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Top Five Productivity Apps and Their Specific Purpose

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Evernote, productivity app!

Evernote, productivity app!

Evernote, although not my top pick is very useful for helping with productivity. It has very useful purposes, and keeping track of your to-do list is not one of them. I am not an Evernote expert by any means, so I’m sure the app has use beyond what I even know, but below is what I find most useful about the app.

1. Using it is a mind dump. If I think of something I need to do, a bill I have to pay, a phone call I need to make, or even a project idea, I will quickly open up Evernote and jot a quick note. I will later come back and reference it when I’m actually ready to put it into my more robust system for managing work. It’s very important to have a place you can mind dump, so ideas and work related things don’t continue to float around in your head.

2. Storing important information. I keep a note that contains important information such as my UPS shipping account, my insurance policy number and customer support numbers. Anything I may need to access on a regular basis I put in here for easy access. This is a valuable time saver and has probably saved me countless hours since I have created the “Important Stuff” note inside my Evernote.

3. It’s great for logging ongoing data; such as mileage for tax write offs, as well as taking photos of receipts to go paperless, pretty much anything you want to store long-term.

4. The app is very helpful for brainstorming, researching, jotting down random business ideas, and keeping that information in the cloud for you, so that you can come back to it later. The nicest thing about Evernote is you can have several different “notebooks”, and several different “pages” within that notebook.

Reminders/Siri (iPhone)

Okay, don’t laugh… Lets say I have something super urgent unexpectedly come up that I have to take care of later this afternoon. Rather than go through the long process of adding it to my calendar I will simply put my phone up to my ear and tell Siri to remind me to do that important thing at 4 p.m. and then I’m done. I can forget about it until I get the reminder, and I saved myself about a minute of having to manually add something else to my calendar. Reminders can be scheduled as well, but really you should be doing this in your calendar.

Calendar, the digital version with notifications

Don’t underestimate the calendar. Nobody can keep track of all their appointments in their head. I don’t care who you are, you have too much going on and that is just not possible. If you have ANY appointment at all that is scheduled at a specific time, it needs to go in your calendar app. I also highly suggest setting two notifications. One an hour before, and the second five to ten minutes before. I recommend the first one because you never know where you will be or what you will be doing an hour before your appointment, and you may need extra time to get situated, or prepare for the meeting. You should also use your calendar to mark important project deadlines and other action items that have to be completed by a certain date.

KanBan, LeanKit

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 5.49.38 AMI have talked about the KanBan system for organization and productivity in previous posts, but I can’t stop telling you about how amazing and life changing this system has been for me. Even if you don’t use KanBan, at least establish some sort of system, other than the standard “task list” that will help you visualize your entire work flow. The specific App I use is called Lean Kit, although there are several KanBan programs on the web.

KanBan is essentially a visual representation in column format of your workflow. My columns are: Choices (To-Do), Next, Today, In Progress/Waiting On, and Done. This allows me to see my entire to-do list, but not get overwhelmed with all that is going on. This visual way of viewing your work will relieve so much stress and will give you a peace of mind you didn’t know was possible.

I encourage you to move beyond the standard task list. I used to use Evernote to keep track of my to-do’s, but spent so much time just reading my list, of which half the projects were in progress or were awaiting information/action from other people. Plus, I’m not having to spend the start of every day re-organizing and re-prioritizing things.

Pen and Paper

Moleskin Journal

Moleskin Journal

Lastly, but definitely not least is the pen and paper method of taking notes and making reminders. I carry a Moleskin journal around with my everywhere. I use it for brainstorming, strategic planning, taking notes in meetings, crunching numbers, and just random doodles here and there!

There is something to be said for the tactile. I find I am able to focus a lot more during brainstorming sessions when I am using pen and paper, and there is an ease to note taking that a computer just doesn’t provide.

I’m also still a huge fan of the Post-It Note, even though I primarily utilize Evernote and KanBan for any mind dumping I need to do. I still occasionally will write something on a Post-It-Note, usually messages for other team members, or a simple action item I need to take on something.

Bearded Brothers was planned in Moleskin journals, so don’t forgo paper for a 100% digital life. If you are afraid of losing your notes, just make sure you take pictures of those pages and store them in Evernote. It does a great job at taking photos of documents, and making your hand written notes searchable.

These are just my favorite apps though. I’m sure there are loads of other useful productivity and business apps out there. What are some of your favorite apps, and why?

Tips for building brand recognition without spending much money – Part 3 of 4

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Think like a drug dealer

First of all, I can’t take full credit for this analogy. I first heard it from the book Rework, by the founders of 37 Signals. The idea is to think like a drug dealer and give out small samples of your product. If you have an amazing product the consumers will come back with money in hand.

Mini Bars - Sample sized energy bars.

Mini Bars – Sample sized energy bars.

Ever since the start of Bearded Brothers we have given out tiny samples of our bars. This saves us the cost of handing out full sized bars, and we still get people to sample our products. Sampling is the best way to gain new customers. This is evident by the spike in sales we get when we do a product demo. While in some cases a store might only sell four cases of energy bars in a month, but during a demo they will sell 4 cases in a three-hour period. Those same customers are likely to come back and buy the product again, and increase the monthly sales to 6 cases per month. It may not seem like much on a small scale, but multiply that by hundred of locations and you have quite the impact.

Sponsoring events is another great way to get people to try your product. For Bearded Brothers our primary target market are athletes. So providing samples for race packets, and handing out samples on race day is a great way for us to get our product in front of our target audience.

We are selective about where we give out samples though. We are not likely to give samples to an event in Wyoming where we don’t have any locations to purchase the product. It’s important that the consumer be able to buy your product in the store. Sure, we live in the day of online sales, but when you have a small business you have to be selective about how much free stuff you give out, thus the reason why it’s important to tie in your donated product to an area you have an established retail presence.

