My Top 5 Productivity Tools

 

As an independent social media consultant, I have the flexibility of working from home (or mostly hotel rooms and wherever I am while traveling)... And while I very much enjoy that I can work in my PJs, wake up and sleep whenever I want to, work at my own pace while watching TV, and take a break or travel when I feel like it... I have to confess that it tends to get out of hand, and I easily lose focus and track of work. Try to separate work life from personal life when you work from your personal space, and your job is all about spending time online on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the tons of other distracting social networks! So while my work life might look awesome on the outside, on the inside it is quite hectic, unorganized, confusing, and can get overwhelming... Up until I decided to restructure and organize it! And given how I'm all about tech, I of course turned to tech for help and began my search for tools and applications to manage and increase my productivity. Whether you work independently, or just want to make your job easier, here are the tools I recommend:

1. RescueTime

This is the first app that I found, used and was mind-blown by it... It is so simple yet very crucial! It basically tracks how you spend your time on the devices where you have it installed (I have it installed on my laptop and mobile phones) and gives a visual report of what the time was spent on with different categories, ranging from very distracting to very productive. You can set a goal of how long you want to spend on Business/Productive tasks vs Distracting tasks, and know exactly how to work towards that goal as you see where your time goes... The app has so many awesome features that you must check out, but I specifically like that it syncs across all my devices, and sends me a weekly summary, seen below, of how my time was spent, showing the most productive days, times, activities, and applications, and the most distracting apps that I need to learn to avoid (Whatsapp much?!).

What I love is that by knowing which time and day I am most productive, I can plan to have the most daunting tasks performed then where I am less likely to prone for distraction. The only issue however is that social networking sites are categorized as Very Distracting, which is realistic, but given that my work involves social media, I can not separate between the productive/business use of social networking sites and the distracting/personal use. Still, that's a problem you only have to worry about if you're in my line of work; otherwise, you're going to love it! 

2. KanbanFlow

This is a web-based tool where you have a work board with tabs to manage tasks and to-do lists. It's quite easy to set up and use, and leave open in your browser for a quick glance to stay on top of your work responsibilities. The tool has so many useful features such as adding description, tags, color-coding tasks, adding due dates, subtasks, team members, sending you email reminders when you're approaching due dates or tasks are overdue, etc... Ok you get it, it has everything and it's awesome and I love it :P It's usually the first thing I check out every day and regularly update! FYI (for your information/inspiration), below you can see a snapshot of my own workboard... 

I just love clearing out that "Do today" and "In progress" columns, and look at all the tasks I've "Done" to feel like I've accomplished something! As That itself increases motivation and productivity. The downside of Kanbanflow is that it is only web-based; it would be great to have a mobile version of it. 

3. Handle

This beautifully designed app is an integration between email, to-do lists, and calendar; so it is the perfect app if most of your work happens on or comes from your inbox! I personally didn't use it much, as I was already using KanbanFlow to organize my projects' to-do list, but I recently felt that Handle can be better suited to "handle" those small tasks that are coected to an email message, and can save me the time to manually add it to KanbanFlow with a link. So you may want to save the large recurring project tasks to Kanbanflow, and use Handle for small/communication tasks. But even on Handle, you can organize to-do tasks by project, and add reminders and due dates that would sync with your Google calendar...

Unfortunately, I seem to be having trouble adding due dates, not sure why; the other downside is that it does not have a mobile app, but rather a browser extension/desktop app ... Don't these developers know we spend most of our time on mobile rather than desktop! But we can't complain, the app is practical and free, and would sure come in handy. 

4. Toggl

This is more of a project time management tool that basically works as an automatic timer, with an option to add time manually, to track how much time you spend on each specific project, as opposed to RescueTime which tracks the time you spend on a specific application/website instead of project. It can be useful especially when different projects have different time priorities, and are costed differently based on hourly rate, to make sure that your time is spent on the most profitable/top priority projects, and you're being productive where it actually counts!

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The upside of it is that there is a mobile version of this app, but the downside is that I personally often forgot to click "Start" for every task I started working on, and sometimes I forgot that I had the timer ruing for a task while I was not really working on it but was actually distracted or even away. Still, it can be useful if you can actually remember to use it, and it can especially come in handy where the other apps may fall short, like in tracking the time you spend on doing online research for work by visiting many different websites. You can then log in that time as "productive", when RescueTime would not recognize the significance of those sites separately and may even consider them distracting (unless you manually go change each site's categorization in the app).

