12 productivity tools and tricks for creative businesses

12-productivity-tools-and-tricks-for-creative-businesses By Monica Ng

As a small business owner, it can be difficult juggling multiple responsibilities simultaneously. On top of the day to day of fulfilling orders, planning for and creating new products or services, updating multiple social media channels, connecting with fans and peers in your niche, replying to a seemingly endless stream of emails, blogging, and project management, trying to manage it all without the right tools can be overwhelming!

So today I’d like to share with you my top 12 productivity tools, tips and tricks I use everyday for my online jewellery business.


1. Use Boomerang to schedule emails

With this Gmail plugin, you have the ability to write your reply whenever it’s convenient for you and schedule it to be sent at a specific time in the future. Not only this, but you can schedule email reminders. Hurray if you’re a night owl or an early bird (but don't want clients to know you are working after business hours ;))

2. Use Gmail Undo when you regret hitting 'send'

Ever regret sending an email, because you accidentally added someone in as cc when they were supposed to be bcc, attached the wrong document or sent an email or addressed it to the wrong person? After this, there’ll be no more email regret!

  • Login to your email inbox, click the gear drop down menu in the top right, select settings
  • Scroll to “undo send” and click enable
  • Set the cancellation period and save changes
  • After you click send, a yellow box pops up to confirm your message was sent complete with an “undo” and “view message” link.
  • Click “undo” within your chosen cancellation period to retract the email you just sent.

3. Write template email responses to save time

Do you receive a lot of emails for wholesale enquires, PR requests, advertising queries etc. that require a very similar response? Having a pre-written response to these types of emails can save you a tonne of time each day. In addition to a basic cut-and-paste technique, Gmail’s canned responses let you insert a pre-written response with just a couple of clicks. TextExpander for Mac allows you to create keyboard shortcuts for anything from a lengthy response to a simple phrase or web address you find yourself constantly typing out.

4. Turn on Inbox pause

Do you constantly get interrupted and distracted by the familiar ‘ding’ or notification popping up, alerting you of a new email? Take back control over your inbox!  This plugin for Gmail allows you to temporarily pause emails from arriving into your inbox with a click of a button. You can choose to send an auto-responder to anyone who sends you an email whilst your inbox is paused. All messages are rerouted to a special label until you un-pause your inbox.

5. Use Unroll.me to declutter your inbox

It’s easy for your inbox to get clogged up with junk emails you can’t even remember signing up to. This service scans your inbox for all your subscriptions and lists them all, allowing you to keep them or unsubscribe with a simple click of a button. Keep the subscriptions you love and unsubscribe from the ones you don’t.

 Social Media

6. Make Photoshop templates for your social media updates

Create set size templates for all your social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Then, when you need a new image, just change the text and image and voila – perfectly sized images for each social media platform.

For your reference, here are the current recommended sizes:

  • Twitter header: 1500 x 500
  • Twitter profile: 400 x 400
  • Instagram: 1080 x 1080
  • Facebook cover photo: 851 x 315
  • Facebook profile: 180 x 180
  • Facebook link preview: 600 x 315
  • Pinterest board cover: 217 x 146
  • Pinterest pins: 735 x 900-2100

7. Use Pinterest secret boards

Need a bank of inspiration ready for you to share and curate on your social media channels? Start up a secret Pinterest board. Only you (and anyone else you invite to the board) can see the pins and the pins you’ve pinned won’t show up anywhere else on Pinterest.

8. Make text-based images with Notegraphy

Funny, inspirational or motivational quotes spread like wildfire on social media, so this mobile app makes it easy to create and share beautifully designed images for your fans in under 20 seconds. Simply just type your message, choose a style and share it on your chosen social media channels.

9. Use Buffer to schedule social media updates

Schedule your social media updates with ease amongst multiple platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and most recently, Pinterest. Spread out your updates across the day and the week, so you don’t need to be constantly glued to your computer or phone in order to have a social media presence.

Blogging & Project management

10. Organise your life with Trello 

Organise, plan and schedule projects and blog content with your team or as a solopreneur. Think of it as virtual post-it notes that allow you to track your progress for your tasks. Provide comments for instant feedback, set due dates, checklists and add attachments. All updates occur in real-time and you can see everything at a glance. It also syncs with your smartphone for list-making on the go!

11. Reduce email noise via Slack

Real time messaging to help you communicate with your team and reduce email clutter. Create channels for specific projects, topic or team members, send direct messages or make private groups. Slack syncs up to services like Google Drive, Dropbox or Box too – they sync in real time and all documents are searchable too.

12. Plan for the future with Wunderlist

Though not as robust as Slack, Wunderlist is a fantastic mobile and desktop app I use for personal planning. It’s a space that helps you plan for anything, whether it’s your grocery list, an upcoming holiday or work related tasks etc. You can set due dates, reminders and share your to-dos with others.

If you liked Monica's 12 tips, hop over to her website to download her guide to 8 more productivity apps for creative businesses!

Monica Ng left her accounting career at the end of 2013 to run Geometric Skies, her Etsy jewellery business, alongside her jewellery and object design studies at the Design Centre in Sydney. Find Monica at her blog or on Instagram @geometric_skies.

