You may be thinking: Jason, I don’t want to spend money to become more productive, run a more efficient business, and feel happier. Just give me all the free tips!
My answer: You get what you pay for. Also, stop saying “free tips,” it sounds weird.
It’s true. You absolutely do get what you pay for, especially when it comes to productivity and saving time. Rarely are you going to find an app, tool, life hack, etc that costs you nothing and makes a profound impact on your life (both ina time savings AND in happiness levels). Sure, you might find little things here and there that help, but are they really making a noticeable difference in your life?
Everything I’m about to share with you impacts the productivity, happiness, and time saving in my (and my wife’s) life and business. But first, let’s clearly identify something we all know to be true:
Time is our most valuable asset. We should be doing everything in our power (even spending money) to gain more time and happiness in our lives.
If you need a more in-depth look at why productivity matters and how you can shift your thinking about it, Ramit Sethi’s Productivity advice for the weird was written just for you (and was the inspiration for this article after realizing we share some of the same productivity-increasing habits).
What we pay for to increase productivity
Waking up to fresh, quality coffee every morning
(Blue Bottle coffee subscription, $62/month)
This $62 is the best recurring $62 I spend on our productivity and happiness each month. Why? Because coffee makes the world go round (or at least an entrepreneur’s world go round).
Without a great cup of coffee to kick off the day, you may as well forget that being a productive human being is possible*.
(Super hipster black and white photo of my morning chemex)
I was hesitant to pigeonhole myself into only getting Blue Bottle’s coffee beans. I love great coffee. I want to explore and try ALL the delicious coffees of the world. But I bet you can guess what happened? I found myself visiting coffee website after coffee website and spending way too much time researching beans. And when different coffee arrived, while it tasted unique, it wasn’t blow-my-mind-out-of-my-skull unique.
Every now and then, I’ll buy a local bag of coffee from our favorite coffee shop, but I’m super happy having two 24oz bags of whole beans arrive every other week. I never have to worry about that dreaded moment when the coffee might run out.
While $62 may sound high for a month’s worth of coffee, we drink three cups per day, making our average cup of coffee cost $1.45. Take that, Starbucks!
*If you’re some type of super alien who doesn’t need coffee to start your day, then you are amazing, and I worship the polished concrete you walk on. Truthfully, that’s quite a feat!
Healthy, ready-made meals in the fridge every day of the week
(Vegan meal prep service, $1200/month)
Speaking of things that nourish our entrepreneurial bodies, my wife and I have been paying for a meal prep service since 2015 (now a vegan meal prep service).
This is not a bunch of ingredients waiting to be cooked (like Blue Apron, etc). No ma’am! The meals we get, delivered twice per week, account for 95% of the food we eat, and require 1-2 minutes of warming in a skillet. Delicious and nutritious meals, always ready to be consumed.
(Fun side-benefit of meal prep: who needs dishes!?)
Let’s talk about the numbers of meal prep real quick:
- We used to spend $2,000 a month on groceries + eating out
- We used to spend roughly 15 hours a week grocery shopping and cooking
- We now pay $1,200 per month for our meals ($300 per week)
- We save, on average, 60 hours and $800 per month because we use a meal-prep company!
Not to mention all the mental energy it takes to continue to eat healthy. We use zero mental energy because our plant-based vegan meals are sitting in our fridge waiting to be consumed on a daily basis.
TIP: A great way to find a meal prep company near you is to search Yelp for “meal prep” in your local area. You should be able to find great local small business owners you can support!
Super nerdy: Buy a short domain
(Purchasing a short domain and creating a super short email address, $30/year)
Years ago, I bought the domain iwys.co to go along with my IWearYourShirt business. I use Google Domains to buy domains and love that they give you 100 free alias emails with every domain (an alias email is simply an email you set up that forwards to a real email address).
In this case, I setup [email protected] to redirect to my standard Gmail email address (which is about 2x the character length).
It may not seem like a big deal to have a super short email address, but if you’re constantly sending yourself test emails (or giving out your email address), having a short domain with an alias email is a great time saver! The day I wrote this article, I used my short email address three times.
