Three More Tools I Use to Maximise My Energy and Time + Choosing the Right Tools as A Creative Business Owner

Screenshot of Trello board with lists on desktop

I recently shared an article on the Five Tools I Use to Maximise My Energy and Time as a Creative Business Owner. There, I mentioned that:

“Having the right tools to help you do the jobs you need to do can make a huge difference to your enjoyment and fulfillment in your creative business.”

Here are three more tools that I rely on heavily in my daily work to bring me enjoyment and fulfilment, plus some helpful tips on choosing the right tools for you and your creative business.


Voice to text apps

One tool I use a lot is the voice to text function, particularly in my email and Google Drive. I’ve even started using it in Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

I’ve started using this because I discovered my work, and my comprehension of the work I’m doing, is often most effective when I explain it out loud. Ideally, I like to explain it to other people, but that’s not always possible – so explaining it to myself is the next best option.

It also saves me having to type out my thoughts; surprisingly this does take quite a long time, even for someone who’s spent five years doing big copywriting projects.

I’m prone to arm and shoulder pain if I use my phone too much (damn you Instagram!) so using voice to text in messaging also saves me that discomfort.

One benefit of the voice to text function is you can often be more natural in your writing and, at the same time, more concise. Both of these are great for clear communication.

This one tool has saved me a huge amount of time; I recommend you try it if you end up having to write lots of emails.

Screenshot of the voice to text function in Google Docs
Screenshot of the voice to text function in Google Docs

 


Journal and diary

I use a couple of non-digital tools as well as these online ones. These tools are important to me both professionally and on a more personal level.

On Instagram, I share pictures of my journal; I use this to have an overview of my week in one place. I try to make this overview as appealing to look at as possible, so I actually want to check in on my calendar. It also means I’d encouraged to look back on it, to see what I did, achieved and was grateful for.

As well as this journal I have a small diary which I use almost like a future planner – my journal is for the week ahead while the diary is for the whole year. It helps me to see, very quickly, whether I’m busy or not, what days I’m working and when I have availability to work with clients.

I do include some information about what I’m doing on the day in the diary, but really it’s an overview.

I find it a lot easier to check this overview on paper, and if someone wants to set a meeting or book me in for some work, I find I remember it more when I write it down.

This process of doing something on paper and then translating it into a digital form (like my Google Calendar) might seem like it’s not the best use of my time or energy; for me, it works well.

By writing it down, it means I’ve acknowledged and will remember I’ve committed to something. The digital version is then a helpful reminder for me and other people.

 


Trello

The final tool I use every day – and probably check something like every hour – is Trello. I’d originally tried to use Trello for some of my work with my students and a couple of client projects, but I never really got the hang of it.

However, this year I’ve got much more interested in it because of the way I’m planning my time. I use a particular system which I learnt in a program run by Jo Martin from One of Many. In this system, you allocate tasks and batch them together according to the type of energy they require.

For example, if you are at a time in your creative business where you need to have lots of meetings where you’ll be making decisions, you would match those meetings together; not because they’re meetings but because you are in a specific type of decision-making energy.

I’ve found Trello to be useful in helping me quickly code and allocate activities to different days depending on the energy they require.

If you haven’t used Trello before, it has a very similar feel to Pinterest. There are different boards which have different cards on them; a bit like Pinterest boards with different pins on them. Each card is a task and each board is a project. There’s another layer to Trello called lists, which are what the the cards fit into.

 

Screenshot of Trello board with lists on desktop
Screenshot of Trello board with lists on desktop, showing different days and tasks as ‘cards’

 

An example would be exhibiting at an upcoming craft fair. You might create a board for this craft fair (called ‘Craft Fair’) where all of the things you need to think about and the tasks you need to undertake would go.

You might have a list titled ‘Display inspiration’, and another called ‘Marketing’ (for thing you would do before and after the event. You may have another list called ‘Stock check’ and another called ‘Promotional materials’.

