Choose the Right Tools
There are a huge range of options when it comes to running your business and your life. This ranges from electronic software and apps through to paper diaries, planners and whiteboards. How effective these tools are for you is dependent on the way you like to work and the outcome you wish to achieve, so it’s worthwhile taking the time to ensure you’ve chosen the right ones.
Use the following as a way to start assessing each of the items below:
Does it help you manage appointments and schedule tasks effectively?
As you know there are two types of calendar (or diaries) to choose from – electronic or paper based (and for some people a mix of both may be the better option). Some advantages of electronic calendars are being able to schedule reminders prior to the meeting and allowing others (to whom you grant permission) to view your calendar remotely so they are aware of your schedule and availability. If you’re using a number of devices then you may also be able to sync information between them. However, if you prefer to see on paper what’s happening every day (and there isn’t a reason to allow others access to your diary or have it synced across multiple devices) then a paper diary may actually suit you better. Or it may make sense to use a combination of both. For example, I use my electronic calendar for appointments and recurring tasks (e.g.: monthly accounts, blog writing and reminders for followup calls) and I use a large desk planner to plot out my week every Sunday (in terms of what I will be working on each day). Personally I like to visualise the week ahead and if I need to take the planner with me I simply take a photo on my mobile phone. Regardless of which format is used if it helps you manage appointments and schedule work tasks effectively then keep using it!
To Do List
Does it help you stay on top of small items as they come up (such as completing an outstanding task or following up someone)?
Most of us have a pad or a diary on which we scribble down items as they come up during the day (so that we don’t forget to follow them up) and there’s something immensely satisfying about crossing off items as they’re completed. However there can be a couple of issues which arise with a paper based to do list. For example, if you scribble down items on any piece of paper that’s handy they can become easy to misplace and you can lose valuable time looking for them as well as the cost of the missed task (if you can’t find them). A simple solution is to keep them all in the same location or use the one notepad but it may also be worthwhile considering some other options. Some options for managing this differently (especially if you have a long and ongoing to do list) is to record your list electronically so that you can simply edit the items as you work through them (although I agree it’s not as satisfying as crossing them off!) or consider using a scheduling app or software. Understandably for some people writing a fresh to do list at the end of each day (even if it takes a couple of minutes) can help them get clear about the tasks ahead so it may make sense to continue doing it. However, even if you do prefer a written to do list, consider circling or highlighting items for the next day instead of rewriting them and save it to the end of each week to write a fresh to do list. Even a couple of minutes a day can quickly add up and remember your life is for living, not managing your to do list.
Does it help keep you on track towards your goals?
Everyone needs a business plan to plot out what they want to achieve and how they’re going to get there. However, to be really effective it needs to be an active document that you are checking in with regularly (otherwise it will just gather dust on a shelf or sit idle in a file on your computer). Whether you have a detailed business plan or a simple one pager, make sure you place it in a prominent position so that you can refer to it regularly. A one pager can easily be pinned up in your work area, on your fridge or located on the desktop of your computer. Or if you have a much more detailed business plan then summarise the key goals (or break it down into smaller goal stages) so that you can display it somewhere you will see every day (e.g.: on a whiteboard). Viewing your business goals on a daily basis helps you stay focused on them and provides the positive energy to keep you moving forward (especially as you start to progress towards them).
Does it help keep projects and other items on track?
Whiteboards are particularly useful when you have a number of projects or clients to manage and you wish to see at a glance where they are up to (especially if you like the physical nature of a whiteboard). If you work with a team of people then it can also keep this information central in your office and make it easy for everyone to update it. Planning or project software is another option for managing tasks and communicating with those involved (especially if your team works outside of an office environment). Or you may like the simplicity of a spreadsheet on which to plot out a schedule of tasks (which could be stored in a central electronic location for everyone to access). For single business operators a large desk planner may help you achieve the same thing. Again it doesn’t matter what you choose as long as it helps you progress towards completing your tasks and achieving your goals. If you can see clearly where you’re heading then it’s more likely you will get there and you will also feel more in control.
Does it suit the purpose you are using it for and can you rely on it?
The range of mobiles, tablets, desktops, laptops, printers, photocopiers, scanners etc is endless, which can sometimes make it a little confusing knowing what to choose. Your business will likely require particular hardware and technology that narrows these choices but make sure you also take into consideration how you like to work and what the most effective options are (in addition to technical requirements and cost effectiveness). Some of us like to work in different locations to stay inspired and find it hard to sit still in an office (in which case mobile devices and laptops are likely a good choice). For others the tradition of a desktop computer in one location (where everything is easily accessible in surrounding cupboards) makes more sense. When you are comfortable with the tools you are using then you are more likely to be productive, so choose those that suit your work preferences and which you personally enjoy using. Equally your equipment should be reliable. A laptop which needs constant recharging or a scanner that transmits blurry images isn’t going to help you do your job effectively and can also reflect negatively on your professional image with clients. And I’m sure you are also well aware of the cost to your business when your equipment isn’t working. Spend some time researching the options for your business and invest in equipment that will support your business operations effectively and save you time and cost in the future.
Technology (e.g.: software, apps, accounting programs, etc)
Does it help you run your business as effectively as possible?
Somewhat similar to the above, technology can make things harder or easier depending on what you choose. For example, an accounting program that is difficult to use, time consuming to maintain and challenging when you need to produce a particular report is not serving it’s purpose effectively (as well as taking you away from your income generating activities). Again it’s worthwhile spending the time researching what’s available, before you implement any new technology or revise an existing one. Aim to implement technology which will streamline your processes and/or automate some aspects of your service as this will free up time for you to spend on further income generating activities or enjoy some personal time. Online forums or reviews are good places to find out how different software programs are working for others or speak to other people in your industry to discover what they find useful. And be sure to trial anything new before you implement it so that you can see how it works on a practical level in your business. What sounds good on paper doesn’t always translate into the real world and what works well in one business may not work in another (even if they are similar businesses in similar industries).
The Ultimate Test of any Tool
The ultimate test of any tool is whether it helps you do things as efficiently and effectively as possible. It should help you deliver your service and/or product effectively, create a professional image of your business with clients and free up your time to focus on further income generating activities or some valuable time for yourself. Make sure you use this criteria to measure the suitability of any tool in your business rather than adopting tools based on what you think you should have or what others advise you to have.
It can be tempting to adopt something new because it’s the latest thing and everyone else is using it or adopt tools that other people advise you to have. And although it makes good sense to always consider your options and experiment with new tools, only you can decide if they are a fit for you and your business. If you decide not to use them as a result then you won’t be missing out or somehow less effective as a business. In fact it shows you are thinking strategically about the choices you are making. Additionally if any of your existing tools are no longer working for you, don’t feel the need to keep them simply because they worked well in the past. Tools are only as good as the outcome they are producing and once they stop being effective don’t hesitate to make a change.