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Minimal vs. Maximal Productivity Tools

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Minimal vs. Maximal Productivity Tools

If you aren’t new to productivity blogs, web productivity tools, and other things that have a productive spin or “GTD” in them, then you have certainly heard of the concept of being “minimalist”. The idea is using the absolute least amount of stuff to get something done or live life. Basically, all the extra stuff that you “don’t need” is just clogging up your productive nature and needs to be removed.

But, what if you want all the bells and whistles of productivity tools and the minimalist way feels somewhat restricted? This is where the idea of “maximal” productivity tools come in; tools that provide the user with a ton of functionality and settings that allows them to customize the tool in any way they see fit.

    The case for minimalist tools

    One of the largest complaints about complicated productivity tools is that they tend to get in your way rather than help you get things done. This is definitely the case with some tools that throw in every feature that comes to mind and don’t have a clear way to just “jump in” and start using the tool.

    For example, the web app Toodledo is an extremely powerful task management application (not to mention one of my favorites), but can be somewhat daunting to look at and use at first. This is because of Toodledo’s mass of user options, filters, search, etc. Contrast this with a “simpler” tool like Remember the Milk. It is obvious how to add tasks with RTM and the user interface is clean and easy on the eyes. This isn’t to say that RTM isn’t powerful, it definitely is with the addition of Smart Lists and Locations; it is saying that sometimes when giving a user too many options can confuse and distract them from actually using the tool to get things done.

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    Minimal productivity tools have been extremely popular in the recent years because of the want of users to have something simple that gets out of the way. Some of the tools that come to mind are Simplenote, Ta-da List, SimpleGTD, pen and paper, and Remember the Milk.

    The case for “maximalist” tools

    On the opposite side of the coin, the largest complaints about simple and minimal productivity tools is that they aren’t customizable enough and they lack needed features like tagging, saved searches, different lists styles, cross-platform support, etc. Some users feel that without these enhanced set features that the productivity tools aren’t good enough.

    When Mr. Allen, the GTD guy himself, speaks of systems and productivity tools, he steals a good quote from Albert Einstein:

    “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

    This could of course back up the idea of minimalist tools, but it makes me think that it takes somewhat complicated tools to work with and help control complicated things like project planning, email handling, etc. As mentioned before, Toodledo is quite the task management application and it has a ton of functionality that you may never use. But, the idea of providing the user with extra features is appealing in that you can “grow into” a tool.

      Toodledo's complicated filters and Views

      For instance, I am currently using OmniFocus (even though it is pricey as hell) and there is a sweet feature that allows you to relate a location with a context. When you are out and about and check your iPhone for actions you could complete, you can check the location listing and OmniFocus uses your GPS to give you actions that can be finished in your vicinity. At first I thought this feature was nifty, but sort of overkill, that is until I found that I travel quite a bit during a day and can utilize my location to find tasks that can be completed around me. Try to do that with Ta-da List.

      Some of the more popular maximal productivity tools include OmniFocus, Evernote, Toodledo, Outlook, and OneNote.

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      Minimal vs. Maximal: Fight!

      The last thing that I want to do is take one side or the other when it comes to feature-rich tools vs. simple tools. What I can do however, is make some recommendations to those out there that don’t know exactly which camp to settle down in: minimal or maximal?

      1. The best advice that I can ever give is to love the tools you use. What does it matter if there are a million settings or ten settings if you don’t love the tool that you are using?

      2. No tools will make you more productive. Just because you can make a list of actions and relate them to a project and have the system tell you what your next actions are doesn’t mean that you will actually do them. Tools don’t make you productive; you make you productive.

      3. There is no perfect tool. Trust me, I have been down the road and it is long and arduous. There is no perfect GTD tool; never will be. So stop Googling now.

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      4. Make a list of features you need and a list of features you want in a productivity tool. Then when you are looking for a new or better tool, compare your list to the tool’s feature set. If it’s close, then you may not totally hate it.

      5. Once you find a tool that works, stick with it. If your tools are hitting the sweet spot and helping you become more productive, consider adopting them for a year so you don’t fall into the trap of changing task-managers every time you hear of a shiny new one.

      Which side of the camp do you choose when it comes to productivity tools? Do you want to keep things simple or provide yourself with a powerful set of features that are at your disposal?

      More by this author

      CM Smith

      A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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      Last Updated on January 13, 2022

      How to Use Travel Time Effectively

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      How to Use Travel Time Effectively

      Most of us associate travel and time with what we’re going to do one we get to our destination. Planning and mapping out what to do once you arrive can certainly make for a more pleasurable vacation, but there are things you can do while you are on your way that can make it even better.

      Sure, you can plan for the things you’re going to do on your vacation while you are travelling en route – but what about making use of that time for other things that you don’t usually do when you’re at home? You don’t need to have your gadgets with you to do it, and you can really connect with yourself if you take the time to manage your life while heading towards your vacation destination.

      Here are some great tips to help you with your time management while you travel, some of which are more conventional than others. Nonetheless, you can find out what works best for you and apply them accordingly depending on when and how you are travelling.

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      1. Take Your Time Getting There

      As I write this, I’m on a flight to San Francisco. Flying is the fastest way to get from place to place, and for many people it’s really the only way to travel.

      But I’ve often taken the train or ferry on trips so that I have extra time without distraction to get more done. I’m not worrying about navigation or lack of space to do what I want to do. Instead I’m able to focus on getting stuff done during the time I’ve got without feeling rushed. For example, when I took the train from Vancouver to Portland, it was an eight hour trip and I managed to get a ton of writing done and closed a lot of open loops. It also was less expensive than flying, which was a bonus.

      Sometimes taking the long way to get somewhere on vacation can be the best thing for you to get somewhere with your life.

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      2. Go Gadget-Free

      This is going to be a tough one for a lot of you. But why do you need to bring your gadgets with you when you go on vacation? It isn’t be a bad idea to leave all but one of them behind, and only pull out that one when you absolutely need to do so. In some countries, you’d be wise to be discreet with them anyway since flaunting them in front of those that are less fortunate than you isn’t a good practice. While it may not seem like flaunting to you, in different cultures it can definitely come across that way.

      If you can’t go gadget-free, then at least go Internet-free. If you use a task management app that requires syncing across your multiple devices to be effective, remember that if you only have the one device with you then it can be the “master device” for the time being and will store your data locally anyway. Just sync up when you get home.

      3. Reflect and Prepare

      Finally, going on any sort of excursion gives you the perfect opportunity to reflect on where you’ve been. The fact you have removed yourself from where you usually are can give you a perspective that you simply can’t get when you’re at home. You may want to journal your thoughts during this time – and by taking more time to get to your destination you’ll have more time to dig deeper into it.

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      After a period of reflection – however long that happens to be – you can then begin to not only prepare for the rest of your travels, you can prepare for the rest of what happens afterward. The reflection period is important, though. You need to really know where you’ve been in order to properly look at where you want to be. Time away from things gives you that chance.

      Conclusion

      Traveling isn’t always about where you’re going and how quickly you can get there. In fact, it’s rarely about that at all.

      More often it’s where you’re at in your head that will dictate how much you benefit from traveling. So don’t just go somewhere fast. Instead, take your time on the way there and take the time to connect with not only where you are but who are while you’re there.

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      If you do that, you’ll have a better chance to be who you want to be when you leave.

      Featured photo credit: bruce mars via unsplash.com

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