On each of these lists you would have a number of cards, each of which was a task you needed to do. So on the ‘Stock check’ list you might have cards saying:

  • Look through current catalogue
  • Count how many different products I have
  • Decide which new products I need to make

In your ‘Promotional materials’ list, you might have:

  • Take photographs for flyers
  • Write copy for flyers
  • Design flyers
  • Get flyers printed and delivered

 

Screenshot of a single list in the Trello mobile app
Screenshot of a single list in the Trello mobile app

 

Trello was originally developed as a tool to facilitate work between different people, but I’ve found using it independently to be really successful.

You can set deadlines for your tasks and tick them off as complete. You can also colour code them according to different activities; for example, you might have three different craft fairs you’re going to do in the next two months, so you could assign a different colour to each of those and to the different tasks.

 

Screenshot of single Trello card showing image attachments on desktop
Screenshot of single Trello card showing image attachments on desktop

 

The tasks themselves are also very rich in detail; you can add photographs, links, documents and comments – which is great for when you’re keeping an update of what you’re doing (essentially, talking to yourself!).

Most creative business owners have a huge number of things going on at one time. I’ve found Trello to be really useful in helping me plan my day, my week and even my months effectively by having a list of tasks to look at every day, so even when there’s lots going on I feel like I know what’s coming up next.

In particular, Trello’s flexibility is very appealing; if something doesn’t get done, I can quite literally move it to the next day.

 

Screenshot of single Trello card showing checklist attachment on desktop
Screenshot of single Trello card showing checklist attachment on desktop

 

I can also keep all of the little bits of information I need for a task in one place; for example, I recently visited a client and on the card for this task I included a link to their office on Google Maps, a screenshot of the walk I would need to do from the train station, and a screenshot of the train times – all in one tiny card! This saved me a lot of time because I wasn’t constantly opening apps or searching for the right information.

Although it can be tricky to get started with Trello, it’s one of my most-used tools, and one I’d highly recommend if you’re a creative business owner who likes things to be visual.

You can download and see Trello here: Android / iPhone / Web


Choosing your tools

Having a good set of tools to help you run your creative business can make things more enjoyable, maximise your energy and maximise your time. Everyone is different, so the tools that’ll work for you and your business may be very different to mine.

However, for a creative business owner, here are some of the things to look out for when you’re choosing the right tool to use.

The ability to set deadlines or time frames
This is helpful to keep you on track and make sure the things you want to get done do get done. Some tools have better deadline-setting options than others.

Colour coding or another type of categorisation
I find colour coding the most effective way to see categories quickly, and all of the tools I’ve mentioned have this functionality. If you’re a ‘visual’ person, this can make a huge difference in your use of a tool and how well it maximises your time.

Look for tools where colour coding is a normal and comprehensive function.

Flexibility
A tool should be flexible – which means you should be able to use it easily, change things easily, and not feel like it’s taking you more time to use than it is to do the things you want to do.

One of the problems I have with Outlook Calendar is it sometimes feels like it’s more time-consuming to use it with my colleagues at the university than simply emailing them to arrange a meeting time.

Flexibility is key, otherwise that tool will not be doing what it needs to do which is maximising your energy and time.

Content-rich
Most online tools now will allow you to add images, links, and more. If the tool has this functionality, use it; it helps you keep all the bits you need in one place, which ultimately saves you the energy of having to look for everything.

One of the most important things to remember when you start to use tools in your business to maximise your energy and time is to spend time setting them up properly.

If you use a tool incorrectly, it’ll end up costing you more in time and energy than it’s saving you.


What’s next?

The old adage is ‘the right tool for the right job’. That applies whether you’re trying to put a table together, or organise the next year of your creative business. Finding the right tool takes time, setting it up can take even more time, but this is time well spent.

Once they’re up and running, the right tools should help you, not hinder you. They should allow you to put your energy and your time in the place which is going to make the most impact for your creative business.

The tools I’ve mentioned all help me do this; what will you use?


Crystal Clear Brand - A Workbook for Creative Business Owners horizontal
The best tool for your creative business

In a few weeks I’m launching a do-it-yourself product on the best tool of all for maximising your time and energy in your creative business.

It’s a workbook guiding you through creating a crystal clear brand in an interactive, friendly and engaging way.

