By Ron Roberts
Over the past few years, I've come across several tools that greatly improve my personal productivity. Should you choose to buy them and learn the basics of their operations, they will make your work life much easier and considerably more enjoyable.
Smart phones (Treo & Blackberry)
Smart phones roll calendars, address books, memos, task lists, e-mail, and the Internet all into one relatively small phone. The biggest win for me was that my Treo stores everything from my Outlook personal organizer. Any data entered into the phone goes to my computer, and any data entered into my computer goes into the phone.
The two most popular smart phones are the Treo and the Blackberry. The Blackberry is reputed to be the more Internet friendly of the two.
Multiple monitors with large screens
Microsoft tested the productivity of computer users and discovered that having two or more 30-in. monitors increased worker output by 50%. If you are going to use multiple monitors, I recommend purchasing UltrMon. UltrMon simplifies your monitor management. You can find it at www.ultramon.com.
For the contractor who refuses to use computers, here's a cold hard truth: contractors who don't use e-mail appear to their prospects and clients to be hopelessly outdated. The most powerful reason e-mail is in your best interest is that many of your clients prefer to communicate via e-mail. As you must always communicate in the manner your client prefers, that means you must be using e-mail.
Spreadsheets are outstanding for financial management, job costing, estimating, and market analysis. I've never met an owner who didn't fall in love with Microsoft Excel once he or she learned the basics of running it. Excel lets you test the financial impact of slight changes in your assumptions and forecasts.
PDF creation software and a scanner
Scanners and PDF creation software let you turn almost anything into an electronic file that can be read by any computer. Scanners are used for converting hard copies. PDF creation software is used for converting word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Web pages, etc. Scanners come in two basic styles: flat bed and pull-through. The flat bed works best for a stationary location. The pull through is far more portable.
PDF creation software offers two great benefits. First, the computer receiving the file doesn't have to contain the program the file was created in. Second, PDF files are extremely tough to alter. You can send out a contract without having to worry about your client, subcontractor, or supplier changing the wording prior to signing. Personally, I use CutePDF, which is free and can be downloaded from www.download.com.
Most everyone owns a digital camera, but I've met few contractors who really use these things to their full potential. Digital cameras are great for documenting work procedures, before and after pictures, warranty problems, safety issues, and so much more. Keep your camera with you and put it to use.
Projectors are great for staff meetings, sales presentations, and training. They certainly are a lot cheaper than buying a 72-in. big screen. Hook up your laptop to the projector and whatever is on your computer monitor is then projected onto the wall for all to see.
If your crews perform a service where they are in and out pretty quickly, Google Calendar is the easiest way to schedule your crews and make the schedule available to everyone who needs it.
Other tools for your consideration
- Presentation software (Microsoft PowerPoint)
- Mind mapping software (Mindjet)
- Instant Audio
- Send Out Cards
- Skype (Internet-based telephone)
- Broadband wireless card for your notebook
- Laser printer