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Top 10 Productivity Tools to Help You Achieve 10x More in Less Time

Top 10 Productivity Tools to Help You Achieve 10x More in Less Time

Being productive isn’t about which apps, tools, and frames of mind you use to get things done. Enhancing your productivity is about using a set of tools and processes that can make up a full blown productivity system, becoming comfortable with and relying on those tools, and then using them to get important things done in your life and work.

Instead of recommending the best app or scanner or type of paper, it’s better to give you the top 10 tools that anyone who wants to stay productive can use.

Here are the top 10 productivity tools that you can use to achieve more in less time:

1. Task/Project manager to organize works

Task and project management of some kind is essential to making sure that you are getting things done as well as getting the right things done.

It’s very difficult to know that you are working on the thing that you should be working on if you don’t have all the stuff that needs done organized somehow. We try to be tool agnostic here at Lifehack, but here are some great applications to get you started:

2. Ubiquitous capture device to store your ideas

Another important aspect of being productive is to make sure that you always have some way of capturing “inputs” in your life. That is, if you have an idea or cool new thought about a project you are working on, you have to make sure that you can capture it so you can process that information later.

I carry a GTD Notetaker wallet because I’m a total geek. You can use anything you want though to capture like the following:

  • Smart phone with any notes apps such as Evernote
  • Pen and paper

3. Set boundaries to take control of your life

To be able to stay productive day-in and day-out, you have to set and keep boundaries. You have to protect your time and energy so you can work on the things that are most important to you.

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What are some of the things in your life that you want to do? To get those important things done, set up boundaries so you aren’t side-tracked and taken away from your goals.

Not sure how to do it? Learn from this guide:

How to Take Back Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

4. Know when and how to say “no”

This goes hand-in-hand with number three. Once you have boundaries set for what you want to and don’t want to do in life, you can now know when to say “no” to other less important things that make their way into your life.

The best way to decrease the stuff that you “have” to do is to say “no” to the things that don’t really matter to you and that won’t further your goals.

Here’s Leo Beobauta’s guide on The Gentle Art of Saying No.

5. Set realistic deadlines and expectations

I’m a developer by trade so I know how to set unrealistic expectations. A good rule of thumb when trying to set a deadline is to double however long that you will think it will take.

Of course, this is good for “light” planning, not exact planning that some jobs may need.

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Learn to make effective deadlines with these 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines.

6. Use calendar wisely

A calendar is used for the “hard landscape” of our lives. Use it to set due dates and reminders for things that are date sensitive.

Your calendar can either be analog or digital, but having a digital calendar is nice because of the ability to search, move things around easily, as well as send invites to people.

You can find some nice calendar apps here. Also, take a look at this article to find out more tips on how to use calendar to work efficiently:

How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space

7. Check your inboxes and organize information

I can’t remember what life was like before I had my inboxes set up, but I can imagine it was pretty messy.

It’s important for you to have places for incoming information and potential projects to sit so you can then process them later.

Inboxes can be in several forms like these:

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  • An inbox section in your task / project management software
  • A physical, paper inbox (one for home and work)
  • Voicemail box
  • Email inbox

Then make sure to check and process these inboxes on a regular basis.

While you can filter your emails with these techniques, here’s a simple step-by-step guide to help you achieve inbox zero:

How I Achieved Inbox Zero in 4 Steps

8. Make use of a great scanner or label maker

Or both, really. Having a scanner like the ScanSnap S1500 has totally changed the way that I file things (I don’t).

All I do is scan documents in and throw them in a generic area folder, like “Work” or “Financial”, and then simply run text searches if I need to find something.

If you are still doing paper filing, having an awesome, trusty labelmaker is something you can’t live without and won’t once you get one.

Basically any labelmaker is good.

9. Utilize office document software (and their shortcuts)

It’s pretty standard now that you need some sort of document creation software to get things done. The ability to create spreadsheets, documents, presentations, etc. is a must.

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You can use a free suite like Google Docs or Office Web Apps.

If you want to get “serious”, you can get Apple’s iWork suite or Microsoft Office.

Don’t forget about the free and open source OpenOffice.org.

More importantly, you need to know all the shortcuts when using these softwares. Here’re some tricks you should know:

You are only as good as your tools. Even though you have some good software and systems in place to support your productivity efforts, without solid working knowledge of you OS of choice (whether it’s Windows, Mac, Linux, or some other weird thing), you will always be losing time when trying to get things done.

10. Start to journal

There is no better way to keep track of and understand the who, what, where, when, and why of your productivity than through journaling every day.

Whether you write a full 750 words or just take down a log of your time and tasks completed, journaling is a great way to look back on what you have accomplished, your hangups, and other metrics that are important when you are trying to be more productive.

Here’s a how-to guide on how to start journaling:

Writing Journal for a Better and More Productive Self (The How-To Guide)

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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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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