January has come and gone, and I’ve made the decision to fully move from Zapier to Make. I’m pleased with the functionality, the workflows, and the considerable cost difference1.
Here are my thoughts after one month with Make:
I really love the route building and general design of the scenarios better. The interface is much more intuitive. It’s easier to move things around, insert actions between other actions, create filters, and add routes.
You do need a little more know-how than with Zapier. Zapier has some tighter integrations with Dropbox and Google. For example, if you want to use your personal Gmail account, you need to spin up an API key for certain actions, instead of just authenticating.
It is a lot more secure though, as you’re not giving complete access to an app. You’re explicitly choosing the services you want the app to have access to.
Along what that know-how, you need to be mindful of how often your scenarios run. Since Make charges per operation, you can’t just let your automations run wild. I ended up hitting the 10,000 operation limit within 2 weeks.
Luckily, I was able to dial them back a reasonable amount and now I’m well within the limits of 10,000 operations per month, giving me wiggle room to add even more scenarios. And for what it’s worth, Zapier has this baked into their much higher cost.
The way to manage operations is to not have them run as often. The default is 15 minutes. I have some run every 2 hours, and some that run every 2 days. This is perfectly fine for me. They still run often enough that it doesn’t bottleneck my workflows. The hardest part was coming to terms with knowing they aren’t constantly running.
Make is much more affordable. I’d need to pay for around 90,000 operations to hit the same monthly costs as with Zapier. If I doubled my monthly operations, I’m still saving $55/mo on the billed monthly plan.
Finally, thanks to re-evaluating my automations, I was able to create more efficient actions, as well as move some automations to the native apps. For example, Vimeo has direct integration with Dropbox. I don’t need Make or Zapier as a third party anymore.
If you have any questions about Make, feel free to leave them in the comments!
I got a few people tell me that the time savings is worth the month. My friends, the wealthy didn’t get wealthy by wasting money. And IMO, using Zapier over Make if you have more than 5 automations is a waste of money. ?
My long-time favorite calendar app1, Fantastic, is raising its prices come January from $40/year to $60/year.
Now, $40/year is already steep for a calendar app, but I love their natural language processor, the calendar sets, the 2-week view, and the widgets.
I’ve also defended charging for good software. But $60/year feels like they are trying to move into a new type of customer. For example, they’ve added scheduling features that are supposed to compete with Calendly (but definitely don’t).
All of this is to say, unless they reverse course, come March, I’ll be using a new calendar app2.
My requirements are probably more than what most people need, which is why I’ve happily paid for Fantastical these past several years. They:
Natural language input
Calendar sets, or an easy way to display specific calendars
Focus mode support
Widgets on iOS
A 2-week view would be very nice to have, but I can live without it.
The apps I’m going to try out are:
Apple’s native Calendar app, though Calendar Sets are a bit of a must-have for me
BusyCal, which I’ve tried and didn’t like
Outlook, which I’ve heard great things about.
If you’re a macOS/iOS user and have a calendar app you love, sound off in the comments. I’m game for pretty much anything right now.
When the 2021 iPad mini came out last September, I immediately purchased it and thought it would be the perfect research companion. I wrote all about it here. Now that I’ve had it for about 6 months (and the birth of one child), I thought I’d revisit that post and discuss the gear, apps, and workflows I’ve implemented.
iPad Mini Gear
Since I get this question the most, I’ll answer it first: what gear am I using with the iPad mini? Here’s a list:
iPad mini Smart Folio, which I also constantly use. I made a tactical error in getting white (purple and white are the colors of my alma mater), but the purple is very light and the white gets very dirty.
In the original post, I also mentioned a couple of keyboards I was trying. Since then I’ve mostly abandoned trying to use a keyboard with the iPad mini, but I still keep the foldable iClever keyboard around. And I’ve tried a small Apple Magic Keyboard with Studio Neat’s Canopy. But most of my writing is now done on my laptop.
Reading and Content Consumption
Every morning I wake up around 5:30 am so I can shower and get some coffee before my kids wake up. I also like to catch up on RSS feeds, saved articles, and the news. The iPad mini is absolutely perfect for this.
I’ve been trying to use that instead of my phone in the evenings. I really love the way it feels. The iPad mini is the perfect size, very light, and great for one-hand use.
Replacing the Kindle Oasis
It has even replaced my Kindle Oasis for reading Kindle books; my wife is the happy owner of that now.
