Organization 101: How to Stay Organized as an Online Entrepreneur

I have to admit…

I have not always been the most organized of people.

If my mom is reading this, she's definitely nodding in agreement. My room was always messy, I was constantly losing things, and my disorganization caused a lot of forgotten lunches.

I carried this tendency into adulthood, until it became far more work to be disorganized than maintaining organization.

When I started working online, and especially when I branched out into more than one online business, things became messy quickly so I put some solid systems into place to keep myself in check.

And in the past few weeks, a few people have emailed me asking about organization.

They want to know what type of calendar I use, how I schedule reminders and manage to-do lists, and what systems I have in place for saving and filing emails.

I use a few key tools that help me stay on top of everything…

How to Manage Your Inbox (And Keep it From Eating You Alive)

Few people will truly understand the nightmare that was my email inbox…

But in the past month, I've cut email processing time down by more than 45 minute each day. 

I did this without declaring email bankruptcy, without hiring a virtual assistant from Bangledesh to answer my email for me, and without wavering on my commitment to read and respond to every single one of you who graces my inbox with your beautiful presence.

Here's how:

I use Gmail to house all my email. I re-route my Unsettle email address to gmail and forward all of my email addresses to my one Gmail account so I don't have to check several different inboxes.

This saves me time, hassle, and from having to remember my passwords. #godsend.

I use two amazing tools that save my life in staying on top of my inbox and remaining organized:

Sidekick by Hubspot

I'm so, so surprised more people don't use Sidekick. I use Sidekick to track both who reads my emails, clicks on the links within them, and when, which saves me from wondering whether they received it.

It's cheap (click here to get your first month free (aff link) – you don't have to put in your credit card information so you won't be automatically re-enrolled) and allows you to schedule emails to be sent later.

I use this functionality to schedule follow-up emails to my coaching clients who I have given action items to. That way I don't have to remember to follow up with them and I can cross that to-do off my list the moment I get off the coaching call with them.

Boomerang

Boomerang is a tool I use that lets me “boomerang” messages back to my inbox if the person I emailed doesn't respond, or if I just want to remind myself to respond later.  I press a button, tell Boomerang what time I want the email to show back up in my inbox and voila! It magically appears when I tell it to later on.

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This helps me get to that magical “inbox zero” fairy tale land where unicorns roam and every day is a party with glitter confetti and Taylor Swift on repeat. Also, just a ton of champagne:

online business organization

Inbox Zero: Making it rain champagne.

It also has the functionality to schedule emails but I use it predominantly for the boomerang effect. You can get it for free for up to 10 messages a month, which up until recently has been fine for me. I just had to upgrade last month.

On top of these beautiful tools, I also organize within Gmail, too.

Folders, Stars

Every email you guys send me (unless it's personal in nature), I save into a folder. This helps me create things for you: articles, podcast episodes, Q&A sessions, Webinars.

It also helps me resonate with you. If you've ever read something I've written and felt like I was in your head or stealing the words right out of your mouth, chances are I actually was. Maybe it wasn't your words, but I pay attention to how my audience phrases things.

If you told me your email list was “pathetic” and you keep “refreshing the screen to see if anybody else has subscribed” then I'll probably use that. I suggest you do the same within your own industry and for your own audience.

Every time I process an email, I either file it or archive it.

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My filing system is not by any stretch super organized or even intuitive, but it works for me. It's like an organized chaos.

I use stars in Gmail to organize myself even further. If I'm going through your responses to a question I sent out for instance, I'll star the responses that are alike so I can write an article about them.

I used to feel like my inbox was eating me alive, because I had hundreds of emails to sort through. I didn't use files regularly and I didn't even know tools like Sidekick and Boomerang existed, so it wasn't uncommon for me to forget about emails and overlook things.

Now that happens less and less.

How to Stay on Top Of “Content” (Even If You Publish 1000x/Week)

A huge part of Unsettle, and I suspect a huge part of your business, too, is content.

You guys all know how much I hate the word “content” because it strips the article, podcast episode or whatever it is I'm referring to of it's value… but for the simple ease of writing this article paired with the sad fact that I haven't come up with a genius alternative, I have to use it.

