Organization: A true sink-or-swim test

 Photo by  @stephaniekirk4

Staying organized will make or break a career in PR. That being said, organization isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing. Written notes on the corner of a piece of paper might work for one person, while the person to their left may need everything saved on their computer and synced to the cloud.

Unfortunately, trial and error is often the best way to find out what works. I say unfortunately because of the last word of this method: error. It takes awhile for people to figure out what works best for them, and sometimes you try organization styles that don’t work. I’m a prime example of this.

As a recent graduate, my gig at Curator is my first non-internship job. I quickly found that while I was hyper-organized in school with a planner that was bursting at the seams, that method of organization did not work for me here.

I began a quest of testing out different ways to stay organized from handwritten sticky notes and typed thoughts saved in Word to calendar reminders. The result? A combination of these tricks evolved into my ideal organizational system.

If I take an unexpected call from the media, I take handwritten notes on a piece of paper and then transfer those notes into a notebook once I hang up. The act of re-writing my notes allows me to soak up and remember the conversation, and identify if there are holes or remaining questions. Anything with a due date goes on the monthly calendar that is pinned in front of my desk. Finally, I have my work email and calendar synced to my phone so I can check anything at day or night.

This may seem excessive, or seem like a few extra steps, but it’s what works for me! I’d love to hear what works best for you! Comment below with your best organization tips.

 

 

How My Internship Was Much More Than “Just Getting Coffee”

How My Internship Was Much More Than “Just Getting Coffee”

When I arrived in the office on the first day of my internship with Curator, I was ready to embrace the industry I was passionate about, but I also felt nervous. About to begin my junior year at the University of Washington, I had reached the point in my collegiate career where things tend to get a bit more “serious.”

Why You Should Schedule Your To-Dos: The Eisenhower Matrix + Outlook, Part 2

I have to say upfront that I take no credit for this idea. One of the best blog posts I read all year in 2014 was Eric Barker’s How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m. I’ll spoil it for you: You need to schedule your whole to-do list.

The gist is, if you have a to-do list, that’s great, but ultimately flawed. The problem, as anyone with a to-do list knows, is that it only addresses the what with no regard for how long. By not putting a set time against each of your tasks, you risk not finishing them, or not leaving enough time to finish the most-important ones first.

As it turns out, this strategy jibes pretty well with the Eisenhower Matrix, which I wrote about last year. Here it is, as a reminder:

Now, imagine that four-square grid shaped into four individual cubes, each with varying heights, which we’ll say represent time:

This is a better way to think about your day. The height of your bars will vary—these are just here for example’s sake—but this is the general picture. Most people will want to dedicate the bulk of their time to important-but-not-urgent matters, and set aside a chunk of time each day for urgent stuff. Some days that’ll all go out the window.

But that’s just a visualization. How this works practically is in two simple steps:

  1. Check your to-do list.
  2. Schedule time for each item.

I keep everything in Outlook. Every morning, I check email and load up my Tasks list. Then, I go through the list and schedule time for each thing I need to do. By the time I’m ready to start my day, my Outlook calendar looks something like this:

 Don't worry, this is just an example—I didn't really work on Valentine's Day.

Don't worry, this is just an example—I didn't really work on Valentine's Day.

A few notes on this:

  • I do my best to strategically place “urgent items” times—first thing in the morning, right after meetings (we’ve all had those emails come in the middle of meetings), and at the end of the day, before I head home. If there’s nothing urgent, I go back to my not urgent/important list.
  • The most important thing for me is to stick to the stop times. If I end up with extra time, great, but the way I stay on task is to drop what I’m doing when the clock says stop.
  • Obviously, that last point is the goal but isn’t always realistic. There are going to be days when the urgent/important runs rampant and blows out your whole calendar. This is just a guide.

The upshot to all this is that you end up with a more realistic expectation of what you can get done each day. Even on days when urgent/important matters blow up your plan, you’ll have a sense of how much extra time you need to put in, or what you need to shift around later in the week.

I highly recommend that you try this out, and most importantly, make it your own. Tweak it to fit your needs; add an extra dimension if you want; and use apps and tools in your own inbox to auto-tag items and make things easier. 

