2018 A to Z Productivity Must Haves & Hacks
About 3 years ago when I decided to take my visual merchandising expertise and switch gears to focus on interior design, specifically decor styling & online design.
I honestly had no idea how that would look.
I began by working with a furniture showroom & after a whirlwind of events, ultimately decided to launch my own business. After working with different e-design platforms as an independent contractor, while getting my self situated in this new online world, I discovered what kind of designer I wanted to be and more importantly, what kind of entrepreneur I wanted to be.
I hit the reset the button, focusing on virtual styling and building my subscription service... all while completing my master's degree and raising a family.
My plate runneth over!
The hardest lessons I've had to learn while wearing all these hats is that I can't be all things, all the time, ESPECIALLY when it came to the administrative/operations side of my biz. I'm a creative, through & through, but I'm also a huge tech nerd; so I needed a way (or ways) to marry these to halves of my brain.
I remember getting my first client outside of being an independent contractor and wondering how the heck do I manage all this information?! In my head, I knew how I'd want this to play out, but here I was -- business license, website, trade memberships, and all that jazz -- completely lost on how I was going to accept payments, send swatches, and upload designs.
Basically, all the stuff that would ultimately enhance (or destroy) the customer experience, I couldn't decide on.
Many lessons, applications, and failures later, I think I've got this! Balancing the different areas of my life has been a juggling act of pragmatic choices & creative solutions, at the heart of which is LOTS of online & offline tools.
So, if you're any kind of entrepreneur, and you struggle with figuring out what you need...or if you've just wondered, "How the heck does she do it?!" here's a peek behind the scenes that is my life as an entrepreneur, student, wife, and mom...
Prime. Prime Now. Subscribe & Save. Restaurants.
ALL OF IT!
Even the occasional one off non Prime item, Amazon has been and continues to be my go to for everything from supplies to furnishings to groceries. And I'm not saying this because I now live in the land of all things Amazon (Seattle); I sipped the Amazon kool-aid a LONG time ago while living in NYC. My very first documented order was July 8, 2010 & it was a 3 pack of hard shell protectors for my Blackberry! I've since made THOUSANDS of Amazon purchases!
Prime Now has been my go to for things I need RIGHT NOW but can't (or won't) hop in the car and go pick up myself, i.e. a Sunday evening craving for chocolate chip cookies and ice cream. But Amazon has especially become clutch for hard to find, budget friendly furnishings (if you're willing to do some research) including my ever popular replica Eames Eiffel Dining Chairs.
Check of my best of 2017 shopping list, because there was DEFINITELY a lot of shopping!
On most days, I run on hope, prayer, and caffeine... and by caffeine, I mean Bustelo. I don't discriminate against my coffees, and living in the city of coffee, I can't. But in MY pantry, Bustelo is king! It's practically my daily battery pack.
The aroma & taste are just simply divine!
As a Haitian American, I was introduced to drinking coffee pretty early on. Bustelo comes the closest to reminding me of those early mornings with my parents many, many years ago.
I will also say this, I've had the k-cups, the can, and the instant. While all 3 have been good to me, the k-cups are especially boss because it's ridiculously easy -- no muss, no fuss!
If Amazon were to change their name to anything else that doesn't start with an 'A', Adobe would instantly top this list, especially for Creative Cloud.
I'm all about having easy access go my stuff and Creative Cloud does just that for my design apps & projects.
To be fair, I don't use the full Adobe catalog of apps because I don't have a need for em; but the ones I do use, I need to be able to access across 2 computers and sometimes my phone and/or iPad. Photoshop, for example, is where I refine & finalize all my design boards. With Creative Cloud I can seamlessly access & update the design; and with the storage capabilities, my projects are safely stored away. You'd be surprised how many times I've needed to get a file while on the go.
To be honest, I could dedicate an entire post to Dubsado, and probably still not say enough. It has become the virtual assistant I never knew I needed.
Contracts. Invoicing. Payments. Forms & Proposals. Lead Tracking. Workflow Automation. Client Portal.
Dubsado has substantially transformed & elevated my productivity!
My email notices, contracts, design briefs, and SO MUCH MORE are all done through Dubsado... AND it's done without their branding all over my correspondence, which I really appreciate considering how doggone hard I worked on my branding!
I've tried quite a few different platforms and hands down, Dubsado is the most efficient AND affordable I've encountered -- by leaps and bounds at that. They're not skimping out on awesomeness because they're a "mom & pop" biz; they're actually constantly churning out new features!
I remember thinking to myself, "ugh, I don't want to rush through another trial just to hate it" and then I found out the trial isn't time sensitive; instead, you can have THREE whole jobs on the platform to test it out.
