Something in the world of floating have you stumped?
You might not know this, but Graham and Ashkahn get almost as excited talking about productivity software and tips as they do float tanks.
From Boomerang and TextExpander to LastPass, Google Docs, and our very own Helm, there’s a ton of software out there to make your work much more streamlined and efficient. With TextExpander, for example, you can become a time wizard with pre loaded shortcuts to much longer or complicated copy, code, or even form-fills.
Listen above or read below for all the salty software trips we could fit into this episode.
Listen to Just the Audio
Transcription of this episode… (in case you prefer reading)
Graham: Welcome, here we are again. So today’s question is a fun one actually for us. “What’s some useful productivity software that you guys use?”
Ashkahn: Oh yeah. All right, here we go.
Graham: Strap yourselves in, everyone, you’re in for a wild ride.
Ashkahn: Alright. Let’s start by giving the little shout-out to keyboard shortcuts.
Graham: Woot woot!
Ashkahn: Keyboard shortcuts — it doesn’t sound like a big deal but this, to me, is one of the biggest things that you can do to improve your productivity. I mean, you’re talking about very small savings in time. Extreme repetition. So even if you’re saving half a second, you’re saving it on something you’re doing over and over and over and over again. So keyboard shortcuts ranging from just generic ones like if you hold down Alt key and move left and right it’ll jump word-by-word instead of letter-by-letter. That saves a huge amount of time. Here’s one that I started using a few years ago that I’ve been using non-stop — you can actually paste something that you copied without formatting, so if you copied it and it was all red and crazy and italicized, and you want to paste it into something, you can look up Mac versus Windows, I think on Mac it’s a “Command-Shift-Alt-V” or “Command-Option-Shift-V.”
Graham: I think it might be “Command-Control-Shift-V”
Ashkahn: There it is. “Command-Control-Shift-V” pastes without formatting so it just pastes in whatever the normal text is of the thing you’re writing it into. Such a huge time-saver. That one is great.
Graham: And it works really well for even new things you’re picking up. It’s actually amazing how quickly you can get down shortcuts. Just yesterday I was brushing up on SketchUp which I’ve only used a couple times in the past and it’s like a year between every use of it, and the shortcuts are totally different than using something like Photoshop or any other kind of project-based thing that I use like that but it really didn’t take very much time at all. The first thing I do whenever I grab new software is get incredibly frustrated that I don’t know shortcuts because I’m so used to just breezing really swiftly through whatever the actions are I need to get done. So I just actually shrunk down the window and had a pane open with my shortcuts on the right-hand side and then the actual program on the left.
The best training I can think of is, just don’t let yourself use the mouse and go into menus if at all possible. When you have to do something force yourself to use that shortcut instead and pretty soon it just becomes second nature like within a matter of five or ten minutes actually of really using those really swiftly and efficiently.
Ashkahn: You pick it up real fast and then you immediately realize how awesome they are and you never want to go back. This ranges from just general stuff on the computer to, like you said, anytime you’re working seriously in a certain application — take a minute and look up the shortcuts because they will genuinely save you some time.
Graham: Yep, and sometimes you can find those up in the top menu and they’ll actually have the shortcut right next whatever you need to do. Unfortunately, often they don’t do that, so you actually need to Google shortcuts for this program, and you’ll find like a hundred articles and they’re like, “I found these shortcuts and it’s the best thing ever!” so be prepared for a lot of enthusiastic shortcut people when you go looking them up.
Ashkahn: Alright, excellent, so keep that in mind. Shout-out, keyboard shortcuts people! What else do we use? I have a thing on my computer called ClipMenu. Free, and it just takes what’s called your clipboard, so when you hit “Control-C” the lingo for it is that you’re copying that thing to your clipboard, and then when you hit (Control-V) you’re pasting it from your clipboard. So, it takes your clipboard and, instead of having it just be able to store one item, that thing that you’re hitting “Control-C” and “Control-V”, it allows you to store I think 20 for this one. There’s other ones out there that you can pay five-ten bucks for and they’ll store your entire history of copying something. So useful. You can copy ten things and then jump over and then paste those ten things in, or it just allows you to copy something and not accidentally copy over it and realize that you just lost the first thing that you copied. Super easy.