Like it/hate it? Tweet us and let us know: @CuratorPR

A Three-Piece Typography Starter Kit

Being that most of our written communication is comprised of type, I think it behooves just about everybody to get a little basic break down of typography. Understanding just a few principles can really help you to make your presentations, agendas or your family's holiday update letter to feel more professional and to look nicer. It's not just about looking sleek: paying attention to your type can actually help you to get your points across more clearly. Better still, everything I'm going to talk about you can do in Microsoft Word. Best of all, I won't even get all completely technical type-nerdy on you.

My starter kit for killer typography boils down to just three umbrella rules: 1. Be Context Aware 2. Create Contrast 3. Go Simple So ditch the 12-point Times New Roman and let's try something fun!

1. Be Context Aware The most important thing to recognize in selecting a font is how it will be used and what message the words in that font will impart. Consider the level of impact you want each item to have, what sort of mood you want to convey. This infographic section has a pretty simple breakdown of different categories of fonts (or typefaces, if you do want to get technical).

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Another thing to be aware of is readability. Always make sure to set body copy in a legible, clean font. Serif fonts are generally easier to read for lengthy bodies of text, which explains why most books are set in serif fonts. However, for any broken-up text boxes or block-text the length of – oh-let's-just-say – a cover letter, a crisp sans serif can also make a legible and engaging impact. Furthermore, people tend to err on the side of picking fonts that are larger than necessary. Twelve-point is kind of a default in Word, but when printing, I almost never print body copy at more than 10-point, frequently going as small as 7-point or 8-point (it helps to add a bit of space between lines to increase legibility). If your body text is that small, you probably don't need huge headings either–just enough difference to be understood as different types of information. The rules are a little different on screen though; things need to be a bit bigger, which usually means using type that that's about the size you would normally expect to use anyway.

2. Go Simple There are loads of resource sites (Check out Font Squirrel, Google Fonts, and The League of Moveable Type for starts.) where you can get free fonts that range from highly practical and useful additions to your library, to exciting-and-fun fonts that can look a bit ridiculous if overused. Don't overdo it; be sparing with all the crazy-cool decorative fonts to punch up the overall feel of whatever you're making. Think of decorative fonts like neon: a great fashion accent, but it takes a real fashionista with a wild streak to pull off a whole outfit. For example, the largest headers or the title work well with creative fonts being that they are short and surrounded by extra space, but I wouldn't recommend applying them to subheadings–that can get overpowering and illegible (and for the love of Eric Gill, never set paragraphs in script).

The key point of maintaining simplicity is to limit yourself to two or (as needed) three typefaces in a document. One to two of these should typically be very utilitarian and legible, while the other can be a little more expressive in terms of mood. If you don't know what to think about a particular font, search up some reviews. Designers are typically very vocal online, sharing resources and opinions steadily.

3. Create Contrast

The last step is to consider how to create variety in your document. It's helpful to establish something of a hierarchy of information. Different parts are assigned different levels of importance or relate to different elements. The best way to differentiate and help readers quickly ascertain what relationships exist between different pieces of written information is to use different fonts. Think of all the different types of information you might have: headers, subheaders, body, contact info, captions, quotes, time schedules– it's a lot of different things. But didn't I just caution against using more than 2-3 typefaces? Well, sure, but it's all about how you treat them.

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A single typeface, particularly a good one, has a lot of breadth. You can use it in all capitals or small caps; italic or bold. Many typefaces have ultra-light or ultra-black weights in their indexes. Capitalize on them! As always, size and scale are other ways to create contrast within a document, but if you can treat the scale with more subtlety and work different weights and complimentary type pairings instead, you'll find you have a more sophisticated final product. When choosing your typefaces, the trick is too make sure that they not only aren't too similar,  but that they also compliment each other. Usually, pairing a sans serif and a serif will work in your favor, but there are some handy pairing guides (herehere, and also here) that I've enjoyed and made use of to help you start. It's a commonly held belief that typography is such a utilitarian element of communication that it doesn't necessarily need to be original so much as it needs to be good. So feel free to seek out and employ precedents. A final helpful way to create contrast is to find different ways of breaking up text. Use columns or pull quotes to add variety to your reader's flow. As we all know, nobody really likes to look at long monotonous documents so the more points of interest, the easier to engage people with content(cue the guffaws at my ultimate failure to provide such things in this post).

