Tools I Use to Run My Business

I had a comment on a post several months back asking for more information about how I began my freelance work and the tools I use to run my business. The reason it took me so long to write a post in response was that I was busy doing the work itself! Usually after a long day on the computer, I try to take my leisure time away from screens, which means that posts get written around here a little less often. Fortunately, again and again in my life I am reminded that, like Glennon Doyle, I read to inhale, and write to exhale. So, finally, here we go! Here is a comprehensive list of the tools and services I use to run my current business, as of September 2017. You can learn more about my work here.

Tools I Use To Run My Business >> Life In Limbo

Note: there are a couple of affiliate links in this post, but my opinions are always and forever my own, and this post is not sponsored by anyone except me myself and I.

Websites: Bluehost + WordPress

I’ve written about my love for these two services before, but I’ve been using them both in conjunction since I first started a self-hosted blog back in 2009! A lot of people are switching to Squarespace these days, which makes sense because it’s pretty and drag-and-drop. If you only have or need one website, I would recommend it, especially for beginners. If you’ll be building more than one website (ie. I have my blog, my personal website, my former podcast website, etc), it’s far more cost-effective to go with WordPress, and the service is a lot more robust.

Time Tracking: Timely

Most things I use to run my business are completely free, because I like to keep things simple and lean. Timely is one of the services I’m happy to pay for, because I’ve tried most of the other options and they’re just not as good, not as well designed, and not as easy to use as Timely. I can manage all my clients within one platform, bill my time at various hourly rates, and run a timer for the exact length of time I’m working on a project. Trust me that it’s the best.

Invoicing: Wave Apps

I don’t use most of the (many!) features available from Wave, because I do my accounting the old-fashioned way: in a spreadsheet (albeit a Google one!) and ask to be paid by either e-transfer, Paypal or direct deposit. But I do like their invoices, because they are easy to create and look professional. I save all mine as PDF and send by email manually. That said, I’m hoping that Timely (see above) will come out with an invoicing feature soon!

Banking: Tangerine

I switched to Tangerine right when I became a full-time freelancer, and I’ve never looked back. Tangerine is only for Canadians, but I would encourage you to look into no-fee bank accounts in your country and go through the process of switching. So far I’ve saved about $200 in fees alone since making the transition, which is a non-trivial amount!

Communication: Inbox for Gmail + Slack

There is not much more on this planet I love more than I love Slack. If you are working with any size of team, I recommend using it. Hell, even if I was working 100% alone, I can still think of features I’d like to have access to (their Posts function is great for storing ideas or lists). I cannot recommend anything more highly! I have now been responsible for getting two separate work teams onto Slack, and the productivity increase and stress decrease in both cases has been palpable.

I run all my email through Gmail accounts, and Inbox is my favourite app for my phone (with all the notifications off, of course!). I especially love their function to ‘snooze’ emails to come back at an appointed time, since I operate under Inbox Zero as much as possible.

Graphic Design: Photoshop + Canva

I have a monthly subscription to Creative Cloud for Photographers, which comes with Photoshop and Lightroom for around $11 a month. If you’re just starting out: don’t even bother. Canva is amazing, has so many interesting and well-designed templates, and is really easy to use. It makes creating graphics something that just about anyone could do in just a few minutes.

Tools I Use To Run My Business >> Life In Limbo

Personal Management: Todoist + Bullet Journalling

I’ve tried a lot of different to-do list apps, and have settled on Todoist (for now) on account of enthusiastic testimonials, mainly from my friend Isabelle, who is incredibly organized and productive. It’s loosely based on the GTD model, which I am reading about right now, but mostly I like that it is very fast and very simple. If I had a larger team to manage or in-depth projects, I might use Asana, but for my own personal stuff this is perfect.

And of course, my brain likes paper far too much for me to be 100% digital! I use a bullet journal that is not even a little bit artistic or fancy – it is extremely basic and utilitarian, which works for me. I mostly use it for lists of ideas, goals, quotes, and planning out a week at a glance. Anything that doesn’t really fit on a “to do list” but I want to capture somewhere goes here.

