At this point, you're web-sophisticated. You most likely engage some combination of online and desktop apps to Get Things Done, Get Real, strive toward a Four Day Work Week, or generally Life Hack. If you are prone to efficiency shortcuts, chances are fair to excellent that you're routinely looking for ways to improve the way you manage your business. But we all get attached to routinessometimes so much so that we miss the opportunity to streamline. If you run a small business in particular, you need to be a bit of everything. Being process-aerodynamic is crucial. The way to be a jack-of-all-trades is to have the right tools in place so you can spend more time on the things you're good at.
Here are five simple switches that allow you to shake your fusty old habits and start using the right tools:
You've read David Allen, but still aren't sure how to put his ideas into practice. Your desk and messenger bags are flooded with Moleskines, Post-It Notes, and everything-bucket apps with listsall intended to organize your worklife. Through the paper and digital of it all, you have a system. And it works (sort of). Sure, it's multi-faceted and tiered; it has icons and color-coding systems; and may involve secret handshakes. But after years of practice, your To-Do list gets done.
Add this to your list: consider Things. With both a desktop app and an iPhone/iPod Touch counterpart, Things is extraordinarily simple. It gets out of the way of the list on your mind, and lets you get your priorities down. Instead of complicating your goals with the bureaucracy of how the system works, it's nearly transparent while somehow being delightful to use. Since it syncs between desktop and handheld, you can be coordinated no matter where you are. And since you'll be getting things done, you'll look good too. It's just that simple.
See also: Remember the Milk
2. Streamline, straighten up, and travel
You've been booking your travel plans online for a decade, so you know how to triangulate an airfare, and eloquently talk your way up to first class. But when you show up at your destination for a key professional engagement, you still arrive with a slipshod, stapled pile of paperyour "itinerary."
These were the old days. As you book online now, just forward your travel confirmations for air, car, hotel, and more to a single email address. Tripit.com will organize your itinerary into Trips that you can view online or on your mobile device. And the inverse is true; stay put. When you add people you knowclients, colleagues, and potentialsyou can track when they'll be in your town, so you can make that presentation (or pitch) in person.
See also: Dopplr
3. Lose the attachments
You're proud. The well-considered document classification system you've refined over a period of years has held up well on your hard drive. And your system of emailing yourself documents every night to work on at home; then again from home to work has a soothing rhythm that signals the end and beginning of day.
To say Dropbox is an easy way to store and share your files online would simply be an understatement. There is no complex interface; it works with the native tree structure we're already familiar with. You put your files on one computer, then they're automatically available from any computer or mobile device. Not only are the files available, but previously deleted files are always available, so if you've changed your mind and want to get back that design comp that you really did think was excellent, now you can. You can still email yourself every night, but now you can just say hello.
See also: drop.io
4. Invoice more, work less
After a fairly intense day, just after you've sent off that last deliverable to your client, you sit down to create an invoicebeing the rigorous and responsible person you are. You open the InDesign template (coordinated with your letterhead and business cards, of course), complete it, and email it off.
While pretty, hand-crafted templates like these take time. Web-based systems such as Blinksale allow you to send elegantly designed invoices that you can customize with your own CSS. You can set up recurring invoices, and track who has and hasn't paidcritical in financial times like these.
See also: Ballpark, Harvest
5. Don't jump the tweet
You run a business, so of course you're tweeting about it as well. From Twitter.com, you may be posting daily news updates, upcoming events, anecdotes from employees, or event direct messaging with your customers. In fact, you may keep 3 or 4 Twitter accounts going, one for your business, one personal, and others that represent personas in your company. It gets tiring signing in and out of Twitter.com all day, but you've managed a multiple-browser strategy that seems to work, although you spend a lot of time wondering which account you're signed into.
Meet Tweetie. A Twitter app for your desktop and iPhone so well-considered, you'd think it was part of the Mac OS. Tweetie puts the conversations and personalities forward, letting the interface command a secondary structural transparency. Its chief role is to alert you to interaction. What's key to business owners is the multiple account feature. If you have multiple accounts, Tweetie brings a new grace and peace of mind. The world moves pretty fast, and Tweetie allows jumping between accounts without thinking too much. And that's critical when you have a job to do that isn't "learn how to use Twitter more efficiently."
See also: Co-Tweet