When Productivity Apps Aren’t Enough, Own Your To-Do List

By Chelsea Baldwin, Contributor, on June 20, 2017

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Listening to unsolicited productivity advice is as bad as listening to cheap elevator music in a waiting room. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but you could easily think of a million other things you’d rather be doing.

I mean, really — I get it that there are a million ways I can do more, be more, have more time and spend endless hours with the children I don’t even have yet. And the advice is tolerable enough … but everyone tries to get you to download the latest productivity apps that’ll solve your productivity and to-do list problems forever. You’ll never forget anything, because the app won’t let you. Somehow, magically, you’ll find time to do everything in one 24-hour period.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of that advice. Could I be more productive if I downloaded one of those apps? Probably. But, to me, micro-managing the input and output of the app seems like another thing to add to my already-long to-do list, which takes enough time as it is.

Rather than pitching you a list of 10 amazing new productivity apps that you “need” to download now, I’ll just get real with you and share the apps and software that best support my productivity as a five-figure-per-month freelancer.

Keeping My Invoices and Expenses in Order

I tried to make exactly one professional invoice with Excel before I got frustrated, realized it was harder than I thought, and decided to use a free trial of Freshbooks accounting software. Besides making professional-looking invoices in a matter of minutes, it also automatically tracks all of my business expenses via credit card and lets me give access to my accountant.

Beyond all the time I save making and sending invoices, I also don’t have to save receipts and tally business expenses on my own. And when it’s time to file taxes, I just give my accountant his access key and he can go in and pull all the information he could possibly desire to file my taxes. It saves time for him, too, because I inevitably forget a few things that we’d otherwise have to spend a week emailing back and forth over.

It’s a win-win, and it’s only about $20 per month. With access to PayPal Business Payments — which is just 50 cents per invoice instead of the standard 3 percent — it pays for itself.

Automation Software

While you’re still starting out, it’s likely that you have the time to manually respond to every request for your e-book, perform customer onboarding over the phone or send a personalized email about a low-priced up-sell after someone opts in for your lead magnet.

But, as you scale up and gain more clients (and more email list subscribers), that’s not going to be as possible. Choosing when to upgrade to this type of automation will be unique to each freelancer, but you can get started on email automation with a MailChimp account, which is free for your first 2,000 subscribers. It’s a great deal, and takes a lot off your shoulders.

To up-sell after people sign up for my lead magnet (and to help people advance through my funnel with the right type of content), I just started using LeadPages with my MailChimp account. I can’t get over how much it accomplishes despite the tiny amount of time I invest into using it.

Hiring to Outsource

Some things like outreach and onboarding can be outsourced to software. But other things just need to be outsourced to actual people, because the nature of the work requires a human brain and touch. Rather than hiring an assistant, which is common productivity advice, I’d recommend hiring an expert in that field of work to do it for you. Then it’s done, and you can go on with your life.

For example: I suck at design. While I could use a DIY design course to narrow down exactly what my brand should be, I hired a professional brand designer to do a one-off project. I don’t like pitching myself for podcasts and guest posts, so I hired an expert in entrepreneurial PR to do it for me. A package of 50 pitches was actually less expensive than what I’d have to pay to train an assistant before they’d even be prepared to do PR pitches on my behalf.

I always run into technical issues, so I joined a program where I pay a “Ms. Fix It” less than $50 per month to instantly answer my tech questions at any hour of the day. Problem immediately solved, and sanity saved. I save so much time by hiring these experts, and every “dream” item on my to-do list actually gets accomplished, instead of being put on the back burner.

Productivity Without the Apps

As you can see, the things that make me truly “productive” as a freelancer aren’t necessarily productivity apps. In fact, the only “apps” I use for productivity are Google Calendar and my phone’s timer to keep me on track with the Pomodoro Technique.

The answer isn’t always “productivity hacks” to do more. Most of the time, from what I’ve found, the answer is to find ways to do less so you have more time to do the things that really matter.

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