Introduction. Being self employed, often one man (or woman) bands, we photographers often struggle to find the time to complete all the elements of ‘running a business’ in the day to day. We want time for our family and friends, time to take a holiday like everyone else and also be free from our desks. After all becoming self employed was all about freedom of choice in the first place, right? Then, of course, we are endlessly looking for more time to be “creative” and spend more hours actually doing the thing (or things) we love, the desires that got us working so hard in the first place; to document moments, escape the rat-race, support our loved ones and all being well, save and invest for a retirement one day.
With this obsession like activity of being creative and doing “what we love” to do, we can often be found guilty, myself included, of trying to control everything we have going on in our lives and at times it’s almost like we are striving to make things even harder for ourselves. Let me explain…
Stories I’m familiar with hearing that make my productivity side cringe go something like; leaving the annual book-keeping 2 days before the tax return deadline, booking accommodation stays or car hire the night before you need them, writing essays for emails, posting out and scanning back booking agreements, or even simply having endless to-do lists in different places but never really prioritising anything. Doing things in an ‘old-school’ manner just because it’s what everyone else is doing, or because we simply “can’t find the time” to develop a better system for doing things is not an appropriate answer to these problems, we could, and should, do better.
Whilst we don’t all need to employ a VA (Virtual Assistant) or outsource our post production to India (although if either appeals then you should definitely check out the ‘The 4 Hour Work Week‘*
by Tim Ferris). There are simpler things, and more precisely, applications and technology that can help make our lives a little easier, re-coup some time and thus spending our time more wisely. (Whether that be time with the kids, a holiday in the south of France or just finding some time to shoot for you.)
Ultimately we, as creatives, are terrible at valuing our time appropriately, it’s such a ‘corporate’ and ‘business like’ thing to do, we often neglect the fact that we all actually RUN A BUSINESS OURSELVES.
So next up you’ll find a list of some of the technology, apps and hacks that I have discovered and frequently (or in most cases daily) use, that have allowed me to free up and make better use of the limited hours we all have, time that I can then use to write this blog post for example… how ironic.
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(A little disclosure, some of the links below include referral links that depending on the referral may involve an incentive on my part. Everything mentioned are tools I actively use and would have no problem listing them with or without the referral link. All referral links are marked with a (*), you are of course welcome to do a google search for the product or service, but I hope you’ll choose to support my time in putting this resource together.)
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Image Size Optimisation
Jpeg Mini is simply one of those applications that once you have it, you’ll wonder how you ever worked without it. Jpeg Mini does one simple task, and it does it extremely well, reducing your large jpeg files to stunningly small sizes. I have had mind blowing results, sometimes reducing files by as much as 70% without any noticeable loss in quality.
How does this work? It’s magic! I’m certainly not qualified to talk about the science, but check out their website and see for yourself. It comes with a desktop drag and drop free trial and from there you can pay a modest one time fee to unlock integration directly into your Lightroom workflow. The key benefit here is time saving for me and my clients when uploading and downloading from online platforms such as Dropbox, WeTransfer, Zenfolio or Pixieset. Separately it also saves time and money on hard drives and USB’s.
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Hand Brake, is a free, but incredibly powerful and simple application, that I use to do exactly the same process as Jpeg Mini, but with video files instead of jpegs. It reduces the size of your promotional video material, slideshows for clients and anything else that has a .mov or other supported file extension. Kudos and big thanks to Ben Foster of The London Wedding Film Co for this one.
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Multiple Email Accounts
If I added up all the time I spent emailing each year, it would probably scare me beyond belief, so lets do just that… assuming 30 minutes each day, 6 days a week, 50 weeks a year, (allowing 2 weeks for days when I have no wifi connection) thats 150 HOURS! or nearly ONE WHOLE WEEK 24hrs a day! Wow. I had to do the maths four times!
So I think its fair to say this email thing we all consume ourselves with daily is a big time drainer.
Personally, I accept its a key (one of many) in doing business in the 21st Century yet, what scares me the most, is how much time I would spend if I didn’t already have a few small hacks on my side.
