Last year, I decided I needed to focus on becoming more productive and effective. Time is a resource that is finite and cannot be recovered. My focus was to track and manage my time becoming as productive as possible. I wanted to make an impact with every hour I worked and leverage technology and techniques to save time. I reinvest that time into my family, my friends, non-profits and myself.
I just passed 100 days of being paperless. As 2013 came to a close, I spent time planning my transition. Not everyone will be able to do this depending on the type of work you do. For me, it fit perfectly and I thought I would share my approach.
There are great numbers of benefits to being paperless. First of all you always have access to the information you need. Secondly, you travel light. All I carry is an iPad and my iPhone. Third you will recover time that you can reinvest.
If you choose to do this, it takes planning and comes at a cost. Prepare yourself and expect to take baby steps. The goal is not being paperless… the goal is to become more productive and be able to take control of your time.
Here is my approach. I welcome your feedback and ideas in comments below.
Buy an iPad - I know you’ll be tempted to get something else. Don’t, all can I say is don’t. The Apple eco-system works well and it is all you need. I have an iPad Air and use a Belkin Keyboard for protection and ease of use.
Hide the pens! – I’m serious. Think of this in same way you would hide chocolate. If it’s available, you will use it. Hiding them causes you to stop and think about how you could go paperless and solve the problem at hand.
Get Evernote – Evernote is the central place where your information and ideas will reside. Evernote is free and extremely functional. Learn how to send in information via email, pictures, scanning and files. It uses text recognition and everything can be tagged. I use the premium version for the various features including business card scanning. You take a picture of the card and it drops right in to your contacts. Then, you hand the card back to the person with a smile! Evernote Premium is $45 per year and well worth it.
Sign up for Dropbox – Dropbox is a giant, virtual filing cabinet. I use the free version and so far, it is adequate for me. Dropbox allows me to store files and presentations I need to access or share. Sharing is as simple as sending a link to someone. I keep forms, active presentations, documents and other information there to be accessed when and where I need it.
Scan Everything – The main scanner I recommend is the Fujitsu Snapscan ($350). It is portable, scans duplex directly into Evernote and is quite fast. I often take it with me to meetings and drop things right into it. You can add tags, send it on it’s way to the digital world and throw away the paper. For on the go, get GeniusScan for your iPhone and iPad. It is $5 and does a good job of capturing documents and sending them to Evernote of Dropbox. When I say scan everything, I mean EVERYTHING! I went through my files and started scanning old files and documents. Marriage license, insurance cards, receipts, speaker handouts… everything!
Apps – You will want to have Apple’s Keynote, Pages and Numbers. You can also now get Micorsoft’s Powerpoint, Excel and Word. Other Apps I recommend include Penultimate (for free hand drawing), Skype/ GotoMeeting/ Webex (for communication) and Flipboard (for reading).
Calendar everything– I use Google calendar. It is free, fully functionally and is available on all my devices. If it’s not on my calendar, it won’t get done. I include my workout schedule, my kids events, travel time, reading and even dates with my wife. I use Tripit to easily get my travel itineraries onto my calendar.
Share your calendar – I share my calendar with my work associates and my family. I use Doodle to share it publicly (see mine HERE). Doodle allows me to take requests for a brief call or meeting without having to go back and forth on scheduling. I block off nights, weekends and holidays so my Doodle calendar only shows my true availability. I also subscribe to my favorite sports team calendars, weather and other events. Everything in my life runs through my calendar.
Get control of your Email – Email is an enormous time waster! I am a believer in “InboxZero”. I start and end everyday with my inbox empty and act on messages three times during the day. When I look at a message I do one of three things:
1) Reply / act on it
2) Delete it / archive it
3) Forward it to a time when I can act
Boxer is the product I use on my iPhone and iPad to manage email. It is a well-designed app that allows me to create and assign tasks from an email. I can also swipe to archive or delete. Boxer has quick responses that save time in responding and it is fully integrated with Evernote. One swipe and I can send an email and its attachments straight into Evernote.
If I come across and email I don’t need to act on immediately, I use FollowUpThen.com. FollowUpThen allows me to “send” the email to the future. For example, if it is something to read, I send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. I can send an email to someone requesting information and copy email@example.com and we will bot receive a reminder. It is my favorite time saving tool!
Track your time – This was a big one for me. I analyzed my time and realized I was giving a lot of it away. While it is good to give time away in service, for a non-profit or helping a friend or family member, that was not my issue. My time was out of control and I found myself unproductive. To remedy this, I started tracking everything I did and measured that against the value of that time. I created my own Key Performance Indicators (KPI) using the free tool at MyKPIDashboard.com. I measure income against hours and factor in time I donate to charity. I create time to spend with my family, my friends and for myself (i.e gym). I work to improve my KPI’s each month.
Find help – Last year, I found myself spending hours trying to create an Excel formula for a spreadsheet I was working on. After 6 hours of my time I went to eLance.com and posted the job. Within hours I had 12 bids to complete the work. I selected an expert, sent her the files and 12 hours later had exactly what I needed. The cost was $12.47! The lesson to me is find someone to do what I cannot, should not or don’t want to do. To accomplish this I use eLance. There you will find expert freelancers who can solve almost any problem saving you time.
Social media – The iPad and iPhone are great tools for enhancing productivity. Find the apps you need to leverage your time. For social media management and posting I use Buffer. I read using Flipboard and drop articles to read later into Pocket. There are tons of time saving apps that help you stay engaged in social media without wasting time.
Create “Digital Downtime” – Your iPhone and iPad are tools for work. They can also be enormous distractions and eat into your ability to control your time. I suggest setting aside digital downtime. Turn your phone off, teach yourself to stop looking at it and most importantly… stop the alerts! Alerts are a HUGE distraction. For more on managing distractions click HERE.
If you believe that what gets measured gets done then you had better start tracking your most important resource, your time. Good luck in your quest to get control of your time.
Here are a few books I can recommend to help:
And a few blogs:
Follow me at TomCuthbert.com for tips on productivity