Graham: Yeah, if you need to send an email out to ten people, turns out you need an email and a subject line and those are often different fields, and just the ability to paste in those separately or copy three email addresses from three totally different websites and then just go paste them into the same email you want to send to those three people, all of it’s super useful.
Ashkahn: Yeah. Definitely. So that one is huge for streamlining your general process.
And along those same lines, TextExpander is another one that we use a ton of. So TextExpander is something that allows you to have what’s called snippets. So you take something like an email that you have to send to 50 people and you turn it into a snippet so you can just type in a single word. You might put some sort of crazy symbol before it, like a semi-colon or something, and type out a word and then in TextExpander that word will trigger it to open an entire three-paragraph thing. And you can do fancy stuff within it, like have a box where you put in the person’s name for who you’re actually emailing so you can type those in real fast every time you’re sending the email out, or you can have an email where the fourth paragraph has two different versions of it and you just click the one that you want in that specific email that you’re sending out to somebody.
I’ve actually learned that TextExpander is super handy in terms of working with staff and teams and stuff like that too. So it’s not just making a shortcut for your time, but it’s also, if you want to answer a certain customer service question that comes into your email in relatively the same way every time, you can make a snippet and just tell your staff, “Hey we have a snippet for this.” And that way they’re sending things in a kind of consistent way and it’s well-written. And you know, crazy links to things that you need to log into, or just things that are hard to remember and hard to have bookmarks for, you can just turn to snippets and they’re super easy for everybody to find. So, TextExpander, super handy.
Graham: And I think there’s another one for Windows called Phrase Express, which might even be a little more common for Windows. And there’s also Canned Responses in Google. So there’s a lot of different avenues to get towards that idea of snippets. But TextExpander, in my mind, is kind of the most useful that we’ve found and one of the big players as well. Another one outside of that that is a more recent addition but which I use probably almost more than any other software is a plug-in for Gmail called Boomerang…
Ashkahn: Yeah, Boomerang!
Graham: What what?! Give a little shout-out to Boomerang!
You know it’s funny because we pay for all of these softwares, too, and they definitely don’t pay us sponsorship money. Maybe this’ll be the show where all that changes… So, what Boomerang does is it allows you, when you send a message, to specify a time when it comes back to your own inbox. So kind of like a reminder that you expected a response from this person, but they haven’t gotten back to you yet, and pings you again. It also lets you do some other things, like send an email at a later time so if you’re sending it but you actually want it to arrive in the morning, not in the middle of the night, you can use Boomerang to do that. It has some mail receipt tracking so you can actually tell if people have opened your email or not. But the primary use is that, and it’s kind of what the name implies, right? You kind of throw this thing out there and it returns to you at a specified time. So, I use this all the time and it actually makes me seem a lot more responsible than I actually am.
Ashkahn: Yeah, it makes you really seem like you’re on top of your game when you use Boomerang, it’s amazing.
Graham: Yeah it kind of levels you up you know. Occasionally things slip through the cracks too, and now you’re the person who makes sure that nothing slips through the cracks. Because you email someone and, if someone doesn’t reply, then that email’s coming back in a week, or in two days, or whenever you want it back. You just get to send another little email and be like, “Hey hadn’t heard from you yet. You know, I was just still waiting on this response.” And from the outside world it just seems like you’ve kept track in your head of every single email that you’ve sent out through every single day. It really makes you seem a little more magical, for sure.
Ashkahn: Yeah, definitely. That’s a good one. I also find labels and filters in Gmail incredibly helpful. Like when you up your game in terms of having good labels and things auto-filtering out of your inbox. Because that’s one of the big challenges for us and I think for a lot of small-business owners is your inbox just becomes insane. You get so many emails and it becomes this living to-do list for you. Spending a little bit of time on email management and your actual inbox management I think really pays off. So I’m just talking about built-in features into Gmail, their actual folders and labels and automatic filters that you can set up, all become really really handy.
