February 2015 Reading

If you’re new to this blog, I do a monthly post with a recap of books I’ve read in the previous month. Today’s post covers the books I read in February 2015. Along with the recap, I also give away a copy of my favorite business book each month, so get on my email list for a chance to win.

1. What’s Best Next

Get What’s Best Next on Amazon.

What’s Best Next, by authors Matthew Aaron Perman and John Piper, takes standard Getting Things Done philosophy and applies Christian faith principles. My biggest complaint about the book is that it’s very repetitious.

The first 55% of the book consists of the authors basically trying to convince you that Christians should be concerned with productivity. I’m a Christian and I don’t disagree with the overall premise, but it shouldn’t require more than half of a book to make that argument. Nor does it need to be restated it in 9,200 ways (yes, I made up that number) to convince a reader the argument is valid.

Then you get to the approximately 25% of the book that’s really great.

Starting in Chapter 13, Perman finally starts breaking some ground new to me as he talks about identifying your roles in life. Your role list would be something like:

  • Individual (encompasses all the things pertaining to you)
  • Family (wife, kids, parents…)
  • Church (church, small group…)
  • Social (friends, neighbours…)
  • Professional (programming, design, blogging…)

Those cover the primary areas of responsibility in your life, so as new things come along you see which role they fit into.

The main reason you should be looking at your roles is to keep them in balance. Now of course sometimes you’ll be working more and spending less time with your family. But by identifying your ‘Family’ role as the most important, you can keep your life in check over the longer term.

Perman suggests keeping your list of roles and their priority in the same place you keep your review tools for your weekly review. That way you are continually reminded of your roles and what you really value.

After discussing roles, the book addresses setting up your week (which I think is super important) and creating routines. Routines are important to reduce your cognitive load and make planning easy.

Overall there are some great tips in this book for anyone looking to be more productive. If you’re not a Christian and tend to be put off by scripture citations, skip to Chapter 13 where the book covers roles.

If you’re a Christian then start from the beginning, but expect the same message to be repeated over and over and over from slightly different angles.

2. 20 Things I Learned as an Entrepreneur

Get 20 Things I Learned as an Entrepreneur on Amazon.

This is a super short book of 20 chapters in about 20 pages (plus front and back matter of course). Each chapter is a short thought on what it means to be an entrepreneur.

There are lots of great takeaways in this short book and it starts right out of the gate with what could be the foundational thought for your whole life:

…did you do what you said you would do? And if you didn’t, were you accountable?

Yup it starts off by talking about being a person of your word. Do what you say you will do, and don’t let the little things, like sending an email a day late, make working with you something negative.

There are a number of other great points in this book so yes, I think you should read it. Now if I had paid full price for the print version, I probably wouldn’t have been happy, but it was free via Kindle. However, even at $5-$10, I would still consider it a good value.

3. Taliesin

Get Taliesin on Amazon.

I first read this book in my early teens and it’s always had a place in my library. This is probably the 10th time I’ve read it.

Taliesin is the father of the famed Merlin so this is the beginning of Stephen R. Lawhead’s Arthur cycle.

The story begins with Atlantis and Charis (Merlin’s mother), and walk through the fall of Atlantis where Charis and a few thousand people escape the destruction.

The Atlantis timeline is interspersed with stories of Britain and Elphin (Taliesin’s father) as he prepares for the ‘dark time’.

The book ends with the birth of Merlin and a surprise death, which I’ll leave as a surprise so I don’t spoil the book.

I obviously love it since I’ve read it 10 times, so yes I recommend it if you like the genre.

4. Master the Essentials of Conversion Optimization

Get Master the Essentials of Conversion Optimization on Amazon.

If you’re looking to get into conversion optimization this is a great initial read. When you’re done you’ll have a list of the next resources you should be reading along with a specific process to begin your conversion optimization.

This is a no-nonsense guide that tosses aside your ‘hunches’ in favour of testing and proving your theories. When your tests turn out ‘bad’ as many will just revisit the hypothesis and run another test.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in working on conversions for their site.

5. Leviathan Wakes (Expanse Book 1)

Get Leviathan Wakes on Amazon.

This book is billed as a space opera. I’ll trust that is true, although I didn’t hear any singing and I don’t know exactly what a ‘space opera’ is supposed to be.

Whatever it is, it’s a good book. Another one I just didn’t want to put down — at all, at any point.

Humans have colonized Mars, as well as a bunch of asteroids in the solar system. Now there is division between the inner planets (Mars and Earth) and the ‘belt’ (the asteroids and such). Someone finds an alien molecule, thaws it, then unleashes it on humans on one of the bigger asteroids, simply to see what it does.

Mayhem ensues as ships explode and huge rocks narrowly miss being pushed into the sun.

Overall, if you like science fiction, this is a great read. I’ll be getting the next book in the series.

That’s it for February. Stay tuned for the March reading list, and if you have your own recommendations, by all means post them in the comments.

What hardware runs my business?

A while ago I wrote about all my software tools but I didn’t really cover hardware at all. Well, enough people asked, so that’s the topic of today’s post.

Here is a list of my crucial hardware tools that help me do my job.

13” MacBook Air

This is easily the best computer I’ve ever had for 90% of my use. As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane and have 9 hours of battery left. I could write until I went cross-eyed and still have battery power remaining.

Oh, did I mention I’m also running a virtual server at the same time? Yup, and still over 9 hours of battery — and I’ve already written 2,000 words.

Even better is if I shut off the VM the time on the battery jumps to 11 hours. This computer is small and easy to lug around, but fast enough to handle my regular work.

The only time I find myself wishing for more speed is when I’m rendering videos out of Screenflow for clients. I’d love it to be faster, but it’s not, so I generally just set it up to render in the evenings when I’m reading so the speed isn’t an issue.

Kinesis Freestyle

I did a big review on this a few years back and it still stands. I have the V2 of the keyboard which is really just thinner and has USB 2.0 ports.

I wish they were 3.0 ports, although if they were, I’d have to find another 3.0 port on my hub to use them and right now they’re just plugged into my Dell 24” monitor.

This is the best keyboard I’ve ever owned, hands down. Everything else I’ve tried has continually come up short and had me ending up with sore wrists.

Dell Ultrasharp

I’ve had a 24” Dell UltraSharp for 3 years now and it’s a great monitor. It’s big but not crazy expensive like the comparable Apple monitor was at the time. It’s got crisp text and a number of USB 2.0 ports built in.

For the price I don’t think that there are currently better monitors than the Dell UltraSharp series.

I also have a random 22” LG monitor. I got this as an upgrade from some CRT beast so when I got it the upgrade was huge. Now it’s just a monitor that works. I’ve had it for 6 years with no issues. When I look at replacing it I’ll be thinking about another bigger UltraSharp or maybe even dive into an Apple 27” monitor.

Both of these monitors are mounted to an Ergotron DS100 stand which I purchased at the same time as the Dell monitor. While I’m using the 2 horizontal monitor configuration you can get it in many other configurations for even more screen real estate.

Wait, you say. I just told you that I have a 13” Air and 2 external non-Thunderbolt monitors. What is this magic I use?

