Email and Productivity Tools
Note from Ben
Hey there everyone! A quick note to you loyal readers. First of all, you’re awesome. Second, I hope you’re continuing to enjoy and get value out of our posts. We’ve been overwhelmed at the readership we’ve gained, and I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your comments, and every time you send our posts to someone else. What a tremendously supportive community we have here. Thank you, truly. One final note that I realize I mentioned a couple posts ago that I’d be writing about the steps to go about actually getting an agent, and I’m still working on that. Look for it in the coming weeks. I’m also committed to doing posts on actor websites and the actor resume, hopefully by the end of the month.
What This Post is All About
As an actor, you’re running a business. More than that, you’re probably working a couple other jobs, juggling rehearsals, Actor’s Network events, and 1800 other things. So how do you keep up, follow through on all commitments, and remain productive. I’m a bit of a maven for productivity tools and approaches, and a whore for useful software, apps, and websites. Below are some of my favorites. If you have any favorites I didn’t list here, please put them in the comments section.
If you’re not using gmail then I’m judging you. Maybe that’s not fair, but if I have to send an email to someone with anything other than gmail account (especially an aol account) then I automatically think that they still ride a horse to work and have a rotary phone. And even though I’m a tech nerd, there are plenty of other people like me in the industry. In my opinion, to be considered a professional you really do need a gmail email address, or one that is linked to your own domain name. I advise that you switch immediately, if for no other reason than gmail catches all spam. Seriously.
If you own your own domain name (ex: benwhitehair.com) you can install Google Apps which will let you use gmail, google docs, and the full google suite with that email address. For example, I have it set up so that my email is firstname.lastname@example.org, but it’s as if I use gmail. I sign in just like a gmail account, and get all the benefits of having a gmail account. In order to get started, go to this page.
Our team is a huge fan of Boomerang. No, not the fly-ee stick thing, the gmail tool. Go to http://www.boomeranggmail.com/ from the browser you use and click the big, red “Install Boomerang” button. Boomerang is a tool that shows up in your gmail that allows you to automatically have emails returned to your inbox after a certain amount of time if someone doesn’t reply to them. For example, I could send an email to a friend asking for feedback on my headshots. I could then check the boomerang box to have the email come back to me in 4 days (or 1 week or whatever) if they haven’t replied to the email. That way the email will “boomerang” back to my inbox if they haven’t replied. Another use is to boomerang is if, for example, there’s an email that you need, but don’t want to deal with for a couple days or some future time. In that instance, you can just boomerang the message so that it will leave your inbox and return when you need it.
Google Sync for Outlook syncs up your contacts and calendar between Outlook and your google account. Imperative if you use both. Also, Google Mobile Sync keeps your contact and calendar synced between gmail and your mobile phone. That way you can add/update a contact or calendar event from your phone or your computer, and everything automatically stays synced up. Even more importantly, by using google mobile sync you then have all of your contacts backed up to google, in case you drop your phone in a large body of water.
In case you are not already familiar with Google Voice, please check out www.google.com/voice. In short, it’s a free phone number from google that has a number of amazing features, like transcribing your voicemails and emailing them to you, advanced call screening, etc. Also know that you can still use google voice on both your computer and smart phone, even if you continue to use your original cell phone number. Simply go to google.com/voice or download the google voice application to your phone.
I highly recommend getting a google voice number that you use for all things acting-related. One of the features is that if someone calls the google voice number, it shows up on your phone as the google voice number. If this is the number that your agents have, that’s on your resume, and that you give our for all acting things, then you know the incoming call is related to acting and you can make an increased effort to answer it. It also makes it so you don’t have to feel as protective of your number, because it’s much easier to change your number through google voice, or set up advanced screening settings.
SugarSync is one of my new favorite programs. In short, it gives you 5GB of free online storage. It also makes it extremely easy to share files and folders between multiple computers. For example, I have my acting folder shared between my desktop and my laptop, and in the process this backs all those important files to “the cloud.” It also integrates with smart phones, and allows you to access synced files from anywhere that has an internet browser. Awesome.
