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How to Stop Fiddling With Productivity Tools To Get More Done

How to Stop Fiddling With Productivity Tools To Get More Done

    It’s a constant battle for us geeks. We read the tech, productivity, and “guru” sites out on the web looking for the next best way to get things done.

    We purchase shiny new tools that promise us more, better, and faster in anything that we can conceive. The newest software vendors claim their tools are the missing piece of the puzzle and with them you can get more done with less effort. And if you don’t subscribe to a certain productivity methodology, you will be a lost soul in the see of knowledge work.

    Is this something that you think about or battle on a regular basis?

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    Why we fiddle and look for productivity tools

    I’ve been around the block when it comes to todo list apps, GTD apps, notetaking software, document management, and data management applications. I have tried countless pieces of sofware on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, webOS, and even Linux that claim they will make me more productive and keep me “organized”.

    The market for these types of apps is huge and it isn’t necessarily because people need more apps that can organize them better than any other one. It comes down to the fact the many people don’t use the tools that they have. Instead they fiddle, get used by the tool, and then look for something else because the tool that just used them “wasn’t good enough”.

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    Let’s get down to brass tacks.

    You get you organized. You get you productive. A tool doesn’t “get” you productive or “make” you more productive. A tool doesn’t create productivity. A set of tools augments and enhances your productivity.

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    This is the reason why we productivity nuts obsess with tools and “fiddle” rather than work and be productive with what we have. We easily forget that it isn’t the tool that makes us productive. When we forget this and we start to try and “tweak” and “hack” the tool to fit our perceived needs. When it doesn’t fit these perceived needs we believe that the tool isn’t good enough and we start looking for something “better”.

    It’s an endless circle of productivity pr0n that gets you nowhere fast. But there are some things that you can do to get yourself back on track.

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    How to stop and get more done

    Here are seven things that you can practice to stop tweaking your tools and trying to find the best productivity tool in the world before you can get any work done.

    1. If you are an obsessive digital tool seeker, especially the GTD type, you may want to switch to paper for a while to go on a tool diet. The best way to describe this is to get “primal” with your system. Grab some crappy paper and a pen and get back to the basics of managing your life. Mike talks about the benefits of paper over at GTD Times.
    2. Take a productivity break. Stop reading articles on how to be more productive for a while. Don’t obsessively check productivity sites for a good week. Concentrate on your own system and make it work for you.
    3. Create a personal project for trying out a bunch of tools. Make the outcome of that project to pick a set of tools and stick to them for a year. I did this about 4 months ago and have stuck with OmniFocus (even during work at a Windows shop), Notesy, Outliner for iOS, text files, BBEdit, and a big ass Cahier Squared Moleskine Notebook.
    4. Do weekly reviews and purge stuff that you don’t need. “Cruft” is anything in your systems that just sits around, stagnating. This happens a lot with digital tools. Make sure to clean things up once a week. This will help you not have the perceived notion that your tools are failing you.
    5. If you subscribe to a certain productivity system like GTD, Master Your Workday Now!, ZTD, GSD, Getting Results the Agile Way, etc. take a step back and reread or revisit the literature about the system. Get back down to the basics and understand how the system can enhance your productivity. From this view, choosing a set of tools should be more clear.
    6. If you don’t know which tools to start with pick some from this list to check out. Don’t get too obsessive, kids:
      OmniFocus
      Toodledo
      Remember The Milk
      Evernote
      Google Docs
      OneNote
      plain text files
      SimpleNote
      Gmail
    7. Refine your system to make your tools work for you. Not the other way around. Paraphrased from Mr. Einstein:
      “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

    Remember, the only reason you can’t find yourself productivity tools is because you aren’t making your current ones work for you. Don’t ever sacrifice your productivity at the whim of some tool that should be helping you. Always make sure that you are the one using the productivity tools, not the other way around.

    Anyone else struggling with keeping their tool selection on an even keel?

    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 15, 2019

    7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

    7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

    Now that 2011 is well underway and most people have fallen off the bandwagon when it comes to their New Year’s resolutions (myself included), it’s a good time to step back and take an honest look at our habits and the goals that we want to achieve.