I use a Pluggable USB 3.0 to HDMI/DVI video card to get that 3rd monitor. I use it with my 22” LG monitor and it’s plenty fast.

My only complaints are that the driver supplied breaks copy protection rules so I can’t play iTunes videos on my external monitors at the office, and that when I restart my computer the arrangement of the monitors isn’t correct so I have to open my settings to change it back.

Those are both minor annoyances compared to the space I gain with 3 screens.

Bose Speakers

My office speakers are a set of Bose Companion 2’s that I’ve had for years. They aren’t the loudest speakers on the market but I’m in an office and heavy bass or a lot of volume would bother my office mates anyway.

When I worked at home full-time it would simply wake up the kids napping. So, I don’t need loud speakers.

What I love about these is that they are some of the crispest sounding speakers you can get for the price. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that the audio elite out there don’t love everything they do, but I’m very happy with them.

One note is that Bose has an updated version called the Bose Companion 2 Series III so if you’re in the market for a set of speakers, take a look at the update instead of the older style I have. The reviews say the new ones have better bass than the set I own.

Headphones

My current daily driver headphones at the office are SteelSeries Siberia Elites. I have a pair of SteelSeries H but they’ve had serious connection issues and I’m working to return them. The Steelseries H is actually far lighter and more comfortable than the Elites.

In fact the current Elites don’t actually work fully with Yosemite. Sure, you can hear stuff but the mic doesn’t work, which leaves me with my podcasting mic instead of the really long cable I love which allows me to walk around while talking.

So really I have the Elites and they are comfortable but not as light as the Steelseries H, which don’t totally work. I’m not very happy with SteelSeries products so far. Maybe when I get the Steelseries H back on warranty they’ll turn out to be awesome. I certainly hope so.

Roost

I backed the Roost when it was a Kickstarter project and I’m happy I did. For a while I carried the Roost to the coffee shop along with a wireless keyboard and trackpad.

Then I moved to the 13” Air as my main computer and left my Roost on my desk to hold the Air alongside my external monitors.

That is where it sits daily still. Right beside my 24” Dell with 2 cables attached to it. One for power and one for my Thunderbolt dock.

Thunderbolt Dock

One of the most awesome things about a laptop with Thunderbolt is that you only need to plug in 2 cables to get a desktop setup going.

First is the power cable so that the laptop actually stays powered on.

Second is the Thunderbolt cable, which for me ends at a Startech Thunderbolt dock. That means when I get to my office and plug in the Thunderbolt cable it hooks up my monitor, external hard drive USB hubs, and headphones for me.

Sure I’ve still got a bit of a rat’s nest of cables but I never have to see it on my desk because I only have 2 cables on my actual desk. The rest go from the dock under my desk and emerge behind my monitors where I don’t have to look at them.

Desk

No fancy desk here, I simply got a top from Ikea and put some legs on it. My sole evaluation criteria was that it was wide enough to fit my laptop and 2 monitors yet small enough for the office I have.

The coolest thing I’ve done with it is mount the power bar and all the cables under the desk so there is no nest of cables hanging down.

The cable management is courtesy of Ikea and some basic power strips. Pretty much all my power strips have screw holes. The ‘tough’ part was actually figuring out where they are for mounting purposes — unless you have my magic secret tool…paper.

Simply take a sheet of paper, lay it on the back of the power strip and poke 2 holes where the screw holes are. Then draw a line on all 4 sides so you know the approximate size of the power strip. Put the paper on the desk and put the screws in the 2 holes you poked. Tear the paper off and put the power bar on.

Done — and it only took you 5 minutes and you feel like a superhero. When you tell your friends at the pub they’ll also buy you beer as they bask in your awesomeness.

Or something like that.

My next upgrade is going to be a set of Jarvis legs to have a sit/stand desk, when they become available on Amazon again.

Chair

I have a chair it holds my butt so it doesn’t hit my floor.

It’s reasonably comfortable and has mesh.

Can you guess it’s nothing fancy?

Yup, no fancy something that is piggybacking off the popularity of an Aeron chair with its mesh and slick design.

I’d love an Aeron but if I get a sit/stand desk that may be less of a concern.

Moleskine/Notebook

Yup I have a Moleskine that I carry with me everywhere. As I write this it’s nothing fancy at all, just a standard Moleskine in the regular size. Pocket always feels too small for my writing.

I’ve looked at WhiteLines, Baron Fig, Rhodia and Lettchurm notebooks as well but most of them are pretty expensive to get in Canada. I have a Lettchurm Medium Ruled on order to ship to the US and it cost me $30 USD when I count in shipping.

If it’s that much better then I’m in for purchasing more but it had better be really, really awesome.

I frequently use my Moleskine when I’m reading with my iPad. Sure, I could pull out my laptop and write notes about what I’m reading but then I’m juggling things in my lap and that’s lame. So if I’m reading and get inspiration for a new blog post, I pull out my notebook and start writing.

I read 99% of the time on my iPad in the Kindle app so all my highlights and notes in a book stay in the Kindle app which I pull in to Evernote later using this method.

Bags

I’ve got a few bags. My day-to-day carry is a Mission Workshop Messenger. It’s waterproof, easy to carry while riding and has crazy amounts of storage space.

For travel I use a Kata 476i which holds my camera, my laptop, my iPad and all my clothes for a 4 – 6 day trip. It also still fits under the seat of an airplane so I don’t even have to fish anything out of an overhead compartment.

So that’s it — that’s all the crucial gear I use regularly to get my work done. Anything you’re using that’s awesome that I’ve missed?

photo credit: rogersview cc

CoSchedule Your Editorial Calendar

A while ago I wrote about how I use Coschedule, Revive Old Post, and Buffer to help me tell people about what I write. At the time I didn’t think that any of the tools necessarily justified a separate dedicated post.

However, given some of the new features that have been added to CoSchedule, I think that it’s worth diving into CoSchedule in more detail now, and this is that post.

Why CoSchedule and not….

The truth is, there are a few other editorial options for WordPress. For a long time I used the Editorial Calendar plugin. It’s got solid developers and generally worked well but lacked the collaborative features found in CoSchedule.

Another option is Edit Flow which was an awesome plugin. So awesome, in fact, they looked at bringing it into core WordPress for a while. That push for core also apparently led to the death of the plugin, which languished in development. At one point, while I was using the plugin it created so many errors in my WordPress admin that it slowed to a crawl.

Not something I want in a web application like WordPress, at all. So I dropped Edit Flow.

But I still missed the editorial commenting and assigning features of Edit Flow.

So CoSchedule

The main features that drew me to CoSchedule were:

  1. Collaborative editing with comments
  2. Tasks
  3. Social media sharing

Let’s take a closer look at those features today.

Working with my Editor

I’m going to stop here and tell you my editor is great. Her name is Diane and if you’re looking for an editor for a book or your site, just let me know and I’ll connect you with her.

And after that intermission…

As I wrapped up 2014, I’d made the decision to refine my content and make it the best it could be. While I had someone who checked my spelling, I didn’t have a ‘proper’ editor — someone with plenty of experience who specializes in editing.

