K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Susan Serra

Susan Serra

Susan Serra, CKD, is principal of Susan Serra Associates, Inc. and has designed kitchen interiors and other rooms for nearly 20 years in Long Island, NY, and the New York metro area. The winner of several national design awards, Serra is widely published in national shelter magazines, authors the very popular blog, The Kitchen Designer and serves as a go-to source for kitchen-related information for consumer magazines, websites and top design blogs.

Dec 19 2012

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Best Apps to Increase Productivity

Do you wear one or more (or most likely 25+) hats? Between our business, personal, family and other interests and obligations, the number of details that pass through any given day would probably be surprising, much less, countable. Distractions pop up constantly, yet we assume that we can remember to follow through with the important issues of the day. Some days we do better than others in terms of being focused and sticking to our responsibilities. Add a creative and/or entrepreneurial personality to this everyday challenge and chaos, disorganization and procrastination can be unwelcome companions. Add a busy schedule to that combination? Paralysis can come along for the ride.

All of these details and responsibilities, big and small, take up space in our heads. The best way I know of to de-stress from all that information is to do what many productivity experts call a “brain dump”—deposit to-do items into a trusted system, preferably one that has multiple ways to access it in the office as well as on the road. I’m always on the lookout for new apps that will tweak my productivity in a small but meaningful way. Here are some of my favorite apps as we look forward to a super-productive (and busy) 2013.

Project Management
There are so many project management apps, but primarily they are grouped into apps for one or apps for teams. Some team apps can be used effectively by one person. In the past two years, I’ve moved toward a GTD philosophy (Getting Things Done, a book by David Allen) but have made some adjustments to best meet my work needs. Here are some excellent apps:

Todoist (http://todoist.com/): Looks simple, but this is one powerful app. Email and web urls are captured quickly to turn into tasks and achieve “inbox zero.”
Nirvanahq (https://www.nirvanahq.com/): A simple, elegant project management system for GTD.
Producteev (http://www.producteev.com/): Great for one or a team and integrates with gmail.
Wrike (http://www.wrike.com/): A convenient hierarchical folder system good for one or a team.
Basecamp (http://basecamp.com/): A good app to work with clients remotely.
If you want to get obsessive, visit Priacta (http://www.priacta.com/Articles/Comparison_of_GTD_Software.php).

Phone to Text (http://www.phonetag.com/): PhoneTag is a great service which transcribes voicemail messages into text and then emails the transcription to you immediately. This service is invaluable to me personally, first, if my cell phone is not nearby and a call comes in and second, to bypass listening to long phone messages.

Evernote (http://evernote.com/): Most of you are surely aware of Evernote. It’s the perfect reference app and its web clipper feature instantly captures and files websites for client projects or for any purpose, which can be tagged at the time it is captured. Evernote also just came out with a collaboration with Moleskine—a physical notebook where you take manual notes, take a picture of it with the Evernote app, and the notes are then searchable! Evernote’s mobile app has all your information accessible.

Post-It Notes (http://www.post-it.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/Post_It/Global/Products/Product-Catalog/?N=6406323&rt=rud):
I’m currently comparing Post-It Notes and Notezilla, two apps that create sticky notes which can serve as reminders on your monitor. I like reminders in different forms and I need them!

Gmail Mobile App (http://www.google.com/mobile/mail) /Google Maps:
If you have not downloaded these apps on your smart phone, do it! They are smart, visually beautiful, have many options the built in phone email client does not have and a delight to use.

Sanebox (https://www.sanebox.com/home): I think it was 15 minutes after I downloaded Sanebox, I felt that I’d use it forever. It does an inexplicably near-perfect job of separating emails into appropriate categories. It places the most important emails in the inbox and all others in categories you specify. Any email can be deferred to the next day, to 2 hours, 15 minutes, to any time span desired and the email will pop back up in the inbox at the designated time.

Email This Page (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/email-this-page-by-google/dbeoemfhkdniadbojeencpkgmobndpai?hl=en): I use this app quite frequently, as it sits in my Chrome toolbar, ready to email a link to myself, a client, a friend or family member. So useful and it saves several steps.

Find My iphone (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/find-my-iphone/id376101648?mt=8): A must-have app which tracks your phone’s location and allows information to be deleted or otherwise protect your data.

Snagit (http://www.techsmith.com/snagit.html): Snagit is awesome—It captures any part of a web page, your own pages or images from your hard drive. It files away your captures for future reference but most importantly, it allows notes, arrows and other notations to be placed on the captured page in a professional style. I keep it active as a one click bar at the top of my monitor and use it frequently.

Hootsuite (http://hootsuite.com/):
The best app to manage your multiple social accounts. It makes engaging in social media easy and efficient.

