January 10, 2020

15 Free (or low-cost) project management & productivity resources for nonprofits

Filed under: Time Management — lidia @ 10:00 am

Offers are subject to change, refer to the links for most recent information. Updated 2/15/20.

One of the best ways for organizations to be efficient is by using project management and productivity tools that keep their team connected and improve workflow.

As a volunteer board member for a nonprofit-focused association, I realized I needed to implement systems to streamline our processes and keep everyone on our small staff and board connected.

I’ve personally researched and used many of these apps in my board service, as well as for my clients. Also, Evernote, Asana and Trello are everyday essentials in my design business [referral links included].

Project management & productivity resources

These tools hold each team member accountable by putting projects in one place where everyone can see what everyone else is working on and what to do next to keep things running smoothly.

Also, just because a nonprofit discount isn’t advertised, doesn’t mean it’s not available. Most app and tool developers are happy to work with you to meet your organization’s needs and budget, so it’s worth reaching out to them personally.

Did I miss something? Let me know so I can add it to the list. And be sure to bookmark this page—I will update it as new resources are available.

Read the previous posts in my series, Free (or Low-Cost) Design and Marketing Resources for Nonprofits:

July 11, 2019

How to completely unplug from work while on vacation

Filed under: Time Management — lidia @ 9:00 am

I went on vacation this year and once again, I didn’t check email and social media. I started this practice somewhat spontaneously last year, however now that I’m a pro at disconnecting (ha!), I was more intentional about it this time.

As I always do, I made sure projects were wrapped up, sent my clients ample out of office notices, as well as personal email follow ups if necessary, and turned on my email auto-responder.

Since I had already deleted social media apps from my phone earlier in the year, the social media aspect was taken care of: I had zero digital distractions, notifications or other FOMO reminders for a week.


I didn’t miss out on any emergencies or opportunities. I was fully relaxed. I came back feeling recharged and excited to get back to work.

As I mentioned above, you do need to prepare yourself for complete detachment during vacation—both to manage client expectations and give yourself peace of mind.

Alert contacts well ahead of time

For projects that are in progress—especially those that are time sensitive—alert your clients and colleagues as far ahead as possible of your travel plans (and plans to be offline). Set expectations for your availability (or in this case, unavailability) and when you plan to return messages.

Send an out-of-office email

For clients or colleagues who don’t have active projects, a simple out-of-office email should be enough to give them a heads up if something comes up in your absence.

Send a follow up before leaving

Sometimes that out-of-office email gets lost or forgotten by the time you leave, so send a quick reminder before you leave to contacts with active projects.

Hire a VA if necessary

One of my design colleagues recently did a cross-country move and hired a VA to manage her calls and emails while she was on the road. The VA was able to respond to simple requests and she didn’t have to worry about spotty Wifi access.

Clean up your desk

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like coming back to a messy desk. I always tidy up my desk and folders to make the day back to work as calm and peaceful as possible.

So, you’ve wrapped things up at the office. Now it’s time to hit the road—unplugged. I know that disconnecting from work is hard, so I came up with a few strategies to keep digital distractions at bay while on vacation.

Turn on your email auto-responder

Be clear about when you will be back and in office and return messages. And if you’re feeling creative, write a clever message (“I’m out of the office and on the beach getting inspired.”)—it will temporarily distract any emailers who are anxious to reach you.

Turn off notifications on mobile devices

I know this is hard—just turn ‘em all off. And know that you can turn them back on when you return—if you want to. I actually waited several weeks post-vacation before I turned notifications back on my iPad (I had gotten used to the break!)

Don’t check email

Seriously, do not even peek! If you have properly prepared and alerted your clients and colleagues, whatever is there can wait.

Don’t check social media

Trust me, you can live without Facebook and Instagram for a week. Resist the urge to “just post this one pic” and instead enjoy the moments in real life as they are happening.

Don’t take your digital devices with you everywhere

Don’t keep your device on the bedside table. Leave your phone at home when you hit the beach or go sightseeing. Do whatever works to resist the urge to peek.

Turn off your Wi-Fi

Remove your access to the online world. This is my strategy when I want to read an eBook without being tempted to check social media.

Let your phone run out of batteries

If all else fails, force your phone to be unusable and “forget” to bring your charger with you.

And now that you’ve successfully unplugged, here are a few strategies for getting back in tune with analog life:

Read a book or magazine

Remember those? It helps to read something that is not related to work. I brought a marketing magazine with me on vacation and quickly put it away when I realized it was messing up my vacation vibe.