So I went and found one. However, that posed the issue of how to work with the editor, assigning tasks to her for specific posts. How do we track if it’s been done?

What about tracking my own tasks on the posts, such as getting an image and setting up social media sharing?

CoSchedule solved those issues. The application has task templates which let you create a series of tasks for a post, set due dates and even assign the tasks to other people.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 8.52.05 AM

I have 3 basic task templates. The first one is used for most posts, assigning me the task to get a featured image and schedule my social updates, and assigning my editor the task of editing the post.

The second template is for my Tuesday posts which includes the additional tasks of cropping an image for email and writing the extra content for my email newsletter. I put those 2 pieces in Todoist so that my assistant handles the task of scheduling the email in MailChimp.

The third task template is for my Friday video posts. Those tasks include uploading the video to YouTube, embedding it on the post and writing the point form content along with any links. This template also includes scheduling the social media updates.

Task templates are a crucial part of any system. Without them you’re likely to forget one of the 5 tasks that need to get done, and really, why would you not use a template for recurring tasks that involve 5 – 10 clicks, where the parameters are always the same? Why would you go to the work of setting those up separately each time?

You wouldn’t, because that would be silly repeated work and you’re not silly.

Social Sharing

The day I wrote my last review, CoSchedule came out with a new feature which they call Social Queue. Previously I just had it in my head that I created 3 tweets on the day I sent out a post.

Then I’d send it to Buffer 1 week after, 1 month after, 60, 90, and 120 days after.

The problem was that sometimes I’d forget. Did I just do the 60- or 90-day share? I typically write 3 weeks out (with added time for advanced scheduling in CoSchedule), so the dates the visible dates in CoSchedule were not fine-grained enough to let me see that far out.

Don’t have to do that anymore. The new Social Queue shows you how many days after the post the message is scheduled for. Better yet it even suggests how often to share the post, with the defaults set to:

  • Day of the post
  • Day after the post
  • Week after the post
  • Month after the post

To that I add my standard 60, 90, 120 days after each post. After the first day I send everything directly to Buffer to help spread out the content I share.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 8.52.58 AM

Calendar View

I have to admit that I prefer a calendar view for my posts. I even wrote a plugin that puts your blog posts on your desktop calendar.

The list view in WordPress is great for bulk editing but I’ve always found it hard to mentally transfer the dates displayed in the WordPress admin into real days on a calendar in order to quickly see how much content I had currently planned.

That preference for a calendar view is why I tried out so many of the other WordPress plugins. And having experimented with so many, I was primed for all the other features that CoSchedule offers as well.

Awesome Blog

In addition to the great tools, one other big selling point for CoSchedule their awesome blog and newsletter, focused on how to write compelling content.

If you’re publishing content and want it to get some traction then you should subscribe to the blog and sign up for their email list.

A few things though…

Now let me mention a few areas where CoSchedule is lacking, or at least not providing the support to their paying members I think they should.

CoSchedule has this great headline tool that’s freely available to anyone, which I have no problem with. What annoys me a bit is that it’s not built into their application back end. So instead of being able to work with headlines as I schedule the material for my blog I have to go to the headline tool on the web to access it.

I mentioned this to the CoSchedule team when the headline tool came out and was told it was coming to the application back end, but it’s not there yet and I think it should be.

CoSchedule is all about streamlining the management and creation of your content. Having to go outside the application to access the headline tool is not a streamlined process.

I’ve also encountered bugs with what seems like regularity. Most recently, posts were not saved as drafts or scheduled properly. They were dated to 1969 and published right away (because any date in 1969 is prior to today). That left some of my content that I was writing 3 weeks ahead with spurious headlines on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook that prompted people to ask me what was going on.

Now you, my dear readers, are reasonable people and no one I know of was angry (and seriously, if you were go find another blog to read you obviously have too much free time), but it’s less than the ideal experience I want for my readers.

Wrap-up

So that’s it for my review of CoSchedule. I like the tool a lot. It helps streamline my content management with my editor and keeps tasks out of Todoist that just don’t need to be there.

I’d highly recommend you give it a try in your workflow.

Yes, by using the CoSchedule links here I do get some support in a cost reduction for my usage of the service so you’re helping support the site. If you use it make sure you look at the review policy as well and if it suits your audience you can get 50% off. I know I’m going to see if this review qualifies.

photo credit: pedrovezini cc

December 2014 Reading

I was able to spend time with a few good books this past December, so in this post I’m sharing some of my favorite recent reads. Perhaps you’ll be moved to add a few of these to your reading list for 2015.

1. Kesrith by C. J. Cherryh

Get Kesrith on Amazon

Kesrith  is the first book in C. J. Cherryh’s trilogy about 3 species figuring out how to work together.

The three species are: 1) the Regul, who are short, squat and not very mobile; 2) Humans (you know what we look like); and 3) the Mri, who are a bit taller and more slender than Humans.

In this story, the Regul employ Mri as mercenaries against Humans since Regul don’t fight. As the humans are about to land on Kesrith the Regul try to kill off all the Mri to please the humans that they are now in a treaty with. A treaty which violates the treaty with the Mri and Regul because the Regul are supposed to keep a planet where only Regul and Mri touch foot.

Just to keep things interesting, of course 2 Mri survive, along with a single Human who was captured before the genocide. This thrusting the three of them into a tough circumstance where they each come away changed.

In the end, the Mri are captured by Humans…and we don’t really know what’s going to happen to them next.

2. The Good Creative by Paul Jarvis

Get The Good Creative on Amazon

This is a great and fast read by Paul Jarvis with 18 (plus a bonus 19th) tips on being a creative.

Some people may not consider themselves creatives. If that’s you, take a look at this excerpt from Paul’s introduction and reconsider whether you may actually be a creative.

You’re a creative if you: Make anything, anything at all. Transform your ideas into something tangible. Curate or edit. Lead or teach. Put what you know out into the world for others to watch, taste, read or hear. It’s a wide net right? – The Good Creative

I agree and do indeed believe developers like me are creatives.

So while this book is firmly targeted to more conventional artists, the book includes a healthy dose of awesome advice for anyone running a business, or working as a developer, or…living on Earth.

So that’s everyone.

I’d recommend this book as a very quotable short book with lots of great philosophical takeaways for your business.

3. Everything I Know by Paul Jarvis

Get Everything I Know on Amazon

This is my second Paul Jarvis book of the month, but he actually wrote this one before The Good Creative, and after the book I read in November titled Be Awesome at Online Business.

Everything I Know most closely resembles the content of The Good Creative, and to me seems like the real first stab that Paul took at the content.

It’s not a bad read really, just very similar to his previous work, and less coherent. This book does still contain some great takeaways and awesome quotes, though, so you might find some value in it.

My favourite quote is:

Everyone I know who’s good at what they do isn’t good because they have magic fairy dust or shoot unicorns out their ass.

Do I recommend this book? Sort of. I’d recommend you read The Good Creative first, and if you want a bit more of the same content and enjoy Paul’s writing style, then rest assured you’ll enjoy this as well.

Just don’t expect it to offer a lot of new material or concepts, or cover a bunch of additional ground.

4. Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Get Zero to One on Amazon

I listened to the audio version of this book via Audible, and my first editorial comment about this book is that the narrator could use some lessons on making content exciting.

Overall I found the message of the book interesting enough that I will be purchasing the Kindle version so I can dig deeper into the material and take notes/highlight.

One part of the book I really enjoyed was the author’s examination of how we love to hate monopoly businesses, and how we can go about creating them. Or at least how we can have our best shot at creating one.

5. Good to Great by Jim Collins

Get Good to Great on Amazon

Good to Great was my second Audible book of the month, and the best book I read in December.

I give away a copy of the best book I read every month via my email list, so subscribe if you want a chance to win a copy.

Good to Great is all about how mediocre (“good”), or even terrible companies, turned themselves around and transformed into companies with lasting success (15 years or more).

This book is full of great takeaways for entrepreneurs of any level.

I wrote a longer review of the book if you want to dig deeper, but I think it’s absolutely worth your time.

6. 48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller

Get 48 Days to the Work You Love on Amazon

Looking for a new job, or need a resume? This book contains practical direction for navigating today’s job market, but is about much more than job searching.

More than just a reference on how to get a job, this book walks you through some great exercises on finding your own purpose. Should you be working for someone else, or would self-employment be a better fit for you? Maybe you need to change fields because you’d be happier in a different field, based on your gifts and the way you’re wired.

My only caveat is that the author is a Christian, so the book does contain scripture references, and references to the belief that Christians are called to use their gifts. If you would potentially find the Christian references a turn-off, then this may not be the book for you. But it is not implicitly a Christian book, and does contain a lot of useful, practical advice.

I’m not aware of a better book for a job hunt.

7. Shon’jir by C. J. Cherryh

Get Shon’jir on Amazon

Shon’jir is the second book in C. J. Cherryh’s Faded Sun trilogy (Kesrith the first).

This book follows our Mri captives out of captivity, traveling on a ship with the only Human they feel they can trust. The Human has turned the ship over to the Mri (because Mri die as captives as a matter of choice), and makes the decision to become a Mri.

The ship passes over 120 dead worlds on the journey to the original Mri homeworld, which is something of a concern to the Humans and Regul who are following the same star charts to see where the Mri are headed.

To me, the most intriguing part of this story was watching the Mri bend just a bit to accommodate a Human, but the Human bend to the point of breaking to become a Mri. The struggle is full of food for thought.

8. The Front Nine by Mike Vardy

Get The Front Nine on Amazon

Written by Mike Vardy of ProductivityistThe Front Nine is a guide on getting projects out the door and starting a ‘new year’ any time you want.

I’ve written a longer review already, so here, I’ll just say that Vardy made a lot of great points in this book, but the book seemed a little heavy on the golf analogy for business. I sometimes felt like the content was more about the golf than helping me be better at business.

Those are my reads for December 2014. I hope you found something that interests you. If you read a great book in December, feel free to share it in the comments.

Review: Good to Great

This is the second book by Jim Collins, Built to Last being the first. In Built to Last, Jim wrote about entrepreneurs who started businesses and managed to build big, profitable organizations from nothing.

Yet, Jim learned that while the stories in Built to Last were interesting, some people who read his book didn’t really want to hear about companies that grew into being great after being born. These readers really wanted to hear about companies that had been good but were able to break through and become great.

Get Good to Great on Amazon

That question spawned Good to Great which looks at how average, or below average, companies turned themselves around to become something that grew many times faster than the stock market.

Don’t forget to sign up for my email list to have a chance to win my monthly book giveaway.

Collins and his research team established very specific criteria for defining greatness. For example, a company needed to show 15+ years of turnaround after 15 years of mediocrity. The purpose of this time frame was to account for any temporary effect that one charismatic CEO could have on an organization.

Out of their sample size of 500 companies (SMP 500) they got only a few companies that met their criteria and Good to Great is about a scientific study (as scientific as management studies can be) of the commonalities in those organizations.

There are a few big takeaways that I’d like to highlight.

1. Problems are my fault, success is yours

During the course of their study, Jim and his team developed the concept of what they termed a Level 5 leader, and the big thing that stuck out to me was how a Level 5 leader deals with problems — and successes — in their organization.

When confronted with a failure, a Level 5 leader quickly owned up to it and took responsibility for it. They reviewed any and all decisions that led to the failure and determined how to make sure the mistake was never repeated.

This wasn’t a blame and shame session; it was simply an objective analysis of the decision.

Now when it came to success, these leaders were quick to attribute those to external factors like their team, or luck, as the reason for their success.

Level 5 leaders were humble when it came to success and felt that 90% of the time it was the smart people around them that really deserved the credit.

2. Right people first

Piggy backing off that concept was the fact that the first thing great CEO’s did was get the right people on the bus. They didn’t decide where the bus was going (as in what the strategy for the business was) but they surrounded themselves with smart people who were the right fit for their organization.

Only once they had the right people, with a solid work ethic, did they pick a direction. Then the whole team buckled down and kept pushing in one way until they broke through and became an ‘overnight success’. Typically that overnight success was 5 to 10 years in the making.

That’s 5 to 10 years of sticking with their Hedgehog.

3. Hedgehog

Okay, now I just told you about the Hedgehog concept, which is another major takeaway.

During their study, Jim and his team developed what they call the Hedgehog Concept. (I urge you to read the book for the full story.) Leaders of good companies were much like foxes — cunning and wily, but lacking in clarity and focus. The great leaders, on the other hand, were more like hedgehogs — focused, and able to take a complex world and simplify it.

The Hedgehog concept has 3 key pieces:

  1. What can you be the best at in the world?
  2. What drives your economic engine?
  3. What are you deeply passionate about?

Build your business around those 3 things, remain focused on them, pushing and pushing, and you’ll achieve breakthrough.

Recommendation?

Yes, I wholeheartedly recommend this book for any entrepreneur. It’s entirely worth your time to read through it. I’m getting a physical copy to read (I listened to it on Audible the first time) so I can work through the material in more depth.

photo credit: fallentomato cc

Tools: A Bit of Everything

This is my final post on the subject of the tools I use, and this one will be a bit of a grab bag. I’ve either written about these at length fairly recently or they just didn’t warrant a big long post because they were fairly straightforward. So today I’ll hit the highlights so you can see everything in one place.

If you missed the rest of the posts in this series (and any future items I add to the series) take a look at the sidebar to see all the posts in the series.

Evernote

I’ve mentioned in a few of my recent tool reviews that Evernote is the place where I store all my client files. I don’t even keep them on a hard drive anymore in files and folders unless a client shares a Dropbox folder with me.

I just put them in Evernote.

One piece I do need to add is a proper Evernote backup. The whole Evernote database is backed up daily with my SuperDuper clone at the office, on weekends at the house, and in BackBlaze.

These backup systems would restore my entire Evernote database if I lost the whole thing, but it wouldn’t restore a random note I deleted by accident. Evernote Premium and Business customers do have a fairly robust trash to dig notes out of, but I’d still like a backup plan that I had more control over, not requiring me to rely on Evernote. What if Evernote central has an issue and I lose data?

To that end I’m looking at services like cloudHQ to sync my notes into my Dropbox account.