Your brand is the best tool for your business, because it helps you make decisions about everything from the products you make to the pictures you share on Pinterest, saving you time and energy.

If you’re interested in updates about the launch, sign up below.

To say thank you for signing up, once you’ve confirmed your email address you’ll get a free copy of my guide written specifically for creative business owners: How to Sell In Person Without Feeling Weird.


 

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If you feel like you're always trying to spin a hundred plates as a creative business owner, take a look at these three essential tools I use everyday - plus some advice on choosing the right tools for you to use.

The 5 Tools I Use to Maximise My Energy and Time as a Creative Business Owner

The 5 Tools I Use to Maximise My Time and Energy as a Creative Business Owner - logos of tools - Eleanor Snare

In my article today I wanted to share with you some of the tools I use regularly, often on a daily basis, to help me make the most of my energy and time when I’m running my creative business.

Having the right tools to help you do the jobs you need to do can make a huge difference to your enjoyment and fulfillment in your creative business.

I’ve used and tested these tools in running my business, including keeping track of my client work and the marketing activity I do, and they’ve helped me a lot.

Whatever your creative business, there’s definitely a case (and a space) for using them.

 


Google Calendar

I use Google Calendar and its full functionality to help me keep an accurate schedule and communicate what I’m doing to clients and family.

I have a specific public calendar which shows which days I’m available for work; I update this every day and I can send potential clients a link to this calendar on my website. All they need to do is check the calendar and see if my free time fits in with their project.

Another calendar is used to show my partner and family what I’m doing and when. So, if they ever need to check I’ll be home for dinner or free for a day out, they can do so without having to take too much time out of their day (or interrupt me in my work). And I also have a simple calendar which shows me the work activities I’m doing that day.

The monthly view on the Google Calendar app, showing my two different calendars.
The monthly view on the Google Calendar app, showing my two different calendars.

I really like Google Calendar because of the colour coding options, the reminder system and a whole host of other features which let you plug your schedule in and rely on it to do the complicated work for you.

It takes a bit of time to set it up properly, but once I’d done it I’ve found I save my time – and other people’s – from having the information in one place.

Google Calendar is much easier to use and more intuitive than any other calendar I’ve tried; if you’re not already using it to communicate with your clients, then – especially for service-led creative businesses – this could be a really good and completely free option.

Here are two separate calendars: the yellow is my public 'availability' calendar I share with my clients, and the grey/orange is my personal calendar I share with family.
Here are two separate calendars: the yellow is my public ‘availability’ calendar I share with my clients, and the grey/orange is my personal calendar I share with family.

 


Google Keep

Another Google tool I use is Google Keep; mainly as a phone app but also occasionally in my web browser. Google Keep is essentially a board of sticky notes, which you can colour-code, attach pictures to, include links and more.

The set up helps you keep on top of the myriad of little things you want to do, read, buy or see but perhaps right now you want to focus on something more important.

I use Google Keep to brain dump anything interesting I think about or find, when I find it. So on my phone, if I spot an interesting blog post I want to read later and not interrupt my current work, I’ll share it from my browser via Google Keep. This creates a sticky note in the app which I can go back to later and sift through.

You can also categorise your sticky notes; for example, I tend to keep a track of the money I’m spending each day in Google Keep and then formally add these to my expenses these at the end of the week.

It’s a really good alternative to constantly jotting down things to look at in my notebook, because it takes up less space and there’s more options for visual categorisation.

This can really help save time when it comes to engaging with the things you want to look at or read later on.

For me, it stops a five-minute distraction becoming a 55-minute one, saving me time and focusing my energy in the right place.

Screenshot of the Google Keep mobile app
What Google Keep looks like in the mobile app, including pure link notes, colour coding and links within notes.

 


Outlook Tasks

Because I work in two different capacities – one as a marketing consultant for creative businesses and one as a marketing tutor at university – I have to use different tools to fit in with the different organisations I work with.

This is especially true when I’m working directly with others who are used to doing everything via email, or a more traditional file-based system.

When I’m working at the university, one of the tools I rely on the most heavily is the task functionality in Outlook. I find this tool very useful, because I get a lot of emails and small tasks sent to me via email; for example, to dig out a document for someone or respond to a student email.

