My Productivity Must-Haves
Today is Clean Up Your Virtual Desktop Day. We all need to keep a clean and organized desktop because it helps us stay as productive as possible. Earlier this year, I shared with you tips about working from home, and here we are, about eight months later, and many of us are still working from home exclusively. Staying organized is a vital part of staying productive and making working from home successful for so many of us. While I have been a full-time work from homer for a while, I wanted to help people who were being shoved into it come up with things to help make life a little easier during the transition. The transition was not the short period many of us were expecting.
You're probably an expert at working from home now. So I thought I'd share some of my must-haves with you when it comes to staying productive. Everything from apps to different things I keep within arms reach to make sure that I can stay fully focused when I'm working. Just as a little heads up, some of these may be affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase using that link, I could get a little bit of a kickback. It doesn't change the price you pay or impact you or your purchase in any way; it just helps your favorite social media manager make a little extra on the side. Anything below that is bold and underlined is a link to the product. :)
Let's start with the things you can download onto your computer to make your day move smoothly.
I don't know about you, but I try to keep track of several things throughout my day. Things that should be easy to remember, but when I'm busy, I often forget. Like taking my medication, making sure my priorities for the day are set, stretching, standing, and drinking water so I don't die or something. For this, I use HabitMinder. There is a free and paid version of this handy guy. I have the paid version and opted to pay $19.99 once and never have to worry about it again. My favorite thing about this is that I can set custom reminders that go off on ALL of my devices. Yes, it's on my iMac, MacBook Pro, iPhone, and Apple Watch - I need that much help making sure that I don't forget things that should be easy to remember. It's easy to click, it gives you a happy noise when you've completed a goal, and lets you look at overall stats of how often you're accomplishing all of your habits. I highly recommend finding a way to track your different habits. It takes 30 days to make it part of a regular routine. Don't wait. Start now.
One of the most important things for me is keeping my personal email accounts separate from my work email. This keeps me from getting distracted by a promotional email or something my Dad sent me during the day. Better than that, it helps me shut off my work life when I need to unplug. For this, I use Spark. It has a ton of features I love.
You can connect different apps to it to make adding information from your email easy. I have my Zoom account synced to it and used to have my Wunderlist synced to it (I still cry about Wunderlist - we'll talk about that later.) If your team uses Trello, Asana, Evernote, Todoist, GoToMeeting, or a variety of other apps, you're able to sync those as well.
You can delay sending an email, replying to an email, or forwarding an email. I work when I can't sleep, which is often. Sending an email at 2 AM may work for me, but most of my clients should be asleep, and sending them an email in the middle of the night seems rude to me, so I use the delay option a LOT. In addition to this, you can snooze emails. What's that? Oh, that's removing something from your inbox and returning it at a time that you've selected. So if there's an email that is staring you down, but you aren't ready to work on it yet, snooze it and focus later.
It syncs between devices. I have access to it on all of my computers, my iPad, and my iPhone. I can set the notifications up differently on each device so that my computers give me push notifications, but my iPhone gives me nothing. I try really hard to create separation in my life between work and personal. Working from home and in an industry that is 24/7 makes that challenging. So having my phone set up differently is imperative to me having some sort of balance in life, especially on weekends and days off.
You can set up quick replies, templates, and so much more to make your email function for you. If you have a team, you can manage your team straight from the app. I can't give insight into that as my "team" can't work on computers - lack of opposable thumbs and ya know being cats creates a problem there.
You either love or hate Slack based on my observation of the reactions I get from people when I talk about using it. I will say it upfront, I LOVE SLACK. We use Slack for FuseDSM to manage the digital marketing information between the staff and Marketing Team. The easiest way to explain why I love it is to explain how we use it for FuseDSM.
We can IM each other instead of having a long email chain. This can keep all of us in the loop without a missed email getting lost somewhere. It's also great when working on a project to quickly send something by IM, get instant feedback, and move on with what you're doing rather than waiting for everyone to reply by email. My favorite part of the IM function is that it also keeps me connected to people throughout the day. Working alone and from home, I have very little social interaction. Slack IM lets me chat about work or anything else with some of my team members.
We can provide updates and links quickly without more emails.
I use it as a checklist of sorts to manage our social media queue. Anyone else on our team can post something they need me to add to my list, and from there, I can get it taken care of.
Using the status setting available to us, we can let each other know if we are available to chat, answer a question, or anything else. This is extremely helpful because often, when using email, you just sit and wait until you get a response, not knowing if the person has seen it or is there to interact.
If you can't tell from the reasons mentioned above - it cuts down on email significantly. Before Slack, we would send a LOT of emails back and forth between the team; this makes it quicker, easier, and more user friendly.
As with Spark, you can connect several other apps to Slack, making your life work seamlessly.
A digital calendar is imperative. It can keep track of your Zoom, WebEx, or Google Hangout Meetings, with the information you need right at your fingertips. I use it to block schedule out my week as well. I am a fan of the native iCal app on my Apple Devices because I can easily access it on my phone, iPad, or any of my computers. I can quickly move things around, add meeting information or notes, and break things down into more specific tasks. I break down by things like client meetings, FuseDSM meetings, and personal events. It can be printed out at the beginning of a day or a week if I need to have it in paper form, and it can also be shared. My calendar is also synced with my Mom's devices. This allows her to see if I'm in a meeting or working on a project that she can interrupt easier.