If you’ve got a good Evernote backup solution, please comment and let me know what it is.

I wrote a fairly long review of Evernote recently if you want to dive deeper.

Fluid

Dealing with a web application and wish it was more like a native application? Here is where I use Fluid.

Fluid is a custom web browser for your application. It allows you to take your favorite (most used) web apps and effectively turn them into desktop apps.

Setting up a site in Fluid is very simple. Open Fluid, plug in the web address you want to become the application. Name the application and choose the icon you want it to have.

Create a Fluid App

With that done, click ‘Create’ and Fluid will create a brand new Mac application and put it in your applications folder.

I used this with Redbooth, FreeAgent, Bitbucket, Trello, and now 17hats. Fluid is a pretty simple tool that simply allows me to launch the ‘application’ from the keyboard instead of launching a browser and then flipping through tabs to find the one I want.

I’ve always found using ⌘-TAB easier to remember than flipping tabs. Having the sites open in other tabs means I accidently ⌘-TAB to trying at get to the one I want, then realize my error and go back to the browser to find the tab I wanted.

Calendly

One of the biggest ways you can waste time is booking appointments. A typical scenario is that you email someone various times you’re available, but when none of them work, more back-and-forth is required to settle on a time that works for both of you.

A more efficient approach is to use Calendly (or some other service) and let your clients book their own time. I simply set up the times I’m available and when a client wants to book a meeting I send them the link to my calendar and they can book it.

I can even add required form fields so they can only book the time if they provide me with their Skype information or a good phone number, so I don’t have to chase it down later.

Google Contact Sync and Contact Cleaner

I store contacts in 2 different places. The first is iCloud, which syncs the contacts to all my Apple devices.

For a long time, my biggest problem with that was I used the Google Apps web interface for email, which meant my iCloud contacts wouldn’t show up in my Google Apps address book unless I added them to the Google address book and the Contacts on my Mac.

I’ve tried a bunch of web-based solutions or Mac applications that claim to sync your iCloud and Gmail contacts but none of them ever really worked — until I found Contacts Sync for Google Gmail (boy what a mouthful of a name).

To use this, simply download it from the Mac App Store and give it your Google account password. Now it’s going to run a little app in your menu bar, and a few times a day it’s going to sync your two address books.

The second contact-related tool I use is Contacts Cleaner. This little app scans your contacts and finds duplicates, bad phone numbers and many other things.

Before you use it make sure that you export your contacts and save the export somewhere just in case you remove contacts you actually need later.

I run this monthly to clean up any things that have crept in. My biggest issue is how it looks at Skype contacts. I always make them a ‘custom’ phone number but Contacts Cleaner doesn’t see an actual number there so it flags the information.

What I didn’t cover

You’ll note a bunch of things that I haven’t covered in my tools series, like all the development tools I use. That’s intentional for now, since this site is focused on writing about business. For that reason, I didn’t feel they fit here.

However, for any of you developers that read, here is a quick list of the development tools I use, with links so you can explore them further if you’d like.

That’s it for my tools for now.

Are there any great tools I missed? Anyone using a great CRM that I should look at?

photo credit: ntr23 cc

CoSchedule, Revive Old Post, and Buffer: My Social Content Tools

I believe we all know the power of sharing when it comes to building an online audience. But now that I’m posting here regularly, sharing this content could be a really big job; something I’d have to give my attention to a few times a day.

However, while I do want to share my content and build my audience, most of my attention needs to go to serving my clients and running my business. Manually sharing content would take time away from other things I feel are more pressing. Yet it IS important for me to lead the way in spreading my message, because if I don’t tell people about it, then few others will do that for me.

So today I want to tell you about two tools that are helping me manage my social content.

CoSchedule

CoSchedule is an app that lets you manage multiple social tasks from one place. While one key feature for me in CoSchedule is its ability to schedule the social media posts for my content, it’s by no means the feature I use the most.

Any post that you see on this site starts in CoSchedule. I push the post as a scheduled post to WordPress and within about 2 seconds I’ll see it in the CoSchedule interface on the calendar.

Then I can assign some tasks to the post, such as adding an image or link before publishing. Even better, I can save task templates, which allows me to add 3 or 4 tasks with only a few clicks.

Task templates in CoSchedule

My standard tasks for a post are:

  • Edit post (and I assign this to my excellent editor)
  • Get featured image
  • Schedule social media posts

Once the post is written and these tasks are assigned in CoSchedule, I leave the post until the Friday before it’s scheduled to be published. Every Friday I go over the posts for the next week, read them over, get the image I need, then schedule the social media posts for the content.

I typically schedule 3 different posts to Twitter on the day each piece of content releases, and then add it to Buffer 1 week after it’s published — 1 month, 60 days, 90 days, 120 days. Here’s an example of what my scheduled social media posts look like within CoSchedule.

Scheduled social sharing in CoSchedule

Then I just let CoSchedule handle the sharing for me.

Finding Old Content

But CoSchedule does more than that when it comes to sharing your content, it helps you find popular old content and schedule social media posts for that content.

Notice I said popular, not valuable. The sorting tools provided by CoSchedule are purely built around what articles were shared the most on social media already.

From the CoSchedule interface you click the little pencil in the top corner and then can choose which type of content you’re going to add. When you choose social media you’re presented with the dialogue below.

CoSchedule social sharing
CoSchedule social sharing

Here you can sort your posts in multiple ways to find content that you should share. The little number and ‘graph’ on the bottom corner of each post is how many times it was shared on social media. If you look at the image above you’ll note that my post on Evernote is there so it must have been shared lots right?

Sure it was, by me as I was advertising a contest I was running. I’d guess that 80% of that sharing is entirely a result of me and while I think the post is valuable I’m not convinced that it should really show up where it is solely based on my sharing it.

You can limit your filtering by time (This Year, Last Year, This Month, Last Month) to see which posts were popular. It also provides a filter for posts but the only options are Top Posts, My Posts, and a generic filter for everything.

I could see just wanting to see my posts on o multi-author blog, but I’d still want to see which ones are popular and you can’t do that.

Once you’ve got your post picked you can choose the day you want to share it or you can send it to Buffer on a specific day. You can also choose which profiles you want to send content to.

I currently only have my Twitter profile and my Linkedin profile setup. I don’t really use Facebook and the only thing you can share to on Google+ from CoSchedule is a page, which I don’t have.

I use the sharing tools here sometimes. I used them for the last 2 weeks of December because I wanted the vanity metric of December 2014 being higher traffic than December 2013. I got it, but it didn’t actually translate in to more customers (a few email sign ups) which is why I call it a vanity metric.

One thing this doesn’t do is schedule old content automatically like Revive Old Post does.

It’s awesome but…

In spite of all the awesomeness that CoSchedule provides, there are a few drawbacks.

First, I’ve reported bugs in the UI and function of the app on what seems like a weekly schedule. The most often repeated bug is tasks not actually resolving after I’ve checked them off. They look resolved but when I come back later they are still incomplete.

Now CoSchedule support has been super fast to fix anything I’ve mentioned (typically within 24 hours) but it would be great to see improvement in the stability of their application.