So I don't have to to burn through 7, 14, or 30 days to make a decision?? Sign. Me. Up! I don't know how they do it but I don't care how because I'm here for all of it either way.
It's no secret that I shop. A LOT. Whether it's for me, my family, the business, or whatever other reason I give my husband, boxes are delivered to my front door almost daily. Thanks to Ebates, I can at least earn at least some of that back.
The biggest value add is when I'm shopping online, BUT with some retailers I can place an online order for IN STORE PICKUP so I still get my cash back AND the instant gratification of shopping brick & mortar.
Ebates also added in store offers which is great for the occasional in person shopping trips. It's not available on all their retailers but I've been able to still benefit. It really is like getting paid to shop & that's always a good time!
And if I use a cash back credit card, I'm practically getting the thing for free!
When I decided to go on my social media hiatus, I really wasn't sure how this would play out. It's clearly part of a social networking platform, but I never viewed groups in that way.
The groups I'm involved in have become my perfect little online community and have been beyond helpful -- I've learned from my peers, forged great relationships, met new clients, and been able to just have some much needed conversations. It's not like I have co-workers to chit chat with at the water cooler.
Facebook Groups are my water cooler!
Working from home and being a stay at home mom, these "human" interactions are invaluable. Even without the app, I've been able to keep my relationships without getting sucked into the social media abyss. These groups have been my cheerleaders, sounding boards, focus groups, therapists... just everything a girl could need to keep from going completely off the rails.
Fun Fact: I'm a Christian.
I don't know where I'd be without my faith and a WHOLE LOT of prayer.
I am not the most religious person, but my faith keeps me grounded and gives me clarity. I can't even begin to count how many times I've just felt weak & defeated, and just called out, "God, I can't do this alone!"
A really good cry & chat with the Man above always does wonders for my mind & spirit.
Sometimes the hardest part of pulling together a video for YouTube or a blog post is the title. And not because I can't come up with a title but because we live in a time where HOW that title will perform in search results has to always be top of mind.
I started using this headline analyzer to assess the Emotional Marketing Value of my titles. Translation: will the title I choose connect with potential readers emotionally. Dope right!?
Using this tool has been super helpful in really helpful in getting me to be more mindful & discerning when it comes to titling my content.
So remember I mentioned that I'm all about having easy access to my stuff?
Hello iCloud Drive!
If I haven't already made this known, I'm an Apple user -- iPhone, MacBook, Mac mini, iPad, Apple TV! With that in mind, using iCloud Drive for my cloud based storage is a no brainer. I know a lot of people who disagree but #sorrynotsorry!
I don't have to download anything extra & for me, it's as seamless as seamless can get.
I remember when iCloud Drive first rolled out, I thought to myself, "GAH, another native app on my phone that I can't delete!" Then *whispers* I ran out of space on my phone and decided to investigate a bit further.
When they incorporated desktops (as in the desktop screen, not desk top computer) as a part of the iCloud, it was a total game changer. I can take a screenshot on my laptop and get to it from my desk top and/or my phone!
I can literally see the files that are on my Mac's desktop ON MY PHONE.
Totes worth a geek-out.
I love me some good music! And with that I love a good impromptu dance party, making good jams even doubly important. I have playlists for everything from getting in the zone & focused while working to, you guessed it, solo dance parties to get the blood flowing.
I've always found music to be transformative & therapeutic for any mood & while I may not always be current on the latest & greatest, I make it a point to keep my playlists filled with music that resonates with me.
I'm a very visual person. Duh! So I can appreciate a really clean & simple presentation, which is what I strive for with the mood boards I present to my clients. It sets the tone, not only for the design, but for them in terms of what to expect from me.
With Keynote, yet another resource brought to you by the good folks over at Apple, I easily pull together my mood boards for projects (and idea boards for just stuff swirling around my head).
I've been able to create beautiful presentations, and sometimes animated presentations, making a great first impression with clients (and great for YouTube).
Bonus Points: it is automatically synced with my iCloud Drive, so no matter where I am I have access to all this creative wonderfulness. Yet, another shameless plug for iCloud Drive.
Even before "leaving" social media, I really didn't enjoy having to go online (or in an app) to post. I would almost always get sucked into this black hole of mindless scrolling and time wasting.
With Later I can skip all that noise by planning & scheduling my posts from my computer! Anything even resembling automation is always a win for me because I don't want to always have to be "on" to be on... ya know?
It also works with Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter without all the hurdles that Instagram has, but I absolutely loved it the most for Instagram. Although I haven't been using it, I've been keeping up with all the updates & changes, and I'm kind of excited to try em all out April 1st.
At the core of any successful business? The people! But let's face it, it's a digital age and the only way to reach you is here, on the inter-webs. At the core of that is email marketing, aside from blogging & social media, of course.