Listen for nature’s rhythms

While we were on vacation, I sat and listened to the rhythm of an automatic sprinkler, the turning on and off of an air conditioner, the chirping of birds and palm leaves blowing in wind. (Would I ever do this at home—nope!)

Observe your environment

I took photos of the same palm trees every day, observing how the different time of day presented a different type of light or color of sky. (Again, good luck finding time to do this at home).

Start a creative challenge

My kids and I started a 100 Day Challenge while on vacation (#100DaysofDrawingTogether). It was a great excuse to sit and draw together each night.

I will admit that there was the occasional pang of “Should I just take a quick peek?” As a long-time small business owner (going on 20 years), it’s hard to completely detach from my business.

But I’m glad I didn’t cave, because upon my return to the working world, what did I miss out on? Exactly nothing. Instead, my clients eagerly welcomed me back and I was refreshed and ready to hit the ground running.

Vacations offer a physical—as well as emotional—break. They offer a chance to slow down and notice things you normally miss due to the everyday rush and distractions. The fact that more than half of American workers don’t use up their vacation days tells me that we need to take a break now more than ever.

So go ahead and take a break—you deserve it. The only downfall of doing a digital detox for a week: it took me 2-1/2 hours to process all my emails—but it was fully worth it

January 9, 2019

2019 word for the year: essential

Filed under: Small Business,Time Management — lidia @ 9:00 am

2019 word for the year: essential

For the last 5 years, I’ve chosen a word for the year to set the tone and stay focused. Last year’s word was STREAMLINE. I wanted to streamline and simplify my life, so that I could be more productive and feel less rushed.

So, how did I do? I successfully streamlined my digital and social media marketing by focusing on the outlets that make the most impact for me (email, LinkedIn and Facebook) and using Buffer to schedule my posts. I also streamlined my time tracking and invoicing by using the Harvest app.

My word for 2019 is ESSENTIAL. After reading the book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, I was inspired to examine my business processes and habits so that I can focus on what is most essential to reaching my goals. My creative brain likes to jump from task to task, so my hope is that this will help me stay focused and be more productive in my somewhat limited time.

I’ve kicked off this year putting essentialism into practice by doing a manual setup on my new phone, adding apps as I need them, rather than copying over all the clutter from my old phone.

As McKeown advises in his book, “Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” Hear, hear.

January 4, 2017

2017 word for the year: priorities

Filed under: Marketing & Promotion,Time Management — lidia @ 10:00 am

word for the year_priorities

Starting back in 2014, I’ve chosen a word to set the tone for the upcoming year. 2016’s word was REGROUP. In 2015, my second child arrived 7 weeks early (requiring a 3-week hospital stay) so my priorities understandably shifted to my new baby. Once I was back to work, I felt that I needed to regroup and focus on my business again. I also joined an accountability group and used my word regroup to guide my goals progress.

I like to choose a word that applies both to my personal and work life, so this year’s word is PRIORITIES. My creative brain tends to jump from project to project as inspiration strikes. Now that my work hours are dictated by my kids’ schedules, setting strict priorities and staying on task each day is crucial.

I also want to set my priorities at home, for example making after-school time more focused on my kiddos (my 15-month old literally cries when I open my laptop and try to finish up work!)

What is your word for 2017?

August 19, 2015

Winding down…

Filed under: Marketing & Promotion,Time Management — lidia @ 2:47 pm
chicago summer skies

Chicago summer skies…

Back-to-school photos are all over my Facebook feed (and probably yours too). Though I’m a bit out of the “back to school” loop (my little one is only 4 years old), I am starting to feel like things are “winding down” as summer nears to an end—and I start to plan and prepare for my upcoming maternity leave.

How am I winding down?

I’m wrapping up client projects, kicking off new projects (that will hopefully be completed by the time my leave starts in October!), doing last-minute prospect follow-up, and clearing the clutter in my office.

There is something about a new season—whether it’s back-to-school or fall—that creates the inspiration to wrap thing up and start fresh.

READ MORE: Are you a fellow expecting mom preparing for maternity leave? Read my tips for preparing your business for baby on the HOW Design Creative Freelancer Blog.

How are you winding down to prepare for a new season?

July 15, 2015

4 tips for being less productive

Filed under: Health & Wellness,Time Management — lidia @ 4:46 pm

4 tips for being less productive

I follow many small business blogs and they frequently share tips for productivity. But lately I’ve been thinking of ditching the spreadsheets, time maps and to-do lists, and trying to be less productive.