Storage: Google Drive

I like Drive way more than Dropbox for most things, although I do have a great Dropbox setup going for sharing files with one of my clients that syncs directly from my computer. For most other things, I like Drive. I don’t save many emails, so I still don’t have to pay for Drive! Yay!

Music: Spotify

I now pay for Spotify Premium and I have never once looked back. Once it was pointed out to me that I listen to music for my entire workday, and that I was hearing annoying ads every 20 minutes, it was an easy choice to spend $10 a month.

Tech: Macbook + Over-Ear Headphones + Ergonomic keyboard

I love all these things, but I didn’t buy them all at once, and none of them are strictly necessary to start your own business. I have a refurbished Macbook that works like a charm, and I take care of it well because it is my livelihood. For my work, it’s important that my computer work fairly quickly, and that it can handle video and audio editing programs without becoming a sloth. But Sarah of Yes and Yes uses a cheap laptop and swears by it!

The headphones I have are so great: I wear them every morning at the café I work out of and they’re noise-cancelling enough to help me focus. I mainly wanted over-ear headphones because my ears were literally bleeding from wearing pointy earbuds all day long, and asked for a quality pair for my birthday, but any kind of headphone that doesn’t irritate your ears would work.

Lastly, my keyboard and mouse are a huge part of the reason that my chronic back pain has subsided – I am no longer hunching all day long.


Whenever possible, I look for tools or solutions that are cheap or free, and that work well. I am always looking for ways to pare down or streamline, especially when it comes to unnecessary business expenses, but I am also open to spending money to get something that works and makes my life easier.

What’d I miss? What else would you like to know about the way I run my business? Do you have any tools you would recommend to me?

Book Club: January + February

Book Club 2017: January + February >> Life In Limbo

I love to read, and I love to talk about the books I like best with other people. Every couple months here on the blog I choose my favourites from what I’ve read lately and write about them. As always, you can see everything I’m reading on my Goodreads profile. You can also check out what I’m reading in real time at #stephlovestoread on Instagram.

My reading life took a bit of a back seat in February as I focused on some new career opportunities and – let’s be honest here – watched way too much TV in the evenings rather than curling up with a book. For that reason, it’s been good motivation (and lots of fun) to be part of a book club again: so far we’ve read Homegoing and The Happiness Equation, and this weekend we’re meeting to discuss Sapiens. All three have been great, and it’s always nice to deepen my love of reading by joining a group to talk more about books!

I read several good books over the past couple months and thoroughly enjoyed all of them! To keep things short, I’ll just mention my top 4 recommendations here, but you can always follow along on Goodreads.

Book Club 2017: January + February >> Life In Limbo

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

It’s no secret that I love Mark’s writing – he’s made many an appearance in my inspiration posts. I listened to his new book as an audio book at the very beginning of the year and really enjoyed it. He always shares a lot of interesting and counter-intuitive ideas that I haven’t heard many other places before, and his book was no exception. I really like how realistic and practical he is, which sets his book apart from other self-help stuff. Don’t let the aggressive tone of the title put you off (he explains more about why he uses the F word so much here) – despite the impression the cover gives, it contains lots of helpful advice and perspective shifts for just about anyone (aka: not just white, male entrepreneurs).

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

I’ve read many a book about World War II, but never one quite like this one. I think what I liked best about it is how the author really takes her time telling the story, in the sense that the book spans several years worth of time for the characters. She doesn’t really skip over parts, nor does the book describe details in excess, so what results is this really beautiful depiction of their lives, each getting its due but not lingering. Any section of the book could have easily been its own novel because it was so interesting and rich, but instead she weaves them together to do something even more evocative: show characters who are not solely defined by their experiences during the war. So many books about wars are only about that brief moment in the characters’ lives – in this book, she puts the characters fully into context, so you experience along with them the slow creeping up of the war and the growing hatred of that era. Getting to ‘know them’ before the travails of war is also a powerful narrative tool, because you get a true sense of the indignity and horror of ordinary people being ripped from their lives. Oh, and it’s a beautiful love story. This was a terrifying book to be reading right around the time of the U.S. inauguration and in those first scary weeks.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