The main reason for the switch is Apple Notes’ Quick Note feature. Usually, I’ll have a note docked on the side while I’m reading to take notes, highlight and copy text, and keep general thoughts all in one place. I no longer have to switch devices (like from Kindle to Phone) or keep a separate notebook.
Other Reading Apps
Aside from Kindle Oasis, I use Reeder (hooked up to Feedbin) for my RSS, and I really enjoy the new Substack Reader app for the newsletters I’m subscribed to there. The Athletic, Books, and PDF Expert are also there for more niche uses.
I also have a specific “Reading” focus mode that kills all notifications and hides every home screen except for one with the above apps on it. It makes focusing on reading a bit easier (though I would love if I did go out of it every time I hit Safari).
The iPad mini has also become my primary device for watching videos and TV shows. It’s a lot more convenient and even though the Paperlike takes some of the shine off the screen, it’s still a good experience.
Usually I’ll throw on my AirPods Max and watch stuff after the kids go to bed, but this iPad also has a dedicated spot on my nightstand.
Note Taking, Idea Capture, and Research
While media consumption is great, the main event for me with this iPad is the note taking, idea capture, and research. I use several apps for this.
Craft is my main note-taking app, and I keep everything in there. I’m even writing this post there! I have lots of folders, sections, and spaces (that I will likely elaborate on in a different post). I also have a “Dashboard” section with links, ideas, and a swipe file.
There are also several shortcuts I use in conjunction with Craft for quick capture, including:
Adding a link to the “Quick Links” dashboard note
Creating a new blog post
Writing or dictating a new idea, which gets added to the Ideas dashboard note.
While Craft is used on all of my devices, it gets a lot of love on my iPad because I will write in it, as well as triage notes and the Dashboard.
GoodNotes is the app I use when I want to take hand-written notes. I will then generally export those as a PDF into Craft for safekeeping. I love writing by hand (and love pens and paper), and GoodNotes is the perfect app for me.
The reason I use it, instead of just writing directly into Craft (which has an infinite canvas), is GoodNotes uses iOS’s handwriting recognition so the notes are searchable. This is another reason I’ll generally use the iPad when it’s nearby. With analog notes, I’ll still take pictures and put them in Craft, but they’re a lot less searchable.
GoodNotes is also good for drawing wireframes and other simple sketches.
The iPad Mini is a great little research companion, and I’ll usually use a combination of everything above, as well as Safari, to do research. I’ll use Reeder to store articles, Good Notes to handwrite notes, PDF expert to make highlights, and Craft to store everything.
Other Uses and Helpful Apps
Something I have on both my iPads is a widget-only home screen, which serves as a sort of information dashboard. These widgets include:
One of the tenants of the No Spend Month my wife and I are doing is decluttering. We’re going through all of our stuff and donating what we don’t need. We’ve already gotten rid of bags of clothes, hundreds of DVDs, lots of books, and toys.
See, those who knew me growing up might be shocked by this, but I hate clutter. If I have a lot of stuff around me I can’t focus. The same thing goes for my digital space. Too many notifications, badges, and messages gives be agita; so I try to keep my devices clean. I have no badges turn on except missed calls and overdue tasks. Very few apps have notifications. I have a focus mode where only my wife can send notifications to my phone.
And I keep my email at near inbox zero at all times. Here’s how.
It’s All About Having a Process
Back in December I wrote a post about managing the deluge of email you get over the holidays. Ultimately, keeping your inbox at inbox zero will be about you and the process you have in place. These are simply the tools that work best for me, and the process I have in place.
I, like most people, have gone on a long sojourn to find the right email app, and they all pretty much stink. The good ones get killed off and cannibalized. So I tried Apple Mail for a while because of the support for Apple Script. With Apple Script, I could use some pretty cool Text Expander snippets to grab the recipient’s first name and more.
But ultimately I keep finding my way back to Spark. It’s pretty, it works super well (especially with Google email services), and it’s cross platform. I’ve created some custom smart folders that show me what I want when I want, and each address is color coded, making it easy to know what’s work and what’s personal.
It also has snooze, reminder, and send later features.
SaneBox automatically sorts my email so only the most important messages hit my inbox. It learns based on my usage, and I can create my own folders. For example, I have one called @SaneMoney for all online orders and one called @SaneCalendar for all calendar invites.
SaneBox also allows for reminders. You forward email to email@example.com. So for example if I wanted an email to come back to my inbox in 5 weeks, I’d forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, you can completely pause your inbox, meaning SaneBox will make sure you don’t see any email for the determined about of time.