Graham: Another one we’ve started using more recently is Receipt Bank. That’s one of things we use to manage our receipt handling and processing and tracking. Having as many different bank accounts going to different projects as we have for everything from the Conference, to Float Tank Solutions, to our shop, Float On. Being able to give different staff different credit cards for all of our projects and being able to track all of those receipts and make sure they end up actually in our accounting system and don’t get lost — Receipt Bank has been great for that. It’s basically when you get a receipt, you take a picture, the software uses its OCR to detect whatever the text is, the amounts, what card was used, etc, and just puts that into a file where it saves the receipt image and then also saves the translated text and numbers and can import directly over to QuickBooks and things like that. Just very useful for managing receipts and not having to keep a shoebox full of all of your physical things anymore.
Ashkahn: Their rival is called Shoeboxed. LastPass is another one that we use and is much-loved by everybody here.
Graham: Oh my God, yeah, it has cut out so many frustrating hours of my life of searching for that missing password.
Ashkahn: Yeah, so it’s basically like a password management tool. It allows you to take your passwords and store them in something called LastPass, and that’s accessible on your browser, on your phone, stuff like that. The other thing is they really have it well-built for businesses to have these kind of shared password folders. The functionality they have goes very deep. We have passwords that we can share between us as kind of like “the admins” of the business, and we have a whole ‘nother folder for passwords that people in our shop can access, so maybe we want our shop to be able to log into our general email and answer emails but we don’t want them to be able to log into our bank account, and you can set that up in LastPass. You can say, give this password to this group of people, this password to that group of people, and you can even say, let them use this password but don’t let them actually see what the password is.
Graham: Which is really useful, as it turns out, for not having to re-do every single password to everything just when you fire a single staff member who comes on, for example
Ashkahn: Yeah, so it’s really nice in terms of security and it allows you, because you don’t have to remember your passwords anymore, every time you make a password you make a unique one for that site and you make it some crazy string of numbers and characters so your passwords get more secure as well. And it just makes the whole process of having a business where there’s some turnover a lot more seamless. We know that if someone leaves Float On, all we do is we take their LastPass account and deactivate it on our system and now they can no longer log into anything, they can’t remember any of our passwords. Also, when someone joins they don’t have to remember a bunch of passwords. We just give them access to our LastPass and we don’t have one password for everything, which is not a very secure way of doing it. So it’s kind of a win-win in a lot of ways.
Graham: Another one that I’ve found really helpful is called Calendly, and it’s one of many different calendar-booking softwares. So it pretty much just sets you up as a person who has bookable time, and people can schedule different lengths of meetings with you. So I’ve set it up so people can schedule ten- and 15-minute meetings and half-an-hour and hour-long meetings, and you can send them custom links to all of those lengths, too.
So if I only want someone to book a ten-minute meeting because I know they usually like to talk a lot, and I need to just get through it (ahem, Ashkahn) then I send them the link for the ten minutes. And you can sync it up with different calendars, so if you have an iCal feed or a Google Calendar, you can sync it up with that so it’ll automatically know when your busy times are and when you’re available, and just let people book you for those.
So the purpose of those in general is just to stop those crazy strings of back-and-forth emails where you’re like, “Oh well do you have time on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday?” And the other person’s like “Yeah I have time on Wednesday in the afternoon and Friday in the evening.” And you’re like, “Okay well I’m not free Wednesday afternoon but Friday in the evening. What about seven or eight?” And then they’re like, “Okay, seven.” And all of that gets stopped when you just send along a single link and you say, “Hey, just book a good time on my calendar.” Then that’s the last you hear until they book and, again, just like keyboard shortcuts, these things are all about taking activities that you do on a daily basis and sometimes many times a day, and shortening down that length so that you’re a little more efficient with everything that you do.
Ashkahn: Yeah, and I’ve got one more shout-out to give. Spreadsheets! I just love spreadsheets. Seriously, they’re unbelievable.
Graham: What what, spreadsheeeets!