The best thing I can say about Jandy’s books is that they make me physically feel things. Reading them is so much fun that it makes me giddy – it makes me feel like I’m the one falling in love, not the characters. I read I’ll Give You the Sun in December and it made my list of Best Books of 2016, and as soon as I finished it I put this one (her first novel) on hold at the library. What else can I say except that these books are fun, lovely, and highly romantic. I can’t wait for her next one to be released! It’s meant to be coming out in 2017 at some point.

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

A chilling thought experiment about what might have happened had the Southern United States not abolished slavery while the Northern States did, had they compromised to avoid the Civil War. It follows the logic that the North was motivated to preserve its human values while the South wanted to preserve its ‘business interests’. It’s pretty sickening to imagine, though it also serves as a stark reminder that history could easily have gone a different way, not to mention the fact that slavery was not abolished particularly long ago, all things considered. It also doesn’t feel all that far-fetched, which is of course appalling and sad. I think it was well-written, even if I disagree somewhat with the idea of a white man writing about the experiences of people of colour – it made me wince a couple of times.


You can see all my book recommendation blog posts here.

What’s the best thing you’ve read lately? Tell me your recommendations! 

 

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo Bangkok, Thailand >> Life In Limbo

In total, I went to Bangkok five times on my travels, although 3 of those times I was really only in the airport, and 2 out of 3 times I was having a little sleepover at BKK. For me, this enormous city was a bunch of extremes all mixed together. There was the most intense heat, but even-more-intense air conditioning. There were so many people, but so many chances to be almost completely alone. You could go from eating lunch on a tiny plastic stool at a street stall to having drinks on the top of the world in the evening. You could walk down the most obnoxious tourist street in the world and then go home to a hostel in residential Bangkok the same night. There are some of the most spectacular temples in the world, and some of the most amazing skyscrapers. Everything is all mashed up together, making Bangkok an incredibly fascinating city.

The two times I spent time in Bangkok were very different. The first time, with my sister, we tried to see as many of the main attractions as we could manage in only a few short days: the gorgeous temples, views from boats going down the river, the overwhelming and beautiful markets. The second time, I tried to go as slowly as possible, spending an entire day in Lumphini Park listening to podcasts, reading my book, and watching komodo dragons, another day riding a bike around Bangkok’s “green lung”, and my evenings having drinks as high up in the sky as I could manage. On both my visits, I really felt like I got to experience so many sides to the city, even though there’s still so much more I would love to explore.

Favourites:

Vertigo Bar at the Banyan Tree: Without a doubt, this is the best rooftop bar in Bangkok. There are 360 degree views of the city, delicious (though expensive) drinks, and a lovely atmosphere. Just remember that there is a dress code, so no flip-flops.

Cloud 47 Rooftop Bar: This bar is also really nice, but a little less fancy – but there’s still a dress code. We went to this one before Vertigo, which I would recommend lest you be disappointed, but the views here are lovely too.

Baan Nampetch Hostel: I stayed here with my sister, and it was clean, had blissful air-conditioning, two twin beds and was only a 15 minute walk to one of the piers to take the boat to all the tourist sites, 10 minutes to the Golden Mount, and 10 minutes to Khao San road (which we did not really frequent).

U-Baan Guesthouse: Be aware that this hostel is a bit of a hike from the more touristy parts of the city, but the woman who runs this place is kind, funny, and hangs out and drinks beer with her guests. I would recommend renting a room with a friend or two if possible, because the dorms are….cozy to say the least. It’s very close to the SkyTrain, so it’s not far to get to places like Lumphini Park, Silom, and the enormous malls.