The task functionality in Outlook allows you to very quickly set an email as a task, including categorisation by colour and a specific deadline. This means instead of having a stuffed inbox which I have to sift and respond to, I have a task list of administrative activities each with a specific, simple deadline.

This saves me a lot of energy because I’m not having to make decisions every day about which tasks to complete, nor am I searching through my email for the right documents; it’s all joined up in the task functionality.

Your email provider might be able to do this for you; I also use Gmail and there are options for setting emails as tasks and ‘snoozing’ them for a certain time so you can respond to them when you have the right energy.

Screenshot showing Outlook tasks on desktop
Here’s what the Outlook task functionality looks like on my desktop at work; you can see how it divides up tasks according to deadline.

 


Tide

One app I really enjoy using is called Tide; I shared a picture of this on my Instagram stories recently.

Tide is a very simple, free app which helps you focus through playing ‘white noise’-style sounds. You can choose your sound style, including rain, a busy cafe, the ocean and rainforest. These sounds play for a specific amount of time; automatically the app sets a 25 minute period of focus, but you can change this (if you prefer or need something shorter or longer).

After 25 minutes, it pings to let you know to take a break. You can even set a specific length of break, and when it’s done it’ll automatically start playing again.

Screenshot of the Tide mobile app with the Forest sound selected
My favourite Tide sound selection: the rainforest. Click on ‘Start’ and the circle begins a countdown.

I found this app useful because I spend a lot of time on the computer, which isn’t always good for our health. Being able to focus intently for a short period of time – for example, when I’m writing up a workshop for a client – then be reminded to take a break where I can stretch or make a cup of tea is really useful.

Mentally, it also helps to know if you’re doing a particularly challenging task (like me sorting out my expenses), you just have to listen to the sounds: when the sounds stop, you stop.

It’s a good way to chunk out big projects that feel overwhelming too.

Screenshot of the settings in the Tide mobile app
Tide’s settings let you choose the length of focus time, break options and even ‘focus goals’.

 


Toggl

While I use Tide to focus for a specific amount of time, I use an app and website called Toggl to help me track the amount of time I’m spending on business activities.

In Toggl, you can set up projects and record how much time you’re spending on different tasks and different projects. If, for example, your creative business involves commissions, this could be a great way to track how much time you’re spending on each of your clients.

It could even be as simple as helping you price your products accurately by understanding how long they realltake to make.

It’s very simple to use; you click the ‘play’ button and it’ll start to time you. When you’re finished, you click the ‘stop’ button and it will have recorded the amount of time you’ve taken on the task.

Screenshot of Toggl showing the main timer summary
The summary page from the Toggl app; the colour coding applies to different projects. On the right are the times taken on a task.

A great feature is the weekly or monthly reports you can access which show you, in one glance, how much time you’re spending on different activities.

By understanding where I’m spending my time, I can make the most of it in the future, and Toggl saves me energy as I’m not worrying about how much I am over- or under-quoting on client work.

This app is very useful if you have lots of different projects going on in your creative business (which I know you do) or if you want to do an audit of how much time you think you might be spending on tasks. Like scrolling through cake recipes on Pinterest.

That there’s an app as well as a website is ideal, because you can time activities which are more ‘portable’ such as meetings, networking or a photography shoot.

The key is to remember to press play and stop; my sister used a similar app to time her walk to work and it thought she’d spent 12 hours getting there…

Screenshot of Toggl weekly report on desktop
An example of the weekly report you can see on the desktop version of Toggl. You can see daily activity as well as activities broken down by project or client.

 


What’s next?

Everyone’s creative business will be different, so the tools that are right for you might not work well for the next business owner. But if the tools I’ve tried, tested and recommend sound useful, here are the links to download them.

Google Calendar: Google Play / iPhone / Web

Google Keep: Google Play / iPhone / Web

Outlook : Google Play / iPhone / Web

Tide: Google Play / iPhone

Toggl: Google Play / iPhone / Web


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Plus more ideas on how to run and market your creative business enjoyably, just for subscribers.