MailerLite is the simple, easy, and FREE way I can tell all of you about something awesome and amazing I have going on.
Maybe it's a new service or a new feature or, heck, a new haircut... whatever I want to share with you! I want to make sure your email experience with me is as awesome as your website experience, and because MailerLite is intuitive and customizable, I have the ability to do just that.
And did I mention the visual automation?! Game. Changer!
As a visual person, I struggled A LOT with mapping out my emails. Using this feature has really helped me really see the email journey come to life in a way that helps me fill in the holes like I couldn't before.
I love to "Netflix & chill" and not in the new age sense of the phrase, but in the literally sense of just turning my brain off & enjoying a good afternoon or evening of bingeworthy television.
I'm super obsessed with A LOT of Netflix's original content -- "Narcos", "13 Reasons Why", "Daredevil", "Punisher", "Luke Cage", and "Orange is the New Black" just to name a few -- but I am also extremely impressed with how expansive their catalog has become over the years.
I remember when they stopped showing Starz content, I was devastated -- mostly because that meant no more bing watching "Spartacus" -- because I thought that was the beginning of the end for Netflix. I'm glad I didn't bet any money on that!
Any blogger worth their salt will tell you that graphics are just as important, if not more sometimes, than the written content.
The graphics are what's getting pinned, posted, and shared over & over again because the graphics are what's drawing you in.
With the Over app, I don't have to buy graphics or painstakingly create them myself. I've used it for everything from branding images (hint: my logo) to the pretty little graphic in this post. So fetch right?!
There's a free account, as well as a paid pro account, which can be paid monthly or annually. Over is one of the FEW apps I actually pay for and it's worth every red cent.
I mean really. Who DOESN'T love Pinterest?!?! When Pinterest first popped up on the scene, I would periodically go on and binge pin, but I never took it more seriously than a place to hoard pretty ideas.
Like most people, I had boards for recipes, planning ahead for my daughter, swooning over home decor, snagging inspirational quotes, and then just the miscellaneous "whatever else I thought was cool" pins. As I started to outgrow this haphazard pinning phase, I began to become more purposeful with my pinning, realizing...
"Oh snap, Pinterest is just a visual search engine!"
I began to use it to stockpile decor & furniture finds; but this resulted in even more digital hoarding with no real organization.
Then one day I attended a Pinterest webinar and WOWSER! Talk about a game changer for realsies. I completely revamped my Pinterest and its now a more curated, organized catalog of ideas and inspiration for everyday life!
It's still a work in progress, but everything is categorized -- including a board for each design style from the new style quiz -- and I've even learned how to get my site out into the pins of the world and share everything that Albie Knows.... *see what I did there*
Pinterest is also one of my first stops when looking for inspiration for mood boards, and it's such an awesome visual resource for my clients.
A lot of times those "feelings" that they can't verbally express to me, they're able to pull together in their own Pinterest boards, and so the design process begins with me just taking a look at what they're loving AND hating on Pinterest.
At this rate, I may have to rename this post "How Have Apple Products Taken Over My Life?" because QuickTime is built right into my Mac computers. People pay however much to download apps for screen recording, yet for FREE, I can record show you my desktop and my phone screen.
How dope is that?!
I record my screens for YouTube videos, tutorials, and working on collaborations. The time it takes me to type a super long explanation or take a bunch of screenshots to share a process is cut in HALF by simply recording my screen.
And sometimes it's just plain ol' fun.
The perils of doing anything online is that you may not always know what you're getting yourself into. You order a 4 pack of pillows and end up getting a bushel of hay delivered to your front door. Imagine!
As someone who works in the online space, I know firsthand that reviews are EVERYTHING!
Whether its for business use or personal use, I may not always have the luxury of seeing what I'm ordering in person, so I rely on other customer reviews and their photos to make an informed decision. And this isn't only for tangible goods -- restaurants...dentists..pediatricians...nail salons. Whatever it is that we're trying for the first time, we're always leery about trying 'em without reviews.
I moved clearly across the country to a place I'd visited all of ONCE for a less than a week. You better believe that entire move happened on the back of some binge review reading. LOL.
When I chose not to manage my projects with an interior design specific platform, my biggest concern was how I'd be cataloging products I've sourced. I briefly mentioned how Pinterest had been useful for stockpiling but because because it's such a "busy" platform, I still needed something more precise, streamlined, and dedicated to cataloguing without all the noise. Then I came across Shoptagr...
“...your smart shopping assistant...”
Shopping assistant indeed! Saving & cataloguing items has become super easy & quick! If I'm browsing on a desktop, I use my browser plugin & if I'm browsing on my phone, I use the app.