Now if you've made it this far, you're basically qualified to take on my internship (That's everything: my entire design BA in a blog post). If you're nerdy enough to still be curious, check this out because it will make you smarter and cooler almost immediately. I wish you all Garamondspeed in your future day-to-day typographic endeavors.

3 Non-Traditional News Apps I Check Every Morning

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In my role as Social Media Strategist at Curator, I spend a good chunk of the day on social networks, and I pick up a lot of news and trending links just by looking at screens. I’m also a former journalist, and old habits die hard, so I spend a few minutes each morning looking over news and information to get ready for the day. Here are a few of my go-to apps (all iOS).

 

Yahoo News Digest home screen

Yahoo News Digest

This has been my favorite mobile news app for the last few months, after I decided I needed a change from Circa. It spits out two “editions” every day (morning and evening) of about 10 stories each. Like Circa, those stories are distilled down into their essence.

Digest’s big draw is its look and feel, which is great. I also like that it offers U.S. and international editions. I go for the international because I like the alternate perspective, and I spend most of my day looking at U.S.-focused news anyway.

 

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Feedly

Like many, I was crushed when Google Reader shut down, but Feedly’s proven to be a more-than-adequate replacement. One of the things I like best about it is how much social sharing power is baked into it. I subscribe to a lot of feeds on behalf of Curator, our clients, and myself, precisely because I need to do a lot of sharing.

Feedly talks to just about any social network you can think of, as well as IFTTT, Evernote and Pocket. Honestly, I could probably dedicate a blog post to all the networks I have it plugged into, but first I’ll have to go and re-figure out what they all are. It’s really so useful that I forget.

 

Alien Blue screenshot

 

Alien Blue (Reddit)

Reddit is super helpful, especially on days when my calendar’s packed and I know I’m only going to have a few minutes to find interesting links to share. Alien Blue is simply the best iOS app for using Reddit.

What makes Reddit so great? Like Twitter or Facebook, it’s all about what/who you follow, but the front page is the source of a lot of material for link-surfacing sites like Mashable and Gawker. Spend a week checking Reddit before you check those two (or others like them) and you’ll feel a bit ahead of the game.

 

Others I Like

Those are three of my favorites, but there are a bunch of others I use regularly, too:

Breaking News

Yahoo Sports

Tweetbot (the best Twitter app there is)

How The Eisenhower Matrix And Outlook Can Make You More Productive

General Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the Day You may have heard some variation of Pres. Dwight Eisenhower's productivity matrix: "What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important." Who knows if he actually said that, but also, who cares? It's a good saying, and it can work well if you're struggling to get a handle on your tasks and time.

Here it is illustrated (credit: Business Insider):

eisenhower-matrix

 

My Outlook task list at the beginning of every day is usually about 7-8 hours long, and that's before things start getting added to it. If I'm going to avoid a 10-hour day, or at least try to prevent it, I have to be diligent about prioritizing those tasks.

Recently, I applied Eisenhower's productivity matrix to my task list. Almost immediately it made things easier, because there was suddenly no debating what needed to be handled in what order. I go about my day by tackling the urgent/important stuff first, the not-urgent/important stuff next, and then pushing everything else to another time or another person. (Note: I still organize tasks by client; this just acts as a second layer.)

This works perfectly with Outlook's task manager, because I can hide everything but what's urgent/important, or not-urgent/important, etc.:

Tasks

Besides helping me maintain productivity, this has also cut out a lot of stress. It's such a relief sometimes to look at a task list 20 items long and be able to go, "OK, this can be done tomorrow; this can be delegated; this doesn't need action till next week...." The Eisenhower matrix can whittle that 20-item list down to the 5-7 most important things in a hurry.

Photo source: Flickr

How Limits Can Help You Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

The Enterprise Star Trek's transporter is one of the most iconic science fiction gadgets of the last 50 years. It goes beyond even science fiction, to the point that it long ago entered the cultural lexicon—"Beam me up, Scotty."