 

The 5 Tools I Use to Maximise My Time and Energy as a Creative Business Owner - Eleanor Snare - Keeping on top of all the tasks in your creative business is tough. These are the five tools I've tried, tested and use every day to help me manage my work and enjoy what I do.


 

Rethinking Your 2016 Goals: How to Make them More Enjoyable

Rethink Your 2016 Goals - Pinterest 4 - Eleanor Snare

A month into 2016, do you still care about your goals as much as you did on January 1st?

Research conducted by the University of Scranton showed that of all the people in the US who regularly make resolutions only 8% of them manage to fulfil them.

I get that; last year I made five big yearly goals based around my freelance work and lecturing. By the end of the year, I’d only truly fulfilled one of them.

It wasn’t because I hadn’t tried. It was because I hadn’t set the goals in the right way.

But I only understood that at the end of the year, when it came to setting goals for 2016. The rest of the year I’d been tough on myself for not hitting those goals, even though I’d been doing loads of other stuff I really loved.

Reconsidering how and why I set goals before writing down my aims for 2016 meant I’ve been able to make goals which are not only achievable, but actually enjoyable too.

Here I’ll share with you what I’ve learnt from experience and reading so you can reclaim some of the same passion for your goals and enjoy fulfilling them throughout the year.

Find areas of focus, rather than SMART goals

Rethink Your 2016 Goals - Twitter 2.a - Eleanor Snare

All of my goals last year used the SMART method, which people generally think is a good way of making goals and helping you achieve them. The SMART method means your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

The problem is, life isn’t SMART. Lots of types of goals aren’t SMART. You can use SMART steps to achieve a goal (more on that later) but often our big goals aren’t going to fit neatly into these boxes.

I found that when I articulated my goals in SMART ways, I ended up doing the bare minimum to fulfil the terms of my goal’s ‘contract’. I didn’t really enjoy it either, as it felt like I was just ticking a box.

As an example, here’s one of my goals from 2015:

By the end of the year I will have written at least two blog posts a month from March to December on fashion, communication or sustainable business.

This felt like a huge chore. When I couldn’t write two posts a month I felt awful about it and when I did write two I wasn’t that excited because it was just part of my ‘to do’ list.

For 2016, I skipped the SMART description and looked at bigger areas of focus. Articulating my goals around these areas has made them much more enjoyable and – so far – immensely achievable.

The difference between the two is the scope of what your goal encompasses and the phrasing you use. Last year it was about “at least two blog posts a month”. This year, my goal is to:

Create meaningful content and an engaged audience on my website

By giving my goal a focus area I have the freedom to try a range of things to achieve it, rather than tie myself down to a specific output. And I’m focusing less on getting it done and more about whether I’m enjoying what I’m doing.

These sort of goals are about quality, not quantity – for what you’re achieving and the process of doing it.

 

Choose the right language to phrase your goals

Rethink Your 2016 Goals - Twitter 4 - Eleanor Snare

As a writer I’m obsessive over which words to use and when – but in writing my goals for 2015 I now realise I didn’t consider language, and the impact it would have on my goal-getting process, as closely as I should have done.

Last year, the key verbs in my goals were things like “written”, “lectured” and “organised”; all accurate but pretty dull words. The language wasn’t inspirational or enjoyable, and so my goals weren’t either.

For 2016, I described my focus area goals much more carefully. The key verbs are “enjoy”, “reflect”, “develop”, “strengthen” and “create”; a set of inspiring words that also encourage direct action.

There are more words about what I’m gaining from the goals, like “experience” and “knowledge”, and more value-driven words (like “meaningful”).

Choosing the right language for your goals is very important to help you enjoy and achieve what you set out to do. You’ll remember your goals more easily, and you’ll be more interested in working on them if you feel enthused each time you read them.

 

Make goals across all areas of your life and give them equal priority

Rethink Your 2016 Goals - Twitter 5 - Eleanor Snare

Often we set goals in work and education, as part of professional development, but very rarely do we set goals in every area of our life – including family, relationships, health or wellbeing.