Bang Krachao: The green lung of Bangkok! It’s so peaceful and calm here that you feel like you’ve magically been transported to a jungle hours from the big city. You can easily rent bikes in the parking lot of the Talad Nam Peung floating market and then just get lost on the little concrete paths that spiderweb throughout the jungle. It’s not an island (we took a taxi there and back), but it feels like one and is absolutely beautiful. The market has a lot of yummy local treats too!

Jim Thompson House: Yes, it’s worth it to go and look at someone’s house, mostly because it’s a gorgeous house with so much character and history. You have to sign up to go on a guided tour of the house which is a little shorter than I would have liked, an there are no photos are permitted, but it’s still worth it. I wished that we could have had more time to explore the house itself (you can only explore a limited section of the grounds after the tour) but the whole complex is beautiful and for me, very inspiring. Jim Thompson created a lovely, traditional-meets-modern Thai house in the middle of the city and it still feels like an oasis. Ps. there’s a youth discount so don’t forget your ID!

Café Bangrak: This restaurant is near Vertigo, so if you don’t feel like paying their terrifying prices for dinner, just walk over to this tiny adorable place. Most of the time I was in Bangkok, I ate at street stalls, and this is the only restaurant I loved enough to recommend/could even give you directions to. I had the red curry fried rice and it was delicious. I got the recommendation from this great blog post, which suggests some other Thai places that look great too.

Note: I was in Bangkok in late April (the hottest time of year), and then late May (not quite so bad) of this year. 

23 Things

23 Things >> Life In Limbo

For the last couple of years on my birthday, I’ve been making lists of my favourite moments and things from the previous year. My birthday is in April and it is now September, but in my defence on my birthday I was swimming under a waterfall in Laos. Luckily I made the list of my favourite things from my 23rd year before I left Korea, but never finished the post or published it (obviously). Let me remedy that now!

Twenty-three was a wonderful year for me. I spent both my 23rd and 24th birthdays in new countries and in between had more adventures than I can count. I made some amazing friends, visited some incredible places, and lived in a completely different culture for a whole year. You can see my 23 favourite moments from that year right here.

And I fell in love with a bunch of things too: food, activities, and objects. Here they are below, in no particular order.

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23 Things >> Life In Limbo

Organic Cream of Earl Grey David’s Tea. A family friend gave me a few bags of this tea before I left for Korea and it lasted me through my whole year away (as much as I want to, I often forget to make tea for myself). It’s so delicious!

Gilmore GirlsI watched every episode of this show over the course of a few months and completely fell in love. It’s just so smart! There are so many hidden jokes and references! I was completely immersed in that world for a while and was so sad when it ended. Props to Katie for encouraging me to watch it.

Spotify (premium)For several months of the year I paid for Spotify premium and it was awesome. Now that I’m back in Canada I’m back on the free version, but I couldn’t access it in Korea or while I was travelling unless I paid for premium, so I did. Either way, Spotify is amazing.

23 Things >> Life In Limbo

iHerbThe perfect solution for all my health-nut needs while I was in a foreign country. You can’t get everything on iHerb, but you can get a lot of things. I ordered things like coconut oil, quinoa, natural peanut butter, chia seeds, chickpeas, and natural makeup. Not all of these things are impossible to find in Korea but most are rare or expensive. And shipping was free with KoreaPost, which is awesome. You can use this link to get up to $10 off your first order with them, if you’re interested.

Starbucks Busan Fireworks Festival mug.  This was a limited edition mug made for the 2014 Busan Fireworks Festival. I liked it so much that I bought two more as Christmas presents for my sisters and sent them home with my mom after her visit. It’s just such a nice size for a mug and has such a beautiful design. I don’t often like the Starbucks city mug designs, but this one is such a beautiful way to remember Busan and the gorgeous fireworks festival I loved so much.

