you find yourself repeating often. Typing “TYVM”, for instance, could become “Thank you very much” or “TTYL” could become “Talk to you later”. You can imagine how much time this saves! Also, if you have a particular word that you misspell with frequency, set it as a canned response and you’ll catch it every time.
Entire emails responding to client leads, sharing pricing information, or confirming receipt of previous emails can all be automated so an email goes out with a few strokes of the finger.
Droplr is good if you do technical work online that requires documentation – like computer based tutorials, web design, or how-tos online. Essentially, it grabs screenshots and screencasts without any effort. I mainly use it for screencasts, when I want to record how to do something online, where to find something in the back end of someone’s website, for example, or how to do something on a social media profile, email account, or cloud. It’s free and very easy to use. They say a picture is worth a thousand words – the best value is the time saved on not writing them all out!
Certainly one of the most difficult parts of being a freelancer is learning to manage your time. Without a higher-up defining your priorities, tasks, and workflow, many freelancers struggle with organization and discipline. How do manage your tasks and make the most of your day? For me, it has been a struggle. Some days I’m hyper-focused and burn through tasks without hesitation. Other days, I stare at a blank computer screen and can’t seem to move forward. One thing I have discovered, however, is that the basic to-do list can do more harm than good, and if I feel like procrastinating, I can find a million small tasks to fill my time.
The good news is that there are productivity apps to help you stay on track. Here are some of my favorites.
Where does the time go? With Rescue Time you can set intentions and then monitor your web activity for the answer. By defining what is productive and what is distracting, Rescue time helps you to set boundaries and see where your lost time is spent. This is great for observing your own productivity in order to make better decisions and focus where your time is best spent.
This app is great for documenting hours worked on a particular project, whether it’s to show a client or for your own time/cost analysis. By logging into the website, you start a new project (or pick up where you left off). You define the client and nature of the product and the timer runs. You receive weekly info reports on your logged time and helpful statistics to asess projects, plan future prices, manage freelance employees, and better manage your time. You can easily make and export employee time reports and stats easily to share with clients.
There is a smart phone app for this, which is my go-to option – starting it easily every time I begin working on a project and then having a log of my time and how it was spent.
Linear thinking is for the birds. I need a to-do list with panache! Here’s how Trello describes itself: a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process. It’s pretty great.
So, imagine your to-do list morphed into a series of virtual corkboards with pending tasks pinned as cards to the project’s board. You can color code your cards, assign them to teammates, set deadlines, and share progress with clients. You can decide who sees which board and maintain some boards as private.