Not getting lost in a sea of to-do-lists, sticky notes and spreadsheets is a learning process for all.
Whether you love to work with pen and paper – or prefer the digital way: you know how it goes. When there is too much on our plate, we switch back and forth between tasks and priorities. We are trying to figure out what is working and what isn’t.
I’ve been in this situation, and I recently read in the book My Desk Is Driving Me Crazy from Sue Rasmussen, that it is equally a personal topic. When we hit the wall with our self-organization, a fresh new tool does not magically ease our pain. If we are not ready to level up and adjust our attitude, a new tool won’t be much help.
Time to make a decision.
I personally think it’s great to have digital tools available that come with features for self-organization which pen and paper cannot keep up with. That’s the kind of progress technology has been promising us for years. But then again, there are times when pen and paper are the most productive tool for me. I enjoy the process of bringing unstructured ideas out of my head onto paper. I scribble around and let the keywords and phrases mill there for a while … until they merge into something bigger.
We are now living in the digital age, and in some way, we are all confronted with its challenges.
If you have a website, offer services and get client inquiries, you understand the necessity of building processes for your work.
Most inquiries aren’t that different from each other. Projects you do follow a certain scheme. And there are repeating tasks that can get automated if you spend some thoughts on how to do that.
As an example, you don’t want to go back and forth with potential interests to schedule a phone appointment that suits you both. You want a process for that. In order to build a process, you need some standardized outline, which often times is nothing more or less than a template.
What’s all this fuzz about templates?
Productivity has a lot of facets. Too many facets to list them in just one article.
I’ll be looking at some ways to use templates in your business matters. And I want to introduce a few tools that I think offer some very nice features in this regard. In the last months, I came to notice a trend of web apps offering templates to be used in conjunction with their main features. It’s not enough anymore to offer integrations anymore. Today’s clients are being caught with additional features that make life easier. Like templates. It’s a facet of the automation age we are in.
Whenever I am on the lookout for a new web app or tool (because my internal processes have outgrown their purpose), I do keep an eye on the fact whether a tool is well thought through and offers ready-to-use templates. Or, at least, the option to create my own. I want to run my business with ease and grace.
A template can basically be set up for everything that has a repetitive pattern to it.
Some benefits of using templates are, that
- Editing a template takes far less time than formatting something from scratch
- Using a template means you are less likely to leave out important information
- A template guarantees consistency
I love structure and systems.
I don’t like chaos in my files and folders. It’s such a time-waster to search for a particular file!
When you are on the path to automating more and more parts of your business, the systems you build need to be built within a certain structure.
If you don’t clear out the old clutter … an automated business won’t be much fun. It could be automated clutter – which I don’t even want to explore any further in my mind!
Tools That Offer Templates
When I think of templates, contracts, working routines, resumes, standard email responses, or questionnaires come into my mind.
Today I want to introduce six tools that allow you to use templates to ease your work routine. Here’s what I came up with:
- Canned Responses
This is a big one. Asana is a project management tool that can help you with all kinds of stuff to organize your business. It’s also a great place to collaborate with coworkers. It got all the important features a project management tools needs to have today. Its free version (up to 5 collaborators) is a generous offer and good entry point.
Templates in Asana are basically a bunch of tasks listed in a project. If your projects consist of recurring tasks, it makes sense to copy them over into your new project and create a template of it. Here’s how you do it:
Go to the project that contains your recurring tasks, and next to the project name bar, click the downward facing small triangle.
Click Copy Project ….
A new window opens open that first requests you to name your template. You then have to choose which parameters should be copied into the template.
Remove information that isn’t needed in a template (like Task Followers or Due Date).
Task Description, Subtasks, Attachments, Tags, Project Members all seem to make sense to me. But choose what works for you.
If you are a user of Asana, you probably want to check out this tool, too. Templana provides a collection of pre-built templates for Asana – only.
Some of them are free, for some you will be charged.
Here’s an example of the free Google Analytics Setup Checklist.
Implementing a template is super easy.
You log into your Asana account, pick the template you want to import, and your template gets added in a matter of seconds! It’s actually fun watching how the tasks and sections fill up magically!
Here’s how this particular template looked after import:
You can find templates to a variety of topics, like Google Analytics Setup, Website Launch, SEO Checklist for Web Designers, Website Design Project Management, Editorial Calendars, Meeting Agendas, Goal Tracking, and much more.
It is a feature in Gmail/Google Apps that can be activated in the Settings (Labs). Upon activating it, you can send common messages on an autoresponder. Along with Gmail’s filter module, it can be a powerful instrument to reduce inbox levels.
Templates are nothing more than pre-written responses, that are used over and over again.
I became aware of Yanado’s template feature only recently. For those who never heard of Yanado before, it is a task & project management add-on for Gmail or GoogleApps.
When you have lots of recurring tasks sitting in your inbox, with the help from Yanado you can transform your inbox into a project management tool. The templates-feature lets you duplicate those tasks you most commonly create, or that are repeatable.
This is a tool for Digital Agers. It is one of those tools you choose when you set your course to streamline your business workflows by using less email and copy&paste and implementing automation instead.
With WebMerge you can build any document you want (think of contracts, registration forms, applications, proposals, event tickets). This tool lets you merge data from multiple web apps into your document in a matter of seconds. Gone are times of tiring copy&paste. Here you create templates that get auto-filled.
How do You Know if a Template Works?
There isn’t a cookie-cutter way. It’s a trial-and-error approach. But it’s nevertheless a good idea to be a little adventurous here. Allow yourself to make mistakes. And find new ways to move closer to where you want to go.
To see whether a workflow or template actually works for you is to run multiple instances of it. Then, track your progress.
How well did it work for you? Does it save you time, and/or money? Do you feel organized and ahead of your game? If you work in a team, does the new workflow makes sense for the collaboration? What feedback does your team members have?