Part of keeping my inbox tidy is making sure the newsletters don’t clutter it up. SaneBox can handle this, and usually does out of the box with the @SaneNews folder.
But I wanted my newsletters to be someplace where I’d actually read them. Enter: Feedbin.
Feedbin is an RSS service for $5/mo. But the real reason I signed up for it is the custom feed email address you get. Now when I subscribe to newsletters, I use the Feedbin address — that means every newsletter I sign up for goes right to my RSS reader and never touches my inbox.
Another reason I keep going to Spark is the great integration with other apps, including a wide range of task managers. This was true when I was using Omnifocus, and remains true since I switched to Todoist.
In Spark, I can swipe to the right to have email added to my task list. This can either be the full text of the email, or a smart link to the email in Spark. SO good!
This allows me to process even emails that need my response, and puts them in one of the few places where I allow notifications (more on that in a second).
Another key to a tidy inbox is being able to process it quickly. With the tools above, I’ve done everything I can to make sure only emails I need to respond to hit my inbox. From there, I can process it quickly in a 2 ways:
Spark supports customizable swiping actions, so I have archive, reply, snooze, and add to Todoist
Text Expander snippets, which are excellent. My most common replies can be fully typed with just a few keystrokes
Smart Folders and NO Email Notifications
The last thing I want to mention is that I have no email notifications turn on with any of my devices. While that prevents interrupting me in real time, I still have a small compulsion to check my email every so often. That’s a different habit I need to break, but in the mean time I have a smart folder in Spark called “Unread.” It shows me only unread emails from specific folders, and I hide everything else besides my inbox.
That means I see only the emails I want to see.
How are You Managing Your Inbox?
So there you have it –everything I’m doing to manage my inbox. As I write this, I’m at inbox zero, and have been for most of the day.
While that’s not necessarily a badge of honor for people (and it shouldn’t have to be), it’s proof that my process works…which is the important part.
How are you managing your inbox? Any tips you want to share? Let me know in the comments!
Note: Something I think more small business owners and creators should do more is freelancer, so I’ve turned to my friends at GoWP to give us some great advice on what we can outsource!
All business owners and entrepreneurs suffer from the same problem. They have a compulsionto try and do everything themselves and it can be impossible to relinquish control, even over the smallest things.
So how can you find the time to grow your agency and create recurring revenue?
Where does all the time go?
Starting any business requires a ton of planning, long hours, and hard work (cue personal montage to Eye Of The Tiger). It is perfectly normal and almost expected to get started by doing everything yourself and learning as you go.
The thing is that your end goal should never be to continue working that way.
Look at how we have adapted our daily lives to be organized and controlled with apps and tech. We are seeking out assistance in any way we can to allow us to get more done and have time for living.
In our daily lives, we effectively outsource responsibilities and task management to apps. So, why shouldn’t we do the same for our business?
The big worry about outsourcing
The main reason why small businesses are reluctant to outsource is the perceived idea of losing control of different aspects of their business, and the knock-on effect this can have on the quality of work produced.
This is especially a concern when you have an outward-facing company, where your image and brand are everything. However, you can release that fear.
Fundamentally, there is no difference between the quality of work you receive from a full-time employee compared to an outsourced contractor. Any reputable outsourcing partner will implement an onboarding process for your business that will usually outline codes of conduct for both parties, and encourage you to inform the contractor of your process.
From here, you essentially have a new member of your team, like any other. The only difference is they are not in the office.
Hiring a full-time employee doesn’t just mean you are paying their salary. It also means that your tax obligations could change, you will need to provide sick days, vacation time, worker compensation, and medical insurance!
That should sufficiently cover the whys and why not’s. Now let’s move on to the what’s.
The 5 functions you should be outsourcing
This will probably be the function you are most looking forward to outsourcing. Why? Because accounting is time-consuming, very complicated, and a bit dull!
If you don’t have the right training or experience, you could potentially be setting yourself up for issues down the line. With the complexity of State and Federal rules, it’s something that is definitely worth outsourcing to experts.
The investment in outsourcing a reliable and experienced accountant is well worth the expense compared with the potential cost of making a mistake!
Another real benefit to outsourcing your accounting is the potential to achieve cost savings. After all, you are working with an expert who can advise you on ways of improving your bookkeeping and ways your business could be eligible for tax reductions or even relief.