Multiple Email Accounts. One such hack I use is to have multiple email addresses and/or accounts. A quick check of my inbox shows that I have 8 email accounts at present, all for slightly different purposes. The beauty here is that you are to unlikely to need to check every email every day, so by separating out your communication, you can check only what you need at any given time. Two really good examples of this concept in action are having one dedicated email address for your enquiries or ‘new business’, this is the email that any of my contact forms are linked to, as well as listed on my business cards and the like. When I’m on holiday, or simply limiting my online communication for a day or two, this is the only email I check daily, all my existing clients use (unknowingly at times) a separate email to contact me, this I only need to check every few days, freeing up my time and forcing me to only respond to the e-mails that really require my attention, today.
Subscription & Junk Email. In a similar manner, I have another email address that I ONLY use for subscriptions, sign-up forms, online shopping, social media and the like. I call it my “junk email account”, and this email address is the one I check least, it’s normally full of airline promotions, black Friday offers, eBay notifications and a whole host of other useless e-mail. Some of this will eventually get my attention, but its certainly not urgent.
Facebook. Also, if you get email from Facebook, this is a really easy one to stop in its tracks, just head to the settings in your accounts and turn off ALL notifications. Whilst you’re at it, I would recommend and probably ‘preach’ at times to those I meet “turn off ALL smartphone notifications, especially social media” – but that’s another article in itself.
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Mail Butler (for Mac)
Next up, I use a great plugin for Apple Mail called Mail Butler*. This allows with just one click to unsubscribe to any mailing lists that you no longer want to receive mail from, this is on top of a standard SPAM folder you might already have in place.
Mail Butler does a wide range of other things too, for example, allowing you to delay send email (Boomerang does the same thing in Gmail). You can also see when someone has opened your e-mail (alongside a date and time) and also recognises if you use the word ‘attachment’ and reminds you to actually add the attachment before sending.
Other features include; snooze mode and the ability to send reminders, within Apple Mail, to reply to emails at a specified future time and date.
If you use Mac, Mail Butler is the way forward! Check it out and get 1 month free with this link.*
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Finally, I cannot mention email without pointing towards using email signatures for more than ‘Kind Regards, Barney’. I use signatures for nearly every email! In fact, if I even have a slim suspicion that I’ll need to send a similar email again in the future, I will copy all the text and add it as a new signature.
I have around 40+ signatures for a whole manner of day to day tasks including; replying to enquiries, sending a booking agreement, showing how to leave a review, suggesting a date or location, and asking for certain details about a wedding or event. Signatures are incredibly powerful time savers, two clicks, a line or two of personalisation and you’re done.
If you do it twice, simplify and automate.
You can also use the likes of Typinator or TextExpander, neither of which I have personally used.
The simple ability to have a drop-down menu (or keyboard shortcut) to insert entire paragraphs already written out is super powerful. I am sure there are other ways to achieve the same result, but the key is to make sure you’re doing something, and ideally something better than copying and pasting from a text document, although that’s definitely a great backup! (and far better than nothing)
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Outlook for iPhone
My current iPhone app of choice for email is; Outlook. After the sad passing of the Sunrise app & web service a few months ago, I have turned to Outlook. (who bought out Sunrise) Whilst I do feel myself missing the cleaner layout and more intuitive nature of Sunrise, Outlook is actually, in some ways, more powerful than Sunrise once was. You can now integrate Emails, Calendars, Contacts and Cloud Storage all into one single application.
I also hear that a Trello integration is on the way…
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How do you keep track of all your bookings, schedule repeated tasks, create systems for employees or freelancers and even just set reminders for yourself? If the answer is not Trello, then it should be! It still amazes me that Trello is completely FREE!
If you haven’t used Trello, or any other project management tool before then it’s easy to shrug off.
To give you an idea of what Trello can do then think about everything you do at the moment for the following tasks; list making, scheduling jobs, accountability to jobs scheduled, setting reminders, tick boxes, sharing details with your spouse, assistant or VA, creating systems for new or existing regular activities and taking all that information on the move with you, anywhere, anytime!
Trello makes light work of knowing where you are with each client every step of the way. A little word of warning here, Trello is very much a blank canvas and after using it for nearly two years I still make frequent adjustments to the workflow I have created. For me though that is why Trello is so useful and powerful, it is completely customisable and can do as little or as much as you like. It also has the ability to link up in many ways with other technology thanks to inbuilt connectivity and the likes of Zapier.
