Stealing Back Time
What could you do with five hours? You could fly from Toronto to Vancouver or to Los Angeles. You could have open-heart surgery or binge-watch half a season of “The Crown” on Netflix.
You could also spend it booking meetings—not actually having the meetings, mind you—just going back and forth with people to find a mutually convenient time and place to eventually meet. According to research commissioned by Doodle, a software company, the average person spends 4.8 hours per week in the Ping-Pong experience of scheduling a meeting with someone.
Five hours is a compelling amount of time to reclaim for your sanity and success. Studies of high-performing executives like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg have identified what experts call the “five-hour rule,” where those who excel in their business universally take, on average, five hours per week to invest in their own development. Elon Musk uses his five hours to read; sometimes he finishes two books per day. Ben Franklin set aside time for experimentation. Some spend it in thought or journaling. For professionals who make their living via creativity (such as florists), time to have dates with the “inner artist” are not just “nice to have”—they’re vital to success.
There are many fabulous tools to help you streamline your processes so you can find those five hours. Here’s a round up of some of our favourites.
Calendly: Manage your meetings, so they don’t manage you
This scheduling software allows you to set up times when you are available to meet. You get to define parameters, such as allowing 15 minutes between meetings or capping the number of meetings per day. You can share the link to your calendar by e-mail or embed it in your website, and those wishing to book time with you can go in and schedule the meeting. The meeting is then automatically added to your calendar.
Calendly works with Google, Outlook, Office 365, or iCloud calendars. This tool lets you structure a meeting to be: one on one, round robin (attendees come and go in a tag-team manner), or collective (everybody meets together at the same time). Calendly connects easily to a variety of apps, such as PayPal and Stripe. This allows you to take payment at time of booking to reduce “no shows.” Also, connecting Calendly to GoToMeeting can generate and attach conferencing details to the event in the calendar.
Base Camp: Project management at a glance
Base Camp lets you manage projects and team members along with those projects by corralling all of the tasks, messages, and workflow in one spot. No more sifting through e-mails or following up with people to see where things stand because there’s a spot in each project space where everyone can post an update of their work and ask questions. The questions can be pre-populated and automated to appear with whatever frequency you decide. Perhaps every Monday you want to ask everyone, “What will you accomplish on this project this week?”
Base Camp gives you a sense as to team deliverables. This eliminates the need for endless meetings. Research out of the University of South Carolina found that the average executive spends the equivalent to three working days or 23 hours a week in meetings, so it’s an area all businesses could focus on for improved efficiency.
Slack: Project management and automatic reminders
Slack also lets you set up teams to manage project workflow, but also lets you set up channels that funnel conversations around predefined topics. If your team were designing arrangements for a big wedding, you could set up individual channels for the personal flowers, the ceremony flowers, the cocktail hour, and the reception décor so all discussion related to those specific topics are gathered and connected to the overall workflow. You can also create private channels to deal with sensitive or secret information.
Slack lets team members start one-on-one conversations if they need to chat about a specific issue that doesn’t involve the other team members. Other apps, such as Dropbox, MailChimp, ZenDesk, and Twitter, can easily integrate with Slack. Bolting these apps onto Slack will allow for greater project input.
Slack lets you use an integrated bot (Slackbot) that will send a ping to remind you of things you ask it to. You can indicate who needs to be reminded and at what date and time. There’s also a task management feature that uses the “to-do” bot, which allows you to create tasks, assign them, and receive notifications when they are done.
Google Docs: Free online collaboration to create files
A favourite of students working on group projects, Google Docs is a free word processor that allows teams of users to create, edit, and collaborate on files in real time. You establish permissions to control the type of changes users can make to the file. Google tracks all changes to the document.
The files are stored on the cloud so you can access them easily anywhere you have an Internet connection. This tool is especially helpful when collaborating on marketing materials or brochures, or creating and sharing bridal proposals. Google docs also lets you type, edit, and format the document using your voice (a useful tool when your hands are full of flowers). You can add on tools such as DocuSign, which allows you to send PDF documents for electronic signatures. This could be very handy when having customers sign purchase agreements or proposals.
Curate: Designed especially for florists and event professionals
This product, developed by a florist, is available by monthly subscription. Curate is cloud based, allows users to create customized, manage shopping lists, and collect data about customers. It integrates with third-party calendar applications and Quickbooks for accounting purposes. Curate also allows users to get digital signatures on proposals and contracts, and it accepts various forms of payment, so you can electronically collect a deposit along with the client’s signature.
Tracking operational costs connected to the various events is also part of the package, which is useful to make sure you aren’t underbidding on your quotes. Curate allows you to upload photos to attach to the proposal, so customers can visualize what they’d be getting. The customer reviews for this product are very positive; users rave about the customer service and the convenience for their clients.
Honeybook: Uniquely suited for the creative business
This software is also well suited to support creative small businesses. Honeybook is primarily a workflow tool that allows you to create project types such as weddings, engagement sessions (with and without a wedding), commercial sessions, etc. You set up the template by creating the workflow with associated “triggers” to appear at set points, such as two days after the project starts or three days before the wedding.
Honeybook allows you to set up tasks, such as “send brochure,” to trigger after initial contact is made. Once workflow is applied to all your client projects, you can use the task management tool to look at the day or week ahead and see all the tasks from various projects bundled by calendar date. You can create a library of images to embed into contracts and brochures you send.
If you’d like to gather more information from a prospective client before preparing a quote, Honeybook helps you generate a questionnaire. You can set this up to send automatically a certain point in the workflow.
Honeybook integrates with Quickbooks and tracks costs to monitor profitability. It also includes a mobile app for calendar integration to see a schedule of payments, upcoming projects, and meetings.
Six Great Tools
So there you have it: six ways to save five hours per week. Choosing the right fit is a matter of identifying the areas you’re really struggling to stay on top of, as well as a bit of trial and error. Many of these tools have a free trial period, so you can play without committing. When you do pay one, remember that you are buying back a precious resource: time. You can always get more money.