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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 May 14, 2019

    8 Replacements for Google Notebook

    8 Replacements for Google Notebook

    Exploring alternatives to Google Notebook? There are more than a few ‘notebooks’ available online these days, although choosing the right one will likely depend on just what you use Google Notebook for.

    1. Zoho Notebook
      If you want to stick with something as close to Google Notebook as possible, Zoho Notebook may just be your best bet. The user interface has some significant changes, but in general, Zoho Notebook has pretty similar features. There is even a Firefox plugin that allows you to highlight content and drop it into your Notebook. You can go a bit further, though, dropping in any spreadsheets or documents you have in Zoho, as well as some applications and all websites — to the point that you can control a desktop remotely if you pare it with something like Zoho Meeting.
    2. Evernote
      The features that Evernote brings to the table are pretty great. In addition to allowing you to capture parts of a website, Evernote has a desktop search tool mobil versions (iPhone and Windows Mobile). It even has an API, if you’ve got any features in mind not currently available. Evernote offers 40 MB for free accounts — if you’ll need more, the premium version is priced at $5 per month or $45 per year. Encryption, size and whether you’ll see ads seem to be the main differences between the free and premium versions.
    3. Net Notes
      If the major allure for Google Notebooks lays in the Firefox extension, Net Notes might be a good alternative. It’s a Firefox extension that allows you to save notes on websites in your bookmarks. You can toggle the Net Notes sidebar and access your notes as you browse. You can also tag websites. Net Notes works with Mozilla Weave if you need to access your notes from multiple computers.
    4. i-Lighter
      You can highlight and save information from any website while you’re browsing with i-Lighter. You can also add notes to your i-Lighted information, as well as email it or send the information to be posted to your blog or Twitter account. Your notes are saved in a notebook on your computer — but they’re also synchronized to the iLighter website. You can log in to the site from any computer.
    5. Clipmarks
      For those browsers interested in sharing what they find with others, Clipmarks provides a tool to select clips of text, images and video and share them with friends. You can easily syndicate your finds to a whole list of sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Digg. You can also easily review your past clips and use them as references through Clipmarks’ website.
    6. UberNote
      If you can think of a way to send notes to UberNote, it can handle it. You can clip material while browsing, email, IM, text message or even visit the UberNote sites to add notes to the information you have saved. You can organize your notes, tag them and even add checkboxes if you want to turn a note into some sort of task list. You can drag and drop information between notes in order to manage them.
    7. iLeonardo
      iLeonardo treats research as a social concern. You can create a notebook on iLeonardo on a particular topic, collecting information online. You can also access other people’s notebooks. It may not necessarily take the place of Google Notebook — I’m pretty sure my notes on some subjects are cryptic — but it’s a pretty cool tool. You can keep notebooks private if you like the interface but don’t want to share a particular project. iLeonardo does allow you to follow fellow notetakers and receive the information they find on a particular topic.
    8. Zotero
      Another Firefox extension, Zotero started life as a citation management tool targeted towards academic researchers. However, it offers notetaking tools, as well as a way to save files to your notebook. If you do a lot of writing in Microsoft Word or Open Office, Zotero might be the tool for you — it’s integrated with both word processing software to allow you to easily move your notes over, as well as several blogging options. Zotero’s interface is also available in more than 30 languages.

    I’ve been relying on Google Notebook as a catch-all for blog post ideas — being able to just highlight information and save it is a great tool for a blogger.

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    In replacing it, though, I’m starting to lean towards Evernote. I’ve found it handles pretty much everything I want, especially with the voice recording feature. I’m planning to keep trying things out for a while yet — I’m sticking with Google Notebook until the Firefox extension quits working — and if you have any recommendations that I missed when I put together this list, I’d love to hear them — just leave a comment!

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