A second annoyance is always signing into the CoSchedule calendar in my WordPress install. It’s great to have the calendar right there for easy viewing when I’m in WordPress already, but since it’s embedded in my WordPress blog, 1Password doesn’t recognize and auto-fills the password.

One would think that if I’m signed into the CoSchedule app in the same browser, the calendar in WordPress would just let me see it without prompting me to sign in again.

One would be wrong though.

Overall, I really like CoSchedule and it works very well with my editor. I’m quite happy paying for the service and they have one of the best newsletters for content creators. I can spend 20 minutes on Friday to schedule the social posts for all my content for a whole week, and that’s a way better use of my time than manually remembering to tweet posts the day they come out.

Revive Old Post

As I mentioned above CoSchedule doesn’t have a way to automatically share old content for me. There is lots of high value content on this site that for one reason or another simply didn’t resonate the day I really pushed it on social media.

That means they’re never going to show up in the CoSchedule filtering fields unless I drill down through 200+ posts in 2014.

This is where Revive Old Post comes in, it automatically looks through your old content and shares the content. I’ve had lots of traffic from posts automatically shared.

I set mine to 1 Tweet every 29 hours, so you really shouldn’t see it much.

One problem is that sometimes it tweets things that it probably shouldn’t like recently when I tweeted a ‘launch’ of a product that happened in August 2013.

At one point you could exclude specific posts from this WordPress plugin but you can’t anymore. My only option is to create a category that all ‘launch’ posts would go in to and then they’d simply be excluded from the plugin.

I may do that, or I may explore other options we’ll see.

One note is that some people really dislike this plugin. I have a few friends that mute the whole thing so they never see any Tweets from it. They figure they’ve already seen all the ‘great’ content out there and saved it.

As a blog owner I’m going to disagree. I see signups to my email list once a week that are tracked back to this plugin. As a Twitter user I’m going to say maybe. Seeing accounts that only ever tweet content sucks.

I try not to be that way because I genuinely like interaction on Twitter, but I’m sure sometimes I fail at that.

Buffer

My third social media tool is Buffer. I started using Buffer when I had some ‘complaints’ from people who follow me. I had a habit of reading through much of my Instapaper queue in one sitting, so within a few hours I would share a whole lot of links in short order.

I kind of agree, that’s a bit spammy, so I started to send all those awesome links to Buffer, which let me take care of my tasks in one session, but still be considerate of my followers.

One of the added benefits of that is I can use utm_* parameters to show that I was the source of traffic to someone’s site.

That feels like a bit of vanity for sure, but I’ve made 2 good contacts on other blogs I like because they noticed me sharing their links and directing traffic to them.

As much as I dislike spammy marketing stuff, I do want my content to reach as far as possible and I want to grow my influence and readership. Marketing tools help me strike a good balance between promoting my content but still devoting my attention to my clients and my business.

That’s it for my social tools, really. Buffer and CoSchedule and Revive Old Post help me limit my time on social sites but still share the content I think is worthwhile.

photo credit: 50997200@N07 cc

Keeping Me Together: A Zapier Review

As a small business owner, you wear a lot of hats and keep a lot of plates spinning. As you add more plates and your to-do list gets longer, you start looking for solutions to save time and/or work more efficiently.

For many, the solution is one of two options: hire more people or automate processes. Either option saves you time and frees you up focus on the things that really make you money.

I do have help with some parts of my business, but I also try to automate as many processes as I can. Today I want to tell you about Zapier, which is my automation tool of choice.

Organizing receipts

More than anything, I use Zapier to help me keep track of receipts that I need for taxes. By keeping track, I mean Zapier automates my process of passing these receipts along to my bookkeeper.

My process begins with Scanner Pro for iPhone. Scanner Pro allows me to take a picture of a receipt which then gets sent to Evernote and saved directly into my Receipts notebook.

Here is where Zapier steps in. It takes any new note I file in the Receipts notebook in Evernote, and pushes it to Todoist (Redbooth in 2014) where it is then stored in a special project for my taxes.

When she need receipts, my bookkeeper will go into Todoist, find any new receipts and enter them into the Numbers spreadsheet. If she has any questions she can ping me in Todoist and I can answer those directly through Todoist (no extra emails or phone calls required).

Ninety-nine percent of the time, the only work I have to do in managing receipts is to take the image with my iPhone.

Archive my site

Often, when I write I remember I’ve already written about the same (or similar) topic. So I find myself searching for previous articles or posts so I can get a link to the earlier post, or be sure I’m not repeating myself. The problem is sometimes finding the content I’m looking for.

Zapier is a real time saver here as well. It can be hooked up to an RSS feed so that any new post published on my site gets pushed into Evernote.

This lets Evernote’s Context feature surface articles as I finish prepping them for posting on the site. It also means I can search within my Evernote notebook for this site and get a better search result than I get from Google.

Automate my mastermind videos

Every week I meet with an awesome mastermind group and I record the call so that anyone who misses will be able to view the video later.

At one point my process was to render the video (which often took at least 2 hours), upload it to Vimeo then manually copy/paste the URL into the P2 we run the mastermind site on.

This process had a few breakdowns:

  1. I had to remember to render the video.
  2. Once rendered, I had to remember to upload it.
  3. Once uploaded, I had to remember to copy/paste the URL.

That’s 3 separate opportunities for me to forget to do things, which is at least 2 places too many.

With Zapier to help, I now have Vimeo set up to pull in any video it finds in a custom Dropbox folder. Then from Vimeo, Zapier kicks in and pushes the URL to the mastermind site.

So my 3-step process is now down to one step, which is to start rendering the video into the proper Dropbox folder. After that, the rest of the process is automated, and I know each week’s video will be handled in a consistent manner.

What don’t YOU need to do?

So here’s my question to you: What are you doing that you don’t need to do? What recurring tasks are part of your regular routine, and which ones can you streamline or automate?

Zapier has way more applications than the ones I’ve mentioned here, so do an audit of your schedule, then figure out how Zapier can help you with the things you don’t need to be doing any more.

photo credit: vynsane cc

17hats Review

In 2014 I used Bidsketch (see my review) to do all my estimates and FreeAgent (no review for this one) to handle the invoicing for my projects.

As I said in my Bidsketch review, one downside to using this pair of tools was that I was left with double entry for all my contacts. I’d enter a prospect into Bidsketch then when I won the project, I’d have to re-enter the contact in FreeAgent.

In reality, I faced triple entry because I also put these people in my Mac contacts because I don’t pick up calls that aren’t in caller ID.

All of that duplication is, simply put, stupid.

One other complaint I had was that I could have an estimate accepted but still have to re-enter cost information on the project into FreeAgent. More duplication.

So for 2015 I was looking for a solution that combined estimates and invoices, which would mean single entry for both client contact information and project costs.

Enter 17hats

I first heard about 17hats sometime in the middle of 2014, but since I don’t switch tools in the middle of the year I just passed the information off to Evernote for later use.

Start by taking a look at the video below to get an idea of what 17hats can provide for your business.

The Good Parts

For me, the biggest selling feature of 17hats was no more multiple entry on contacts, projects and estimates. There is simply no need for me or anyone on my team to waste time re-entering information on a regular basis.

