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8 tools to boost your business productivity

Business productivity is challenged by endless distractions in today’s work environment, but these 8 tools can help get you back on track.

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3 productivity apps

3 productivity apps

Business productivity is a challenge in today’s world

In December, Dr. Gloria Mark at the Department of Informatics at the University of California at Irvine was interviewed about her research that reveals the average American worker is interrupted every three minutes, and it may take as long as 23 minutes to get back on track.

Dr. Mark said that with the proliferation of information today, and the unprecedented access people have to more people and information, the question is not how distracted we are, but how could we not be distracted?

In that spirit, professionals are desperately seeking ways to improve their productivity levels and maintain focus. There are a variety of ways to do just that, and these seven tools are helpful ways to boost your business productivity:

1. Calendar Paste App

calendar app
Calendar Paste
allows you to save all those inconsistent calendar events for future use, meaning you don’t have to type them in each time. Instead, when they come up again, you can just paste them right into your calendar. It’s a simple app, but its simplicity is what makes it work so well for those looking for a shortcut, even a shortcut that will only save them a few seconds for each event. If your events are similar but not exact, you can create templates for future use.

2. HelloSign for Gmail

hellosign
HelloSign
now offers eSignatures that are legally binding right from within Gmail, where users can edit and sign documents without leaving their Gmail account. This tackles the massive pain point with eSignatures by eliminating the need to download a document and upload it to another site or service to edit or add signatures.

3. Small Call for Android

small call
Small Call
is genius. People know when you ignore them on your phone because it stops ringing at an odd number of rings, then suddenly they are in y our voicemail, but Small Call for Android lets you hit ignore, then the call will continue ringing and go to voicemail like normal, without the person ever knowing they were ignored. Stay focused at work without being rude.

4. Fancy Hands for Admin Tasks

fancy hands
Fancy Hands
pitches their services as “a team of assistants ready to work for you now for less than $1 a day. Do what you love. We’ll do the rest.” How much of your day is dominated by menial tasks that you could easily delegate? How much money do you have set aside for an executive assistant or virtual assistant? If your answer to the first question was “a lot” and the second was “only a little,” Fancy Hands is worth a look.

5. Harvest Time Tracking

harvest time app
Harvest
lets you track your time and invoice clients with minimal effort, streamlining any busy professional’s day. Harvest focuses on providing simple to use web-based software for professional services and is accessible from a variety of platforms and devices including web browsers, desktop widgets, iPhone, Twitter, and SMS.

6. Mon.ki Social Context Tool

monki extensions
Still new, mon.ki
was designed as a Google Chrome browser to help users discover valuable connections when on a website, calling itself a “social compass,” so that when you visit a site about the Paleo Diet, the extension shows you not only who is talking about the site, but allows you to tweet to liked minds or retweet those interactions from the sidebar without ever having to leave the site. Save time by getting valuable context without having to research endlessly.

7. Call Bliss Call Screener

call bliss
If you have an iPhone, you’ve probably experimented with the Do Not Disturb feature. The problem is that this silences all calls, even the important ones. But there’s a way to remedy this problem, and it involves downloading the Call Bliss app. Call Bliss lets you personalize the Do Not Disturb feature to match your professional and personal needs. Call Bliss is essentially a digital assistant that screens your calls when you need it the most.

8. NeedTo for Any Task

needto
NeedTo
acts as a matchmaker for everything from simple services to repetitive tasks with providers that are sometimes unemployed and freelancing or are part time at their service job. The company’s slogan is “ending unemployment,” and you can hire people per job to courier items, do research, organize your office, or simply take care of personal tasks so you have more time to focus at work.

Marti Trewe reports on business and technology news, chasing his passion for helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to stay well informed in the fast paced 140-character world. Marti rarely sleeps and thrives on reader news tips, especially about startups and big moves in leadership.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Nelson Nigel

    May 8, 2013 at 10:15 am

    very good article, i also suggest odesk, hootsuite and unfuddle. cheers

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Business Articles

Your brand is vulnerable just like Cracker Barrel’s recent troll spotlight #BradsWifeMatters

(BUSINESS) Brad’s wife got fired from Cracker Barrel which has sparked internet outrage and has presented us all with a few lessons.

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Crack in the barrel

It’s been an eventful week for Cracker Barrel so far. The Tennessee-based chain of family/country-style restaurants has found itself in the midst of not one, but two, trending hashtags on Twitter, #Justiceforbradswife and #Bradswifematters, and have seen their Wikipedia page altered multiple times over the past three days as well.