5. gTasks

It's a little embarrassing perhaps to include this in the list with the others, but it is the first app I started using long before the rest. gTasks, or Google Tasks, is a simple task list app by Google that integrates with your Gmail tasks. The advantage of it is that because of how simple and easy it is to use, it saves you time and effort in adding tasks and due dates. gTasks is my go-to app when I'm out in a meeting, or moving around, and need to quickly make a note/list of things to do, before I move onto the other tools for more elaborate task management. You can also easily send the list by email, or share it in many other means; you can check tasks as done in one tap, and see everything in one place. The same developers also developed another similar app called TickTick that you can also check out if you need something like gTasks but more advanced. TickTick lets you add attachments, comments and location to your lists, as well as active links.

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So this is it! That's all I need and use so far to manage my productivity and I hope you give them a try and find them as useful as I did... If you do try them, let me know what you think, and if you are using other productivity tools that work well for you, give me your recommendations below.


5 reasons yoga is good for you... Lenovo Yoga!

YogaBed.jpg

Starting your day in a healthy active way is a must to ensure the rest of the day goes well… Perhaps you wake up early work out take a warm shower and have a nice breakfast before you head out to work. Ideally that’s how most of us want to start the day but chances are like many of us you start your day with your phone or on your laptop! 

As a social media professional, I start my day and spend most of it using my laptop, and in the brief moments I have to step away from it, I stay connected using my smartphone. Needless to say, the devices we use are an integral part of our day, and can help “make it or break it”… Well maybe not as dramatic as that, but I can’t imagine anyone having a good mood using a laptop that is slow, and keeps freezing and crashing! I know that too well from my previous experience with the Macbook White, even after upgrading its RAM from 2GB to 4GB, it was slower than Saudi customs officers. (Sorry, I had to sneak in this joke :Phaha)

But fortunately, about 2 months ago, and after the news about the rise of Lenovo, I switched to Lenovo Yoga 13.

After a couple of years of using a Mac, it was a bit uneasy migrating back to a Windows device, especially since the Windows 8 was quite different than the earlier Windows OSs. However, after a little of getting used to it, the experience was quite pleasing… Without getting too technical, since you can find tons of technical and specs reviews through google, here’s why Lenovo Yoga is great for me and would be good for you too:

1. Light weight, heavy multitasking:

I travel around often, so I need something easy and light to carry with me that won’t take much space in my luggage or add too much weight. Smartphones and tablets might be a substitute but they can never fulfill all my requirements: multitasking between internet browsing, working with documents, while also watching a movie/TV series (sometimes all together!). At 1.5 Kg, a 13” screen, and Intel® Core™ i5, Lenovo Yoga 13 fits the job perfectly!
 

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2. Long battery life:

Stressing on the importance of a light-weight heavy-multitasking device, a long battery life goes hand in hand, if you don’t want to have to carry the charger with you, and desperately seek and get stuck near power outlets. Lenovo Yoga 13’s battery will last up to 8 hours, so it is quite efficient when I’m out and about for the day. I know that it at least lasts for the train trip between Dammam and Riyadh, which is over 5 hours. Yes, that train is even slower than Saudi customs!
 

#NowWatching a new comedy series with Robin Williams running an #advertising agency, The #CrazyOnes. Love it! #funny

Posted by Manal Assaad on Friday, 22 November 2013

3. Multitouch Screen:

Touchscreens have become the norm, rather than the trend. I sure dreaded when smartphones quit tactile keyboards and turned all touchscreens; typing is one of my main activities and it’s just not as easy on touchscreens. But then you get used to touchscreens, and depend on them on your smartphone, and your tablet, so it only makes sense that your desktop PC or laptop joins the club! Using the touchscreen on the Lenovo Yoga makes multitasking easier as it gives you faster control over the task at hand, since you can just reach for what you need.

4. Different Modes of Use:

Lenovo Yoga is called so because of its flexibility, and the different modes (positions) it can assume. I use these modes depending on my need, flipping from full mode (typical laptop with keyboard) for heavy tasks to tablet mode for light tasks. It certainly helps to have one device fit for both roles, so I don’t need to also carry my tablet if I just wanted something sleek in my hands to browse through.

Having a lasertag wedding rehearsal dinner is an awesome idea! #himym

A photo posted by Manal Assaad منال أسعد (@themanalyst) on

 

5. Windows 8 OS:

Although many may point out the flaws of Windows 8, I haven't experienced any of them yet, fortunately. The OS is fast, and even with my HD almost full, tasks have been running smoothly, with no major crashes as I recall. Another notable feature is the InstantResume; I'd be watching something, pause it, put the laptop to sleep, and when I awaken it, it takes barely 10 seconds, and I can resume watching directly like the system was never interrupted! To someone with my impatience, seconds make a world of difference :P

So this has been my personal experience with the Lenovo Yoga so far! If you have any specific questions, post them in comments below. And subscribe to the blog to follow my updates about it or any other cool gadget I get ;)

Lessons of Engagement on Facebook Pages

A Facebook Page for your brand is almost always an obvious must-have in your social media platforms. Despite the contrary belief, or what some so-called online marketers would try to sell you, having a facebook page is not about the number of fans you have… it’s about attracting your true target audience and engaging them in effort to achieve your business goals.