Productivity is where it’s at, especially with all the responsibilities we have. A diverse selection of tools can make the work day better and more efficient. What are your favorite apps? For endless tips on apps, sign up for updates from web appstorm (http://web.appstorm.net/).

Susan Serra

Oct 22 2010

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The quest for productivity

It seems the quest for productivity never ends…at least for me. In the course of my working through a myriad of project management systems and settling on www.wrike.com, there seems to be another piece of the puzzle that has been lacking. Within a certain, manageable, workload, this other piece may not be as critical, but it is coming into play for my business now, maybe for you too, and I’d like to share it with you.

It’s…drumroll…a calendar. Stick with me and I promise a solid idea to enhance productivity. In my business, I am finding that I am increasingly involved in a variety of responsibilities, all related to my business and the kitchen and bath industry in some way. And that number of responsibilities is rapidly increasing. Regardless of the project management system I have implemented (which does add organization to tasks and projects), perhaps being an entrepreneur, I am finding that I may not be picking and choosing what tasks I do and when I do them with the best of judgment…plus, I’m a creative person, so by default, I’m a bit of a free spirit, and too often, my mood guides my choices. Sound familiar?

Enter the calendar. I now realize that I need to schedule some of my tasks and to put them on the calendar, putting into play a good cop/bad cop scenario…with myself playing both roles. Some tasks are on a daily repeat schedule within the calendar; all the others are scheduled as needed. Oddly, I found myself resistant to attaching a scheduled time to something that was not a “real” appointment with another person. I have no idea why. But my juggling skills had me dropping balls here and there. I knew I had to implement an additional layer of structure…real structure. I had to procure my “good cop” (and I knew she was there somewhere) to get me into line.

In addition to scheduling some (not all) tasks into the calendar, I am devoting one monitor (I have three set up in a row in front of my keyboard) to displaying the calendar, visible all day as a gentle reminder to GET THINGS DONE. I’m using Google calendar as my calendar of choice, as I love the many features of the calendar, such as color coding; multiple calendars (relating to particular categories of common tasks with a separate name for each calendar) within the central calendar; multiple reminders for any given appointment; and one feature which makes me very happy…the ability to include the image of my choice (in my case, a rose from my garden) as a background, which makes me want to LOOK at the calendar. 

google calendar 2

Putting some special tasks on the calendar will be sort of a timely back up, a structured piece that is connected to my general project management system. If you feel, too, that you need a good cop to keep you on the right track, let that good cop (the office manager side of your brain) schedule your important tasks. The calendar is not only for appointments with other people…it’s also for appointments with ourselves to help get tasks done. 

Susan Serra

Sep 01 2010

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Project management system—the search continues

Ever in search of the perfect project management system, I have come across another PM service, in the cloud, that I’d like to pass to you. I’ve heard it said that it is not uncommon for one to try out a particular PM system several times before finding the right one or coming back to one that was looked at many months before.

I think what happens is this: As we work with a variety of project management features, we change our opinions about which features we thought were important. One cannot always know, when first signing on to a PM system, if there will be some features that might end up not working as we expected or hoped, once certain features are discovered. In some cases, a super sexy PM feature may make us just lose our heads in excitement and ignore other, less attractive but more important features we should be looking at. You want sex appeal? Check out ProjectTurf. I dare you.

I spoke about Central Desktop in a previous post. I like Central Desktop (CD) very much, but I am moving away from it. Here’s why. I quickly tired of spending $100 per month … makes sense, doesn’t it? I justified it enthusiastically at first but then, perhaps, came to my senses. In addition, in downgrading to the $50-per-month plan, CD only offers 10 “projects” to work on. Much too limiting.

In searching for a project management system, be aware of the number of projects allowable. Projects are not only clients—they may also be categories such as marketing, PR, showroom issues, accounting, products, suppliers and so on. More and more, I am seeing systems that allow unlimited projects and unlimited users but vary in terms of other features.

I am currently trying out Wrike. As I was looking, looking, looking for another PM system and I would come across Wrike, the words “patent pending” and “intelligent email” finally got my interest. I did a little more research and actually READ a fair amount on their site and others to understand that the connection between email and the project management system … is everything. I’ve used this feature before in Thymer.com and loved it, but Wrike takes it several steps beyond ANYONE. I LOVED Nozbe (very sexy and fun to use) but the email formatting just does not work well in my opinion.

Being super productive with tasks, which many emails are, is about the ability to a) email tasks to a system easily (I emphasize easily) and b) the holy grail: the inclusion of attachments, files, images, VIA EMAIL which, when they end up in the project management system, provide the task recipient everything he/she needs to get that task done.