You may at first find yourself forfeiting some time to think and experiment with how you want Trello to work for you. In the long run, once you’re settled in, you’ll be thankful you got stuck in. Trello Rocks!
If you like the sound of Trello but can’t get a grip on how you might implement it, then I’m thinking about hosting a Webinar or creating a screencast about how I implement it in my businesses and projects…
…if you’re interested then let me know here. 🙂
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Book Keeping & Payments
If you still do your book-keeping using Excel maybe it’s time to upgrade? Not only upgrading your experience of doing your bookkeeping and tax return, but to also help you understand your numbers each month, or even each day.
If you use a book-keeper, like the experience and they keep you up-to-date with your spending patterns, then maybe you’re already in good hands. Remember though as Marcus Lemonis once said; “If You Don’t Know Your Numbers, You Don’t Know Your Business”.
I am fully aware that other online and offline book-keeping applications exist, when I started using Xero in 2016, I found that they were slightly ahead of the game and have in my opinion, left the likes of Quick Books struggling to keep up when matching feature with feature.
Another really important point here; make sure your accountant is bang up-to-date too, if they are not able to login to your Xero or Quick Books account whenever you need them to, then ask yourself, why not?
A key feature of these online accounting tools is the ability to link up your bank accounts, tax savings and credit cards automatically, so no more downloading bank statements. Everything appears automatically.
25% Off for 3 Months*
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Receipt Bank (RB) is a feature I use in conjunction with Xero (XO) that automatically reads my receipts and files them accordingly.
For example; I use my iPhone to take a picture of a fuel receipt for £40. Before I have left the fuel station, the receipt has been uploaded to RB, read the key information, (i.e The Amount, Location of Spend, VAT, Currency Converted, Type of Payment Method) and then posted to my XO account where XO then matches it up with the credit or debit card I used for the transaction. Accounts Done.
In reality both XO & RB need a little “teaching” to your spending patterns, and to begin with it takes a little time, after a while however, as you make similar transactions again and again, XO & RB do a marvellous job saving your time. Month on month you can quickly view online (or on my phone) where you are spending the most, when invoices are due and your YTD (Year To Date) figures.
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Formally called Cuda Sign, Sign Now is a legally binding way (within the EU) of completing contracts and booking forms online without any of the posting and scanning hassle. An account costs less than £10 per year for unlimited use. I use it for all my booking agreements between myself and clients, but also with solicitors, accountants and HMRC documentation.
Clients can view and sign from their phones, tablets or computers without the need for any account, sign up process or fee.
Another option would be Adobe Sign.
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Browser Tools & Apps
Do you use KeyChain Access on your Mac? If yes, you already have a flavour of LastPass, however LastPass is certainly in a different league. Put simply, LastPass automates the login process for your digital life, everything from Social Media to Banking. LastPass allows you to save login details for specific web pages and then when you visit next time, LastPass will automatically log you in automatically from wherever you have LastPass installed.
Like ‘LockBox’, the mobile application, LastPass has one single master password which then holds all your other passwords. Yet what LastPass enables you to do is automate the login process and have really long complex passwords that you need not type every time you login. As well as the browser extension and mobile app, you can also login to LastPass when you’re on someone else’s computer or at an internet cafe anywhere in the world, so wherever you are, with one master password (or two-factor authentication if you prefer), you can access everything.
Sounds a little unsafe to have one password for everything? My personal view point is that my online life is now much more secure, I have many different (more complex) passwords for my logins, many of which I can’t even remember. Where as previously, I had only a couple passwords for everything.
Basic LastPass (what I use) is FREE.
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You know this is an article written by a photographer when the Sun Seeker app is brought up as a ‘productivity hack’. Sun Seeker is one of those apps that you use the first time and go WOW, then you forget about it and use it maybe only a couple times a year, but when you do, you’re so glad you have it. If you happen to be around clients or other curious people, you’ll be sure to get a ‘heck yeah’ for effort.
