It’s a constant battle for us geeks. We read the tech, productivity, and “guru” sites out on the web looking for the next best way to get things done.

We purchase shiny new tools that promise us more, better, and faster in anything that we can conceive. The newest software vendors claim their tools are the missing piece of the puzzle and with them you can get more done with less effort. And if you don’t subscribe to a certain productivity methodology, you will be a lost soul in the see of knowledge work.

Is this something that you think about or battle on a regular basis?

Why we fiddle and look for productivity tools

I’ve been around the block when it comes to todo list apps, GTD apps, notetaking software, document management, and data management applications. I have tried countless pieces of sofware on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, webOS, and even Linux that claim they will make me more productive and keep me “organized”.

The market for these types of apps is huge and it isn’t necessarily because people need more apps that can organize them better than any other one. It comes down to the fact the many people don’t use the tools that they have. Instead they fiddle, get used by the tool, and then look for something else because the tool that just used them “wasn’t good enough”.

Let’s get down to brass tacks.

You get you organized. You get you productive. A tool doesn’t “get” you productive or “make” you more productive. A tool doesn’t create productivity. A set of tools augments and enhances your productivity.

This is the reason why we productivity nuts obsess with tools and “fiddle” rather than work and be productive with what we have. We easily forget that it isn’t the tool that makes us productive. When we forget this and we start to try and “tweak” and “hack” the tool to fit our perceived needs. When it doesn’t fit these perceived needs we believe that the tool isn’t good enough and we start looking for something “better”.

It’s an endless circle of productivity pr0n that gets you nowhere fast. But there are some things that you can do to get yourself back on track.

How to stop and get more done

Here are seven things that you can practice to stop tweaking your tools and trying to find the best productivity tool in the world before you can get any work done.

  1. If you are an obsessive digital tool seeker, especially the GTD type, you may want to switch to paper for a while to go on a tool diet. The best way to describe this is to get “primal” with your system. Grab some crappy paper and a pen and get back to the basics of managing your life. Mike talks about the benefits of paper over at GTD Times.
  2. Take a productivity break. Stop reading articles on how to be more productive for a while. Don’t obsessively check productivity sites for a good week. Concentrate on your own system and make it work for you.
  3. Create a personal project for trying out a bunch of tools. Make the outcome of that project to pick a set of tools and stick to them for a year. I did this about 4 months ago and have stuck with OmniFocus (even during work at a Windows shop), Notesy, Outliner for iOS, text files, BBEdit, and a big ass Cahier Squared Moleskine Notebook.
  4. Do weekly reviews and purge stuff that you don’t need. “Cruft” is anything in your systems that just sits around, stagnating. This happens a lot with digital tools. Make sure to clean things up once a week. This will help you not have the perceived notion that your tools are failing you.
  5. If you subscribe to a certain productivity system like GTD, Master Your Workday Now!, ZTD, GSD, Getting Results the Agile Way, etc. take a step back and reread or revisit the literature about the system. Get back down to the basics and understand how the system can enhance your productivity. From this view, choosing a set of tools should be more clear.
  6. If you don’t know which tools to start with pick some from this list to check out. Don’t get too obsessive, kids:
    OmniFocus
    Toodledo
    Remember The Milk
    Evernote
    Google Docs
    OneNote
    plain text files
    SimpleNote
    Gmail
  7. Refine your system to make your tools work for you. Not the other way around. Paraphrased from Mr. Einstein:
    “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

Remember, the only reason you can’t find yourself productivity tools is because you aren’t making your current ones work for you. Don’t ever sacrifice your productivity at the whim of some tool that should be helping you. Always make sure that you are the one using the productivity tools, not the other way around.

Anyone else struggling with keeping their tool selection on an even keel?

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