Smooth Operators: 10 Tools to Keep Your Productivity Up



10 tools that keep your business running like a well-oiled machine

Hope Wixon’s head is accustomed to spinning.

At Wixon Jewelers in Minneapolis, the 25-year-old business Wixon and her husband, Dan, run, it’s no surprise to see projects pile up. The lively, 35-employee operation includes watchmakers, goldsmiths, a gem lab, a shipping department, and an internal marketing team.

“We’re not idle people, and we tend to overload our plate,” Wixon says.

So time is at a premium for Wixon, who confesses that the daily grind places her in a constant conflict with her business’s future and, sometimes, even peace of mind.

“It’s hard to forecast or plan long-term when your wheels are spinning day in and day out,” she says.

For many jewelry retailers like Wixon, productivity and efficiency are prized, but elusive, workday elements. Amid servicing customers, the necessary backbone of any retail operation, retailers are rushing to place orders, craft marketing materials, cultivate partnerships, design special events, and train staff. The 24-hour day simply isn’t enough, particularly when layered on top of family and other responsibilities.

Fortunately, technology’s ever-beating pulse has delivered an array of solutions—many of them accessed through the convenience and ease of a smartphone or tablet—that help turn the daunting into the doable.

Here are 10 mobile solutions capable of improving the productivity of jewelry retailers:

Dragon Dictation

While the average typing rate hovers around 40 words per minute, humans generally pack well over 125 words into each 60-second window. Dragon Dictation’s voice recognition software—essentially an automated transcriptionist—puts one’s voice to work, giving busy small business owners the gift of time.

With Dragon Dictation, jewelry retailers can ditch the mobile touch screen in favor of their voice to craft emails, text messages, social media updates, and more in a fraction of the time. (iOS; free)

Evernote


(photo: Ivan Mikhaylov/Thinkstock)

A technological trailblazer in the “getting things done” or GTD time-management method promoted by productivity consultant David Allen, Evernote debuted in 2008 and now claims more than 100 million users around the globe. In an on-the-go world where retailers are hustling morning to night, Evernote users can conveniently navigate between desktop and mobile.

With the online note-taking service, users might keep a to-do list; record notes on a designer’s upcoming line; organize articles from the Web; attach docs, photos, or PDFs from a work computer; or even snap pictures of paper notes. Evernote’s archiving capabilities, meanwhile, ensure they can later easily access information. (iOS, Android, Windows; free, $24.99/year Plus version, $49.99/year Premium version)

Hootsuite

Given social media’s rising importance in a jewelry store’s marketing arsenal, many retailers have a deep, and often cumbersome, online presence. Hootsuite’s social management app streamlines the process, letting you share posts from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Foursquare, all from a single dashboard.

Hootsuite’s scheduling tool, however, might be the real reward. Retailers can create and slate social media posts for distribution at defined times—letting them promote an event or sale literally in their sleep. (iOS, Android; free, Pro plan starts at $9.99/month)

Receipt Bank


Always losing your receipts? Receipt Bank is for you!

Keeping records and tracking expenses can be a tedious endeavor for many small business owners, particularly during travel. All too often, receipts pile up on a desk, vanish, or end up in the laundry.

Enter Receipt Bank. Take a picture of a receipt or invoice; the app will extract the key data, such as supplier, date, tax, and total, and publish the information to your accounting software. Thanks to that photo, owners (or their bookkeepers) can bypass typing receipt information into accounting software and enjoy more convenient, near real-time expense tracking. (iOS, Android; single-user plan starts at $14.99/month)

Soulver

At its surface, Soulver appears to be little more than a calculator. Frankly, it is—albeit a calculator on steroids.

Part spreadsheet and part traditional calculator, Soulver bills itself as the ideal tool to perform “back-of-the-envelope” calculations and solve daily problems. The mobile app allows users to play with numbers and percentages, do calculations over multiple lines and refer to previous lines, test out different scenarios, and seamlessly compare results—making it a quick, accessible solution for numbers-related planning and goal setting in the retail environment. (iOS; 99 cents)

OmniFocus

For small-business owners, life is full of demands—work, family, community, and so on. OmniFocus, long considered one of the premier productivity apps in the mobile marketplace, pledges to turn chaos into calm.

The task management platform can be as simple as a general to-do list or function as a robust, flexible tool to help you juggle life’s various flaming torches. Users can view, organize, and manage tasks in specific buckets related to their professional or personal life; track tasks by project, date, place, or person; and see the most relevant information by day or even week. (iOS; $39.99)

RescueTime

An app like RescueTime might be the first step toward a more productive life by helping small business owners gain necessary perspective to take action and improve daily efficiency.

When installed on a smartphone (or even desktop), RescueTime discreetly logs user activity, later providing insight into your most productive periods and where time was spent. As a result, you can determine when you are typically most productive—and better schedule tasks that require intense focus. You can also identify time drains, from Facebook to fantasy football, that require a shift in habits or might even need to be blocked. (Android; free, $9/month for premium)

Flow


(photo: Ivan Mikhaylov/Thinkstock)

Flow is a team task manager from which store leaders can delegate, set due dates and priorities, and confirm that work—preparations for a charity event or the rollout of a promotion, for instance—gets handled as it should, when it should.

Rather than relying on email to monitor project progress, retailers can create tasks on Flow and have staff members or even hired contractors, such as a webmaster or photographer, collaborate over a customized thread. Team members can share files and tackle the responsibilities of a given task in a seamless, collaborative way that minimizes missteps and headaches. (iOS, Android; $19/month Starter plan for up to three people, $59/month Studio plan for up to 10)

Timeful

Timeful is rooted in science—cofounders include a celebrated Duke University behavioral economist and two Stanford University–based computer scientists—and boasts of “sophisticated algorithms” that capture all things battling for a user’s time. The intelligent calendar helps you determine what you should do with your day and when to maximize performance.

Named one of the world’s 100 greatest apps by Business Insider, the mobile app—soon available on Android—assembles meetings, events, and other to-dos in a single calendar. It advises users on how to schedule their days based on deadlines, available time, and individual behavior patterns. (iOS; free)

ZenPayroll


Bonus: ZenPayroll integrates with other accounting and HR software.

While not an app, ZenPayroll bears mentioning. In May, CNBC named ZenPayroll to its Disruptor 50 list, an annual ranking of the top revolutionary business innovations, and called the upstart tool a “simple online payroll solution for small biz.”

Indeed, ZenPayroll has eased the time-consuming, expensive, and often bewildering task of payroll management with plug-and-play, cloud-based software that navigates layers of federal, state, and local laws to provide automatic tax calculation, payment, and filing. In addition, the software offers new-hire reporting, direct deposit, contractor payments, reimbursements and benefits, payroll reports, and integration with other accounting and human resources software. (any Web-enabled device; $25/month plus $4 per person)