But the transporter may never have existed if it hadn't been for the constraints of Star Trek's TV budget.

Each week, Kirk, Spock and Bones would visit a different planet, which meant there needed to be an establishing shot of them arriving on the planet's surface. It was too expensive to shoot the Enterprise landing somewhere new every episode, so the writers came up with the transporter. It was a cheap solution that only required a green screen and some sparkly dust. Happily, it fit the show's future aesthetic, too.

Still, it's funny: One of the most iconic fictional devices of the last 50 years came to be because of a tight budget.

It's easy to get frustrated by limits, and think that you can only do X if you have $Y. The truth is, limits often force you to come up with stuff you never would have thought of if you had all the resources in the world.

Next time you're feeling creatively stifled, try placing some artificial limits on yourself. See where they take you. Maybe it'll be somewhere no one has gone before.

Spring Cleaning Your Pinterest Boards

I'm not going to lie, I'm addicted to Pinterest. I could browse pins on my iPad for hours and sometimes use it as a primary search tool. For me it’s convenient to pin recipes in one place and come back to when I need meal planning inspiration or collaborate with my sister to plan my nephew's 2nd birthday. But when you pin as much as I do, for 3+ years, your boards can get cluttered and the original intention of a pin can get lost. Pinterest can be more than a time waster if you use it to your advantage and give it the occasional spring cleaning.

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Get Detail Oriented I first started with a 'bites' board for everything culinary but soon there are so many pins that you miss things. I broke my bites category into ‘breakfast' for everything morning eats related, ‘confections' for my sweet tooth and ‘sip on this’ for my smoothie and juice obsession. Each of my 44 boards has a purpose which keeps my browsing time limited when I’m looking for a recipe for Sunday Brunch.

Delete Pins Just like your closet, sometimes you really just need to purge. Every couple months or so, I’ll look over my boards and delete pins that aren’t relevant. This is most useful on my 'nerding out' board where I keep things such as infographics of social media platform specs. Once that new timeline or design hits though, it's irelevant and can only get confusing.

Determine the Purpose When you create a new board, will it be to pull inspiration or hold references for you to get back to you? I recently made this realization reviewing my ‘keetchin’ board. It began as a way to purge my homebody board that held decor inspiration, but now I see that I’ve added cooking tips and gadgets that can improve my kitchen skills. To build upon my collection and keep my boards clean, I now have added ‘sharpen my skills’ to hold all those tips for storing vegetables, how to cut an onion and those adorable salt n’ pepper shakers.

Unfollow Deleting friends or unfollowing accounts can have a bad reputation these days but when material is irrelevant to you, it clutters up space. When someone I follow starts mass pinning items that I don’t have interest in, I’ll look at their whole board and determine if it’s worth unfollowing. Most of the time it is and by just unfollowing their board and not the whole account I still receive content I’ll want to re-pin to my own account.

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Have Mindless Fun It’s true what they say, you can spend hours on Pinterest. For someone in the social media profession, it’s the one network where I can get lost and think creatively. To support that fun thought process, I create boards that are just mindless fun and when you go back to look at the collection you’ve built it can spark a new idea. Some include: a collection of ‘B’s’, anything related to my hometown, DIY projects and all things winosaur.

Happy Spring Cleaning!

Six Tips For Wrangling Writer's Block

Spoiler alert: I had a bit of writer's block when preparing for this blog post. But, lucky for me, I work with professional storytellers all the time. So, what do the pros do when they're stumped? I reached out to bloggers and journalists I admire to borrow a page from their book (no pun intended) on beating writer's block. From research to running and photography and getting a pedicure, the responses were too good to paraphrase, so without further ado, here are some juicy tips from the pros that you can refer to next time you're trying to get an idea across on paper: CoriCoffin

Cori Coffin, Anchor & Producer at News Channel 5 in Grand Junction, CO: Understand Your Subject Matter.

