Increase Productivity in the Background

Reading Time: 2 minutes

We all respond to two different types of motivation according to an old saying: the carrot and the
stick. But that old adage is a little dated. Sure, the easy way is to make good or bad consequences for
finishing or not finishing your work, but there’s another way to guide your efforts away from pictures
of cats and towards the good stuff: ignorance. Here are a few applications that, for the most part, run
in the background and can help you get things done more efficiently:

Write or Die

Available for the iPad or your regular old machine, Write or Die puts the “prod” in productivity,
according to the website. I’m partial to this nasty little app because it does a great job of encouraging
writing by discouraging the time you spend not writing. See, if you spend a certain amount of time
not writing, then WoD will give you a reminder, ranging from a gently-worded pop-up to actually
deleting what you wrote before. Of course, it’s not for editing or hardcore word processing, but
rather a utility that will get you to pump out material. You can pick it up here for $4.99.

Dropcloth

Formerly a Mac-exclusive, Dropcloth is a nifty little app that overlays a solid color window over the
desktop, which I’ve used to much success for clearing the screen for webcasts and to even more
success for blacking out distractions. It’s a huge help if you need to focus on one application, and best
of all, it’s free! You can pick up a copy through lifehacker for Windows and iOS.

f.lux

There’s something about staring into the warm glow of my computer that, for some reason, makes
me hate the thought of a reasonable bed time. Well, that’s because, according to the makers of f.lux,
computer screens look great because they are designed to mimic natural light, which you probably
shouldn’t get too much of at midnight. f.lux automatically adjusts the color temperature of your
screen depending on time of day, making it easier on your eyes and better for your sleep cycle. This
may be more of a lifestyle app than a productivity one, but I usually do my best work after a decent
night’s sleep. Pick it up free here.

StayFocused

Sometimes, just sometimes, we need a little extra help to stay away from time wasters like Facebook
or whatever it is you like to do. StayFocused is a Google Chrome app that blocks a customizable list
of websites for a certain amount of time, and can be fiddled with to allow those sites for a certain
amount of time. I’m not saying that it’s the most pleasant approach to getting things done, but I’d be
lying if I said it wasn’t effective. You can pick it up for free in the Google Chrome store.

The Details of a $100 Startup

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Recently the book The $100 Startup from Chris Guillebeau has been making some waves. With this economic climate, it’s all too common to see skilled people without work creating their own businesses to keep the bills paid. And the cheaper it can be done, the better. But starting a business with $100 is a lot tougher than it sounds, and it takes a certain kind of savvy to make it work. I’ve always said that there is a super power in low-overhead, profitable-from-day-one businesses. Not having to raise capital to pursue your ideas is a great thing, if it can be done. Here are a few ways to keep costs down when building a cheap startup:

Forget about “Business Plans” or “Financial Forecasts”

Chris Guillebeau, in his book, says “you don’t need a business plan, you don’t need to spend too much time planning, you don’t need a large amount of money to launch, and you don’t need special skills or expertise.” and he is right. I’ve seen too many people get stuck in the “paralysis of analysis”. If this is your first startup, and you do not have a lot of skin in the game, give it a shot and GO for it. People tend to learn the basics of their business sectors by being thrown into it.

Don’t Buy the Cow

We’ve all heard the adage, “don’t buy the cow if you get the milk for free,” and it applies to a startling amount of stuff in the business world. There is a lot of free software available that does just as well, if not better than for-pay stuff. Take Open Office at www.openoffice.org for example. It offers about 99% of the features of Microsoft Office and it doesn’t cost $100 per license. Anti-virus software can be had for free all over the place, and premium service for a lot less than the big names like Norton. AVG and Avast! are popular free options that offer premium service for cheap. So don’t spend money on the big names when you can get the same functionality cheaper or even free.

Invest in the Important Stuff

While you should avoid unnecessary expenses and generally be cheap when it comes to certain things, it’s equally important to spend on quality. Purchasing a quality item or service in the beginning can save a lot of trouble down the road. What’s important changes by business; if you’re a software developer then you probably will get frustrated with a $50 laptop from Craigslist, or if you’re a bicycle messenger those cheap tires will cause more harm than good. Prioritize the stuff that is integral to your operation and don’t cheap out on them.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

…that is, if you have one. Building a business takes time, and after overhead expenses, many businesses don’t see a profit until the third month of operation, at the soonest. Having an extra source of income and taking things slow will let give you the time to make smart decisions instead of the, “We need to launch NOW!” attitude that grasps many of us. Once your business proves that it can support itself is when you can quit your regular work and focus on building your brand new money-maker. But Guillebeau notes specifically in the book, “in the battle between planning and action, action wins.” Taking action when action is needed is important, but it’s equally important to check the water before diving in head first. Products always end up launching behind schedule, and you never can perfectly judge the time a project is going to take. You don’t want your runway of cash to run short in the process, thus stifling you from growing!