How I get things done. Finding tools and using them.

How I get things done. Finding tools and using them.

FourHourWorkWeekI have just finished reading both Tim Ferris’ book, ‘The Four Hour Work Week’ & Michael E Gerber’s, ‘The E Myth Revisited.’ They are both wonderful reads for generating new and interesting angles on how to manage your studio or school. Today I wanted to discuss some of the tools I have implemented, based in part on Ferris’ suggestions, on getting tasks done for my music school, the Brooklyn Music Factory.I use an iMac desktop, an iPad, and an iPhone regularly everyday so I need all applications to be Mac friendly and I really want them to support all three devices (though they don’t always do it equally well.)

Tool #1:
Studio Helper
I use this daily to track all clients and outstanding balances due. I encourage all clients to use the Paypal ‘make a payment’ link and so all payments flow easily into Paypal and then into Studio Helper. Essential!

Tool #2:
Paypal App
I have the Paypal App on both my iPhone and my iPad. I regularly use it to quickly withdraw funds from my Paypal account and deposit them into my Citi business account. It takes less than a minute and can happen from anywhere I happen to be in the world.

Tool #3:
An absolutely essential tool for me that I use to basically capture any and every idea I have about how I can grow my business. For example, recently I was on the hunt for a new commercial space to hour our school. I walked the neighborhood and snapped photos on my iPhone (in Evernote) of anything I saw I liked. I then added any text notes concerning details about each property (though the contact info was already usually in the photo). I finally made a single ‘notebook’ within Evernote that included all the photos of properties and my text. After synching with my iMac at home, I could organize and decide which properties seemed worth following up on.
In addition, I use Evernote as my daily ‘to do’ capturing tool. I have a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday ToDo set of notes in one notebook. Each week I only put big picture ToDo items on those daily lists. I define a big picture ‘Todo’ as something that absolutely has to get done in order to grow my business. Ferris’ suggests that your list should never have more than 2 items on it. In other words, you need to look really hard at what is actually generating you revenue and translating into growth you want. Do not add stuff to your lists that just keep you busy. That, he argues, is pointless and ultimately causes burnout.

Tool #4:
Considered by many to be the most thorough integration of David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ method, Omnifocus is essentially just a task manager. But it is a task manager on steroids. It let’s me categorize tasks by project, assign due dates, assign the context in which I will complete them (i.e.. phone, email, online, etc…) and it even gives push notifications so that I don’t forget something pressing. And, it works wonderfully between all three of my devices. Everything syncs perfectly.

Here is how I use Evernote and Omnifocus hand in hand. First of all, I learned a while back that my task manager is NOT the place to keep all my ‘someday maybe’ todo items. If it was just a brainstorm of cool things I could for Brooklyn Music Factory but wasn’t essential to day to day operation, it needed to go elsewhere. What happened was that I became totally overwhelmed by my todo list in Omnifocus and lost touch with what needed to happen immediately. Sound familiar? So, enter Evernote. I use it for capturing all of my brainstorms, all my notes from reading interesting blogs or business books, all my faculty meeting notes, curriculum notes, etc. Basically it holds everything except the list of todos that keep my business afloat.

So my workflow is simplified because I have one place that holds most everything on my mind (Evernote is great for clipping from the web or grabbing an email to reference later) while living in another zone is my actual day to day todo list. Above I mentioned that I do have a sort of larger view todo list in Evernote, but that is really just reserved for the BIG things that absolutely have to get done…examples might be: invoicing or 2-3 crucial emails to be sent.

Finally, if you have staff, as we do, then I recommend sharing these programs with them and getting them to sync with the necessary Evernote notebooks or Omnifocus projects. I simply add to my administrators todo list in Omnifocus and never need to send an email or bug him. I can look and see when he has completed a specific task or if he needs more time.

When running a small business, it is key that you develop a work flow for day to day tasks for yourself and your employees. While there are still times I fall down on the job of keeping track of all the moving parts, I feel more together under my current collection of tools and how I use them than I have ever before. There are many many choices and that alone can be overwhelming. I have found that the key is picking a few tools, learning how to use them well, creating a system/work flow with those tools, and then sticking to it long enough for it to become second nature. Often times, the final step is the hardest!

Who else uses these tools? Have you found some others that do the same thing but you like better? What is your method for getting things done day in and day out? Please share…..

  • Posted at 8:00 pm, May 11, 2011

    I do it pretty much the same way, just with different tools.
    Do It (Tomorrow) is my to-do app (iOS Native). It syncs across all devices flawlessly and is incredibly simple.
    It only shows 2 days – today and tomorrow. You can add tasks to either of the pages, but that’s all it does, and it’s wonderfully effective.
    I’ve tried OmniFocus, but it just seemed too complicated and tedious to be practical with everyday tasks. I find it’s more helpful for a project or if you need long-term planning. The same applies to most of the other iOS task managers as well – just too many bells and whistles, and as you pointed out, after two weeks you get a list of 100 tasks, clueless of where to start or what is actually important.
    The other thing I use is Essay (again, iOS Native) which syncs between my iPad & iPhone. It’s a brilliant note-taking tool. Not quite as developed as Evernote, but nice and simple.

  • Posted at 10:58 am, May 12, 2011


    thanks for the response. I am going to look into Do It for sure. I have found that Omnifocus became more useful as a tool once I started using the View and Forecast function. Essentially it just helps cut out all the unnecessary info and tasks. You are right that simple is always better. I just read recently that one of the key qualities found in many successful CEOs is being simple minded. I read that as finding simple solutions to difficult challenges….Or simply taking on each task that will get you to the finish line.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

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