Tag Archives: Tools Tuesday

People Can Be Tools

As it is Tuesday, I was wondering what kind of tool I could post about. I haven’t bought any terribly useful apps lately and my tech toy budget is nil. But a tool is simply something useful, so today’s tool is Useful People.

You can never underestimate the importance of Useful People, especially when combined with Relationship Maintenance. One of the projects I’m working on for Clown Shoes Beer is a costume for the real Miracle Mike. Miracle is one of Clown Shoes most recent beers, and Miracle Mike is one of their truck drivers who modeled for the label illustration. He has boldly agreed to appear in costume at upcoming events to promote the Clown Shoes Minor Miracle Fund.

Clown Shoes Miracle IPA
Here I Come to Save the Day!

I designed the costume for the illustration before I knew I would be charged with recreating the costume for real, so I didn’t worry much about embossed Clown Shoes belt buckles or appliqued logos, or actual clown shoes that can be worn while running around beer events and music fests. I can’t sew. I don’t know much at all about costuming. But I am good at surrounding myself with talented creative people, and I am not shy about tapping those talents.

Phone calls went out to my friend who always has the best Halloween costumes. “Those “Ambiguously Gay Duo” costumes from a few years back, where did you find them?” To the woman who runs the daycare that my son attended, “Can you sew a big M onto a gold, stretchy shirt?” A keeping-in-touch dinner with my fabulous friend, Rachel, who works in Central Square, led me to Danger!Awesome Laser Engraving for the belt buckle. Finally, I leaned on my old pal, Google, who discovered Spears Specialty Shoes. Who knew there is a bespoke maker of clown shoes located in Western Mass? Sometimes, you have to expand upon the personal network!

The point is, accomplishing great things is rarely about having all the answers, or all the mad skills, it’s about knowing where to find those resources, bringing them on board, and managing them to get great things done. It also helps to have a cute, young man who will wear a superhero suit and cape and run around in clown shoes for you, but boys like him are hard to come by, so no one will blame you if you can’t find your own.

He Said, She Said, Who Said?

Evernote as a Contact Manager
Jotting down even the simplest of interactions keeps everything on track.

Written communication with clients, like email, or messages via Basecamp, these are some ways to track expectations, changes, and requests. It doesn’t hurt to have a paper trail to keep everyone accountable. But is it expedient to dig through every email exchange between you and a client or vendor? What of phone conversations, or meetings, or off the cuff remarks that come back to haunt you six months later, how do you track those? What if you have one of those clients who insist on giving you edits verbally over the phone—which really has to be the worst thing ever, don’t you think? Some people, no matter how much you push back, insist on giving edits over the phone? Why? You know they are the same people who will come back at you a week later and tell you that’s not what they asked for—but I digress. The point is; how do you track all of this communication and keep yourself accountable?

I use Evernote. There are so many uses for Evernote, in fact, it’s such a flexible tool, I wasn’t sure how to incorporate it into my workflow at first. Did I use it as a virtual moodboard, to collect things that inspired me? Could I build a notebook of all my favorite ukulele songs and carry them with me on my iPhone or iPad? I could, and I did. But it didn’t click for me in those capacities. I really wanted to use it, Andrew Sinkov, the marketing guy at Evernote, is a former client of mine from his previous gig, and I wanted to support him in his new venture. And you know I like my applications to be affordable and universal, and Evernote is both. Then I found this blog entry about using Evernote as a Relationship Manager and it all clicked.

Now, whenever I interact with a contact, client, vendor, potential client, I make a note. Sometimes I schedule a follow-up action, sometimes I just jot down the content of the interaction and leave it be. It’s rarely more than a line or two. However, when a vendor tries to tell me that I didn’t mention that we’re brewing beer the first week of July, in a click I can tell him exactly when we had that conversation, what his response was, and if it was via email, I have a time/date stamp to help me find the actual correspondence to forward back to him.

Should I meet with a potential client, I can make quick notes about his schedule and intentions. Then I time my follow-up for when he expected he might need my services. It helps to note things that come up in conversation, like, maybe he enjoys water skiing. So I when I reach out to him about that direct mail project he was considering me for, I can ask if he has enjoyed any good water skiing outings this summer. It’s not that I don’t pay attention and listen, it’s just that Evernote helps me remember what I heard.

With a client who has a lot of balls in the air, I can use Evernote to help him keep track of projects he’s mentioned, but then stuck on the back burner because he’s got a lot on his plate. That’s a potential paying project that could slip through my fingers because a goal has lost priority, but if I can bring him back to the reason why he wanted to publish that brochure, or build that web site, that’s me looking out for both my client and my bottom-line.

Evernote is one of the most popular applications out there. I don’t have to sell anyone on that. But as a tool for keeping your footing in the vicious undertow of communication, it is invaluable.


Wunderlist for iPad
Wunderlist for iPad

I like my apps inexpensive, simple, and universal. Wunderlist from Wunderkinder is all of these things and my tool for managing lists.

First, it’s free. Free is the magic number, yes it is, it’s the magic number. You thought it was Three but that guy had a speech impediment, it was Free all along.