Let’s take a look at the components of the workflow that I actually use.

Update: After I wrote this and just before it was going to publish 17hats added workflows. They look super interesting but I haven’t had a chance to try them out yet. I’m planning on trying to integrate them with project start (for getting FTP, WP login..) and exit (sending clients a questionnaire, asking for testimonials…).

Estimates -> Invoice Workflow

This, for me, is the bread and butter of 17hats. Having the client creation, estimate creation, estimate options, contract signing, and invoicing all in one smooth workflow is a huge time saver for me.

Let’s say you have had a call with a prospect and you want to move forward with an estimate. Your first stop is to create a contact in 17hats. Once you go to the ‘Contacts’ section of the app, just click the little ‘+’ at the top right of the page and you’ll get the contact add pop-up.

Adding a contact in 17hats

From there you’re prompted to create a new project for the client. In 17hats everything is centered around a project which is fine, but not great, as I’ll talk about later.

17hats project creation prompt

Once you’ve created a project, you have a bunch of options for next actions for that project. Maybe you need to log some information from a client call (and you store notes in 17hats, not Evernote, like me), well that’s an option.

17hats options for next moves with a client

Maybe you’re storing client files, or need to send the client a questionnaire. Or, like we’re going to look at, send them an estimate.

17hats pricing options for estimate

One of my favourite features in 17hats estimates is the variety in pricing options you get on your estimates. One option is to send a ‘standard’ quote, you know something like “$3000 to build a theme” and that’s it. They can take the estimate or leave it.

I hope you don’t just do that though, but that you provide options for the pricing of your services. With 17hats you have 2 pricing options.

You can either put a ‘Choose One’ option on the estimate — which means the prospect has to choose one of the options when they accept the estimate — or you can use a ‘Choose Any’ option, which means the prospect can pick and choose between the items available on the estimate.

I use both of these depending on the initial project discussions with the client. Lately I’ve had most success with the ‘Choose One’ option in that clients tend to pick higher-priced packages, which usually translate to more profit for me and higher value for the client.

Once you have your estimate all set you can then choose to include the contract (which I do) and convert directly to invoice (which I do).

Converting directly to an invoice means that you don’t have to take any other action once the client has accepted the estimate. You just get an email notification that they accepted and paid.

When creating a contract to go with an estimate you have a number of options related to the signature. I always set it up to sign right away since ‘counter-signing’ means the client drops out of the automated workflow through to payment.

17hats contract signature choices

Once you’ve got your full estimate and contract created you can also set a term for how long an estimate is valid (I choose 10 days), and if there are any payment terms.

17hats payment terms screen

If you choose payment terms you can easily automate up to 4 payment milestones, without having to worry about the invoices being sent again.

After estimate creation it’s really a simple process of sending the estimate to the client and them accepting it and paying for the work to start.

I’ve received a number of compliments from the prospects I provided estimates to during December while I was trialing 17hats.

Templates

Another of my favourite 17hats features is the templates. I can put in my stock contract and then just use the contract template without needing to change it up for each client.

I also have templates for invoice emails, which means my assistant can send an invoice and the email content looks like it came from me. With a few simple clicks, she can set it up using my preferred process and language.

I template any text that I send more than a few times. At the very least, templates give you the foundation you need and can be refined to suit a particular project if you need to.

Payment Support

Nothing really special here in terms of support for payment providers. 17hats supports Stripe, Paypal and Authorize.net.

I use Stripe 99% of the time. In fact I don’t even connect PayPal unless a client requests it who has no other means of payment.

PayPal is just a pain in the ass and Stripe isn’t, so…

I’ve never used Authorize.net for my business billing.

The parts I don’t like

In spite of all the things I love about 17hats, I hate that everything is a project. I dislike that you have to create a full contact for every single person.

Here’s an example of why I don’t like this feature. When I receive an initial contact from a prospect, you know I send them my initial email templateI don’t even put their contact information or do any tracking to follow up until I have the initial questions answered.

If you want to use the questionnaire feature in 17hats, you not only have to add the person as a contact, you also have to create a project for them. This is a lot of work for someone that may not even become your client.

I know that 70% of the initial contacts I get don’t go past the first phone call. If I used the 17hats questionnaires feature, then I’d have data entry for 70% of people that I’m never going to work with.

Put tasks in 17hats??

The CRM features of 17hats allows you to put tasks in for follow-up on a client. I guess you could use it for a project management system if you wanted but since it doesn’t allow other users you can’t share anything with your clients or your team.

Outside of the total lack of collaborative features, adding tasks to 17hats means you have added an extra ‘inbox’ to check on with your weekly review. That increases friction and provides no benefit at all.

I keep all my client follow-up tasks in Todoist and from there I can follow up via the linked email features of Todoist and Postbox.

Of course this doesn’t scale fully for a sales team since they wouldn’t get the link to the Postbox email in my account, but the Todoist tasks would support a team.

I’m currently the only sales person within my company, so I don’t need a team solution.

No teams

I’ve already mentioned above that there is no ‘team’ with 17hats so you can’t really use it as a project management system, but more than that, the lack of teams is a pain.

I have a bookkeeper/assistant and she issues all recurring invoices for me. Since there is no ‘team’ in 17hats that means that she needs my log-in to access 17hats and generate the invoices.

Since I’ve given her access to my bank accounts, I obviously trust her, but I’d much rather be able to create a 17hats log-in specifically for her, which I could turn off if I needed to.

It’s currently feasible that she could change the password and reply email (for password resets), completely locking me out of the account until I bugged 17hats support.

That’s assuming that I could recover the account by talking to support.

Adding a log-in with limited access would go a long way in improving the functionality of 17hats, so let’s hope they make this update soon.

Email sync

17Hats can also ‘sync’ your email in to your dashboard. So 17hats can see what emails you’ve got and then can tell if you have heard from a client or not. Maybe you have a client email to reply to even, it will show up in 17hats.

If you’re using it as a hub for CRM stuff then great, but it doesn’t show up in your ‘sent’ folder in Google apps so it was just scary for me to send stuff and then not know if it sent.

Apps like Contactually (which I’m just starting to demo) actually copy the email to your sent folder and do way more than what 17hats does.

So the email sync is a feature but a half baked on at best.

Meh

I’m indifferent about the things below, but when I mentioned 17hats on Twitter people brought them up, so I’ll cover them here for the sake of clarity — just for you, dear reader.

Time Tracking

The most recently launched feature of 17hats is time tracking. We all know that hourly billing is stupid so I doubt any of you will be using this feature anyway, and I don’t use it at all. But it’s there if you want it.

To add time simply click their “1-click timer” and start tracking time.

You can have rates for each client if you want and assign the time to a project right from the little time tracking window.

Really it’s all the features you’d expect from a time-tracking feature in an invoicing application.

The interface

I actually don’t have any issue with the interface of 17hats.

Sure, it’s a bit over-designed and ‘heavy’ compared to today’s popular design trends, but it works, so who really cares?

No, it’s not mobile responsive in any way. But I can’t think of a single time I ever invoiced a client from a mobile device.