Ashkahn: It’s crazy, I did not know how amazing something that seemed as a child to be the most boring thing ever. I’ve yet to hit something I’ve wanted to do in a spreadsheet and not been able to do it. Especially for tracking finances or just when you need to do any sort of manipulation of information. Throwing that stuff into a spreadsheet and just really quickly summing things up, or averaging them, or twisting them around, or having them combine. They’re just such a rich foundation of equations and stuff like that that you can reference. And it’s real easy because you can just search the internet and they’re all kind of laid out and explained and everything and so, super super handy. We use spreadsheets for a ton of stuff in Float On and I don’t know how did we get by with them.
Graham: Yeah, spreadsheets. We usually use Google Docs as well because they’re shareable spreadsheets. Our big ones for that are Google Docs, which we use for anything that’s native. So any documents that we want to collaborate on it’s amazing for. Ashkahn and I are pretty convinced that we’re both going to marry spreadsheets in some kind of joint-wedding thing as soon as that’s legal. And then we use Dropbox on the other side for any documents that aren’t living documents created within Google Docs. So anything that’s a PDF or file or a big manual or images, or anything like that, we pretty much throw onto Dropbox.
I think at this point everything that I do with Float On doesn’t exist on my personal computer alone. There’s not a single thing that if I and my computer suddenly died at the same moment wouldn’t be accessible by at least some of the other admins in the business. And it’s really nice. So either they’re accessible because you shared that file on Dropbox or they’re accessible because you created it in Drive and put it in the proper folder for sharing. So, there’s really this nice redundancy as well and everything lives on the cloud.
Ashkahn: We have other things that we use our own software for, the Helm, which is really handy. But the greater lesson rather than specifically any Helm stuff is the actual things we find handy about it. One is project management. So we have this built into the Helm but there’s other project management stuff out there and really just having something to keep everything organized is quite nice. Basecamp is a famous one that a lot of people really enjoy using and say a lot of good things about. Basically what you’re looking for is project management across multiple people. So you want to have something where multiple people can be in a project, you can have a task that’s assigned to a few people, and it kind of serves as this hub of knowing what needs to get done, who’s supposed to get it done, when you’re supposed to get it done. You’re able to have conversations about those things that need to get done. It really just kind of takes your whole operations and puts it to another level of organization when you have some sort of system like that in place.
Graham: Yeah, very important, and we’ve mentioned it before in other episodes too, but also having a robust guide and just having some place where people can go and view the collective wisdom of the people who’ve passed through Float On before, ends up being really useful. Again there are questions that get asked once every 18 months, where people aren’t expected to remember. Or if there’s anyone who came on new in the last year and a half, that question has just never came up and been discussed, but if you do a little search on our guide, you can pop it up and know the answer to it right away which is really nice. So some repository of information that’s accessible. Whatever mode that is. Before this we used a Google Doc for it and that worked okay. There’s some very simple solutions that you can do for these. Obviously people have been using paper manuals forever, it’s just in the world of technology we now have some more searchable, robust options.
Ashkahn: Cool, I’m sure there’s more out there.
Graham: I thought of another one that’s a fun one being done, which we both use a lot and find really useful for Mac specifically, which is Boom.
Ashkahn: Boom, yeah I was thinking about that one. I don’t know if it’s exactly productivity-related, but it’s pretty awesome.
Graham: Not having to spend the seconds leaning into my computer speakers every time I need to hear something.
Ashkahn: So, yeah what is Boom?
Graham: Boom boosts the volume of your computer higher than it is natively. So, you install the app and you can just get more volume out of your speakers.
Ashkahn: Which is weird. You don’t often see a software solution to a hardware problem, right?
Graham: Yeah, but specifically for Mac laptops that has been incredibly useful both for having meetings where I need to hear someone on speakerphone, for just being able to hear call recordings when I need to access them and don’t have my headphones with me. Just being able to get those extra few notches has actually been really nice.
So I’d argue it is a productivity application.
Ashkahn: Alright, it’s a productivity tool. Sounds good.
Graham: Alright, thanks for the awesome question, that was a really fun one. Daily Solutions out!
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