So what is Sun Seeker? Sun Seeker is an app that uses an iPhone’s gyroscope and camera, along with sun mapping data to show you where the sun will be at any given date or time in the future. It is super useful for forward planning on where a sunrise or sunset might occur, allowing you to get ahead of nature and know exactly where to position yourself, or your subjects.
Whilst I mainly use Sun Seeker only a couple hours before an intended shoot, you can also look months, or even years, in advance at any location, worldwide. It is incredibly accurate and might have you pointing your phone in the air randomly for the first couple of days. (just because you can)
Sun Seeker is a little pricey as far as Apps go, about £12 for the Sun and Moon version, but its a business expense, right?
If anyone knows of a similar iPhone app for tide times then please let me know, if not, free business idea for you.
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Communication & Sharing
Collective communication tools don’t get much more efficient and user-friendly than Slack. Built as a business communication tool, Slack is very much like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, allowing users to chat, message and share attachments in a variety of different threads depending on your needs. Slack is a great tool for those wishing to separate their communication with other colleagues and/or employees from their personal online chat.
In a smaller and more simple context, you could choose to simply use Slack as a means to communicate with your other half and/or associate(s).
From a productivity point of view, it’s great to have all my ‘working’ communications in one place to pay attention to during the day, and something I can turn off at the end of the day. Slack comes as a mobile app but also a desktop application, and as with so many other great Apps, completely FREE!
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I doubt this one needs much explanation, Cloud Storage is not a new thing anymore, but it does still strike me how few people actually use it to its full extent. Cloud Storage is no longer just ‘storage’, if used correctly it can be a powerful tool to implement in a productive working system between multiple people, or just multiple computers.
I’m also fully aware that Dropbox* is not the only option anymore, with similar services from Amazon & Google also available. For me though Dropbox is one of those classic situations of starting to use something and sticking with it, to change now seems a daunting task, and I don’t know why I would need to either.
90% of all my files (except my camera’s Raw files) are stored in my Dropbox account. For me, this means I can pull up any file I need too, anywhere. Often WITHOUT the need for a Wifi connection as both my laptops sync automatically in real time whenever I have the connection.
In my day-to-day workflow I also store all my current Lightroom Catalogs within Dropbox, meaning myself, my other half, an assistant or a company in India (if your that way inclined), can open and work on the files from any linked computer (or authorised person).
Warning: If you intend to use Dropbox to allow multiple people to work on a single Lightroom Catalog or Final Cut Project, then it is imperative you have a system in place where by only one person has the file open at any one time. If not, problems will arise!!!
Dropbox Pro is currently around £80 a year for 1TB of storage, excellent value for money!*
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Need to record a video of a task that you complete regularly? Or maybe you need to show a client the process of placing an online order? Screen Cast allows you to do just that by recording your screen or yourself, (or both) whilst also recording sound, allowing you to talk someone through a specific task.
Screen Cast has a free logo embedded option with a max record time of 15 minutes, and then it costs about £12 a year to have a logo-free and unlimited recording length version. It’s super easy to use and I regularly use it to record videos and upload to youtube for clients to consume. Or you could record a task and add to a Dropbox folder or into you new Trello account to show an assistant or a freelancer how to do a specific edit or explain how to access a particular file.
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If you’re not a fan of giving out your mobile number, want to have a landline option that is directed to your mobile, or perhaps spending time abroad and don’t like paying roaming fees, then Invoco could be for you.
Solving these problems and many others including; taking voicemails and emailing them to your inbox, Invoco is a one-stop shop for phone line management and can be made as complex or as simple as your needs require.
The most obvious two benefits for you might be, separating out personal and business calls whilst only using one mobile device, or setting an “out of office” voicemail on your personal mobile at certain hours of the day or days of the week. Voicemails are then sent to your inbox for the next time you open your emails. You could even have a dedicated email address for phone calls.
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My go-to research tool for flight research is Kayak. ‘Sky Scanner’ is also a great tool and very similar, if you’re already using Sky Scanner then I suggest you stick with that. Kayak is simply my choice of the pair and the system I have become used to.