In some cases, this can improve your ability to create a stronger scope for the future and better projections that could help you land bigger projects and further investment.
This is the one that you might have some trouble with “letting go” of.
First off, you’re not relinquishing control of anything by choosing to outsource your content marketing. That might seem like an oxymoron, but look at it this way… You are still writing the briefs!
This does not mean giving a stranger the keys to your content with free reign to write whatever they want. Actually, it’s the complete opposite. You will have total control over the entire process, other than the actual ‘creation’ part.
Have you ever found yourself staring at a blank page not knowing what to write?
This is where you can leverage the expertise of professional copywriters and content creators who know how to create content more efficiently.
All you need to do is provide information on your business, brand, and tone of voice. Then you can choose either to provide content ideas or utilize their knowledge—driven by research, this is an important step—to create expertly curated content that is SEO optimized and will result in the lead nurturing and recurring revenue that you are dreaming of. You can even outsource a Podcast creation!
Now that anyone can build a website thanks to superb tools, it’s easy to forget that it also requires regular monitoring and maintenance to ensure that everything is up to date and that you don’t fall victim to hackers and security breaches.
The other side is the maintenance of plugins, add-ons, and site content. There are so many moving parts involved in bringing your customers a superb online experience, and they require constant attention.
Unfortunately, you can’t just update everything because different plugins usually don’t play nicely with each other. This can result in a painfully slow loading experience for your customers which not only reflects badly on your business. It can also have serious ramifications for your search engine ranking.
By outsourcing your website management to professional web developers, you can ensure that your website is performing to its best potential, it is clean and free from malware. Plus, in the worst-case scenario, your site gets hacked, you will not lose all of the valuable content and data you have invested so much time and resources in creating.
Social media management
You might think that this would fall under content creation, but managing your social media accounts is a full-time job.
Your social media presence is one of the best ways to develop a sense of trust with your audience. That is trust in your product or service, and you.
This trust can be built in a number of ways. A primary way is in the content that you create, and offering additional value with informative and educational content that is also fun and engaging—this takes a lot of time to get good at!
But equally, the most beneficial way you can build trust in your business is by engaging with your audience. That can involve replying to a whole host of comments and curating your content calendars to respond to the needs and pain points of your audience.
Outsourcing your social media management will allow you to hold someone accountable for the success of your digital presence. It will save you money and boost your brand image.
A virtual assistant (VA) can significantly improve your productivity by managing your schedule and taking on the more mundane daily tasks like checking emails and answering phone calls. This allows you to focus your time and attention on growing and marketing your business, you know, the jobs that move you forward rather than keep you in one place.
They’re not restricted by normal workday hours because they operate around your schedule. They could even be in a different time zone which you can use to your advantage by assigning a schedule that maximizes output rather than a rigid eight-hour shift.
VA’s work from their own space, so you benefit from more focussed work and dedicated time planning to get the tasks that you need doing, done.
And the best part? If for any reason you aren’t happy with the service they are providing, you can easily end the contract and hire a different assistant!
Because VA’s are essentially self-employed, they have a far more vested interest in ensuring client satisfaction. Their reputation is reliant on providing a top-quality service, which means there is very little room to start slacking and missing deadlines.
Don’t be surprised if you find that your new VA is the most motivated person in your entire team!
Finding the right outsourcing partner
Outsourcing can only be a success if you work with the right outsourcing partner. The ethical code of practice that an outsourcing partner sets, and requires from its team, are what will define the tone of the relationship moving forward.
One of the main reasons why outsourcing can be a better option than freelancing is the level of accountability, and guarantee of high-quality service that you can expect. Meanwhile, you experience all of the benefits of a ‘freelance’ business arrangement. So no fixed contrasts, reduced overheads, and no salaries.
When you are working with a reliable and proven outsourcing partner such as GoWP, you can rest assured that your investment will deliver the recurring revenue you are aiming for.
The gift of time
You didn’t start your business to get bogged down in accounting, creating content, and making updates to your website. You started your business because you had a vision of offering a product or service to people, and you want to continue building your customer base and generating recurring revenue.
Working with outsourcing partners gives you access to wider resources without having to make significant and long-term investments in recruiting additional team members.
It’s time to take control of your time and get back to focusing on growing your business and not just maintaining it.
Do you feel like you got way too many emails over the Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend? I know lots of people who do. I also know lots of business owners who held back sending their own sequence of emails because they hate getting emails. And while that’s a different conversation1, you can draw a similar conclusion: when people get a lot of email, they feel it’s overwhelming.