Your target audience is easily your customers, potential customers, or any entities you’d like to get a message to. Reaching your target audience and getting them to “like” your page & be active on it are also a result of engaging the fans. Think of it as a cycle: You get fans, you engage them, the message reach other potential fans that, then, become fans to participate in the engagement. 

For the purposes of clarification, engagement in terms of Facebook is wall posts, comments and likes in the literary sense. In a much more comprehensive sense, engagement is the collection of fan feedback that carries a value, be it negative, positive or neutral. In my personal and professional opinion, I’d classify the types of engagement per value (according to their attributes in the right table), from lowest to highest, as: 

Now that we’ve got introductions out of the way, we can get straight to the points:

Personalize Engagement.

It might be common sense to be social in your engagement with the fans since you are on a social network, but personalizing it is a whole different level. Teach the fans to communicate with the brand through a person, not an admin! Talking to an admin is formal & eerie, no matter how social that admin is, because at the end of the day, the fans are talking to someone who they have absolutely no idea of. Therefore, it makes it harder to build a closer relationship with them & get their trust. Yes it is that dramatic. By giving your admin a name and personality, you paint a picture of him/her in the minds of the fans that allow them to cross intimacy barriers. The character communicating with the fans needs not be a match of the person who is really managing it. You can be a female college student who is managing a brand page that requires you to speak as a businessman because that’s whom your target audience will relate to. That’s why, if you work in an agency that handles social media for different clients & brands, you need to be trained to understand each brand fully & mimic different personalities and speak a language that is inviting to the fans of each page. 

Creating a personality for the admin of a page might not be an easy task if the target audience varies in gender, age and demographics; but even in the worst cases, there will be a set of common characteristics between them and that is what makes them all fans of your page. Find those common characteristics & inject them in the page’s personality. If it helps, you can even create more than a persona to manage the page, and be sure to make that clear to the fans by including the name of each persona with its related post. For example, let’s say you are running a brand magazine page with posts about men fashion and women fashion. You might want to create male and female personas and announce it to the fans that, for example, John is the expert on men fashion & is the one behind the related posts, and Jane is the female fashion expert handling those postings. Signing the name of the different people behind each post is common recommended practice for pages that are handled by a team of admins for real. 

In some cases, the strategy of having a personalized page or different personas per page might not be recommended, so if you’re unsure whether it fits your brand or not, drop me a line below & I’ll help you with that! 

Don’t Get TOO Personal.

 I don’t mean to confuse you or contradict with the first lesson, but there are limits that you need to keep so you can maintain successful engagement. While you want to humanize the brand and personalize communication, you do not want to dissociate the admin from the brand. While you want to get close to your fans & create a bond with them, you do not want to creep them out by getting too personal because at the end of the day, you are representing a brand & a company that is legally accountable if it infringes on the privacy of its fans or acts inappropriately. So for example, it would be okay for you to pass a general comment asking the fans about the well-being of their families, but you do not want to dig deep into their network & friends’ updates to ask a fan about how her niece’s surgery went. Sure you might be asking that from the kindness of your heart, but to the fan, you would just seem like a stalker hiding anonymously behind a brand name, or even a company that is invading her social/personal turf.  

Another lesson in not getting too personal is to avoid letting your own personal issues slide into the admin’s character/brand spokesperson. There might be fans who are offensive, stupid, intolerable, and annoying, but keep in mind that you are representing a brand at all times, and to a brand, respect is due to everyone with no discrimination. So do not comment when you are feeling emotional: agitated, pissed off, depressed, or even too excited where you might say things in a rush that would hold the brand accountable. No matter how cool or personal you want to portray the admin’s persona, always keep a respectful tone because no brand is in the business of insulting people or alienating them! Learn to handle negative comments diplomatically as a role model would; you will have to be a perfect communicator all the time, if you feel any less than perfect then step away from the page & come back when you do.

This concludes my first two lessons and surely there are more to come. If there is anything specific that you’d like to ask about or you would like a review of your own Facebook page, leave a comment below.

Personal branding: the art of being yourself – part 2: your brand name and avatar

As you've read my previous post on the importance of personal branding (hopefully); I'm sure you've been waiting for the second part of my tips on your personal brand name and logo/avatar (hopefully). So without further ado, read on...  