I have written previously about how I keep a digital to-do list. My first love was Wunderlist; unfortunately, they were bought out by Microsoft, who harvested some of the better parts of Wunderlist to add into their own To Do app. I tried To Do for a while, and it was just okay but didn't ever win me over the way Wunderlist had.
Last week I decided it was time to look for something that I loved. Todoist has very quickly won me over. Not only can you make tasks recurring, but it also gives you so much freedom to organize projects and add notes and subtasks. It tracks your activity as you work within the project. I'm still in the early stages of Todoist, perhaps a to-do app honeymoon phase, but I am already a big fan. It doesn't give me an option of a pretty background picture like Wunderlist or To Do, but what it lacks in cute backgrounds, it makes up for in functionality. I have several things I try to do each day, habits that I work hard at for my health, mental wellness, and general organization. I can add these to appear every day, and once I've completed it for a day, it rolls over to the next. It gives me the ability to see what is coming up, and it color codes the way I do my paper planner.
PAPER, PENS, AND MORE
I may be a techie, but I still need physical items to help me stay on task and productive.
First things first, I need a paper planner. I know that all of the above apps that I list should mean I don't require a paper planner, but writing it down by hand helps me remember what I need to do. I have chronic migraines. Often the migraines and medications I have to take for them cause my memory to get a bit foggy. Writing things down, in addition to having them in a digital form, helps me commit the tasks to memory. I also love the creative element that paper planning provides. Whether it's color-coding my meetings and tasks or adding stickers to my day to brighten it up a little.
I have tried just about every paper planner possible. I've used Franklin Planners, Passion Planner, Day Designer, Happiness Planner, and so many others that I can't name them all. None of them really met my needs. I love being able to see my month-at-a-glance to plan out things like content calendar weeks, days off (yes, I sometimes take those), and office days. In addition to that, I also use it to track invoicing dates and when bills are due. Having a week-at-a-glance to know what days are stacked with meetings and what days provide a little more space for things like design, content creation, and other tasks. The real kicker is that I LOVE having a daily page. I need a place to put to-do lists, track everything from food to self-care activities, and take notes while still having a place to put my daily schedule. I have finally found #plannerpeace in my Amplify Planner. It is a quarterly planner with monthly, weekly, and daily page layouts in addition to a copious amount of notetaking space. I wasn't 100% sure I'd love a quarterly planner, but I LOVE A QUARTERLY PLANNER. It's more of an investment than a yearly planner, but it's 100% worth it because this planner meets my needs and doesn't require that I buy 2 or 3 planners throughout the year while trying to find what works best.
In addition to being a fantastic planner, the team at Amplify is incredible. It's a small business that prints and sources everything that goes into the planner in their local area, which is Colorado. They are open to ideas from their users and have made adjustments to the planner to meet people's needs. I'm in my 2nd quarter using this planner and have already purchased my Q1 2021 Planner. They have developed an online community of Amplify Planner users to share ideas, layouts, challenges, and thoughts about best using our planners. It's a fabulous community to be part of and run by the three incredibly responsive owners. Q4 2020 is only the second quarter that Amplify has been available to purchase; I'm glad I took the plunge when I did. Just because 2020 hasn't gone the way we all hoped it would at the beginning of the year doesn't mean we need to stop making goals and plans.
I am new to the disc bound notebook concept but already in love with it! I picked up my new TUL notebook a couple of weeks ago at Office Depot, and I am already so happy about the flexibility it offers. I can take notes on anything and punch them to add to my notebook. I can move the pages and dividers around to fit my needs. I have the option to pick between several different paper types - I am a graph paper fan, in case you were curious.
I grabbed this excellent TUL notebook; it is also a wireless phone charger, so it serves double duty. When my work life returns to a more normal pace, it will be nice to not only have a notebook that perfectly works for me but also my iPhone. I am notorious for grabbing whatever notebook I can find on the way out the door. Having a disc bound system means that whatever notebook I have notes on can be modified to fit into my TUL notebook. I'd been eyeing this particular notebook since Christmas last year, and I'm so glad I grabbed it on clearance. I've also grabbed a smaller notebook and don't see that being the last one I buy.
Pens + Highlighters
As I've mentioned a few times above, I color-code everything. My tasks, my planner, my calendar - if it can be color-coded in my life, it is. It is an easy, visual way to see how my day, week, or month is being spent. Am I spending significantly more time with one client? Am I forgetting to spend time working on my own work? Am I forgetting that self-care is as important as ever right now? Color-coding helps me do that so easily.
I do that with a few things - pens and highlighters. I love that Mildliner Highlighters offer me two sizes of highlighters within one highlighter. I also love how many color options are in this set of bullet journal pens. I do need to state that these pens are not my favorite pens. I love the Papermate InkJoy Gel Pens and the Papermate Flair Felt Pens for my regular writing; these are very specific for task coding or notetaking that is specific to a client.
