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When a Paper Planner Can Be Your Best Productivity Tool

When a Paper Planner Can Be Your Best Productivity Tool

There are a lot of elegant tools for your OS and online that help you keep track of all your commitments, projects, tasks, goals, checklists, etc. Each of them have their own set of awesome features as well as their weaknesses.

I remember around a year ago when I was lost in the sea of productivity applications (if you have been there yourself, I totally feel for you). This mostly happened because I would find an app that I would like a lot and then find one or two things that it just couldn’t handle in my workflow. Because of that I played around with a ton of productivity applications and wasted a lot of my time procrastinating on projects.

Here is what I found

There is no perfect productivity, todo list, or Getting Things Done application for everyone.

Sorry.

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But wait, before you leave and go Google something like “best GTD app -lifehack.org”, I have to tell you that there is one tool that led me to find a productivity application that worked perfect for me.

My travels through the sea of endless list making apps led me back to where I started my journey with productivity and Getting Things Done: pen and paper.

Why it works

    There are a lot of things that paper doesn’t have that digital tools do including ubiquitous search, automated repeats, nesting of tasks, quickly changing lists and due dates, reminders, etc. But it does have one thing over digital tools that makes it one of the best ways to start being productive; unlimited flexibility.

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    If I want to take a note about a certain task in a digital tool, I have to invoke some sort of option in the system to say that I want to make that note. I type the note, and if the system is good, it will save it automatically. Otherwise I have to tell it to save the note about the task.

    With paper and pen, I locate the task and write something near it. Or, hell, even on top of it if I want.

    Paper planners work because they are flexible and with that flexibility eventually comes an awareness of how you work your productivity system, not how it works you.

    There is nothing to learn really (that is if you aren’t implementing GTD or some other productivity system) and you can start with the tool immediately.

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    This doesn’t have to be permanent

    I was so against using paper after using digital tools for a number of years. But what it came down to was that I needed to re-learn how to create and use a system. Paper is awesome for this because it helps you identify precisely what you need (as well as the things you don’t need at all) and helps you concentrate more on organizing and checking things off of your todo lists rather than figure out the exact taxonomy for your project on saving the world.

    When you fiddle with your tools you aren’t saving the world, you are fiddling.

    As you gain a better understanding of what your tools need to do to facilitate your workflow, you can start to see which digital systems can match that feature specification.

    Transitioning from paper to digital

    Now that you have figured out what you need in a tool and what you don’t at all need in your productivity system, you can start your search for a digital tool and transition to it. That is if you want to.

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    I have met a lot of people that are just as, if not more productive with a paper and pen than I am with OmniFocus on my two Macs, iPhone, and iPad. I believe that it has a lot to do with them being very intimate and close with their system, where as a digital tool can feel somewhat sterile and binary.

    The easiest way to transition is to start dumping your paper planner’s contents straight into your new tool and set it up relatively close to what already have. If you use a bunch of different lists for each area that you do your work in (contexts) and also a list of all your projects and reference materials, make sure that your desired digital tool can handle it.

    Slow down to speed up

    Paper may not be the most powerful productivity tool you can get your hands on, but it sure will show you exactly what you need and don’t need in a productivity system to make it work for you.

    I spent a good 3 months working with a paper planner through college and a full time job at the same time. It was annoying to have to rewrite things every once in a while, but it made me realize exactly what I needed in a productivity tool and helped me stop spinning my wheels trying to find the perfect digital tool.

    Sometimes we have to use the most basic tools, understand how are productivity system is supposed to work, and then make it work with a decent digital tool that fits our needs.

    If you are roaming around in the digital todo list and productivity tool jungle, give yourself a break, grab a crappy notebook and start getting some work done.

    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 February 18, 2019

    How to Motivate Employees and Boost Team Productivity

    How to Motivate Employees and Boost Team Productivity

    These days, in a world with cognitive, AI, and extraordinary advances, we have failed at the most basic stimulus: motivation. Why do I say so? Just take a look at these statistics:

    58 percent of managers said they didn’t receive any management training as per a CareerBuilder.com survey. Only 12% of employees leave their jobs because of more money. Research indicates that around 80% of employees leave their jobs due to “lack of appreciation”. Due to fear of failing, more than half of American workers don’t take their paid vacations. 53% of Americans are unhappy at work (not engaged). And 1 in 3 are working in a field they don’t like.[1]

    Archaic people management and HR structures are the root cause.

    “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    So how to motivate employees and boost team productivity?

    Here are 3 key things that you can do to motivate your employees and boost team productivity:

    1. Run Your Team/Group/Company like a Lean Startup

    The Lean Startup phenomena by Eric Ries has been socialized across millions all over the globe. In a nutshell, it is a methodology for developing businesses and products, which aims to shorten product development cycles and rapidly discover if a proposed business model is viable; this is achieved by adopting a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning.[2]

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    Encourage Your Employees

    When you empower your employees (or family members) to do what they deem to be best for a particular roadblock, idea, or improvement, you create magic. You create genuine trust. You enable innovation. The result is happy, inspired employees who feel they have a say in the grand cosmic stage at work.

