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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 October 7, 2021

      Are You Addicted to Productivity?

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      Are You Addicted to Productivity?

      “It’s great to be productive. It really is. But sometimes, we chase productivity so much that it makes us, well, unproductive. It’s easy to read a lot about how to be more productive, but don’t forget that you have to make that time up.”

      Matt Cutts wrote that back in 2013,[1]

      “Today, search for ‘productivity’ and Google will come back with about 663,000,000 results. If you decide to go down this rabbit hole, you’ll be bombarded by a seemingly endless amount of content. I’m talking about books, blogs, videos, apps, podcasts, scientific studies, and subreddits all dedicated to productivity.”

      Like so many other people, I’ve also fallen into this trap. For years I’ve been on the lookout for trends and hacks that will help me work faster and more efficiently — and also trends that help me help others to be faster. I’ve experimented with various strategies and tools . And, while some of these strategies and solutions have been extremely useful — without parsing out what you need quickly — it’s counterproductive.

      Sometimes you end up spending more time focusing on how to be productive instead of actually being productive.

      “The most productive people I know don’t read these books, they don’t watch these videos, they don’t try a new app every month,” James Bedell wrote in a Medium post.[2] “They are far too busy getting things done to read about Getting Things Done.”

      This is my mantra:

      I proudly say, “I am addicted to productivity — I want to be addicted to productivity — productivity is my life and my mission — and I also want to find the best way to lead others through productivity to their best selves.

      But most of the time productivity means putting your head down and working until the job’s done.” –John Rampton

      Addiction to Productivity is Real

      Dr. Sandra Chapman, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth points out that the brain can get addicted to productivity just as it can to more common sources of addiction, such as drugs, gambling, eating, and shopping.

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      “A person might crave the recognition their work gives them or the salary increases they get,” Chapman told the BBC.[3] “The problem is that just like all addictions, over time, a person needs more and more to be satisfied, and then it starts to work against you. Withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, depression, and fear.”

      Despite the harmful consequences, addiction is considered by some experts as a brain disease that affects the brain’s reward system and ends in compulsive behavior. Regardless, society tends to reward productivity — or at least to treat it positively. As a result, this makes the problem even worse.

      “It’s seen like a good thing: the more you work, the better,” adds Chapman. “Many people don’t realize the harm it causes until a divorce occurs and a family is broken apart, or the toll it takes on mental health.”

      Because of the occasional negative issues with productivity, it’s no surprise that it is considered a “mixed-blessing addiction.”

      “A workaholic might be earning a lot of money, just as an exercise addict is very fit,” explains Dr. Mark Griffiths, distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “But the thing about any addiction is that in the long run, the detrimental effects outweigh any short-term benefits.”

      “There may be an initial period where the individual who is developing a work addiction is more productive than someone who isn’t addicted to work, but it will get to a point when they are no longer productive, and their health and relationships are affected,” Griffiths writes in Psychology Today.[4] “It could be after one year or more, but if the individual doesn’t do anything about it, they could end up having serious health consequences.”

      “For instance, I speculated that the consequences of work addiction may be reclassified as something else: If someone ends up dying of a work-related heart attack, it isn’t necessarily seen as having anything to do with an addiction per se – it might be attributed to something like burnout,” he adds.

      There Are Three “Distinct Extreme Productivity Types

      Cyril Peupion, a Sydney-based productivity expert, has observed extreme productivity among clients at both large and medium-sized companies. “Most people who come to me are high performers and very successful. But often, the word they use to describe their work style is ‘unsustainable,’ and they need help getting it back on track.”

      By changing their work habits, Peupion assists teams and individuals improve their performance and ensure that their efforts are aligned with the overarching strategy of the business, rather than focusing on work as a means to an end. He has distinguished three types of extreme productivity in his classification: efficiency obsessive, selfishly productive, and quantity-obsessed.

      Efficiency obsessive. “Their desks are super tidy and their pens are probably color-coded. They are the master of ‘inbox zero.’ But they have lost sight of the big picture, and don’t know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.”

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      Selfishly productive. “They are so focused on their own world that if they are asked to do something outside of it, they aren’t interested. They do have the big picture in mind, but the picture is too much about them.”

      Quantity-obsessed. “They think; ‘The more emails I respond to, the more meetings I attend, the more tasks I do, the higher my performance.’ As a result, they face a real risk of burnout.”

      Peupion believes that “quantity obsessed” individuals are the most common type “because there is a pervasive belief that ‘more’ means ‘better’ at work.”

      The Warning Signs of Productivity Addiction

      Here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you think you may be succumbing to productivity addiction. After all, most of us aren’t aware of this until it’s too late.

      • Can you tell when you’re “wasting” time? If so, have you ever felt guilty about it?
      • Does technology play a big part in optimizing your time management?
      • Do you talk about how busy you are most of the time? In your opinion, is hustling better than doing less?
      • What is your relationship with your email inbox? Are you constantly checking it or experience phantom notifications?
      • When you only check one item off your list, do you feel guilty?
      • Does stress from work interfere with your sleep?
      • Have you been putting things off, like a vacation or side project, because you’re “too swamped?

      The first step toward turning around your productivity obsession is to recognize it. If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then it’s time to make a plan to overcome your addiction to productivity.