I add things to lists I've created & can easily reference them for later, whether it's by project or just by item category. I can even set alerts for stock & sale notifications!
It's not available across all sites just yet, it's constantly updating & I can't wait till they add more!
So remember how I said Dubsado is the assistant I never knew I needed? Well Trello is the assistant I'd actually been looking for and am so happy to finally have! Honestly, it's probably the closest I'll come to having a virtual assistant, WITHOUT actually hiring another human being!
I immediately fell for Trello because I love lists and Trello is like lists in overdrive!
Generally speaking, I'm not the best at actually ever referring to said lists but I love them nonetheless. I'm that person who consistently used the Reminders, Calendar, and Notes apps on my iPhone, filling them until they were figuratively busting at the seams; but Trello creates a sort of hub for remembering & storing everything versus me piecing it together with 2, 3 apps.
Trello makes macro planning so easy and SO fun! Everything from my editorial calendar to our grocery lists to my syllabus lives in Trello; it really makes me feel like I'm "adulting" successfully.
What's super dope about Trello is that all it's wonderfulness is accessible for FREE. Do they have other little goodies that you can access at a cost? Yes. But to be honest, these features aren't make or break.
Why I love this planner? Because it really is the ULTIMATE business planner.
It encourages a having a work-life balance, not only helping you plan out business goals with intention, but also personal habits & achievements.
It's broken down into, what she calls "Sprints", which are 12 week (quarterly) intervals of working towards major milestone goals you've set for yourself. Each sprint is then broken down into weeks, essentially serving as your weekly planner. This has been great because the way it's outlined basically parallels the way my brain works when I'm goal planning.
I use it in tandem with Trello & my personal planner and it's done wonders for keeping me on track. It's also a great reference to look back & flip through when the year ends!
Now I told you how I share my screens with you but how do you get to hear my wonderfully melodic voice whilst doing so? Tada!
I can easily record whatever it is I need to say directly from my phone's built in recorder then insert that voiceover.
But this isn't the only reason I heart the memos. Sometimes I need to just talk out a thought & voice memos serve the purpose of being a personal recorded diary. Bright idea that I'm too lazy to type? Record, mentally purge, and upload to Trello! Easy. Peasy. Lemon Squeezy.
After not drinking for the better part of 3 years, I've officially become what some might call a light weight -- and I'm perfectly okay with that -- only being able to tolerate wine, and maybe Bailey's in my hot chocolate. But even if that wasn't the case, nothing is more "me time" than relaxing with a glass of Moscato while taking a relaxing bath, listening to some tunes, or watching a bit of Netflix.
Some days are harder than others, especially when there's a toddler involved, so capping off the day with a glass of wine has also done wonders for offsetting the previous 12-16 hours!
Yep! Good ol' fashioned hugs & kisses!
On some days... who am I kidding... on MOST days I look at myself in the mirror and wonder what the hell am I do this to myself for?!?! The sleepless nights. The emotional burnout. ALL OF IT. Then midway through this moment of crisis, someone will bust into the room needing something from me and it hits me -- I do it for them!
My husband & daughter are my motivation & the backbone behind everything I do.
My daughter honestly gives some of the most amazing hugs I've ever experienced in life & every kiss from my husband still gives me butterflies like its our first kiss. They keep me inspired, motivated, and grounded, even when the reason I'm spiraling is them, LOL.
Like Pinterest, I undervalued YouTube for a very long time, only tuning into it for the occasional tutorial. But now, YouTube has become SO much more... it's a distraction for when I need to turn my brain off, a visual teacher for the things I just don't know, and as of late, a creative outlet for all the things I want to share.
I've spent so much time in my biz & life just in YouTube, I'm actually surprised it took me this long to become a creator; although to be fair, in another life, I did have a channel that lasted maybe a month?
In any case, It's a great free resource and I'm excited to get better at using it!
P.S. Subscribe to my channel, thanks!
We've already established that I'm "lazy" -- work smarter, not harder -- which has really been the motivation behind this entire list! And it's also why I'm such a huge proponent of automation & absolutely obsessed with Zapier & IFTTT (If This, Then That).
At their core, they're the same -- integrations that allow you to marry, otherwise separate, platforms.
A major difference between the two is that Zapier has a more robust library of integrations & allows for more customization with minimal effort on my part, while IFTTT is FREE for an unlimited amount of "recipes".
How I use Zapier & IFTTT?
The possibilities are bananas! I have over a dozen IFTTT "recipes" & Zapier "zaps" connecting apps that would otherwise never communicate -- Dubsado, Stripe, Trello, SMS, etc. Some of my favorite recipes include that I can have a text sent to my phone when something is due or my Trello board or when I receive a new payment, or when some subscribes.