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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 really take 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.
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…
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.
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