      Overcoming Your Productivity Addiction

      Thankfully, there are ways to curb your productivity addiction. And, here are 9 such ways to achieve that goal.

      1. Set Limits

      Just because you’re hooked on productivity doesn’t mean you have to completely abstain from it. Instead, you need to establish boundaries.

      For example, there are a lot of amazing productivity podcasts out there. But, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them all in the course of a day. Instead, you could listen to one or two podcasts, like The Productivity Podcast or Before Breakfast, during your commute. And, that would be your only time of the day to get your productivity fix.

      2. Create a Not-to-Do List

      Essentially, the idea of a not-to-do list is to eliminate the need to practice self-discipline. Getting rid of low-value tasks and bad habits will allow you to focus on what you really want to do as opposed to weighing the pros and cons or declining time requests. More importantly, this prevents you from feeling guilty about not crossing everything off an unrealistic to-do list.

      3. Be Vulnerable

      By this, I mean admitting where you could improve. For example, if you’re new to remote work and are struggling with thi s, you would only focus on topics in this area. Suggestions would be how to create a workspace at home, not getting distracted when the kids aren’t in school, or improving remote communication and collaboration with others.

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      4. Understand Why You Procrastinate

      Often, we procrastinate to minimize negative emotions like boredom or stress. Other times it could be because it’s a learned trait, underestimating how long it takes you to complete something or having a bias towards a task.

      Regardless of the exact reason, we end up doing busy work, scrolling social media, or just watching one more episode of our favorite TV series. And, even though we know that it’s not for the best, we do things that make us feel better than the work we should do to restore our mood.[5]

      There are a lot of ways to overcome procrastination. But, the first step is to be aware of it so that you can take action. For example, if you’re dreading a difficult task, don’t just watch Netflix. Instead, procrastinate more efficiently,y like returning a phone call or working on a client pitch.

      5. Don’t Be a Copycat

      Let’s keep this short and sweet. When you find a productivity app or technique that works for you, stick with it.

      That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way or try new tools or hacks. However, the main takeaway should be that just because someone swears by the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you.

      6. Say Yes to Less

      Across the board, your philosophy should be less is more.

      That means only download the apps you actually use and want to keep (after you try them out) and uninstall the ones you don’t use. For example, are you currently reading a book on productivity? Don’t buy your next book until you’ve finished the one you’re currently reading (or permit yourself to toss a book that isn’t doing you any good). — and if you really want to finish a book more quickly, listen to the book on your way to work and back.

      Already have plans this weekend? Don’t commit to a birthday party. And, if you’re day is booked, decline that last-minute meeting request.

      7. Stop Focusing on What’s Next

      “In the age when purchasing a thing from overseas is just one click and talking to another person is one swipe right, acquiring new objects or experiences can be addictive like anything else,” writes Patrick Banks for Lifehack .

      “That doesn’t need to be you,” he adds. “You can stop your addition to ‘the next thing’ starting today.” After all, “there will always be this next thing if you don’t make a conscious decision to get your life back together and be the one in charge.”

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      • Think about your current lifestyle and the person you’re at this stage to help you identify what you aren’t satisfied with.
      • By setting clear goals for yourself in the future, you will be able to overcome your addiction.
      • Establish realistic goals.
      • To combat addiction, you must be aware of what is going on around you, as well as inside your head, at any given time.
      • Don’t spend time with people who have unhealthy behaviors.
      • Hold yourself accountable.
      • Keep a journal and write out what you want to overcome.
      • Appreciate no longer being addicted to what’s next.

      8. Simplify

      Each day, pick one priority task. That’s it. As long as you concentrate on one task at a time, you will be less likely to get distracted or overwhelmed by an endless list of tasks. A simple mantra to live by is: work smarter, not harder.

      The same is also accurate with productivity hacks and tools. Bullet journaling is a great example. Unfortunately, for many, a bullet journal is way more time-consuming and overwhelming than a traditional planner.

      9. Learn How to Relax

      “Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but, banning obsession with productivity is unhealthy,” writes Leo Babauta. “When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax.” Don’t worry about being hyper-efficient. And, don’t beat yourself up about having fun.

      “But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever?” he asks. “Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier.”

      “And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation,” Leo states. “Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love when you get excited.”

      But, how exactly can you relax? Here are some tips from Leo;

      • Spend 5 minutes walking outside and breathe in the fresh air.
      • Give yourself more time to accomplish things. Less rushing means less stress.
      • If you can, get outside after work to enjoy nature.
      • Play like a child. Even better? Play with your kids. And, have fun at work — maybe give gamification a try .
      • Take the day off, rest, and do something non-work-related.
      • Allow yourself an hour of time off. Try not to be productive during that time. Just relax.
      • You should work with someone who is exciting. Make your project exciting.
      • Don’t work in the evenings. Seriously.
      • Visit a massage therapist.
      • Just breathe.

      “Step by step, learn to relax,” he suggests. “Learn that productivity isn’t everything.” For that statement, sorry Leo, I say productivity isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.” However, if you can’t cut loose, relax, do fun things, and do the living part of your life — you’ll crack in a big way — you really will.

      It’s great to create and push forward — just remember it doesn’t mean that every minute must be spent working or obsessing over productivity issues. Instead, invest your time in meaningful, high-impact work, get into it, focus, put in big time and then relax.

      Are You Addicted to Productivity? was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

      Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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