By Donovan Bankhead
Do you find yourself saying, “I have too many things to do to worry about being productive”? The good news is managing your time is easier than you think. A few simple online tools will help you stay on track, even with a sea of responsibilities. Specifically, my favorite tools are Gmail, Boomerang, Google Calendar, and Google Drive (formerly Google Docs). These will change your day-today operations and impact your bottom line.
Much of what I will say here may apply to other email systems, but in my opinion, Gmail’s tools make everything so much easier. The first rule of thumb is that we must reduce the amount of email in our primary inbox. Many people have hundreds or even thousands of emails in their inboxes. This creates clutter and distraction, and too many opportunities for things to be lost in the pile. I would recommend you Google the topic “inbox zero” and study this concept. In a nutshell, you create labels or folders to help sort your mail. Then, using Gmail’s built-in filters, you can have new incoming email automatically sorted into these folders. That way, when you get that promotional email from your favourite shoe store or your sister emails you her favorite cat pictures, it doesn’t clutter your primary inbox, which should be your place for important items that require immediate attention only. If you have hundreds or more emails in your inbox, another idea is to create an email “DMZ” folder. This is basically another inbox. (I call mine “!nbox,” so it shows at the top of my folder list.) By moving all inbox emails to this folder, I get the benefits of a fresh start with all new incoming emails.
This simple browser add-on for Gmail is my secret weapon and has drastically improved my ability to follow through. Essentially, it lets you schedule messages to pop back into your inbox at some predetermined time or date. This is great for messages that you need to act on at some point in the future but not right now. It also lets you schedule these “boomerangs” for messages you are sending. You can even select to have messages only return to your inbox if they didn’t receive a reply. Boomerang can also be used to schedule messages that you compose now but want sent at some future time. You can even make these messages recur – great for those birthday greetings or staff meeting reminders. For more info on Boomerang for Gmail, go to Boomeranggmail.com. The company has a video effectively demonstrating these features.
I like to create multiple calendars based on various aspects of my work life and business life. I have personal calendars, a calendar for my kids’ activities, a calendar for my wife’s activities, a private work calendar, and multiple calendars for various aspects of our business – one for office personnel, one for sales and promotions, one for floor staff, and so on. The beauty of Google Calendars is you can see multiple calendars in a single screen. When I have a time-sensitive, important, or recurring task, I schedule it on the appropriate calendar. (If it’s a recurring task, I set the recurrence schedule when creating the event.) I then select the option to have the Calendar email me at a custom time period before the event.
Google Drive is a great tool for sharing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and other files among your team. You can adjust the privacy tools as needed. It can be set so that only you can view it, or you can make documents accessible to certain people or everyone on staff. More than anything else, it will literally help keep you and your people on the same page. Using these tools has helped me increase my productivity while restoring what’s left of my sanity. I hope they do the same for you.
Wave is a Toronto-based company that makes cloud-based, integrated software and tools specifically for small businesses of nine employees or fewer. Wave’s tools include invoicing, accounting, payroll, payments, and personal finance software. The applications can be connected with bank accounts, PayPal, or other sources of data to minimize manual data entry. They can also generate business reports like balance sheets, sales tax reports, and others. All applications are available online and are free, regardless of how much they are used or for how long.
Dropbox is a file hosting service that offers cloud storage, file synchronization, and file sharing. Businesses can install Dropbox on multiple computers and devices, allowing employees to easily and quickly share documents amongst each other or between home and office computers. There is a free version, but more advanced versions of Dropbox, which contain more storage space, run on a monthly subscription basis.
MyFax is a cloud-based Internet fax service that allows users to send and receive faxes through email. It can integrate with Microsoft Office, Outlook, QuickBooks, Google Drive, and other common programs used by businesses. Users pick out a fax number so those sending a fax to the user don’t notice any difference between sending a fax via MyFax or to a traditional fax machine. MyFax operates on a monthly subscription basis with the price point determined by the number faxes that can be sent and received per month.
Shoeboxed describes itself as an online filing cabinet for all documents, including receipts, business cards, and bills. Users send Shoeboxed their paper clutter – either through Shoeboxed’s pre-paid envelopes, the online and desktop uploaders, email, or mobile app – and the service turns it into organized, understandable, and easily accessible online documents. Each user has an online account for all of his or her information and documents and all user data is secured using SSL encryption and backed up on multiple servers, according to the company. There is a minimal free version of the service, with upgraded versions operating on a monthly subscription basis.
OpenOffice is essentially a free version of Microsoft Office, which includes features very similar to Microsoft Office’s standard applications of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and others. OpenOffice includes a word processor (Writer), spreadsheet (Calc), presentation application (Impress), drawing application (Draw), formula editor (Math), and database management application (Base). It works on the OS X, Windows, and Linux operating systems and allows users to create and save documents that are compatible with Microsoft Office applications.
Donovan Bankhead is the VP at Springfield Music, located in Springfield, MO. Over the last 10 years he has developed Springfield Music into a chain of full-line music stores located in Springfield, Joplin, Kansas City, and St. Louis that are now among the Top 100 music stores in the U.S. In addition to the music business, he is also a husband, father of two, and a bass g uitar and trumpet player.