Having a robot manage my follow-ups
(RightInbox, the Life Saving Personal Reminder Robot [LSPRR], $6/month)
Here’s a huuuuge secret about business: Those who follow up, succeed.
I’ve used some sort of Life Saving Personal Reminder Robot (LSPRR) for years. When I’m writing an email to someone, I simply tell my fancy robot to remind me to follow up with the person I’m emailing in X days/weeks/months. Then, my LSPRR brings that email back to the top of my inbox and I take action on it. This (following up) is absolutely one of the most important things I do in my business.
After moving all of my email needs to Gmail (which you’ll read about next), I switched over from FollowUp.cc as my LSPRR to RightInbox.com. Let me give you two examples of how using a PRR has greatly impacted my productivity and bottom line:
Example #1 – $50,000+ made in five months: When I launched SponsorMyBook, I knew I would have to do email outreach to try to land sponsors for my book. The project netted $75,000 in total, but I kept track, and 70% of all sponsors came from some sort of follow-up email (which my PRR helped remind me to do). My LSPRR was crucial for that success!
Example #2 – Building stronger relationships with customers: When someone emails me after reading an article (like this one), I like to keep them accountable. I’ll reply to them and tell my LSPRR to remind me to follow up in a month. A month later, I pop in that person’s inbox, and they’re completely surprised. I’m almost always met with messages like, “Wow, I never expected you to follow up!” or “No one ever does this. Thank you so much for taking the time.” My LSPRR helps me build stronger relationships by doing the majority of the work for me.
This is how I feel about my LSPRR…
Saving money without even realizing it
(Round-up savings account with Acorns.com, $1/month + whatever I save)
You may already know of Acorns* or other apps like it. I LOVE Acorns and when I started writing this article, I had no clue how much money was in my account. I took a look, for the sake of adding context to this topic…
In my first 12 months using Acorns, I accrued $1,885 without even knowing it.
- I made an initial deposit of $50
- I turned on automatic “Round-Ups”
- I let Acorns do the rest
In one year I socked away nearly $2,000 and never even knew I was doing it. I don’t have a goal with my Acorns account other than to let it continue to grow. Isn’t that the way a nearly forgotten savings account should be?
*If you use my Acorns URL we both get $5. Isn’t that neat? I think that’s neat.
Working in a clean, organized, and fresh-smelling environment
(Cleaning service: $120/every other week)
Years ago, I had my first experience with paying someone to clean my house. It. Blew. My. Freaking. Mind. Why did I ever clean my own toilet and shower!?
Funny enough, to me at least, paying for house cleaners is the one luxury item I felt embarrassed to share in this article. Why is that? Anyhoo, it doesn’t matter, because he were are.
I absolutely thrive in a clean environment. When there’s clutter around, or a dirty surface, I can’t concentrate. Not only does not being able to concentrate kill my ability to get work done, but the effort and energy it takes to recover from not being able to concentrate, well, you may as well call my day done after that. Who wants to go get a smoothie??
(That’s my very productive desk and office-mate, PlaxicoTheDog)
We had a conversation with our neighbors about cleaners, and they mentioned they were only paying around $80 every other week. For a moment I thought about looking around to see if we could get a better price, and then I thought of all the future “switching costs” that I couldn’t see right now. Sure, saving $40 every other week would be great, but our cleaners are amazing human beings and we’ve been (ecstatically*) using their services for two years.
- New cleaners could do a bad job (which we’d have to pay for in time or money).
- New cleaners could not be as friendly (which would greatly impact our happiness).
- New cleaners could quit on us as we don’t know them or their track record (and then we’d have to switch again).
We’re incredibly happy to be able to afford to have people give us an immaculate work environment that never slows down our concentration. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to have a house that smells great, too!
*This may seem like an exaggeration, but one of our cleaners has the most adorable and heartwarming laugh you’ve ever heard. Picture a full-grown man giggling like a baby. That’s exactly what it sounds like, and it’s glorious.