Well my biggest thing for writer's block when I'm completing a story is to re-read and really understand my subject matter. Reading up on all resources can help get the process flowing for new ideas or new ways to say things. Also, a thesaurus is my best friend. I can look up one word I'm trying to get across, and get a whole bunch of ideas from all the corresponding words. In regards to story generation, we are always taught to follow our beats,  and continuously follow up with various experts around the community. For example, my beat is energy. So how is drilling out here on the West Slope--is it up or down since we last reported? Have any companies had and changes lately? Hirings/firings, special projects, etc. Also, the best thing when you are feeling uninspired with story ideas, is to take to the community and talk to people! Just listen to their experiences, history, thoughts and insights, they tell some interesting stories!

 

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Alexandra Hedin, lifestyle blogger of the same name; author, and contributor to 425 Magazine: Get Your Mind Off of It.

Writers block is the pits!  For me, because all of my writing is driven by something I’ve created, I think it get more of ‘creators block’ than writers block.  To get out of that rut, I find a long walk, park time with my kids, or just a pedicure and a trashy magazine are enough to get out of my own thoughts and clear my mind.  If I’m completely lacking inspiration, I hole up in my library with every cookbook I own and start thumbing through them.  Usually I can be inspired by an ingredient, an image, or a recipe itself to create something.

 

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Don Granese, Reporter for NBC Right Now in Tri-Cities, WA: Let the Story Speak for Itself.

We work on a harsh daily deadline mostly turning multiple stories a day. In a way writer's block isn't an option. Sometimes I only have 15 minutes to write a full story. I find the best way to tell someone's story is to let them tell it. I pick out their best quotes from the interview (ones that pack the most raw emotion) and then think of how to write around those while also including all the facts that could add to the story while also keeping a flow that pushes the story forward. 

If I had any tips I'd say, think back on why you originally wanted to tell the story. What was the original factor that sold you on the idea? From there, how can you take that idea and make it relatable to your audience?

For example, today I met a woman who is deaf and needs donations for an $8,000 hearing aid. When I met with her and her husband they explained that he was also legally blind. Rather than write a story about how she needs this money, the story needed to be about them. They work together to see and hear.

I began my story by having the anchor read, "We use our eyes and our ears for just about every form of communication, but for one Kennewick couple they only have one full set between the two of them. Alejandro Vazquez is legally blind and Janie Gaunt has been deaf since the age of 12. They have been together for over a decade. This week the receiver for Gaunt's hearing implant died. They have always been each other's eyes and ears. Now, they have to work together until they find a solution."

Almost everyone has eyes and ears. When we imagine not being able to use them it gets us thinking. Hopefully it grabs the viewer's attention enough that they stay with the story. Then at the end of the story I mention the link to her page raising funds. The viewer/reader is already invested and maybe by that point they will feel charitable to the woman in need.

In this way my stories have an arc. I bring them in with the most relatable or intriguing thing I can without giving too much away. Then I let the story (and my characters) speak for itself.

 

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Angela Russell, freelance writer and blogger at The Coupon Project: Try A New Angle With Content.

Revisit things you've written before to see if more could be said about them, or if you could take another angle on the topic. For instance, I recently wrote a post about dandelion foraging, but it later occurred to me I could also do a post on dandelion root tea, dandelion root coffee, where to harvest dandelion, the benefits of dandelion, and so forth. If you're having problems brainstorming new material, take a good look at topics you've already covered. Have you really said everything that can be said?

 

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Christi Warren, Reporter at SaukValleyNews.com in Sterling, IL: Start in the Middle.

I just start writing words. It can be about whatever the story is about. It can be about my reaction to the story. Just the action of typing and getting thoughts out pretty much always fixes it for me. I find it particularly helpful, also, to not start at the beginning of a story. I start somewhere in the middle, a la: "and then Janice entered her bedroom and there, on the floor, was the gun she'd seen him holding earlier. The very same gun," and then I write until the end without having introduced Janice, or the gun, or "him," and just carry on until I'm finished and then worry about the beginning later once the story's written itself. I also know that if i have writer's block, it's only because I care deeply about what I'm writing and how it could affect the people who will read it, or the people it's about.

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Katrina, fashion blogger at The Demure Muse: Go For a Run, Snap Some Photos.

I feel like I hit a bit of a wall whenever the seasons change. I know it sounds silly, but I'm one of those people who really enjoys consistency and predictability with weather. As a style blogger, the shift between seasons can be hard for the first few weeks trying to change gears for dressing for a new season.