    Something that I have learned over the past few years is that if you track something, be it your eating habits, exercise, writing time, work time, etc. you become aware of the reality of the situation. This is why most diet gurus tell you to track what you eat for a week so you have an awareness of the of how you really eat before you start your diet and exercise regimen.

    Tracking daily habits and progress towards goals is another way to see reality and create a way for you clearly review what you have accomplished over a set period of time. Tracking helps motivate you too; if I can make a change in my life and do it once a day for a period of time it makes me more apt to keep doing it.

    So, if you have some goals and habits in mind that need tracked, all you need is a tracking tool. Today we’ll look at 7 different tools to help you keep track of your habits and goals.

    Joe’s Goals

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      Joe’s Goals is a web-based tool that allows users to track their habits and goals in an easy to use interface. Users can add as many goals/habits as they want and also check multiple times per day for those “extra productive days”. Something that is unique about Joe’s Goals is the way that you can keep track of negative habits such as eating out, smoking, etc. This can help you visualize the good things that you are doing as well as the negative things that you are doing in your life.

      Joe’s Goals is free with a subscription version giving you no ads and the “latest version” for $12 a year.

      Daytum

        Daytum

        is an in depth way of counting things that you do during the day and then presenting them to you in many different reports and groups. With Daytum you can add several different items to different custom categories such as work, school, home, etc. to keep track of your habits in each focus area of your life.

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        Daytum is extremely in depth and there are a ton of settings for users to tweak. There is a free version that is pretty standard, but if you want more features and unlimited items and categories you’ll need Daytum Plus which is $4 a month.

        Excel or Numbers

          If you are the spreadsheet number cruncher type and the thought of using someone else’s idea of how you should track your habits turns you off, then creating your own Excel/Numbers/Google spreadsheet is the way to go. Not only do you have pretty much limitless ways to view, enter, and manipulate your goal and habit data, but you have complete control over your stuff and can make it private.

          What’s nice about spreadsheets is you can create reports and can customize your views in any way you see fit. Also, by using Dropbox, you can keep your tracker sheets anywhere you have a connection.

          Evernote

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            I must admit, I am an Evernote junky, mostly because this tool is so ubiquitous. There are several ways you can implement habit/goal tracking with Evernote. You won’t be able to get nifty reports and graphs and such, but you will be able to access your goal tracking anywhere your are, be it iPhone, Android, Mac, PC, or web. With Evernote you pretty much have no excuse for not entering your daily habit and goal information as it is available anywhere.

            Evernote is free with a premium version available.

            Access or Bento

              If you like the idea of creating your own tracker via Excel or Numbers, you may be compelled to get even more creative with database tools like Access for Windows or Bento for Mac. These tools allow you to set up relational databases and even give you the option of setting up custom interfaces to interact with your data. Access is pretty powerful for personal database applications, and using it with other MS products, you can come up with some pretty awesome, in depth analysis and tracking of your habits and goals.

              Bento is extremely powerful and user friendly. Also with Bento you can get the iPhone and iPad app to keep your data anywhere you go.

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              You can check out Access and the Office Suite here and Bento here.

              Analog Bonus: Pen and Paper

              All these digital tools are pretty nifty and have all sorts of bells and whistles, but there are some people out there that still swear by a notebook and pen. Just like using spreadsheets or personal databases, pen and paper gives you ultimate freedom and control when it comes to your set up. It also doesn’t lock you into anyone else’s idea of just how you should track your habits.

              Conclusion

              I can’t necessarily recommend which tool is the best for tracking your personal habits and goals, as all of them have their quirks. What I can do however (yes, it’s a bit of a cop-out) is tell you that the tool to use is whatever works best for you. I personally keep track of my daily habits and personal goals with a combo Evernote for input and then a Google spreadsheet for long-term tracking.

              What this all comes down to is not how or what tool you use, but finding what you are comfortable with and then getting busy with creating lasting habits and accomplishing short- and long-term goals.

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