I have also found that sponsoring events in an area where we did not have a presence did not generate any online sales for us, even though we included an awesome coupon code. Most people are impulse buyers when it comes to trying new products. They are more likely to use that coupon code if a friend forwarded them an email, or if they saw a Facebook or Twitter post. People are not likely to take a coupon code home and use it. It’s just the facts.

Event sponsorships are great for brand awareness. Going on four years now we have been sponsoring 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell in Arkansas. This brings in climbers from all over the country. We provide coupon codes in all the participant packets (but will not do so again this year) but have not had a single one redeemed. Yet we have people coming up to our booth each year and telling us how much they love our product, and that they eat our bars all the time. This tells us we have built brand awareness with them, and that they are buying the product locally, rather than online.

This concept works with any type of business, even if you don’t have a tangible product. People providing services such as consulting or career coaching can provide free advice in the form of high quality blog posts with truly valuable content, free e-books, or podcasts. The most important thing is, to get people to try your product or service, it helps you earn their trust and makes them feel better about spending their hard earned money on YOU.

My final installment will be on, “Building and army.” How you can leverage Twitter to help spread the word about your brand.

Part 1 of 4 (Social Media)
Part 2 of 4 (Tell your story)

Part 4 of 4 (Building an army, social media continued)

The motivation for everything – Hump Day Motivation

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Greg McEvilly of Kammok talks about the two primary motivators behind all our decisions…love, and fear.

I can really resonate with what Greg has to say here, even having a baby in the midst of starting up a business. I met Greg and the rest of the Kammok crew at Outdoor retailer, a couple years ago. These guys have a huge passion for what they are doing, and I have to say I am AMAZED at how much they are doing, being such a young company. It really is mind blowing what you can accomplish when you are motivated by love, and not fear

The happiness advantage – Hump Day Motivation

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So, I thought I would start something new this week. We live in a culture that dreads Monday, lives to get to Friday, and rejoices when Wednesday is here because it’s a sign we are half way through the work week. It’s a sad truth, but something I hope to change. There is no reason we can’t all be doing work we love. So every Wednesday I will post something motivational: a blog post, video, photo, or podcast. The point of this weekly post will be to spread encouragement, as well as to give myself weekly reminders of how awesome life is, and how blessed we are that we are able to work, and have work that is fulfilling and enjoyable.

So, today I present you with a Ted talk by Shawn Anchor on, “The happy secret to better work.” I even took one of his pieces of advice this week about journaling about a positive experience, and sending an encouraging email. It really made a difference in my day

Tackling debt like an angry 400lb lineman

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Arms RaisedMy wife and I are serious about becoming debt free. We want to have financial freedom and the ability to bless others with our wealth. This is something that is hard to accomplish when you are throwing away hundreds of dollars a month towards debt. Debt can seem like a 300 pound gorilla at times. It has you in a corner and won’t let you go; but, after reading Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace, taking part of the Financial Peace class, and listening to countless podcasts we decided to get gazelle  intense, as Dave calls it, and pay off our debt.

After realizing how much freedom being debt free can bring, we decided to get serious and bust through our wall of debt like a 400lb angry lineman. This meant drastically changing our lifestyle. Instead of just living month to month, we made a game plan to not just pay our minimum payments. It meant reducing our grocery bill, not eating out, buying lean when we did eat out, and bringing our lunch to work every day. Rather than using our tax return on a vacation, climbing gear, running apparel, or other thing we wanted, we paid off my car.

Paying off the car felt amazing. It instantly gave us an extra $250 per month to throw towards other debt, and savings. This past weekend we reached a huge milestone in our journey to pay off debt….we sold our rental property in my home town, Denton, TX. The sale will allow us to pay off a HUGE chunk of student loan debt – bringing us a thousand steps closer to becoming debt free. By my estimate we will be completely debt free by the end of the year, possibly by the end of THIS summer.

I can’t even tell you how excited we are that we are so close to paying off this beast of burden. Debt holds you back from truly living in freedom. Paying off debt is smart, but it requires short term sacrifice for HUGE long term results. Below are a few things we are looking forward to upon becoming debt free.

  • More money to give. Once we are debt free we will have more discretionary income to tithe and give to others in need, and just to do simple things like bless a friend by purchasing their dinner.
  • More money to save, and more money to invest towards retirement. With hundreds of dollars a month going towards debt, you are VERY limited in how much wealth you can build towards retirement years.
  • Saving for a home. Sure, we just sold a house, but it was in an area we didn’t want to settle down in. Our ideal home would be here in Austin, which will require us to save A LOT of money. Being debt free will allow us to get there faster than possible with debt.
  • Freedom to enjoy life. Without debt we will have more discretionary income to treat ourselves to nice dinners and take family vacations.
  • Living worry free. Without $500 a month going towards debt we will be able to build a nice cushion of savings that will give us a feeling of peace and security if case things happen to go south with my work.
  • Seizing investment opportunities. Once our debt is fully paid off we will have a lot more freedom to invest when opportunities arise.
  • Saving for our kids college fund. Lets face it. Thinking about our kids future would have been a lot more difficult with our own mound of debt under us, and burdening our children with their own debt pile is the last thing I want for them.

The end is now in sight for us. We are super excited about becoming debt free, and we want everybody to know that becoming debt free IS possible. It’s also something that should be strived for. Nobody should be content to just pay debt for the rest of their life. If you need a dose of inspiration, just start listening to The Dave Ramsey Show. You will hear solid advice about finances and occasionally hear a person call in with their own success story.