When I'm stumped for what to wear and not sure what to write about, I like to clear my head and go for a run around the city. Seattle is absolutely gorgeous and has some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets I've ever seen, not to mention really interesting art all around

Whenever I go for a run, I find myself taking photos of random buildings or street art. While running, I don't think anything of the photos, but when I get home I like to review them over a quick water break and snack. It's during this downtime that I get inspired by the photos of the city to either come up with topics to write about to accompany outfits that are inspired by colours in the photos.

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At times when running isn't an option (to be fair, Seattle weather has been amazing on the last few weekends), I look to taking photos of packaging around my home. As someone who appreciates creative ways to add character to mundane everyday objects, a lot of style and story inspiration comes from these photos as well.

Next time you're stumped, take a step back and look at your surroundings. Take photos of everyday scenes that you encounter and look back at them to see if there are any characteristics that you didn't notice on first glance. These little quirks and details are what usually inspire me to write. I hope they help rid your writers block too!

 

Special thanks to all the pros who helped contribute to this article! Keep up with them on Twitter: @CoriCoffin, @alexandrahedin, @DonGraneseNews, @couponproject, @seawarren, & @katriiina

 

Mastering Minutes to Gain Hours

Guinness Clock Dublin

For the past few months, I’ve been experimenting with different time management techniques to try and fit more into the day. My goal is simple; maximize my productivity during my work day so I can maximize the enjoyment of my personal time. There’s all kinds of great productivity advice out there that has really helped, from smarter list-making and task-batching to morning priority setting and project reorganizing. These have been incredibly helpful for maximizing productivity, but I found that at the end of the day I still had about the same amount of free time. Just like extra money, when you have extra time, you’ll find some way to spend it. If you create an extra hour for yourself, you’ll inevitably fill it with a bunch of small, time-sucking activities and then wonder where all your time has gone. It’s difficult for us to recognize when this is happening, because we usually don’t add a new item to our schedule when we have more time, we just increase the amount of time we spend on activities we already do.

For me, those time wasters usually consist of news/tech blog reading and social media (mainly Twitter). Whether I have 10 minutes or two hours of free time, I can easily fill it with my face pressed against my computer or phone screen. Conventional wisdom suggests we completely cut out the things that are eating up our time to remove the temptation all together. The problem is I don’t want to give these up and I really can’t in my line of work. They’re still important, I just don’t want them eating into my extra time.

So here’s what I’ve discovered: the trick to having more free time that you can actually enjoy is to fit all of the small things that tend to eat up your time into your extra minutes, rather than into your extra hours. To paraphrase an old proverb, take care of the minutes, and the hours will take care of themselves.

If your time wasters tend to be internet-based like mine are, there’s good news; there are plenty of tools out there to help you maximize your minutes. Here are a few of my favorites:

Circa

Circa: If news is your time-poison of choice, consider downloading Circa to your phone. It’s a brilliant app that summarizes the news in about four short paragraphs, often with photos and maps to add context. If you want to learn more about a particular story, all of the sources are cited at the end of the article, so you can dig in as deep as you want. Plus, you can share on Twitter or Facebook right from the app.

 

Feedly-Icon

Feedly: I’ve talked about the Feedly Chrome app for your laptop before and how it's a must for social media managers, but the iOS app is a must for pretty much anyone who wants an easy way to stay up to date on their favorite news sites, blogs, etc. while you’re on the go. It’s perfect for when you just have a few minutes, or even seconds, to peek in on your favorite sites. You can bookmark articles to read later, send stories to a friend via email or text, or post it to any number of your social media sites. Plus, thanks to Buffer integration, you can schedule posts without even leaving the app.

 

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Audible: I don’t know anyone who doesn’t wish they had more time to read. I like conventional reading as much as the next person, but when my to-do list at home starts piling up, reading is the first thing to go. Thankfully, Audible allows my to read even when I’m busy. Whether you’re commuting, folding laundry or going for a run, Audible is a great tool for doing two things at once.

If you have other minute-mastering tips and tools, I’d love to hear about them. Hit me up at @Robinsonpost.