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5 Task Apps for Visual Thinkers

5 Task Apps for Visual Thinkers

Most productivity tools and reviews focus on very linear, left-brained thinking. What if you’re a visual thinker and looking for a tool that suits your needs? Pen and paper, a massive whiteboard, or post-it notes can work for the right-brainers out there, but they’re also not necessarily very practical in this digital age, where you might need to access your tasks on the go, keep notes and track progress on them, or share them with someone else.

Features to look for:

If you’re looking at trying a digital app to help manage your to do list, and you’ve struggled with productivity tools in the past, here’s a few features that you might want to look for before you try yet another app:

  • Color coding: This is such a simple feature that so many tools are lacking. It astounds me. If you’re an intensely visual person, color coding functionality can make the difference between a tool being really useful (being able to see at a glance how many high priority tasks you have today, or how many tasks from each project, for example), and staring at an intimidating list of action items that looks totally impossible.
  • Calendar view instead of just list view: For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why the typical to-do list overwhelmed and intimidated me. The problem was that without a way for me to see my tasks spread out across the week (or month), I had a tendency to pile all of my tasks on one day, creating a feeling of perma-overwhelm and frustration. (Shockingly enough, that was not conducive to productivity!) Having a view that lets me see how my tasks are spread across my work week lets me see if I’m overloading a particular day, and rearrange accordingly.
  • Overall good design and usability: Productivity nerds have kind of a love/hate relationship with design. Good design is given credit where due, but if you refuse to use a tool because its aesthetics just don’t jive with you, you’re going to get some eyerolls. However, there’s evidence to support that good looks make for better productivity. A case study referenced in How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci mentions a training office where aesthetics were improved that saw a marked increase (like, a ninety percent marked increase) in learning effectiveness afterwards. In A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink references a similar study with classrooms.
  • Something that will be easy to integrate into your current workflow: By this I mean that it’s a good idea to think about the attributes your current system has  that work for you. (Alternately, you can think about things that aren’t working for you, and work backwards from there.) If, for example, you love the post-it note method of organizing your to-do list, then something like KanbanPad or Trello could be ideal for you.

My top 5 picks for task management for visual thinkers:

KanbanPad

Sporting an adorable mascot and a colorful design, KanbanPad is my favorite out of the kanban style task tools out there.

Price: Free

Features: Color coding, ability to delegate/have multiple users in a wordspace, drag and drop interface, ability to create checklists of sub-tasks

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Ideal for: The super-visual worker who can’t imagine live without color coding. If you work with a large team, KanbanPad might not work as well for you and your team, depending on their personal preferences but that can be said for almost any tool. Especially ideal for creative entrepreneurs who hate traditional “to do list” apps but need a way to stay at least marginally organized.

Trello

Trello Interface

    Trello is similar to KanbanPad, with a few differences in design and use. If you’re looking for something post-it style, you can’t go wrong with either one of these apps.

    Price: Free

    Features: Drag and drop interface, color coding, deadlines (with reminders as the deadline approaches), ability to delegate/add users to a workspace, checklists with progress bars for task lists, ability to attach files

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    Ideal for: The creative team looking to stay on track with visual-friendly features (color coding, etc.), but without missing deadlines.

    Thoughtbox.es

      Thoughtboxes

      Thoughtboxes is a colorful task management tool, that lets you create lists of tasks which can be starred for priority, and dragged and drop through boxes. This means you could create a “to do” “working on” and “done” set of boxes, and move tasks in between them to keep track of what had already been created, or you could create subject-themed task lists, like in the screenshot above.

      Price: Free for up to 3 “trains of thought” (projects) for basic users, $3/month/user for unlimited projects, ability to collaborate, organize your trains of thoughts with folders,

      Features: Drag and drop controls, sharing/collaboration with pro version, color coding and intuitive visual interface

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      Ideal for: The solo worker who wants a minimalist, but not boring, way to keep track of their projects and tasks.

      WeekPlan Interface

        Weekplan

        Weekplan is a planning tool based on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People so it’s not just a task management tool, it has built-in guidance for creating your tasks and planning your week.

        Price: Free plan or Pro plan is $3/month for additional features (subtasks, recurring tasks, integration with other apps)

        Features: Drag and drop interface, week view interface, ability to sort tasks by roles, guided journaling

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        Ideal for: The person who wants a life and business task management tool all in one spot, probably a solopreneur or someone who doesn’t need to coordinate with other users.

        Teamweek

        Teamweek is basically a really pretty, interactive Gantt chart. In case that means nothing to you, what it translates to is that you can see how long tasks are supposed to take and see them overlapped on top of each other in a visual way, instead of just seeing them as a list of boxes to check. (Clearly useful for the visual thinker!) 

        Price: Free trial, after that $4/month for each “manager” user, $2/month for each normal user

        Features: Color coding, to-do lists/subtasks, milestones, ability to assign things to a person, project and client labels

        Ideal for: The creative team leader or the creative solopreneur who wants a visual way to track their quarterly or monthly goals and progress (shown from 0:00 to about 4:10 in the video above), plan their week visually (shown from 4:10-7:13 in the video), or want to plan a launch (7:13 to 9:40 in the video).

        Those are my picks. What are your favorite task management apps for visual thinkers? 

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        The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

        The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

        It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

        Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

        “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

        In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

        New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

        There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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        So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

        What is the productivity paradox?

        There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

        In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

        He wrote in his conclusion:

        “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

        Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

        How do we measure productivity anyway?

        And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

        In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

        But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

        In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

        But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

        Possible causes of the productivity paradox

        Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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        • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
        • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
        • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
        • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

        There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

        According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

        Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

        The paradox and the recession

        The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

        “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

        This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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        According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

        Looking forward

        A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

        “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

        Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

        “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

        On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

        Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

        Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

        Reference

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