Office supplies are my love language. Here are a few of the things that make my days as productive and comfortable as possible. This picture shows just how many things can end up on my desk during a busy work day.
As you've probably noticed, my life runs on Apple. Apple provides a great feature for me - that I can text message from my computer without moving to my phone. Often times, non-Apple devices don't come through on my iMac, which can be an inconvenience. This charger has helped me from missing text messages from non-Apple devices during a workday. This charger stand means my phone is always ready to go and within my line of sight for a critical text.
This is a super handy thing to have around. It has a place to plug in my memory card from my camera to upload photos. It also has extra USB ports and even a few more things I might need during the day. I'm no longer fumbling around with the ports on the back of my iMac (all of which are in use), and that I have easy access to everything.
BACK. UP. EVERYTHING. ALWAYS. If you don't have a portable hard drive to back up your computer, get one now. That way, if your computer crashes, you don't lose your work. I also back up nearly everything to my iCloud account. It's better to be extra careful than to start from scratch.
This is definitely not necessary for everyone, but it is for me. Photography is a form of self-care for me. It's also part of my job if I'm covering an event for a client. While I can often use my iPhone for live updates from events, I also bring my Canon DSLR camera to take photos. Having a charger on my desk that is easily accessible means that when I run out the door to either have an adventure with my camera or hit up an event, I always have batteries ready to go. I also have a charger that can be plugged into my car just to be safe.
Keyboard, Mouse, and Trackpad - If you are an Apple user, these are a must-have. I also LOVE that the newest iMac I purchased earlier this year came with versions charged by the same lightning cable that my iPhone and iPad do. This helps me from having dead batteries and not being able to use my computer. When I ordered my iMac, I was particular about needing all three of these items. I love my Trackpad and use it significantly more than I do a regular mouse, but some tasks are easier to do with a mouse. I don't know why, but the way my brain works, certain things use certain devices. I also wanted the keyboard with the number pad. Having worked in a bank before working for myself, I am a whiz on this. It was a weird want, but it was something I saw as necessary because it makes my work faster. It was worth the upgrade cost to have all of these items. If you aren't an Apple user, I highly suggest finding a Trackpad that will work with what you have; it makes multitasking so much easier.
I don't think I need to tell anyone why dual monitors are better than one. I use an old iMac as my second monitor. When doing bulk scheduling, design, and content planning, having two monitors to work from makes life so much easier. I recently also purchased a 24" TV (the 24" model is currently sold out due to Prime Day - this is the 34" version) to use with my laptop as an external monitor at my adjustable height desk. This helps on days when I am working from that desk so that my posture is better, and the screen I'm working off is bigger.
This seems really logical, right? You should have a good desk chair. You spend so much time working from your desk that if you're not sitting in something comfortable, it can cause more problems with your physical health than you realize. I was doing that up until recently. I have a nice chair at my adjustable height desk, but my main desk was lacking. I was using a hand-me-down desk chair that is at least 20 years old. I "had to" make a trip to Office Depot a couple of weeks ago, and they were having a sale on desk chairs, so I thought I would try some out. I sat down in this one, and there was no turning back, except I didn't like the color they had on the sales floor and didn't realize they had other options. I found the color I wanted online, ordered it for curbside pickup, put it together, and nearly cried at how comfortable it was. I'd have hip, back, and shoulder pain within half an hour of being at my desk with my previous chair. At the end of last week, my Mom commented that I hadn't once mentioned having pain since getting my new chair, and honestly, I haven't. It was well worth the investment in my physical health to get a better chair.
Amazon Alexa Devices
Yup, the Apple user, is about to tell you how much she loves Alexa. My house wouldn't function as sufficiently as it does without Alexa. We have at least one on every floor of our home. We use them as intercom systems, for music, as a kitchen timer, or to ask Alexa a random question. Last week, Apple announced that they will be releasing smaller, less expensive versions of their HomePod. I haven't done much research into it, but I won't likely be switching anytime soon. My brother has a HomePod in his house and they love it, but their home is also outfitted with Alexa enabled devices.
Setting up Alexa to make her as useful as possible for your home and work from home life is easy. Alexa notifies me of meetings, my phone calls ring through my Echo and announce the caller, and I can ask her what my day looks like to figure out what I have on my plate. She also ties in with my Todoist app and can add to lists I keep there so that she can help me out if I have something else going on. I know several friends with children who set up their kids' school schedules and chore lists on their Amazon devices. While they are working, the kids are still getting notified of a class or what they need to do next.
There are several Amazon Echo devices available. Whether you want an Echo Show with a screen so you can check who is at the door using your Ring doorbell or just a speaker is up to you. We have several Echo Dots and a larger Echo in our kitchen. We often listen to music, NPR, or podcasts while cooking and cleaning with Alexa's help. I have Alexa enabled light bulbs in my bedroom and basement that are programmed to turn out automatically in the mornings and help me get out of bed. Alexa is my personal assistant, my DJ, and the biggest helper through my day.
We all have different things that keep us productive, help us stay on task, and get through our workday. What are your must-haves to be the most productive version of yourself possible? I would LOVE to hear about them.
Peace, Love and Productivity!
PS - that cat is not George, I swear.