Acro yoga. Last year I put yoga on my list, and this year it’s all about acro yoga. I tried acro for the first time in August of last year and have been obsessed with it ever since. If you ever meet me in person, beware lest I try to make you do it with me. It’s such a wonderful form of yoga: you have to be aware of your body and someone else’s, it’s a trust exercise, it makes you feel empowered, and plus you get to laugh a lot the whole time. It’s just such a fun, child-like thing to do and can be so therapeutic too. I would love to do more training in how to teach acro.

23 Things >> Life In Limbo

Kimchijeon. The grocery store on my corner would often make these and have them in the prepared food section at the end of the day, and if I was lucky I could grab a pack of 2 of them for about $2.00. The woman who worked there didn’t speak any English, and my Korean wasn’t great, but we were always laughing together about the kimchijeon, she seemed to think it was hilarious I was always stopping by to get it. Often my friend Katie (who got off work earlier than me) would stop by and buy them out, and since a lot of Koreans seemed to think Katie and I were one and the same, maybe that’s why she was always laughing. One of our favourite restaurants in Busan made kimchijeon with melted cheese on top. And I also learned how to make it, recipe here! Lots of memories associated with this one.

Book DepositoryHello, how did I not know about this website earlier? Free shipping on any book anywhere in the world? Reasonable prices? Come on. I sent friends books this way for Christmas – they didn’t come in fancy packaging, but it was a way to give something meaningful when I wasn’t there to deliver it myself.

Leek omelettes. I ate these almost every day that I was in Korea. It’s as easy as it sounds, just fry up some chopped leeks until golden and soft, and add in your beaten eggs. I’m not sure why this was my go-to breakfast when I was 23, but it was.

23 Things >> Life In Limbo

Mayari BirkenstocksI bought myself these while on my summer vacation in Kyoto, Japan and then wore them everywhere for the next several months.

Voice Memos. Korea has a very annoying time difference from Canada: usually 13 hours difference to Toronto, and I-don’t-even-know-what to Vancouver. Often arranging Skype calls was tricky because of that, and time would go by before we were both free. So a couple friends and I took to recording voice messages and sending them to each other whenever we could. It was sort of a strange thing to get used to, talking to yourself, but it meant we were up-to-date on the little things and communicated way more than we would have otherwise. Plus, as a person who loves podcasts, I loved having an individualized “podcast episode” about my friend’s life to listen to on my way to work.

Serial Podcast. This podcast was basically my life for a few months. I would actually get a little thrill on Thursday nights, when heard the intro music while walking home from work. We would talk about it constantly, it’s the first thing (maybe ever) to get me stuck on Reddit message boards, and I distinctly remember just sitting around with friends listening to the radio the night it came out. It’s just such a compelling story, and such excellent radio.

23 Things >> Life In Limbo

Keeping a gratitude journal. This is definitely my favourite new practice from when I was 23 (I can already tell my favourite of 24 will be flossing). If I skip a few days, I can actually notice a shift in my mood and perspective, and not for the better. I don’t often look back through the pages – just recording all the good things that happened in my day is usually enough to make me feel awesome – but when I do, it’s such an excellent reminder that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that I am so blessed. I used to think I could just commit to a mental gratitude practice, but writing it down has been so great for me, and I’m still going strong! You can read more about how I practice gratitude here.

Iced soy lattes. Ah yes, this was the year I got into coffee. It always surprises people when I say this, but I never drank coffee in university, except for maybe the occasional coffee for fun on the weekend. I’m still kind of like that, but now I appreciate it a lot more. When I was teaching young, loud children English as a second language, I drank coffee every day, if only to improve my mood and patience level. Iced soy lattes from Starbucks were my treat, usually on Fridays or on particularly tiring days. The rest of the time I bought convenience store coffees, something Korea is very good at providing.

23 Things >> Life In Limbo

Having nice nails. This was huge for me. My whole life, my nails have been short and ugly and I actually thought I was incapable of growing nice nails, even if I could stop biting them. But one of my 24 before 24 goals was to get a manicure because I thought that might motivate me to stop biting my nails. It did, and after I finally got that first manicure, something switched for me. I realized that cuticle care was a big part of why my nails never looked nice when I did grow them out, and the manicure helped with that. Ever since, I’ve had beautiful nails if I do say so myself, and even though I’ve never been much of a beauty or makeup person, it makes me feel good about myself to have nice nails.