Last year all my goals were about work and lecturing, and it meant that I missed out on friendship and personal growth. Reflecting on this, I decided two of my focus area goals in 2016 would be:

Develop my spiritual understanding and knowledge

Strengthen my family relationships and friendships

I chose these goals because they’re two areas I tend to neglect. I enjoy spending time by myself with my head stuck in something fascinating. Yet doing this too much means when I need to tap into that inner strength or external social circle, it’s not there.

These goals aren’t SMART and they’ve got nothing to do with work, but they will have a huge impact on my ability to achieve my other, professionally-focused goals and on my overall quality of life.

Setting focus area goals across all parts of your life, and giving them equal priority, is an important way to gain balance, replenish your energy and enjoy the complete goal-getting process.

 

Give yourself a head start with simple tasks

Rethink Your 2016 Goals - Twitter 6 - Eleanor Snare

Setting goals using the SMART method can be limiting, but breaking down goals into simple, SMART-style tasks can be incredibly useful; the same University of Scranton research I mentioned at the start also found people who planned steps to achieving their goals were 10 times more likely to succeed.

I used this method last year, where I broke down each of my SMART-articulated goals into SMART tasks. Because the goals were a like a tick-list to start with, I found that I wasn’t excited by completing the tasks – I was a bit bored.

I also forgot to make all of my tasks completely SMART. More like SMAR.

I missed out the ‘time bound’ aspect because it can be hard to judge when you’ll be able to do something, or how long it might take. Because none of the tasks had time limits, I felt no urgency to do them while at the same time freaking out that I needed to do them now.

While I was achieving things by ticking tasks off, I never felt like I was achieving them.

From this experience, once I’d set my focus area goals for 2016 I created a series of simple SMART tasks which focused closely on the T and were designed to give me a head start on achieving my goal.

I set three SMART tasks for something which I could do…

  • That day
  • That week
  • That month
  • That quarter
  • That year

…which would help me achieve my goal.

I found this process really helpful: I was brainstorming ways to fulfil my goals which I could use later on in the year, plus that day I did three things to help me get a head start on each of my big goals!

Taking a focus area goal and breaking into simple, SMART tasks is a useful way to get a head start on goals which can feel particularly nebulous in January – like setting small milestones for the rest of the year.

 

Reflect on your goals every day

Rethink Your 2016 Goals - Twitter 7 - Eleanor Snare

When we’re setting goals for work or education, they tend to be quite far apart; three months is maybe the minimum gap for a PDP meeting. That means we return to our goals to reflect on them only four times in a year.

In 2015, I was reflecting in a similar pattern on my goals. I returned to them to reflect when there was a big change, or I had a spare half day.

Because they were so specific, so tick-listy and a little bit boring, I didn’t want to reflect on them too closely, so I often skipped it completely.

The result was that I didn’t really experience any joy in working on my goals, or any pride when I had hit small targets. It was only at the end of the year, when I was considering goals for 2016, that I finally saw what I had achieved and fully reflected on what I had been doing.

This year, my aim is to reflect on my goals – along with all elements of my life – on a daily basis through reflective writing. Plus, my focus area goals and simple SMART tasks are in a document I look at least three times a week.

By doing this, I’m regularly thinking about what I’m enjoying, what’s not working and what small milestones I’m passing, making the whole process of achieving the goal much more pleasurable.

Summary

My goals for 2015 were exactly what I needed that year to help me manage my work.

But what I learnt from them has helped me to create goals for 2016 which I actually want to achieve – and I feel like I am achieving them in a small way each day.

Here are the five ways to do the same:

  1. Switch to focus area goals
  2. Use inspirational, value-driven language
  3. Make equal-priority goals across each part of your life
  4. Get a head start with simple SMART tasks
  5. Reflect on your goals every day

To help you rethink your 2016 goals, I’ve created a free workbook to print out and fill in. It takes you step-by-step through each of the things I’ve learnt, plus gives you plenty of inspiration for setting goals.

Get the workbook on reconsidering your 2016 goals and making them more enjoyable right here.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear about your goals for this year and your progress – let me know in the comments or drop me a line: eleanorsnare@gmail.com.