Advertising

Simplify Your Productivity Tools To Get More Done

Simplify Your Productivity Tools To Get More Done
Advertising

    Anytime a new productivity app hits the App Store or the web it’s a race to see if it’s the next best thing; the last app you will ever need to become more productive, a better human being, or, hell, even cuter. Anytime a new “productivity guru” tells us how to get more work done we may as well spend a week or month to give it a try.

    I can’t tell you how much money and time I have racked up in trying new apps, paying subscriptions to things like Remember the Milk or Toodledo, or even creating precise taxonomies for tagging my tasks.

    Advertising

    If you are like me in any way (and you probably are because you read Lifehack.org), I can help out by telling you now that no single application or productivity system will make you more productive. In fact, most of our so-called “systems” tend to get in our way and make us productive at creating productivity stuff. And that’s about it.

    It’s a racket

    When I first read GTD about 4 years ago my inner geek instantly saw a way to systematize my work and life. With that came an eagerness to look for everyone’s “implementation” and to try out many different ways of setting up my own system. I bought a labeler, filing cabinet, inbox, paper planner thingy, some decent pens, index cards (way too many index cards), and preceded to Get Things Done.

    Or so I thought.

    Advertising

    What happened for a good portion of 2 to 3 years was my endless tweaking of a system and search for something better that didn’t really support my work. The system ran me and actually made me scared to use it. It felt like a bottomless pit of empty projects and tasks that I would never look at or review because of their unimportance.

    All of this brought me to my original point: productivity apps and systems don’t make the man, the man makes the productivity system.

    Cutting the fat

    So, instead of being buried in a sea of productivity tools and ideas that were not supporting me, for the last year and a half I have been trimming down my system to the most essential and useful.

    Advertising

    I first went on a paper productivity kick. It was like a detox for a productivity pr0n junky. Keeping projects and action lists with paper allows one to not be confined to a certain set of labels, buttons, and tags. It allows you to just write things down and helps to stay out of your way. Another nice thing about paper productivity is that it isn’t really filled with features and because of that doesn’t move you to “feature-tweak” it. You can read more about the benefits of paper productivity here.

    While using paper I identified some things that I truly didn’t like that I knew I would need a digital system for like:

    • due date sorting
    • sorting in general
    • easier manipulation of lists and changing tasks without rewriting everything
    • ability to easily send something by email
    • a place to store notes directly linked to tasks

    So, I then found myself a set of tools that met these requirements and allowed me to practice the Getting Things Done system at the minimum. I cut the fat of my productivity system and finally put myself in control of it.

    Advertising

    The practical part

    If you are like me and have been swimming in a sea of productivity pr0n for too long and want to own your productivity system rather than allow it to own you, here are a few simple steps:

    1. Go on a productivity tool detox. Quick searching for the “15 Best Productivity Tools on ‘X’ Operating System”, stay away from the multitude of apps that promise that they will help you get more done and try something simple like paper for a while. You will find out what you truly need in a system.
    2. While using the simplest tools possible actually get some work done with them. Allow the productivity tool to support you and start to learn how to trust it in your everyday work life.
    3. Make a list of things that you absolutely need – not want – in a productivity tool and try to find the easiest implementation of it. Try really hard not to go on a quest for the greatest productivity system ever made. It doesn’t exist.
    4. Get settled in with your new set of tools and stick to them. Once you feel that your system supports your work, make a pact to not change your tools for 90 days. After that you can reevaluate and tweak things as needed. Then stick to them for another 90 days. Rinse and repeat.

    And that’s it. It’s important for an information worker to have a set of tools that truly supports her work. But what is just as important is that worker have a set of tools that she sticks with, that she knows and trusts, and that don’t get in her way. Have you settled into a system that supports your work and allows you to get things done? If so, tell us about it in the comments below.

    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.

    How to Beat Procrastination: 29 Simple Tweaks to Make 5 Project Management Tools to Get Your Team on Track To Automate or not to Automate Your Personal Productivity System Design Is Important: How To Fail At Blogging 7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively 6 Unexpected Ways Journaling Every Day Will Make Your Life Better

    Trending in Productivity

    1 How To Boost Employee Motivation During Difficult Times 2 7 Effective Ways To Motivate Employees in 2021 3 How a Project Management Mindset Boosts Your Productivity 4 5 Values of an Effective Leader 5 How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
    Advertising

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

    Advertising

    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

    Advertising

    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

    Advertising

    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

    Advertising

    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Advertising

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

    Read Next