Second, it’s easy to understand, intuitive to use. You make a new list, name it whatever you like, Shopping, To-Do, “Client’s Name Here,” however you like to organize your lists. Then you add things to check off. You can give it a due date. You can set-up notifications. You can flag the item as a priority. When the item is complete, you check it off. Just how you hope a checklist will work.

Wunderlist for iPhone
Wunderlist for iPhone

Third, it’s universal, and then some. The wholly trinity, Mac, iPad, iPhone and they sync together. If you’re out and about and don’t have access to your own devices, you can access your lists through their web app. But seriously, you left BOTH your iPad AND your iPhone at home? Were you abducted? I don’t understand this scenario. You can add new items to the application via email and sort them out later, if that makes your life easier. Wunderlist is a very accessible application.

You can use Wunderlist as a task manager, especially for smaller projects, but it’s at it’s best when it is used as a list manager of any and all sorts. Personally, I keep the Mac app open on my machine at home and I’ve trained my son to add things to the “Shopping” list whenever we run out. And since Wunderlist syncs with my phone, when I go to the grocery store I have the most up-to-date list of what we need in the house.

It’s well designed, you can customize the appearance, and it just works. Tool for this Tuesday’s recommendation? Most definitely Wunderlist.


To Be in Two Places at the Same Time

Pretty Weed in my Backyard
Take time to snap reference photos of the flowers

How busy are we all these days? It’s only 9 a.m. and I’ve already billed three hours, taken my kid to (sigh) summer school, scheduled a tire repair for the Camry, fed the cats, and followed up with two vendors. Not to mention checking in on Facebook, uploading videos from the Fourth of July, posting an event, inviting the family, and taking some reference photos of this pretty weed growing in my backyard.

I was stomping up the stairs with bags of groceries Sunday and I noticed these lovely strands of budding flowers. They’re tiny, really, and there are three or four of them at the top of this plant that started growing next to my porch. I thought, they would be sweet to illustrate, I could make them into a decorative element, part of a frame, something to letterpress, who knows? But I had arms full of melty stuff in the hot sun, so I didn’t get back to shoot some photos until this morning and half of the buds had already opened. If I waited until tomorrow, what would have been left?!

You can’t photograph flowers while you’re carrying milk and eggs and you can’t be in two places at the same time. So, what do you do? As a freelancer I face this problem all the time. I have a press check for one client, but I need to research vendors for another. I have to get my invoicing and administrative work done to build my business, but I’m facing a desk full of actual billable work with deadlines and clients who want to know that they are my first priority.

Hiring someone doesn’t really solve the problem for me, this is intermittent overload, not enough for full-time help. Plus, I’m not equipped to add another person to my operation. My solution? I use a virtual assistant.

Black Ink Virtual Assistance is better than any app I could recommend for productivity. Chief Efficiency Officer, Melissa Black, is available to be the extra me I wish I could be. If I need to walk away from my computer to get some sketching done, she’s available to respond to my email and make sure my vendors and clients are being heard and their needs met. If I am falling behind on promoting my business because I’m focused on clients, she can ghostwrite my blog—not yet, but she could—build my business Facebook page, or maintain my Twitter account. She’s even helped me with concierge services. My son wanted tickets to a show for his birthday and the day and the hour they went on sale I was scheduled to be at a press check. Melissa made sure we got the tickets while I took care of business.

It’s easy to be efficient when you can delegate your responsibilities. It’s hard to delegate your responsibilities when you work for yourself. Having a virtual assistant allows me to work like I have a back office, with the flexibility of freelancing. What an invaluable tool for any productivity arsenal!

Accessory Quest

I have an iPad 2 and it is true that no one needs an iPad until they get their first iPad and then they cannot imagine what they did without an iPad. I’m sure owners of other tablets feel the same way. I don’t know any, but I’m sure they love their tablets.

Sometimes I feel like a crazy, little dog lady who spends way too much time and money decking her terrier out in the finest sweaters, and doggie beds, and toys. I am always in search of the perfect accessories for my iPad. In the end, I will probably spend more money on apps and accessories than I did on the actual tablet. I should be ashamed, but I’m not. I love my iPad.

I named it Calculon, did I tell you that? I name all my computer devices after Matt Groening characters. My iPhone is named Nibbler and my AppleTV is Zapp Brannigan. I don’t call them these names, but they have names on your network and you can customize that, so why not have fun with it, no? I also have devices named for Simpsons characters, but I digress.

Portenzo iPad Case
My Portenzo iPad Case

The two accessories I would like to tell you about today are new to the fold. The first is what I believe is the best manifestation of the Moleskine/iPad case genre. There are a few companies doing this, and some Etsy stores, but for my money Portenzo is doing it best. The construction is solid and reviews suggest that Portenzo’s rubber corners secure your iPad much better than the competition. They give you your choice of different interior liner colors, in fact there are a number of options you can add including a stylus holder, a hole for the back camera, magnets in the cover that replicate the smart cover features of the iPad 2, an elastic ribbon to hold the cover shut, like on the Moleskine. You can mix and match to produce the iPad case of your dreams. The one drawback so far, Portenzo cases are made to order, so if you need one right now, this is not your accessory. Mine took 6 weeks from the day I ordered it to delivery.