Lululemon Vinyasa scarf. My mom bought me this for Christmas, and I wore almost every day after. It’s huge, big enough that it was used as a blanket on overnight bus rides through Asia, not to mention well made and very soft. I have it in the grey striped version which isn’t online anymore.

Rainbow Rowell. I read all of her novels the year I was 23, starting with Eleanor & Park, which is just wonderful. Actually all of her books are wonderful whether they’re classified as YA or adult (she has two of each). They’re all beautiful, poignant, and real.

23 Things >> Life In Limbo

Kimchi bokkeumbap. The second kimchi-related thing on the list! I did eat my weight in kimchi this year, it’s the best. Kimchi bokkeumbap is basically kimchi fried rice and you can get it at any “Korean diner” – restaurants with orange signs that look just like this and all have the same menu – for about $5 Canadian. It comes in a huge portion with an egg on top and is a delicious thing to eat for lunch.

Fitbit. At the time of this writing I have stopped using my Fitbit, but I was pretty consistent with it while I was 23. It’s basically a fancy pedometer, but it works well and is helpful especially if me you’re wildly inaccurate in your estimates of how much you move throughout the day. I have the Fitbit Flex which I used daily to make sure I got 10,000 or more steps per day. I didn’t hit it every day, but it was a great motivation to get me moving more and taking more walks than I normally would (that said, I would also occasionally run in place in front of a TV show if I still had a couple thousand steps to go but was too lazy to go outside).

Morning pages. This is an exercise I’d done before way back in early 2012 using the website 750words, and picked up again in September of last year. I wrote in detail about how I was doing my words every morning right here, and we recorded a podcast episode on morning pages here. I’ve been meaning to pick this habit back up since I got back home from travelling because it’s such a great way to clear out all the muck and worries and anxiety that build up in my head.

My seasonal videos. I am beyond happy I decided to make a video for each season of my year away in Korea. I can’t emphasize enough how happy they make me, and how beautifully they capture a very special year of my life. I never get every gorgeous moment, but having even any of the gorgeous moments preserved on film is really such a privilege. They just make me feel so blessed now, so I can’t imagine how I’ll feel about them in 5 years, or 20 or 50. You can watch all of them here.

LASIK eye surgery. Hallelujah. I have always had extremely poor vision and have worn glasses or contacts for as long as I can remember. Until one day I walked into a Korean eye clinic for a consult and walked out with perfect vision! I won’t lie, sometimes I take it for granted now that I have excellent vision (without contacts! what a miracle!) but every time I remember, I just feel so incredibly grateful. I personally think perfect vision is a privilege everyone should experience, but since it’s not I feel lucky I could take advantage of the lower prices and get it done in Korea. You can read more about my experience here.

“My heart is at ease knowing that what was meant for me will never miss me, and that what misses me was never meant for me. ” -Imam Al Shafi’i. I read this quote for the first time in Thrive, and proceeded to write it everywhere, including on this free wallpaper I made. It just resonated with me so strongly, even though (or especially?) because I’m not a person who has very strong faith most of the time. It’s really guided me and stayed with me throughout the year.

Honorable mentions: jimjilbangs and the ocean.

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I’ll be honest, when I first found the draft of this list of 23 things (like, a week ago), I thought it would be silly to type it all up and post it all these months later. Now that I’ve done it though, I’m reminded of why I write this blog: I write to pay attention to my life. I blog to document all the big and little things that make my life special, lovely, and all mine. And writing it out, even five months late, is such a wonderful exercise in noticing, appreciating and loving the experiences I’ve been blessed enough to have. (Note to self: notice more often and take more pictures of your everyday life!)

I’ve been doing this exercise for the last few years. Here are my 23 moments, 22 moments, 22 things, 21 moments, and 21 things.