Being productive isn’t about which apps, tools, and frames of mind you use to get things done. Enhancing your productivity is about using a set of tools and processes that can make up a full blown productivity system, becoming comfortable with and relying on those tools, and then using them to get important things done in your life and work.

Instead of recommending the best app or scanner or type of paper, it’s better to give you the top 11 tools that anyone who wants to stay productive can use. Here are the top 11 tools that you can use to be more productive.

  1. Task manager / project manager

    Task and project management of some kind is essential to making sure that you are getting things done as well as getting the right things done. It’s very difficult to know that you are working on the thing that you should be working on if you don’t have all the stuff that needs done organized somehow. We try to be tool agnostic here at Lifehack, but here are some great applications to get you started:

  2. Ubiquitous capture device

    Another important aspect of being productive is to make sure that you always have some way of capturing “inputs” in your life. That is, if you have an idea or cool new thought about a project you are working on, you have to make sure that you can capture it somehow so you can process that information later. I carry a GTD Notetaker wallet because I’m a total geek. You can use anything you want though to capture like the following:

  3. Boundaries

    To be able to stay productive day-in and day-out you have to set and keep boundaries. You have to protect your time and energy so you can work on the things that are most important to you. What are some of the things in your life that you want to do? To get those important things done, set up boundaries so you aren’t side-tracked and taken away from your goals.

  4. Know when and how to say “no”

    This goes hand-in-hand with number three. Once you have boundaries set for what you want to and don’t want to do in life, you can now know when to say “no” to other less important things that make their way into your life. The best way to decrease the stuff that you “have” to do is to say “no” to the things that don’t really matter to you and that won’t further your goals.

  5. Set realistic deadlines and expectations

    I’m a developer by trade so I know how to set unrealistic expectations. A good rule of thumb when trying to set a deadline is to double however long that you will think it will take. Of course, this is good for “light” planning, not exact planning that some jobs may need.

  6. Calendar

    A calendar is used for the “hard landscape” of our lives. Use it to set due dates and reminders for things that are date sensitive. You calendar can either be analog or digital, but having a digital calendar is nice because of the ability to search, move things around easily, as well as send invites to people.

    We highly recommend Google Calendar.

  7. Inboxes

    I can’t remember what life was like before I had my inboxes set up, but I can imagine it was pretty messy. It’s important for you to have places for incoming information and potential projects to sit so you can then process them later.

    Inboxes can be in several forms like these:

    • An inbox section in your task / project management software
    • A physical, paper inbox (one for home and work)
    • Voicemail box
    • Email inbox

    Then make sure to check and process these inboxes on a regular basis to keep yourself at “inbox zero.”

  8. A great scanner or label maker

    Or both, really. Having a scanner like the ScanSnap S1500 has totally changed the way that I file things (I don’t). All I do is scan documents in and throw them in a generic area folder, like “Work” or “Financial”, and then simply run text searches if I need to find something.

    If you are still doing paper filing, having an awesome, trusty labelmaker is something you can’t live without and won’t once you get one. Basically any Brother labelmaker is good.

  9. Office document software

    It’s pretty standard now that you need some sort of document creation software to get things done. The ability to create spreadsheets, documents, presentations, etc. is a must. You can use a free suite like Google Docs or Office Web Apps. If you want to get “serious” you can get Apple’s iWork suite or Microsoft Office. Don’t forget about the free and open source OpenOffice.org.

  10. Proficiency / expertise in an operating system

    You are only as good as your tools. Even though you have some good software and systems in place to support your productivity efforts, without solid working knowledge of you OS of choice (whether it’s Windows, Mac, Linux, or some other weird thing), you will always be losing time when trying to get things done.

    Learn keyboard shortcuts and how to do things more efficiently while you are on your OS. Tools like Veodin KeyRocket for Windows or CheatSheet for Mac are great ways to learn how to use your OS faster and better.

  11. A journal

    There is no better way to keep track of and understand the who, what, where, when, and why of your productivity than through journaling every day. Whether you write a full 750 words or just take down a log of your time and tasks completed, journaling is a great way to look back on what you have accomplished, your hangups, and other metrics that are important when you are trying to be more productive.

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