As freelancers, we know that there’s really no such thing as “downtime” (or real holidays, for that matter), but office automation can certainly help us get closer to taking some time off. There are plenty of tools out there to help you run your business while you catch some much needed R&R. So why not use them to your advantage?
Office automation brings balance.
“Work-life balance,” in some circles, is a bad term.
Work ‘til you die, right? Wrong.
We all know that life is way different now compared to when “work ‘til you die” even remotely made sense.
The complexities of life today include:
- Social media (which has expanded our friends’ circle two- or threefold – just think about all the weddings we’re “attending” now).
- The demand to do something we love and not just work for the sake of working.
- To get paid enough to live comfortably, plus all the material items we’re driven to want from marketers with ample opportunity to get in front of their digital consumer.
As is clearly apparent, we’re not living in the blissful non-digital age of the 1950’s. Things are harder now. Life is perhaps more demanding and that’s why for many, freelancing is a practical way to earn cash (either full-time or on the side) while having more control over one’s schedule. Working 9-5 doesn’t cut it anymore.
Perhaps this quote from Quartz says it best:
“You don’t freelance on the side… What kind of urban-dwelling Millennial are you?”
If you’re part of the freelancing movement, let’s review seven office automation tips that can help you get the most out of your R&R time.
My first tip for automation is not really about automation at all. Meditation is essential. Learn it, do it, and stop putting it off.
No amount of piña coladas can really solve your “big” problem. The key is to get your mind to a clear place. Meditate when you’re busy and when you’re on vacation. It will make a two-week break feel like a month-long break to your body.
2. Dim the (laptop) lights after 6 p.m.
Before you even go on vacation, download F.lux. You’ve probably heard this before, but the blue light that your computer screen fires into your eyes for hours at a time is messing with your body’s internal clock. While cutting down the blue in your screen feels extremely weird for the first few weeks, it does make a huge difference in your sleep patterns.
If you’re taking a holiday soon, force yourself to use something like F.lux leading up to it. At least then you can maximize the good sleep you’ll surely get while you take that precious time off.
Note: If you’re using an iPad or iPhone, the Night Shift mode added in iOS 9.3 does the same thing as F.lux, dimming the screen brightness during evening hours.
3. Automate receipts and expenses.
One of the most recent apps I cannot live without is Receipt Bank. It allows me to take pictures of my receipts with my phone and submit them to the app for processing. I can also forward all my e-invoices to my (or another) email.
Then, once a week, I go into Receipt Bank and all my expenses are categorized and neatly sorted. I can throw out my paper copies and sync all e-copies to QuickBooks. Receipt Bank also works with Wave and Freshbooks.
This simple activity alone saves me hours each week.
4. Set up auto-deposit with your bank.
Many people don’t know this, but for a small fee, a lot of banks will hold post-dated cheques and deposit them on the day they are valid. This is a big time-saver for those on retainer work.
It gives you peace of mind that you’ll be paid for your work, and helps cross one more to-do list off for your client.
5. Use a virtual assistant service.
I’m sure this is not breaking news to you, but virtual assistant services are surprisingly effective. There are many firms that specialize in virtual assistance (Brickwork India and FancyHands come to mind). Effective use of virtual assistants can add hours of effective time to your week, every week.
6. Build a relationship with a direct virtual assistant.
You might be wondering, what’s the difference between this and your last tip?
By “direct virtual assistant,” I mean creating and building a relationship with one person who will, over time, get to know the nuances of your business and your personality.
A business partner of mine has worked with the same virtual assistant (let’s call him Darryl) for eight years now. Like any long-term relationships, Darryl knows my business partner intimately, including how he likes to communicate, the quality of work expected, and how to create an efficient workflow. For a retainer of $50 each week, Darryl takes care of almost any task — including booking flights and hotels, creating PowerPoint presentations, bookkeeping and research. Darryl does literally anything that can be completed online. Plus, the quality of work has steadily increased over the years.
If you go down this route, one word of caution: ensure that you respect local culture norms.
For example: Darryl becomes disengaged if he isn’t thanked after every single task. It sounds like a little thing, but it’s important for maintaining healthy lines of communication.
7. Invoice smart.
If you haven’t set up recurring invoicing yet, go do that right now. Be sure to include your bank’s wiring instructions in memos you send out to clients. Cut out those cheques if at all possible (if your client insists on using cheques, see tip No. 4 above).
Another option is to use the automated credit card processing features available from QuickBooks Online, Wave and Freshbooks. Sure, you lose about three percent, but you get paid without going to the bank, waiting at the mailbox, or dealing with holds.
Last thoughts on office automation from a product guy
Treat yourself like a product and look for any opportunity to automate.
At the end of the day, if your back office is automated while you’re on vacation, you might not eliminate the need to work altogether, but you’ll reduce your “check in” times to a few hours a day (or even just an hour of very productive beach work).
Preparing for your vacation as much as possible beforehand will also give you a higher chance of enjoying some stress-free time. Otherwise, if you carry your business stress with you the whole time, what’s the point?
Are there any other office automation tools you use to relieve stress and help your business? Please share in the comments!