I can’t think of a single time in the last 2 years where I tracked time via a mobile device, and before that I just remember vaguely tracking time in Billings, which I haven’t used in forever.

So I’m really just letting you know that it does not have a mobile application, in case you do use a mobile device to invoice and estimate.

There are still 2 things haven’t mentioned at all with 17hats:

  • Bookkeeping (never found this stuff more useful than what my bookkeeper gives me so I don’t bother)
  • Calendar (meh, just another place to see stuff I see in the Mac calendar, and I don’t use 17hats tasks so…)

Recommendation?

I obviously think that 17hats is good enough for me, so yes, I think it’s good enough for you.

If you’ve been using an estimate app (which you should be doing because it saves you so much time) and something separate for invoicing, then 17hats pulls all of this into one location for you and cuts your mindless data entry time.

On top of cutting the data entry, it’s going to cut your bill for 2 SAAS apps down to 1, and I don’t know about you, but my bank account isn’t full so the money can stay there.

photo credit: pasukaru76 cc

Processing Email with Dispatch and Postbox

Email is likely the biggest inbox you deal with on a daily basis. If you’re like me, email may make up the 3 biggest inboxes you deal with every day.

You hear about those people who maintain an Inbox 0 status daily, and you hate them (go ahead, admit you do).

But do you know what the email processing routine of these people actually looks like? Does Inbox 0 mean they reply to every email, or that they’ve just marked every as ‘read’? Or, does Inbox 0 mean that they make a decision about how to deal with every email — deleting some, replying to some, and deferring others?

For me it’s the latter. I hit Inbox 0 every day in each of my 4 email accounts simply because I decide what to do with each email, clearing it out of Postbox.

Today we’re going to look a bit deeper at how I use my email applications and Todoist (I did write a big review of Todoist and Nozbe) to get to Inbox 0…every single day.

Don’t check email, process it

One big mistake many people make is to simply ‘check’ their email.

There is a great video on processing email from Nozbe.

They ‘check’ to see what’s there, see things they don’t want to deal with, and close their email.

Then they ‘check’ it again, but take no action. In the meantime, the inbox keeps filling up and soon starts brimming over.

I don’t check email, I process email. When I open email (in the 30 minutes before lunch), I deal with each incoming message. Some get added to Todoist to be replied to later that same day, or within a few days.

If I can reply with minimal research (   in a minute or two) then I reply right then. I don’t leave it because it will be easy, I just deal with it.

A few get deleted and some are just communicating information and don’t even require a response from me. No ‘thanks,’ no ‘got it’ — nothing. The sender will get no benefit from me replying in any fashion so I don’t even acknowledge these messages. I just archive them or maybe send them to Evernote if I’ll need to look them up later.

After lunch, I check any emails I sent to my Todoist inbox and decide what to do with them. Many of the emails sorted before lunch get pushed to my afternoon (last 30 of 40 minutes in the day). I reserve the last 10 minutes of my work day to make sure I’m set up to do my most important tasks in the following day.

Yes, I write all my emails in the last 30 minutes of the day.

Huh? Only 60 minutes for email???

Yes, I only spend about 60 minutes a day dealing with all email, which may sound crazy. I am able to do that because I’ve pushed a bunch of my communication out of email.

My current clients have access to a Todoist project, so all of my communication with them is in Todoist and not in email. That means when I’m working on a project I can confidently ignore email and know that my current clients are still getting any attention they need.

Yes, occasionally a current client will email me, in which case it will take longer than they figured to hear back from me. I start all my projects by getting my clients to read about how to run an effective project. This is done by way of a task assigned to them at the beginning of the project that I make sure is resolved. This shows me the client has read the article and should understand my policy on communication.

So if they email me outside of Todoist and end up waiting on a reply, it’s their problem. They know they shouldn’t and that I may ignore my email for a day or two if I’m on deadline for clients. If they really didn’t read it, that’s their problem as well if they marked the task as resolved without actually doing it.

A second method to get emails out of my inbox is Slack. I have a few Slack chat rooms which allow me to talk with others that need my attention without needing to resort to email.

I’ve also automated a bunch of my email replies with a full set of email templates.

Later in February I’m going to be releasing a product based around my email templates. Get on my email list to hear about it first and get a discount only available to email subscribers.

One way I use email templates is in reply to an initial contact. When a client gets in touch with me for the first time, I read the email and then get 100 words (or 500) in reply out of TextExpander in about 20 seconds. The extra benefit of this automation is that I can delegate the responses to others on my team and know the client will get pretty much the same response I would give.

Most small business owners I know haven’t done anything to get communication out of their email or standardize any of their responses. This means they take way too long dealing with their email.

They start with friction and then it’s way to hard to consistently get to Inbox 0.

Dispatch Defense Line 1

I’ve been using my iPhone as a primary email processing device for a while. Much of that time was spent using Accompli, but in December 2014, I switched to Dispatch.

My friend Tom wrote about how he uses Dispatch as well.

Dispatch is all about performing actions on your emails. Click a link in an email and you get the action sheet sliding up where you can send things to Evernote, or Todoist (among many other task applications).

Dispatch action sheet

Another awesome benefit is that Dispatch supports TextExpander Touch which means all my snippets are right there for me. I can send my initial client contact template right away without needing my desktop client, with about the same speed as on my desktop client.

As Mike Vardy said, your mindset really does change when you’re processing your email on your phone.

So why not Mailbox or something? First of all, it’s another inbox that has to be maintained. And furthermore, it will randomly produce emails I need to reply to (the ones I deferred); however, I wouldn’t have allotted time to process these emails unless I checked the ‘extra inbox’ of deferred emails in Mailbox.

Adding a tool like Mailbox would do nothing more than create a place that I’d need to review weekly. Adding friction to your weekly review is a way to ensure you’ll get fewer things done.

Postbox: The final defense

Postbox is where all my email resides. I don’t put personal email in Dispatch simply because it’s typically not that important. If my family or friends need to get in touch with me quickly they have my phone number.

If I have longer emails to write or files to attach then I use Postbox to process those items.

For a few years I’ve been on the Google Apps/Gmail web interface exclusively, so the biggest annoyance with Postbox is the loss of speed in my actions. Postbox isn’t slow, but instead of being right on the server using a web application, I’m on a local app that needs to phone home to the server to perform its tasks.

That call/respond cycle of IMAP is just slower than the web interface.

Outside of that, Postbox has all the Gmail keyboard shortcuts I expect so it’s mostly like picking up a re-skinned version of Gmail and just using it.

Postbox with the Todoist add-on.
Postbox with the Todoist add-on.

Coupling Postbox with the Todoist add-on means I no longer have to juggle which Chrome profile I’m currently using. I can simply click the little mail icon in Todoist and then Postbox will open the email for me no matter which account I’m currently in.

The tools really aren’t that special

The big thing with email isn’t really the tools you choose to use, it’s the mindset you have towards email.

Don’t check it, process it.

Decide what to do with the email sitting in your inbox. Push off all possible communication to other mediums to keep clutter out of your inbox.

Once you start thinking of email the right way, you to can achieve Inbox 0 daily.

photo credit: s3a cc