On any given week, I may publish:

I had these things in a million different places before. I used Buffer for social messages, a piece of paper to map out what I would publish on Unsettle and when, and Evernote for republishing and my memory to plan guest posting.

You can imagine that this was overwhelming, so I boiled it down to one tool which I use for all social, all “content” on Unsettle and across my social media profiles:

CoSchedule.

And guys, I know I've mentioned it before but CoSchedule was a tool sent from the blogging and online business Gods to save us all from being a hot, disorganized mess.

I hope the creators of CoSchedule see this via Google Alert or some such thing because seriously. They gotta know that they have a good thing going on.

If you're a calendar voyeur (ain't no shame) here's what I'm working with within CoSchedule:

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The best part about CoSchedule is that it also gives you analytics on how well your social messages are doing, and lets you schedule posts to Facebook groups which is fantastic because Facebook groups are the bomb.com and it's useful to be able to schedule posts to go live there.

If you have a blog and are feeling a bit overwhelmed with everything being in a thousand different places, I'd highly recommend CoSchedule. It's a paid tool, but is so worth the money. It paid itself off in like a week with how much time it saved me.

The links in this section are affiliate links, so if you sign up with my link I will get a discount on my CoSchedule subscription at no extra cost to your wonderful self. 

How to Stop Losing Your Mind With Client Work

When I first started Unsettle I had what felt like a thousand different places that housed article drafts.

Evernote, Google Docs, WordPress, email, Microsoft Word, Byword, my hard drive…

It got to be a bit much. My friend Cait suggested that I figure out a central place to dump ALL drafts, so that's what I did. And I chose Google Drive.

I do all of my client work within Google Drive – everything from writing for freelancing clients, editing coaching clients posts, worksheet creation and scripts for beta members. The reason for this is simple:

I can access these files from anywhere – even offline (I said that like “offline” is a place in the world).

When you travel as much as I do, it becomes a hassle to have to transfer files from device to device, and I also hate having to download files to my computer (“Your startup disc is almost full!”) so editing and sharing in the elusive cloud is far better.

How (Not) To Organize Your Cash Money

I'll be the first to admit that business and personal finance organization is not my strong suit.

Since I used to be a personal finance blogger, I was on top of my personal money situation, but business finance was always a struggle for me. I know how much comes in and how much goes out, but I have not been the best when it comes to tracking receipts and income and expenses…

Until it's a huge scramble in April to file taxes. Then it takes me a full week to organize everything. Not to mention the fact that I always forget to claim something on my taxes that would have saved me a lot of money, like a tool I bought for my business or something.

This year I've been way better with it – though still not perfect. Halfway through the year I stopped trying to wrangle a spreadsheet (which is great for beginners but I wish I had started with a program earlier) and caved in for Freshbooks (another sparkly affiliate link). I don't know what took me so long to get it together except for that I find untangling the web of personal and business finances to be absolutely undesirable but the web kept getting bigger and bigger so I came to my senses.

Now, as I spend money on the business, I log the receipts into Freshbooks right away so I won't have to fret about it later – or forget it, which I'm apt to do. I use Freshbooks to invoice, too, which has been useful. This helps me track my income and outstanding accounts.

If I could give one piece of advice re: business finances to everybody who is just starting their online business or freelancing business – even (and especially) if you don't even have your website up yet – it's to start logging those expenses right away, and as they come in. 

Seriously. Just do it. Your accountant and future self will thank you big time.

You can use a spreadsheet although this will be a bit more complicated. You can also use a program like Freshbooks – highly recommended – Quickbooks, Wave, etc.

Organizing is Investing In Your Future

This might be a bold claim, but it's actually sort of accurate.

If you spend 3 seconds organizing your life and business as you go, it will save you hours later. And as overused as the phrase “time is money” is, when you are working online as a solopreneur and burning the midnight oil to get a client an assignment or make sure your Webinar technology won't go on the fritz for you the next day, you realize just how true that phrase is.

Oh wait… is that just me?

So get your organization game together, guys!

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