Wrike has several patents pending. I am using Wrike to email tasks to a particular person who has access to Wrike and the task goes into a particular folder within Wrike…again, easily. I can put a due date in my email to Wrike for the task as well.

The theory is that emails are not letters. They are tasks. As such, they are disconnected, disjointed, and if you get many emails, they very easily fall through the cracks, and I can attest to that. Every few days, discounting spam and newsletters, I end up with 200-300 emails. If I do not keep up, I’m in trouble. Right now, I am thrilled to have 24 emails in my inbox, and my goal is to continually have zero, with all tasks in Wrike, neatly organized by date due, project and task recipient.

At first glance, Wrike looks like a typical PM system. I think it is very powerful. I cannot go further into its many powerful features here, but take a look, give it some time and see if it’s for you. It’s definitely not sexy (which I wish it were, after all, I’m a designer) but it’s a workhorse.

In the end, it’s difficult to have ALL of the features we may wish for. We need to consider price, number of users permitted, number of projects, email to task features, general user interface and more. Everyone’s needs are different. As I search for a way to save time and as I believe email, tasks, and a project management system are integrated, like it or not, Wrike is where I am focused right now. I’d love to hear about your experiences and opinions on project management systems.

Susan Serra

Jun 18 2010

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Business productivity: the virtues of Gmail

gmail

It appears to me that talking about productivity on K+BB is a good fit for me. I have always enjoyed sharing information with my peers, and this particular subject (productivity) has always been of great interest to me. I hope I can contribute to the adoption of some small efficiencies in your businesses. Today I’d like to talk about the efficiencies of using Gmail for business email.

I found myself using Gmail more frequently over time for personal email a few years back. The top reason is very simple: It’s web-based, end of story. Wherever I am, with smart phone or computer, my email is with me. I, as many of you, started with a Gmail address. When Outlook wasn’t working for me very well, I decided to look into Gmail via Google Apps. I was really liking the many smart functions of Gmail. I made the switch from Outlook to Google Apps for one reason: I can use my own domain name as my address (it does not have to be @gmail.com. I use: susan@susanserraassociates.com. Google Apps uses the identical Gmail framework for email, but personal domain names are permitted. Problem solved.

Gmail’s labels and filters make organization easy. I use labels, which essentially serve as folders on the side of your Gmail page. You can also think of labels as “tags” that identify an email and serve the function of grouping other emails with the same identifier, or label, in one place. Labels are another way to use Gmail’s powerful search function. Rather than doing a global Gmail search, just go to the designated label in the sidebar.

Set up a “filter” to act as an instruction to the email and when your client emails you, a particular label can be automatically attached to the email. All you have to do then is read the email, reply and archive it. Get it out of your inbox! The email will appear again in your inbox if there is a response to your email. In addition to using filters to apply labels to an incoming email based on a particular word, such as “KBIS” or a client name, I use filters to direct these and other labelled emails to having certain “behaviors” within my inbox.

Having just labelled and filtered 50+ newsletters that I receive, my inbox is now far more organized, as these newsletters bypass my inbox and go straight to the label “newsletters.” I then peruse the newsletter label once a day. Likewise, all of my Google alerts bypass my inbox; however, I look at the alerts daily when I click on the label “Google Alerts.” The more I label and filter, the more my inbox shows truly important emails from real people and is highly functional.

One of my most favorite features of Gmail/Google Apps email is to have multiple inboxes created. I use multiple inboxes via a setting in the “labs” area of Gmail—a place where some very funky and useful Gmail add-ons reside. Essentially, I am looking at 5 inboxes at once:

1. one main inbox
2. one inbox with Facebook messages only
3. one inbox with phone messages only
4. one inbox with Twitter messages only
5. one inbox with my blog’s comments emailed to me

Since my business phone line is an internet line, I have the option to have my phone messages emailed to me. Wherever I am, I can check my phone messages. Awesome and organized. Look at all of the other lab features. One of my favorites is “email undo” which allows me to have 20 seconds in which to undo the email I just sent. It’s very helpful, for example, if I realize I forgot to add necessary information or wish to make other changes.

The last theory I subscribe to is the inbox NOT being used as a task program. Task programs (just Google task management programs for lots of web-based programs) do a superb job at managing tasks. Many of these programs have a feature that allows an email to be sent to the (web-based) task program, which can then be further managed once there. The advantage is the useful manipulation and management of a critical email within a task management program that cannot be done, of course, in an inbox.

The most important advantage of labels, filters, multiple inboxes and sending emails to task management systems is this: a much less populated inbox, meant to hold emails for the short term only.

Would love to hear your tips for email!

Susan Serra