Google Labs | Click on “settings” in the upper, right-hand corner of gmail then go to the “Labs” tab
Google Labs are a number of beta and specialty features that are not automatically enabled in gmail which are awesome. Go through the list and see which ones catch your fancy. Some of the best ones are:
- Undo Send (allows you to undo sending an email within a set time frame…like 30 seconds)
- Signature Tweaks (puts your signature above the most recent email
- Send & Archive (allows you to send and archive a message in one click)
- Google Voice Player in Mail (lets you play google voice messages right from the email)
- Don’t Forget Bob (If you often email the same group of people and forget someone, it will suggest you add them to the email you’re sending)
- Got the Wrong Bob? (Alerts you if you’re emailing Bob Smith instead of Bob Gunther…)
- Message Sneak Peek (Allows you to right-click on a message and preview it without actually opening it)
- Mouse Gestures (Adds a mouse shortcut that allows you to go through messages more quickly)
You probably already have Microsoft Office, but if you don’t then you need to get it. I’m not a big fan of paying for software, but this is one suite you have to have. At a bare minimum, you need Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. I’m also a pretty big fan of Outlook. Their calendar is far superior to google calendar, and depending on what type of user you are, you might enjoy using Outlook for email more than using gmail.
The Ultimate Steal
If you have a .edu email address (and are ummm, *cough* *cough* still a student…) then you can get the entire Microsoft Office Suite for windows for $79.95, or for the mac version for $99.95. Simply go to http://TheUltimateSteal.com. However, to get this deal you have to have a .edu email address as mentioned before.
Xobni | http://www.xobni.com
This program does a lot of the things that Microsoft Outlook should do. It increases the ability to search through your emails and contacts.
Google Docs | http://docs.google.com
While Office is imperative, I also end up using google docs quite a bit, particularly if I want to share a document with someone that is going to be updated a lot. If you don’t know already, google docs is like an online, free, google-fied version of Microsoft Office. If you’re in gmail, simply click “documents” in the upper, left-hand corner to be taken to google docs or go to docs.google.com. I have a google doc that just has a long, bulleted list where I write down everything I did for my acting career that day.
DimDim | http://www.dimdim.com/
This is like gotomeeting.com or other websites that let you have virtual meetings. Their free version allows you to have up to 10 people in a public meeting. Next level up is $25/month.
I am a huge fan of the internet browser google chrome, mostly due to the fact that it’s super fast, and I’m super impatient. FasterFox/Fasterchrome is a GREAT add-on for both Chrome and Firefox, increasing the speed searches, and adding increased functionality like autoloading of next pages.
Create New Habits | http://www.createnewhabits.com/
This is a super simple tracker where you can add goals, and then give yourself a check mark if you do them that day. Tracks how many days you do the things and your longest streaks… You have to sign up for you get to see the site, which is weird, but what you gonna do…?
Monthly, Daily, and Weekly Planners | http://www.productiveflourishing.com/free-planners/
This page is updated weekly with links to pdfs that you can print out to help you organize your day, week, or month. If you’re the type of person who likes to have your to-dos and such in good ol’ fashioned paper, this is a good place to start.
Rescue Time | http://www.rescuetime.com/
This tool tracks everything you do on your computer, and tells you how much time you’re reading blogs, checking twitter, self-submitting or watching videos of cats cleaning themselves. It generally takes a week or two to customize everything so that the program knows how to categorize all the sites you use, but it’s an incredible measure of what you’re spending your time doing on your computer(s).
Mint | http://mint.com
Mint.com is probably the single greatest (free!) website in existence. It’s a safe, easy-to-use, online way to track and manage all of your money. Brilliant.
Evernote | http://evernote.com
Evernote can be used on your computer, your smart phone, and the internet. It’s a great way to keep all those random lists and things you want to have and remember, but that don’t really fit anywhere else. Never forget anything again.
Jing is a great tool that allows you to make a video of what you’re doing on your computer, and then save it as a file or share it online. For example, if you want to walk someone through how to use a computer program or use a website, you could make a video of yourself demonstrating how to do that (it records your voice and everything), and then share that video with whomever you want.
Audible | http://www.audible.com/
Are you in your car a lot? What better way to spend that time than by listening to audio books. You do have to pay for this service, but it downloads seamlessly into iTunes and then onto your iPod.
Anti-Social | http://anti-social.cc/ (currently only for Mac)
Addicted to Facebook? Twitter? This might be the best $15 you’ve ever spent. Anti-Social allows you to block yourself from visiting certain sites for a user-selected period of time.
Tungle.me | http://www.tungle.me/
Tired of sending 18 emails just to set up a meeting time? Tungle.me is the solution for you. Great website that syncs with your existing calendar and helps you schedule meetings with other people.