It doesn’t have to be. Way back in 2010, I wrote about how you can easily manage subscriptions with GMail. Well, it’s been 10 years, and there are a lot more ways to control your inbox. Let’s take a look at some.
Understand the + Operator in GMail (and other email services)
I suspect most people are using GMail, and I outline the + operator (called “plus addressing”) in the above post. You add a plus sign after your gmail user name, then some key word (for example, email@example.com). Then you can use filters to do what you want with those emails. This works for any email address using Google’s email service, whether it’s an @gmail.com address, or your own domain.
And while lots people, businesses, and institutions use GMail or Google Workspace2, Google isn’t the only the only email service that supports this. Microsoft’s Outlook is another major player that allows plus addressing.
I suggest even if you’re not using Google or Microsoft, you see if your email service allows plus addressing.
Use Filters Generously
With or without plus addressing, you can still use filters generously. I use them to remove any emails from specific senders, or even key words. For example, if you get lots of emails from a noreply@ email address, you can set up a filter like this:
…and they move it into a “NoReply” folder or even the trash.
For a long time I used filters to manage large aspects of my inbox:
Full Disclose:SaneBox is a previous sponsor of both my podcast and my newsletter. But it’s honestly a service I can’t live without.
I’ve written several times about Sanebox, but I think this post is a good introduction. The great thing about SaneBox is that it’s automatic and uses a form of machine learning to sort your email, no matter what service or email client you use.
That means you don’t need to mess with filters, and you can teach it to automatically sort any plus addresses you happen to use. It can also sort based on sender, key words, and other more technical aspects of email.
My favorite feature is the Sane Black Hole, which you can read about above. But they also have a fantastic feature called Do Not Disturb. When you enable it, you can have any email that would go to your inbox sent to a folder for a selected period of time. At the end of that period, the emails are restored to your inbox.
I think SaneBox is the best solution for most people.
Don’t Check Your Email When You’re Not at Your Desk
If I’m being honest, the catalyst for this post was a reply to a tweet I got about not wanting to be bothered on the holidays. And I totally get that.
A couple of books have come out in recent years that have rallied against email, either outside of work, or all together. One is Make Time and the other is Cal Newport’s A World Without Email. Both of these books offer insight into how you can cut the email cord.
And while it’s easy to say, “just don’t check email,” that trigger is a pretty strong one, especially if you find yourself on your phone with some downtime. With that in mind, there are a couple of more extreme options if you’re not a fan of folders and filters.
Have a separate email address for all marketing emails. This could be an old address you don’t use any more, or one you’ve set up specifically for this purpose. Then you can get whatever you opted in for, and only check that inbox when you want to.
Delete the app from your phone. Even if you can’t escape email when you’re at your desk, you can when you’re away from it. Delete the app from your phone if you really don’t want to be bothered.
Oh yeah…and you can always unsubscribe from those newsletters. If the businesses are anything like me, I’m happy to see unsubscribes. If people don’t want to hear from me, they shouldn’t have to.
Most email clients make it pretty easy to unsubscribe these days, even if the sender doesn’t.
Getting Emails may be the Problem, but There are Lots of Solutions
The fact of the matter is businesses will always send emails because they work. My 10 email sequence over the course of Cyber Week worked very well; I had more sales than unsubscribes. So I’ll be doing the same thing next year.
But I also have systems in place so that I only see those emails when I want to. Most marketing emails never make it to my inbox.
I had the pleasure of participating in the GoWP Niche Agency Owners Happiness Hour recently and we talked all about tools (I didn’t know that going in, but as you can imagine I was pleased). Something I got to demo was how to turn on iPhone Back Tap (a feature in iOS 14 and up). Since many didn’t know about it, I thought it would be a good thing to demo here.
Want to start automating, but not sure where to…well, start? Get ahead of the game with 14 of my favorite automations, across a bunch of tools, like Zapier, Make, Hazel, and Apple’s Shortcuts. Get Instant Access using the form below!
Want Some of my Best Automations…for Free?
Want to start automating, but not sure where to…well, start? Get ahead of the game with 14 of my favorite automations, across a bunch of tools, like Zapier, Make, Hazel, and Apple’s Shortcuts. Get Instant Access using the form below!
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“Your automations are always so fascinating – I really need to step my game up!”
Joe, this is amazing. You’re seriously the king of automation.