    Note that increasing the competency level of employees and coaching and mentoring them along the way is key. You yourself, need to do the same. Nourish your brain – and get a mentor that will keep you at the edge of your game.

    Offer Rewards

    Motivation is also intrinsic. The startups I have worked at offered instant rewards — not just fat checks or equity increments, but Oscar-style nominations.

    The non-monetary rewards were actually more coveted, and grandiose: lunch with the CEO, tickets to an Obama fund-raiser, horse-back riding with a world-class equestrian.

    Compare this to a dodgy, corporate, white-cubicle dinosaur that had a “yearly performance review” where both parties dread the conversation. In a world of instant WhatsApp messages, having a conversation about performance, likes and dislikes cannot just happen annually in 60 minutes. Employees need to be rooted in the belief that their manager genuinely cares about them.

    Give Autonomy

    Another key attribute is autonomy. Most employees start brushing their resumes and cruising LinkedIn when their hands are tied in their current positions: approval forms, long meetings, escalations, and more meetings. In the world of agile and scrum masters, deliberating for the sake of deliberating is poison. You will choke the very employees that giddily accepted the job initially to “change the world”.

    Within a reasonable realm of assessment and deep-dives, trust your employees to do the heavy lifting. Give them access to the knowledge, people and resources that help them directly make the choices that will shape the future of your team, and your company.

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    Eliminate yourself as the bottleneck – and interject yourself as a benevolent, servant leader that is the symbol of high-performing organizations.

    2. Apply the 90/90/1 Rule

    I recently saw a video by Deepak Sharma (a leadership adviser) about productivity and this principle stuck with me. Here’s what it’s about:

    Devote the First 90 Minutes of Your Day to Important Project

    For the next 90 days, devote the first 90 minutes of your day to your most important project—nothing else. Do this for yourself and your employees.

    We usually get sucked into the most wasteful, operational activities in the morning which robs our focus, and steers us into an unwanted rabbit hole. So mute your notifications, avoid the temptation to check your exploding inbox, and scroll your Instagram feed later. Instead, focus on that ONE thing that will provide real value to you, your team, or your business/company/home.

    Apply this rule to yourself – and your team. Your team will thank you. Note: If you’re feeling really stretched for time, you can always hack the rule by testing out a “45/45/1” version.

    A To Do Scheduling System

    Another version of this is to use the Kanban concept, developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota. Kanban is a scheduling system employing boards and cards.

    The most basic version is a canvas with “To-do”, “Doing”, and “Done” boards (or columns). Each activity or task is a “card” that moves from one column to the other. I use Trello (a Kanban-inspired app) that is a key system for my personal and professional life. It allows me to understand my workload, their priority, and due dates.

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    I use importance and effort metrics (scores) for each task to understand what is truly necessary in my life to work on. It negates the FIFO (first-in, first out) paradox that has plagued millions of people. Instead, it allows me to take stock of what is on my plate, and then bite on what truly will move the needle for me, my team, my life, and my company.

    With a limited appetite (at least for some), would you eat the veggies, fries, mashed potatoes and leave the sizzling steak? No, you wouldn’t (unless you are a vegan and ended up in the wrong restaurant).

    Approach your work with a weighted vengeance – and encourage your team to do the same.

    3. Align Passion and Skills to Purpose

    The heart of human excellence often begins to beat when you discover a pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, and gives you a sense of meaning, joy and passion.

    “The most fortunate people on earth are those who have found a calling that’s bigger than they are—that moves them and fills their lives with constant passion, aliveness, and growth.” — Richard Leider

    An ace team-member once told me that while she enjoys working for the company we both used to work at, she really hated anything to do with technology. She was more of a “people” person, and did not want to sit behind a desk sifting through lines of code.

    What struck me was that she was in that role for more than a decade and had just spoken up. The good thing is she spoke up. She expressed her desire and interests. And it allowed her to get into a role of her liking within 30 days.

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    Ask If They like What They’re Doing

    If you, or a team member is frustrated, demotivated, or not performing at their best – one of the questions you should ask is whether they like what they are doing. Then genuinely try to help them get to the role they should be in (whether in the same team/company or not).

    There’s a reason why 53% of Americans (and perhaps more or same across the globe) are unhappy at work. A butcher cannot be an ace salad maker. Pursue your passion – and help pave the way for your team. Unlock your potential and theirs. You will command and lead a supercharged team.

    “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

    The Bottom Line

    Sometimes, passion has to be ignited. It is dormant, clouded by busy-ness, buried by wrong career choices, and plagued by non-supportive eco-systems. Some will climb out of it, but we as society — and in the case of business teams — incumbent upon the manager/CEO/leader to foster, grow, and nurture the employee.

    Teach her the ropes. Show her the path. Advise him as you would yourself. Let them lead, and make mistakes. Do not fear them, rather make them the leader you would want to become.

    For your not-so-great team members, understand that it is not personal, it is just not a good fit. Help them move on to the pastures they would be fit to graze on. Hence, hire slow (and fire fast).

    Your team is a reflection of you. Boosting their confidence and helping them achieve the impossible is motivation. Focus on that, and you will have a productive team that you and your company will be proud of.

    More Resources About Team Management

    Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

    Reference

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