The second accessory I got for a specific need but it turns out this thing is crazy useful all the time. I play ukulele and I have all of my sheet music on my iPad. It’s one of the best uses of a tablet I can think of, honestly. I used to carry binders of music around and it was unwieldy and hard to find what I was looking for and it wasted paper. The binders were also hard to read under low light situations and I like to play my uke while sitting around the fire with friends. An iPad solves all these problems, and yet, it’s really hard to hold an iPad while playing an instrument, and it seems silly to carry around a stand to prop it on for those occasions. So, I ordered a Joby Yogi.

You’ve probably seen Joby’s GorillaPod flexible tripod solutions. This works much the same way. Once the iPad is in the Yogi holder I can wrap the legs around anything convenient to hold my iPad in place. What I discovered is, the legs wrap nicely around my leg, which is the perfect arrangement for playing ukulele, I just cross one leg over and my iPad is securely in my lap.

The cool thing is, when I’m not using the Yogi for ukulele chiminea singalongs, I can use it to prop my iPad up on my desk to watch a movie, or next to my bed as an alarm clock, or I’ve arranged the legs so I could hook this bad boy onto a hook on my wall to keep it up and out of the way. I was surprised at how useful the Yogi is and it’s not that expensive. So, if you’re feeling the need to spoil your iPad, that might be a nice accessory to add to your arsenal.


Propane and Propane Accessories

Weber 200Q Grill
New grill on its maiden voyage, with chicken breasts

I was late with my Tools Tuesday post because I was out at the mall picking up my new Weber Q 2oo grill. For years, I was a charcoal girl. I had the Smokey Joe and my charcoal chimney, and I was very proud that I had not succumbed to convenience of propane. But ten years is a long life for a Smokey Joe, he was ready to retire. When I considered my options I had to admit I didn’t like it when all my guests were on the porch, but I had to be out in the yard because I was concerned I’d set the house on fire with Smokey. And honestly, “all my guests” usually amount to me, my son, and a couple of friends—I don’t have huge barbeques, I don’t need a grill of historic proportions. The Weber Q series is small, somewhat portable, and uses either camping size propane canisters or, with an adapter, a regular size tank.

The grill surface is enameled cast iron and wicked heavy. It leaves the best grill marks and apparently it seasons as you use it, like a good cast iron pan. The side tables are a convenient extension of your work area, but when you’re done they fold up into the grill, reducing the area you need to store your grill away. For apartment dwellers, it’s pretty sweet.

Weber iPad App
The grill timer is built into the cook book

Finally, the good people at Weber have released an iOS app full of recipes and tips. It also has how-to videos and shopping lists. One of my favorite features is the Grill Timer. Touch the time in the recipe and the timer pops open, ready to go. I’ll miss Smokey Joe. He was a good pal. But I must admit, I am really excited to break in the Q.

Tools Tuesday

Tools Tuesday, something tells me this could be an awkward category to carry forward!

One of the things I would like to do with this blog is showcase tools that help me do my job better. This could be a book, a website, an app, an inspiring place to take a walk, etc. Today we have an app.

I’m a Mac girl, naturally a lot of us “creatives” are. But I have used PCs, I have heard great things about Android phones, I don’t judge people by their laptops—by their music collection, yes, but not by their laptops. That said, most of the software I’ll be recommending will be for Apple products.

It took a while for me to find a time tracking option that worked for me. I wanted to avoid a subscription based model like Cube or one that would hit me with lots of expensive in-app upgrades like TimeMaster + Billing. If possible, I hoped to find an app that was affordable, universal for iPad and iPhone, and allowed me to export and backup my information. But most importantly I didn’t want to change how I do things to match the app, I wanted an app that was customizable enough to work with me.

TimeTracker by Silverware Software is pretty new to the App Store. It’s available for iPad and iPhone. It’s $2.99 with two in-app upgrades available, Device Syncing for $1.99 and Dropbox mobile backup for another $0.99. The interface is very clean and simple with a little customization available, for instance you can upload client logos or other icons to the time logs. It allows for a variety of billing options, including Flat-Rates, Pro-Bono and Day Rate and it even tracks your break time, if you like to record that kind of thing. Information is exportable in plain text or CSV for easy porting to Excel or Numbers.

I particularly like that it can remember frequently used clients, projects, rates and tasks which makes it less labor intensive to record all the important information that you might forget later, like, “what, exactly, was I researching for my client for 3.5 hours last Wednesday night? Hmmm, now that he’s questioning the invoice, I can’t recall!” You don’t want to be in that situation, neither does your client, so making the annotation of your time as automatic as possible is a definite plus for everyone.

I can’t speak to how TimeTracker would work for me if I had a number of employees. I really wasn’t looking into a solution that would apply to an office. But for a single freelancer who wants to get paid for the time she’s working, and track where that time goes. I think it’s an excellent, easy-to-learn, and affordable tool.

TimeTracker for iPhone Screenshot
TimeTracker for iPhone, Time Log
TimeTracker iPad Screenshot
TimeTracker for iPad, entering hours and information