I read a great article by Heidi Stevens of the Chicago Tribune about the “misspent summers” of our youth and how kids are overscheduled nowadays. I say adults are overscheduled too. We try to pack productivity into every minute of the day (the pressure’s especially on if you’re a working parent).

My son had summer break from daycare recently and while it was a bit hectic coordinating family work schedules, I thoroughly enjoyed a few unscheduled—and unproductive—days with him. It not only let me rest my work brain, but opened me up to new ideas.

For myself, switching out of work mode is hard—I need something to force me out of my routine. Since I was feeling too immersed in work lately, my son’s summer break—and the opportunity to unschedule myself—came at the perfect time.

4 tips for being less productive:

  1. Take a day off in the middle of the week (if you have kids, hit the playground with them!)
  2. Meet a friend for a leisurely coffee
  3. Take an afternoon yoga class
  4. Read a magazine or book (instead of a small business article)

So, how about you? Can you use some free, unscheduled time to let your creativity flow?


April 30, 2015

Z is for zzzzzzz…

Filed under: Mompreneur,Time Management — lidia @ 10:00 am

A to Z of being a mom in business: a daily blog series

Z is for zzzzzzz

The last word for my A to Z Challenge was actually my husband‘s idea. I thought it was perfectly appropriate for moms in business because “zzzzzzzs” are a common topic of conversation. Whether it’s our own lack of sleep (an early-rising child, late-night work) or our child’s sleeping habits (or lack thereof), we always seem to be talking about sleep.

What most working moms can usually agree upon is that we don’t put a high enough priority on sleep. I know I’m guilty of staying up late reading a book—and getting much-needed “me time”—when I should be sleeping. But sleep is what recharges your body and makes it easier to tackle the next day.

So, I’m officially declaring to shut off my iPad library app earlier each night (or better yet, start reading when the battery is low so my end time is imposed!)

How do you make sure you get enough zzzzzzzs each night?

And that’s a wrap on the A to Z Challenge!

Wow, one month of daily blogging wasn’t so hard after all. Thank you to A to Z Challenge community for presenting this opportunity to better my blogging skills. And thanks to my readers for following me on this journey and participating in the discussion.

Click here to catch up on the entire “A to Z of being a mom in business” blog series.

April 20, 2015

Q is for quickly

Filed under: Mompreneur,Time Management — lidia @ 10:00 am

A to Z of being a mom in business: a daily blog series

Q is for quickly

Why does it seem like time speeds up once become a mother? Not only do you notice it as your tiny baby grows into an active, chatty toddler. But all of the sudden, there aren’t enough hours in the day to get all your work done. (And don’t even get me reminiscing about pre-kids lazy, loungy weekends…)

Sometimes, I feel like my day is in hyper-drive, yet I still can’t manage to check everything off my to-do list. One thing I try to do each day is prioritize tasks, focusing on imminent deadlines first (I use sticky notes for this purpose).

I also spend some time each evening getting “in the moment” by reading from one of my meditation/reflection books (this one by Melody Beattie and this one by Ardath Rodale are current faves). If I can squeeze in a short yoga/breathing session, even better.

How do you slow down when you’re moving too quickly?

April 16, 2015

N is for no

Filed under: Mompreneur,Time Management — lidia @ 10:00 am

A to Z of being a mom in business: a daily blog series

N is for noN is for no

If there’s one thing toddlers are good at, it’s saying “no.” Business owners, not so much. I know I’m guilty of taking on too many responsibilities or overbooking myself. And as a mom in business, there’s nothing worse than feeling like you don’t have enough time for your child. If my 3-year old was presented with something he didn’t really want to do, he would simply say “no!” I’m going to start following his lead.

Is there something you should say “no” to today?

April 9, 2015

H is for habits

Filed under: Mompreneur,Time Management — lidia @ 10:00 am

A to Z of being a mom in business: a daily blog series

H is for habitsH is for habits

Or should I say, changing habits. Once you have a child, you quickly realize that everything in your life has changed. You can no longer follow the schedule you used to have—which means changing your habits in both work and home life. I will say this was an interesting adjustment for me as I was accustomed to putting a lot of hours into my business, along with a very free-flowing schedule. Now, I often work around daycare drop-offs/pickups and other obligations that don’t allow me to work late. But you know what, that’s a good thing…

How have you changed your work habits since kids came along?

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