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So, what’s behind all of the free—if unwanted—publicity?

They fired Brad’s wife.

Wait, what?

The TL;DR of it is this: Bradley Byrd of Milltown, Indiana, thrust the company into the trolling spotlight on March 4th by posting a simple question to the Cracker Barrel corporate Facebook page:

“Why did you fire my wife?”

Brad’s wife, Nanette, had apparently worked for the local Cracker Barrel for the past 11 years as a server, and was, to the best of Brad’s knowledge, terminated for lack of cause.

Rubbing salt into the wound

That she was fired on Brad’s birthday, and fired two weeks before earning vacation pay for this year.

What was posed as a question from an upset spouse has since taken a life of its own.

It gained a much wider audience when shared by comedian Amri King on Facebook this week.

Note from the Editor: if you want to spend a few hours digging into the many hilarious forms the topic took, click around here (warning: most of it is totally unsafe for work or around children).

People want answers

Not only do more people know about Brad’s wife being fired, but they’ve taken to trolling the Cracker Barrel Facebook page and Twitter feed, with thousands of comments being linked back to Brad’s wife, no matter the tenuousness of the thread connecting their comment to the original post.

There’s also been a petition started at Change.org to get Nanette justice, with nearly 9,000 signatures to date.

The range of feedback that Cracker Barrel is receiving spans the gamut from nearly nonsensical to rather witty and droll. But driving the continuation of the onslaught is their reticence; as of the time of writing, Cracker Barrel hadn’t yet responded to either the flood of negative public opinion or to Brad’s original question.

And that’s the smartest move that they’ll make.

The Sound of Silence

It’s so very tempting when your company, brand, or person is being dragged through the public arena, (for right or wrong) to comment back and defend yourself with the same vigor that you’re being attacked by.

That temptation, however, has real consequences if given in to.

In a termination case, you may find yourself in a similar situation.

Pay attention

A beloved employee has done a “VBBT”: a very big, bad thing, and has to be let go. Or, perhaps, it was an employee popular with both internal and external customers, but, while they were nice and good for morale, their job performance had been lacking over time, and you’d worked with them to try to correct it, unbeknownst to the public.

Either way, you should steel yourself for impact.

In the world of digital presence, it’s going to be relentless. And personal. And, usually, mostly wrong on all of the details. It may certainly hurt, and your bottom line may take a brief hit, but remember: you don’t get to comment back on things like this.

Your role is to stay above the fray and remain professional

You made the decision to terminate, and before you did, you did your research as to why it was the right time to terminate the employee (Shame on you if you didn’t—in that case, your problems with an Internet backlash are both deserved and the least of things you ought to be worrying about).

Now it’s time to keep the course and focus on moving forward.

By responding to these comments, you don’t appear to be in control. Making no statement is more useful at times that making a statement that compromises you, be that legally in an employment context, or in the marketplace by mis-stepping and giving the trolls something real to write about.

Issue a statement

If a response to media inquiry or public opinion does become unavoidable, a well-scripted response that is vetted by counsel in advance of releasing it to ensure that you haven’t inadvertently given rise to a defamation or unlawful termination suit, is your best friend.

Make it once in outlets that are responsive, and then let it stay.

No further comment is necessary, nor useful.

An Audience of One

The only person that Cracker Barrel owes an answer to about why Nanette was fired is Nanette. The world at large certainly doesn’t need to know, and, neither does Brad, frankly.

If the employee doesn’t know why they’re being terminated, and provided something in writing to that effect, then that’s an area to address.

Everyone deserves to have clarity in the workplace, especially about something so critical as employee performance feedback leading to termination. Having the cause of termination in writing will also help you to defend against any “re-telling” of the termination story by the employee after the fact.

Also, remember that you have an audience of just one when it comes to discussing the details about those who have been fired: the terminated employee.

Just because it’s a spouse asking the question of why their partner was terminated, that doesn’t give them any additional standing to have that information shared with them by the company.

You Signed Up For This

You’re looking to the long view for your company and brand.

Making a hard decision that is the right thing to do and is evidence-supported isn’t always easy and it certainly isn’t always popular. But it’s the job that you’ve got to do.

You likely have crisis plans in place about what will happen if you have a challenge to critical infrastructure, supply chain, or safety issues.Click To Tweet

In a hyper-present media environment, in which the next meme is lurking around the corner, it’s a good idea to extend that planning to include a media crisis so that when the spotlight is turned onto you, you’ve prepared for it and made certain that you’re putting your best foot forward, by not getting it stuck in your mouth.