Google Reader | http://google.com/reader
If you read blogs, then you are wasting serious amounts of time and productivity if you’re not using google reader. Basically it’s a one-stop shop for all of the blogs you subscribe to. I have mine organized by category (acting, business, personal, etc.). This way you don’t have to remember and visit a bazillion different blogs all the time in order to keep up to date with your blog reading. It also helps you stay on task and read through your blog subscriptions efficiently, rather than spending hours going all over the internet.
TED | http://www.ted.com
Ok, so TED probably won’t be more productive, in fact it might just suck hours upon hours of your life. However, it will make you smarter, more informed, and an all-around more well-rounded individual. TED gets the best and brightest in the world to give the best 20 minutes speech of their life. What follows is nothing short of remarkable. A couple favorites to get you started:
- Sir Ken Robinson on how schools are killing creativity
- Sir Ken Robinson, bring on the learning revolution
- Malcolm Gladwell on spaghetti sauce
- Joachim de Posada says, Don’t eat that marshmallow
- Nicholas Christakis: the hidden influence of social networks
- Adora Svitak: What adults can learn from kids
To Do Programs (and websites)
Getting Things Done | book :: On Amazon
This book by David Allen is actually rather dry. However, (even though it was written a decade ago) the philosophy behind it will literally change your life if you implement it. At the core, the idea is that you have to dramatically limit the number of inputs of information in your life, and have a system in place in which you have one primary location that you put ALL of the things you need to do. In addition, you want to always ask, “what is the next action.” The overview on the Wikipedia page for the book is very succinct and gives a good primer. This philosophy aims to let you put everything you ever need to do in one place, so you can get it out of your brain and focus on the task at hand.
On a personal note, I will tell you that this philosophy is probably the single most dramatic improvement in my life since I graduated college. It has absolutely revolutionized my productivity.
Based on the Getting Things Done philosophy, there are a couple programs and websites that serve as the one place to keep ALL of your active projects and next actions. Below are a few of them. Special thanks to awesome actor and awesome-er person Drew McAuliffe for pointing me in the direction of most of these programs.
Omnifocus | http://www.omnigroup.com/products/omnifocus/ (only for Mac)
This is the program that Ben uses, and he says that it fundamentally changed his ability to be effective and productive. You can view intro videos of the program here: http://www.omnigroup.com/products/omnifocus/videos/. The cost for an individual license is $79.95, but you will make that back in productivity within a single day. Go in witha couple buddies and split the cost of a family plan.
Asana | http://asana.com (online, so works on all computers)
Probably the most robust system outside of Omnifocus. If you have a PC this is probably your best option. Only downside is you have to be online to access it.
Wunderlist | http://www.6wunderkinder.com/wunderlist/ (for mac AND PC)
Wunderlist looks to be the best option if you are a PC user (or have PCs and macs), it looks great, and it’s FREE. It’s a little less functional than Omnifocus, but that can be a good thing.
Things | http://culturedcode.com/things/ (only for Mac)
Things is another popular to-do program, similar to Omnifocus. It runs about $50, has a lot of the benefits of a more complex to-do program, and looks pretty.
The Hit List | http://www.potionfactory.com/thehitlist/ (only for Mac)
Yet another program similar to Things. It runs $50 as well.
TaskPaper | http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/taskpaper (only for Mac)
If programs like Omnifocus of Things seem a bit overwhelming, then you might look into a simpler program like TaskPaper.
TadaList | http://tadalist.com/
This is an online to-do list, so it works as long as you have an internet browser. It’s a bit stripped down and doesn’t have the functionality of the programs such as Omnifocus.
Remember the Milk | http://www.rememberthemilk.com/
This is another online, very simple, free to-do list.
Toodledo | http://www.toodledo.com/
Probably the most sophisticated of the online to do lists. It’s also free, with the enhanced versions at $15 or $30/year. The free version will probably do the trick, though.
Producteev | http://www.producteev.com/
Another highly sophisticated online to-do program. Producteev also has some cool integration with email, where you can email things to it and it will automatically create a task out of it.
Damn. This turned into a pretty long post. I realize there are a TON of things I posted here, but I would highly recommend using some of your eleven and a half minutes to start going through these things and seeing what work best for you. Increasing your productivity and putting these types of systems in place will have a profound impact on your life and your career. These types of things end up affecting everything you do, and allowing you to get more done in less time.
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