Finding freedom from chasing down failed customer payments
I never knew what “churn” was (also called “dunning”). I also didn’t understand the world of failed payments and the effort it can take to recover said payments. Until I found Churnbuster.
Churnbuster takes all of the work out of trying to recover failed credit card payments. It takes less than an hour to set up your account and once you’ve done that, you never have to touch it again. When a customer who has a payment subscription loses their credit card, cancels it, or does something weird we as business owners can’t control, Churnbuster hunts them down and gets them to add a new credit card (all while sounding like you!).
One of the best things about Churnbuster is that it pays for itself! In the image above you can see that it recovered $554 over the course of two months. I didn’t have to do a single thing to recover that $554—woot!
(Imagine the headache of trying to chase down all these daily failed charges? It would be a nightmare!)
I realize this is a very specific situation, but Churnbuster absolutely saves me time and energy, and keeps me from ever worrying about people’s bad credit card habits.
Never forgetting or worrying about searching for my passwords
If we’re talking about the best $3 you can spend per month to be more efficient, productive, and happy, a password manager takes home the gigantic 1st place trophy.
For some stupid reason, I was skeptical of password managers. Whether it was my (incorrectly) perceived lack of security or laziness to change from allowing my web browser to store my passwords, I couldn’t be happier to pay 1Password $3 every month. THREE DOLLARS.
Wouldn’t you love to never forget a password again? Or not have to scramble through your notes/notebooks to find out where you wrote down your passwords? Or even worse, have to deal with the dreaded “Forgot Password” system, which can sometimes ask you a series of painfully penetrating questions that you don’t remember the answers to? That’s what $3 can get you with 1Password, and it’s worth every single penny.
Stop wasting a single moment trying to remember and store your own passwords. You’ll thank me later.
Last but not least, never having to go to the post office
The post office is a cauldron of misery. It’s where bridge-dwelling trolls go when they run out of bridges to dwell under. No one in the history of ever has had a cheerful and expedited USPS experience. It doesn’t happen.
I barely ship enough things out each month to warrant paying $15.99 for a Stamps.com account. But the moment I need to ship something and can print a label in a blink of an eye, I’m in a state of euphoria. Honestly, it would probably shock you how giddy I get when I realize I can print my own shipping label in the comfort of my own home and then drop my ready-to-ship box in one of those blue USPS receptacles on the street and NEVER interact with a bridge-dwelling post office troll.
Stamps.com may be one of the things I am most grateful to be able to spend money on each month. It seems silly, but if we’re talking about things that completely derail your day and mood, USPS ranks up there at the tippy-top of the list for me.
BONUS! Here’s one that’s actually free… Keeping two separate email accounts
(One for business and one for personal stuff: FREE—😱)
In a previous life, I used Mac Mail and managed 11 email addresses. One day, I was fed up with the slowness of Mac Mail and realized the majority of my business emails could all be forwarded to one Gmail address.
The majority of my businesses all have to do with me, as a person. While I have different projects that attract different audiences, if someone emails me, they just want to get ahold of me (regardless of the domain or extension on the end of my email address). It’s probably been 10,000+ emails since I made this switch, and no one has ever questioned why my email reply came from a different email address than they originally used.
As far as the personal email address goes, I absolutely looooove keeping all my “adulting” emails separate from business emails. Things like household bills, credit card statements, any online banking stuff, and emails with family and friends. Gmail also makes it so easy to bounce back and forth between two email addresses these days.
I know my two main email addresses are saving me time, but more importantly, I’ve removed almost all stress when it comes to organizing my inboxes now. Happy camper!
Money can by happiness and productivity
I hope you’ll invest in your productivity and happiness after reading this article. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my life is better with these things. Some of them, I cannot imagine living without.
The next time you get stuck wondering if you should spend $3 per month on something (or $1,200 per month), ask yourself how much time that thing could save you and how much your time is worth.
My time is worth way more than all of the things I pay for on this list, and so is yours.