Organise Me: Become a Productivity Ninja

By Andrea McArthur

Are you crazy busy and feel like you need more time? Oh my goodness that is how I feel at least half of every week. Upon complaining about my constant faux busyness to my flatmate he introduced me to a new system for becoming productive – GTD the acronym for Getting Things Done, a phrase that will revolutionise your productivity and your life (both work and personal). Written by David Allen, GTD has become a best-seller. After developing a simple model for getting results Allen now coaches, consults, speaks, and writes about the topic of stress-free productivity.

The basic idea behind GTD is to be "meaningfully engaged" and present in the moment with the one task at hand. That task or action could be a project, a client meeting or simply watching a movie.

In response to being asked how you gain focus and control over your thoughts, David says, "Keep anything potentially meaningful out of your head, sooner rather than later decide what it means and what you’re going to do about it, and park those results in some trusted place that some part of you knows you’ll look at the right time and the right place, and trust your intuitive judgments about what to do. That’s all it is.”

I urge you to make the time to watch David Allens recent TedX Talk on “The art of stress-free productivity is a martial art.”, it will get you thinking and clarifying your thoughts.

For us creative types, often our goal is to be more creative. It only takes a moment to have a creative thought but as David explains if you're already in a creative mess you have no freedom to use your creative energy. Apparently an average person has between 30 to 100 thoughts and un-actioned projects in mind at any one time. Now imagine how relaxed and how clear your thoughts would be if you weren't thinking about these projects? You would be elevated to the position of 'Captain and Commander'.


Image source: Getting Things Done by David Allen.

To get to be your own Captain and Commander, Allen steps you through the action model of GTD in his book. Here are a couple of key steps to get you interested:

Write everything down. Get your thoughts and To Do List out of your head and onto paper.

Understand the purpose. Decide the outcome that you are committed to finish and by doing so create a project.

Process it once. Set up the right categories for your lists.

  • A "Projects" list
  • Project support material
  • Calendared actions and information
  • "Next Actions" lists
  • A "Waiting For" list
  • Reference material
  • A "Someday/Maybe" list

Map your next action. Think of your To Do List as actual actions. In order to finalise the project what is the next actionable step?

Review. Trust the model and review your "maps" or categorised lists once a week.

For such a basic model GTD can feel very awkward at first. You are required to think differently and set up a system for gathering your thoughts. However, after starting the process myself I already feel lighter and I am looking forward to taking on next year with a system in place. For more on the author of GTD visit davidco.com

 Andrea McArthur has a passion for all things visual and a soft spot for organisation. Type is her true love and goes weak at the knees over beautiful design. Andrea works as a freelance graphic designer in Brisbane by day and lectures in graphic design by night. You will find her sharing design related goodness via @andyjane_mc  www.andyjane.com

Tools of the Trade: Melanie Stapleton & Cecilia Fox

By Brianna Read When I meet Melanie Stapleton she was hard at work putting the finishing touches on the brand new premises of Cecilia Fox. I know a little about florists, they work harder than most people imagine! The common perception of florist as a romantic career path filled with fragrance and beauty simply doesn’t cover it – there are early hours, really long days, hard physical labour and perishable produce. The reason I point this out is that Melanie sits opposite me in a café neighbouring her new shop, days from opening, nine months pregnant patiently waiting for my questions and not once do I sense an air of stress. This is one creative woman who has mastered the art of juggling – she looked serene!

I admit I was quite familiar with Melanie’s work before we met – I have long admired her work, documented beautifully on her blog. I was very curious to hear about how she arrived at her particular design sensibilities, I always like to ask if the tools used by a creative have any particular history. When I point out that there have been no great advancements made in the tools used in floristry Melanie chuckles and replies ‘No, just a pair of scissors really!’.

Melanie has been running Cecilia Fox from a Brunswick workshop for over five years. Prior to going out on her own she spent years in Auckland, Sydney, London and finally Melbourne learning from others in the industry. She cites London as a turning point for her, here she discovered what floristry could be like. ‘I learnt that it was ok to specialise,’ She says ‘not in an exclusive sense, just that it was good practice to do what you do well rather than do many half-heartedly.’

This particular quality is reflected so well in the lovely photographs of her designs. There is a distinct Cecilia Fox floral stamp and many other creative have recognised this. Since going out on her own Melanie has had a number of clients she lists as inspiring – all of which have recognised her keen design sensibility and asked her to bring a little into their worlds. Cecilia Fox was responsible for the floral designs in Husk for a number of years, she regularly works with the event coordinators Georgous and also works with Kuwaii for their eye catching window displays.

The new shopfront for Cecilia Fox can be found nestled between New Day Rising and Triple R headquarters on the thoroughfare from Brunswick to Northcote and is sure to attract many folk overjoyed with a lovely splash of colour and perfume in the neighbourhood.

Melanie described the ethos of her approach as one driven by bringing beauty, understanding the client’s needs even when they are unsure. Most importantly, what I took from this inspiring interview was that when you remain true to your creative sense you will attract projects and clients which inspire and add fuel to the fire you laboured to build.

Cecilia Fox - Out of the Woods can be found at 221b Blyth St Brunswick. Melanie and her wonderful staff are instore from Thursday through Sunday with the following hours: Thu 9-6, Fri 7-7, Sat 8-4, Sun 10-2


Brianna Read is a designer/maker based in Melbourne. Her knitwear label Jack of Diamonds  employs traditional hand-made techniques in combination with machine knit technologies. Brianna’s multi-faceted creative practice encompasses design, production, works for exhibition and machine knitting workshops