#BradsWife

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Business Articles

Uber’s tipping policy is janky, also potentially illegal

(BUSINESS) The tipping policy that Uber has in place is not much of a policy, nor is it 100% legal everywhere.

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Tipping your Uber

Uber has an interesting policy on tipping, On the Uber website, in the Help section, this is what Uber tells passengers:

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“As independent contractors, drivers may request tips at their discretion.”

The current pseudo-policy

Drivers care about rider ratings and do their best to create an ideal trip experience.

While Uber does not require riders to offer drivers a cash tip, you are welcome to do so.

Should you choose to tip, your driver is welcome to accept or decline.

Tipping is illegal in some places

Uber’s app has no place to add a tip for the driver, unlike Lyft, which does allow tipping through the app.

Uber drivers still hope for tips, but Uber’s policy of allowing cash tips might be illegal in some of the states and cities where Uber operates.

Michigan and Pennsylvania are just two of the 13 states which ban cash payments for ride-hailing services.

Paper monies

New York and Texas states are both considering legislation that would ban cash payments to drivers.

Some states simply ban drivers from accepting cash while others ban drivers from soliciting cash payments.

Uber has not updated its website to reflect the different laws in different states where it does operate.

Do you tip Uber?

Proponents of tipping say that Uber serves in the role of a taxi, although it is a private vehicle.

It is nice to tip your Uber driver the same 15 to 20 percent you would tip a taxi driver.

At the very least, you should leave a 5-star rating, unless something was really wrong with the ride.

The point of tension

Critics of tipping your Uber driver worry about whether Uber driver will serve lower-income areas, hoping to go into wealthier neighborhoods where they are assured of bigger tips.

Then there is concern about passenger ratings. Uber drivers would know if a passenger tipped or not before leaving a rating. Is it fair to rate passengers on the amount of a tip or not?

Uber drivers want the app to allow tipping, but Uber wants to keep things, “hassle-free.”

#TippingTension

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Business Articles

Sephora is using AR to help all the Barbie girls in the Barbie world

(BUSINESS) Sephora make-up chain is diving into the world AR to help customers shop before purchasing.

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sephora subscription sample box

Augmented reality taking over reality

Along with virtual reality and artificial intelligence, augmented reality (AR) is one of the most talked about topics at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive.

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Companies are starting to make some serious investments in AR technology, creating innovative new ways of interacting with customers.

New face of AR

While AR has famously been used for interactive marketing and for gaming apps like Pokémon Go, other companies have incorporated AR into their apps and stores in ways that genuinely help make customers make better purchasing decisions.

A need in cosmetics

If you’ve ever tried to buy makeup from a drugstore or the Internet, you know that there’s a high risk that you’ll end up with a truly tragic shade of lipstick, or a foundation that doesn’t match your skin.

The beauty industry has always faced the challenge of selling products that are difficult to sample before purchase.

At a department store, cosmetic counters allow customers to try on makeup before buying, but with more and more people shopping online, it’s time for a high-tech solution.

Sephora’s dive into AR

By investing in AR, cosmetics company Sephora has given customers an excellent way to learn more about products, and even to try them out, virtually, before purchasing.

Their mobile app uses facial recognition technology to provide a fairly accurate estimation of how different products will look on your face.

The app also provides step-by-step makeup tutorials customized for your face shape and skin tone.

Making the choice easier

For Bridget Dolan, vice president of Sephora’s San Francisco-based Innovation Lab, AR provides an opportunity to educate and engage with customers who might otherwise have a hard time choosing which products to buy online.

“Our time, money, effort and energy goes into teaching clients. To achieve new looks, you need to try new products, and if we can make you feel confident, you’ll be more engaged overall,” says Dolan.

Banking on potential

The app is made possible through a collaboration with AR platform Modiface. According to CEO Parham Aarabi, in the early phases of developing their technology, Sephora saw Modiface’s “preliminary vision and its potential, and ran with it.”

By collaborating with a strong brand, Modiface was able to advance the technology further and faster.

“Brands need a champion who has the vision and who sees the long-term possibility – that’s Bridget and her team. They’re really invested in getting the augmented reality right.”

The versatility of AR

The Sephora – Modiface collaboration makes it clear that, as Dolan explains, applications of AR can be more than “just fun.” They can provide interactive experiences that educate customers and pave the way for sales.

#MakeupAR

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