Switch to Full View
ED Now Feature: Five Productivity Tricks for Economic Developers
Eli Dile   on Monday, August 7, 2017 at 9:01:00 am

By Phil Santer, senior vice president and chief of staff, Ann Arbor Spark

Economic development is a fast-paced business. The cliché (but also the reality) is that we have to do lots of things and be in many places at the same time. Finding time to manage all our commitments is a challenge, and demands on everyone's time have increased.

Last year, our team realized we had all developed our own productivity "hacks" but were keeping that information to ourselves, which is obviously not ideal. So we instituted a regular "Tips & Tricks" discussion in which we talk about how we approach our daily tasks, bring in speakers and partners to learn new strategies, and take some time for professional improvement. In the spirit of sharing, here are five tips and tricks our team has used to increase productivity. There is no magic here, and there’s a good chance you’re using some or many already. But these are just a few practical strategies that have saved our team a lot of time, and ones we think can increase any economic development professional’s effectiveness.

1. Implement the "two-minute rule." I'm a big fan of David Allen's Getting Things Done, and one of the easiest things to learn through his methodology is the two-minute rule - meaning if a task takes less than two minutes to accomplish, you should do it right away. Just got a text that needs a short response? Take care of it now, instead of later today. See something you can capture easily in your database? Do it now instead of when you're at your desk. Is there an opportunity to take a picture for your marketing team? Send it now.

2. Use TextExpander or a similar tool to make writing easier. Do you find yourself writing the same email multiple times each month? Implement a service like TextExpander that will simply input common text into an email. That means you don’t have to go digging for the last email you wrote and copy it into a new one. This is great for follow up, and you can become even quicker in your responses to leads and stakeholders.

3. Invest in a CRM. Seriously, use one. Over the past decade, customer relationship management (CRM) software has taken over economic development in a big way, and for good reason. CRMs centralize all of the notes, contacts, projects, issues, and other details tied to your clients. Even better, it lets others on your team expand their Rolodex, and gets you access to information when someone is out of the office (or if they've left for another opportunity). There are plenty of CRMs out there. We’ve used a customized version of Salesforce for several years, but there are other great options such as Nutshell, Act!, etc. We share information with our state-level and workforce partners when appropriate too.

4. Download a better email app. Are you using the default email app that comes with your iPhone or Android? Think about switching. We all get tons of emails every day, and the best email apps alert you to what's important, de-prioritize what you don't immediately need to read, and make it easier to schedule on the go. I use the Outlook app, which I love for its "focused" email inbox and the ability to quickly send my meeting availability. There are others, though, such as Notion.ai, Spark, etc. There are even services such as SaneBox, which will learn what emails are important to you and archive the rest.

5. Turn on Google Alerts for topics that impact your work. We're all doing this, right? Setting up Google Alerts on your clients, prospects, and topics of interest gives you immediate notifications when something happens, so you can stay on top of information. Sure, there may be some that require a less immediate notification (and Google Alerts gives you the option to be updated daily or weekly), but I think the best economic developers know everyone and everything, and this is one way to accomplish the latter.

There are plenty more strategies to become more efficient, and I'd love to hear ways you're "hacking" tools and methods to improve your productivity as an economic developer. Feel free to share your tips in the comments section below.


Phil Santer is senior vice president and chief of staff for Ann Arbor Spark in Michigan. Santer serves on IEDC’s Young Professionals Advisory Committee.


Great hacks! Thanks Phil! I'm also a fan of David Allen who suggested my favorite e-mail inbox management hack. I have folders labeled @Action Required, @Follow up Required, @Read or Review and @Waiting for. The @ keeps the folders at the top of the box for easy access when I have a free minute for review or reading. Therese The Right Place Inc.
Posted by: iMISmember on August 7, 2017 at 3:11:37 pm

Leave a Comment