Friday 13 July 2012

4 great tools to help you overcome small business overload

I mentioned at one of our Brighton Business Curry Clubs that I answered 10,000 emails in 12 months. When we launched the Gatwick Diamond Business Curry Club a month ago, I had 600 emails in 4 days. I answer each of them individually but I understand it when my clients complain of feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails that come flooding in. Just knowing there is an ever increasing number of people to reply to can cause stress and panic and is a great cause of bad time management.
How do you react when you’re suffering from overload? Your poor old short term memory can only hold onto so much stuff at any one time and when it overflows, you might find yourself sitting blankly in front of your screen with no idea what you were just doing. Or repeating the same tasks. Or feeling like someone’s stuck a spoon in your brain and stirred it… hard. It’s horrible, and boy does it prevent you from getting things done.

Tools are the answer. Use them wisely, grasshopper, and they’ll save your sanity on a regular basis as well as helping you churn through your work with much less pain and angst.

Googlemail is great if you’re on the move, accessible from any computer or your smartphone. And millions of us use it to keep our email under control.

It blocks spam before it reaches your inbox. There’s a huge amount of space, so much that you may as well call it ‘unlimited’. You can search within Gmail to locate specific messages and it matches messages with responses so you don’t lose track of conversations.

There’s a Priority Inbox at Beta testing stage, which separates important messages from the gumph automatically. You can use Gmail to call other countries at low rates. There’s built-in chat with voice and video, plus super-secure HTTPS encryption.  

How to get it? Sign up for a Google account and follow the signs. 

ActiveInbox is a free plugin/add-on for Gmail which integrates seamlessly with your calendar and other tools. It makes organising tasks and project folders in Gmail easy, so you can work with other people better. It deals with the horrors of email overload by achieving inbox zero – what a relief! You can even use it for creative Customer Relationship Management.

If your email inbox is in a perpetual state of chaos, Activeinbox will soon sort you out. It’s a simple way to organise your Gmail life so you never lose or miss another message or forget a vital task. It keys directly into your Gmail account and transforms it into a wonderfully simple and intuitive task manager.

You can give each email a status and guarantee it gets completed. You can set deadlines and escalate emails elsewhere, achieving perfect filing. Oh, joy!

You can surface important work by moving relevant messages into a project folder as well as store actions, useful information and links to Conversation Notes. Clever shortcuts make cleaning out your inbox a dream. And Activeinbox’s Active Results tool is great for giving you a crystal clear focus on projects, people and deadlines. It’s built by local people, who created the system with the principles and best practices behind Getting Things Done in mind.  Download the free extension here. There is also a Plus version with extra features - if you mention the Brighton Business Curry Club I'll double your free trial to a month.

Disclaimer: I thought this product was so great that I contacted them – turns out the developer is based in Brighton so after a chat to give him some of my thoughts and suggestions from a user’s point of view - now he’s one of my clients and I look after the support (and lots of emails) that come in from the thousands of users around the world who also think ActiveInbox is great.

Remember The Milk 
A bunch of perceptive Aussies created Remember The Milk as a replacement for the slapdash post-it and back-of-your-hand approach to getting things done that so many of us resort to. With its help you can make managing tasks an enjoyable experience instead of an ongoing nightmare of mayhem and chaos.
Here’s a list of what it’ll help you with:
  • Manage tasks fast and easily with due dates, handy keyboard shortcuts and more
  • ‘Locate’ your tasks in the real world – for example pin your reminder to buy milk on a map, on the location of the supermarket
  • Access tasks via your mobile, print lists and populate weekly planners in seconds, plus a calendar facility and Atom/RSS feeds
  • Get SMS, emails and messenger reminders on the move
  • Collaborate, share, send and publish tasks (plan world domination, do the washing up…)
  • Plan, prioritise and postpone with ease, and set repeat tasks months ahead
  •  Create a task cloud in seconds, with tools for tagging, lists and notes
  • Add and search tasks wherever you are
Rapportive shows you everything about your contacts from your inbox. It doesn't help directly with overload, but it does give you essential insights into who is emailing you. You can see their gravatar if they have one, and what they do: their job, company and LinkedIn profile. It pulls in their location, what they’re getting up to with MailChimp and more.

Why bother? It’s useful for establishing a rapport, making contact with people near you, sharing interests and social media activity. It’s great for growing your online network because you can follow people on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook etcetera, all without clicking away from your inbox. You can even leave notes for people on their Google profile from your email client.  In February 2012 LinkedIn decided they liked Rapportive so much, they bought the company.

Why suffer? Let tools relieve your GTD burden
If it’s high time you gave yourself a break, click through and get your life back in shape!


  1. You are brilliant Lisa. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment and although I am on gmail, I hadn't explored those tools. I'll diary some time to do that.

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