The key point here is to make sure you’re using one or the other when researching your flights. I personally don’t ever use Kayak to make any bookings, instead making the decision to go directly to the airline the majority of the time, particularly when flying short haul where a £1 saving is something I would overlook for the comfort and ease of booking directly.
However, it is worth taking note of companies such as ‘Expedia’ on Kayak that sometimes, for long haul and holiday packages can offer some great value for money. Most recently for flight+hotel deals that are cheaper than flight only.
Comparison sites are also not fool proof and sometimes do not include specific airlines, airline offers or specific promotional flights, therefore, it is worth briefly checking on another comparison site or checking directly with a specific airline if you think (or know) they fly the route you are looking for.
Generally speaking though, Kayak does a really great job, even emailing you reminders when flight prices drop and suggesting if now is a good time to book (of course this only tracks historic prices and not possible future reductions).
Interested in learning more about my flight booking process? and what thoughts go through my head when booking over 100 flights and hotel stays in 18 months? Then join me on a FREE LIVE webinar! Coming Soon, register here.
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Booking.com & Top Cashback
This little tip with Booking.com* and Top Cashback* is more of a little money saver for you, a thank you for making it this far through this list of productivity tools. 🙂
If you’re anything like me, you stay in a fair few hotel rooms throughout the year, you might now use Air BnB, or perhaps stick to one chain (Premier Inn in the UK for example). Whilst you’re likely to of heard of Booking.com, you might not of heard of Top Cashback (TC).
TC (not Thomas Cook) is an online intermediary shopping site that when used provides free cash back simply for going through their website. There is even a Google Chrome extension that will alert you whenever you’re on a website that provides some cash back through their system.
The reason I mention this here in relation to Booking.com, is that TC & Booking.com have a long-standing offer that provides you with 3-5% cash back for any spend made on Booking.com, and since Booking.com also has really competitive prices (once you include hotel taxes and the like when looking elsewhere), it’s an easy money saver, even if you just use it for your non-chain hotel spend.
Of course on occasion(s) you may get a better deal by going directly to your chosen hotel.
For heavy Premier Inn (PI) spenders (like myself), at the time of writing PI still lists many of its ‘flex’ rates on Booking.com. Although you can often beat these by going direct and booking a non-refundable ‘saver rate’. It depends on if you like the flexibility.
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Saving the best and most geeky tool for last, if you travel frequently or work from coffee shops at all then install TorGuard today*!
After being recommend to me by Mish Slade in her book ‘Protect Your Tech‘* I have been using Torguard for almost 3 years. Torguard is an internet VPN (Virtual Private Network) that hides your I.P. address by using an intermediary I.P address hosted by, in this case, Torguard.
As well as protecting you when you’re online, it makes it harder for hackers to see or copy what you are typing, it also allows you to hide your I.P address and make it ‘appear’ as though your location in the world is different than in reality. Whilst a nightmare for Google Analytics, a VPN is great for watching your favourite TV shows when you’re not actually where the licensing allows.
In my experience, despite numerous attempts, Torguard* no longer works with Netflix, Damn!
Torguard is rather techy behind the scenes, but for user experience, it just sits like any other application on your desktop (or app on your phone), and you can simply turn it on and off on demand.
Personally, I usually keep it turned off at home, as it does slow down my 300MB internet speed (unless watching TV originating from elsewhere). I do keep it turned on as default when on a wifi network I don’t have control over, like right now in Madrid Airport.
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So there you have it…need some more hacks or want to save some more time?
Then maybe you should consider a VA. 😉
I’m not there myself yet, but I hear “UpWork” is a good place to start and something I will be looking into very soon.
I hope that you are already using some of these time-saving and super productive resources. If not, then perhaps after reading the above you will find a new item to put into your own toolkit. Or simply inspire you to find your own.
Tell Me Your Productivity Hacks. Perhaps you’re using an app to save time or relieve stress that works for you that I haven’t previously mentioned, maybe web extension, or perhaps a habit you use daily to be more productive and increase your efficiency? If you do, please let me know, I would love to add more to my Trello list…
If you did indeed find this useful then I would be delighted to share some more content with you soon…
Keep Me Posted!
(Yes, your brand new ‘sign-up’ only email account will do just fine)
Thanks for reading, have an awesome day!
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