Your Brand Name:

In its simplest easiest forms, this can be your own name. However, the thing is your name might be special to you, but it would mean nothing to most other people. Unless you're creating your brand to make your family name recognized and popular, perhaps also for business use, I do recommend that you get yourself a witty nickname. Take mine for example, "The Manalyst". You won't believe how many times I got really great feedback over the way I used my name to create a brand name that represents who I am ingeniously. They also ask why I called myself The Manalyst and where it was inspired from so think of it as a conversation starter. Now imagine if I plainly used my own name "Manal Assaad"… What comment can you actually pass on that?! Okay I have some really nasty comments that I can say about my own name spelling in English, such luck I have. So think of a creative way to represent your name. Some personal brands I came across of and liked are "Zenology" and "AskAaronLee" both on Twitter. 

You have to really think hard about this one, because whatever you choose, you need to stick with it for a really long time and use it across all social networks whether in Names, Nicknames, email addresses, or profiles URL. 

Your Logo/Avatar: 

Here is where you can actually get visually creative and might even have to do some designing. Most importantly, you need some really good clear shots of your SMILEY face. You might be lucky and have some photographers in your friends and use them to take some good shots of your portrait, otherwise a camera phone works out fine –that's the only thing I use actually and so far I got no complaints :P–. 

Let me stress this enough here: NO MUG SHOTS OR PASSPORT ID PHOTOS OR NAUGHTY PHOTOS IN YOUR BEDROOM! I hope it was clear… Also, don't use generic pictures of nature, kids, celebrities –unless you are that celebrity, in which case: hi, can I have your autograph!–, etc. because people need to see the person they are interacting with in order to build trust. 

Another alternative to having your own personal photo if you are not comfortable with it is to use a photo of an item that represents you very well. Like choose something that you really like and have passion for, or have a certain meaning to you… but the connection has to be very obvious or publicized that your own name will be coined with that photo… Think in terms of how tissues actually mean Kleenex to almost everyone. 

Third alternative, which is mostly for professional use, is to have your own logo. Here if you don't have any designing skills, try to get a friend who could help you with it, someone who knows you and understands you enough to get it right or who you can torture until he/she gets it right. If you want to take this very seriously, you may also pay a freelance designer to help you with it. 

Finally, whatever you settle on, you use it on all social networks at the same time. You may change them all periodically but better keep them in sync. 

Now that you have your brand name and logo/avatar, last thing to add to the mix is your own personality, and here I recommend strongly that you just be yourself. However, if you're an offensive obnoxious jerk, you might want to work on changing your personality… unless you're funny, because surprisingly that works for some people! 

Personal branding: the art of being yourself - PART 1: why you need a personal brand

You don't have to be in the marketing field to understand what a brand is. Most probably, you have been a brand all your life and you don't even realize it. Whether you are the cool funny person in your family, the geek in the office, the go-to guy or girl in your click, or the troublemaker in your neighborhood, chances are you have been branded with some label… quite possibly some people have even branded you behind your back with labels I can't point out here...

Those brands were usually just known among our family members, friends, and people who are in our social or professional circles. However, now with our social and professional circles reaching as far as the world can go through our online social networks, you can actually get the chance to present your personal brand the way you want the world to see it.

Keeping the technical terms to a minimum, the key features of a brand are the name, image and personality. Here, I try to give you a few tips on how to make your personal brand -aka yourself- into an art, with a purpose of course because let's admit that as much as Picasso's paintings are a form of art, probably most of the normal population have no idea what the heck is going on in those paintings… But I digress.

In part 1 of my post about Personal Branding, let me point out some of the reasons you need to brand yourself for:

  • A unified online existence. This way it would be easier for people to find you on the various social networks -given that you want to be found!- and be able to recognize you on any channel online from the first glance. It gives you a unique character that is YOU and you won't have people mistaking someone else for you -unless it's someone very rich, good-looking and important in which case you should be flattered :P… Just kidding-.
  • A testimony of expertise and professionalism. Even though you, yourself, are not a company, you are still selling something: You're selling your expertise, your professional services, your work attitude, and all the other traits that get you the job/salary/benefits/business deals you want.  As a job seeker, it is not a secret that recruiters and employers are now digging into your online profiles to make a final decision of whether to hire you or not, and seeing conformity and originality in your online existence will surely give you an edge. As a professional, people who are deciding whether to work with you and trust your opinions and expertise will firmly build their judgment of you from the way you express yourself online and convey your image.
  • A good base for future benefit. You might still be just a college student and think it's way too early to concern yourself with a personal brand, but this is just another reason to start now! Just imagine how much credibility you would gain if you were actually able to successfully create and maintain your own brand. You might think it might never come in use… but hey, what do you have to lose! Everything is basically free. It doesn't really matter what profession you'll end up in, because almost every career in the world requires a distinguished personality.
  • Simply because it's a fun and creative way to express yourself… and that's that!

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I give tips about how to choose your brand name and avatar/logo.

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