Tools for Productivity

13 08 2008

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Image By Teo at Flickr via Creative Commons

Image By Teo at Flickr via Creative Commons

“What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it, that’s another matter.” Peter F. Drucker

There are various types of tools that can help you in your quest to be a super productive being. They enable you to be put into practice the skills and techniques of a productivity. Tools to fulfill these requirements are increasingly being developed and refined with more and more becoming available everyday. If you are anything like me, you’ll probably enjoy discovering and trying these tools. But beware – this is essentially procrastination and you’ll probably try and justify ‘sharpening your system’ as productive work, when in fact getting stuff done is far more effective.

In this post I’m going to look at the key ‘Tools of Productivity’ that I have thus far identified. I have identified more that this, but in the interest of elimination and simplification seek to present the essentials.

Planning Tools
Remember to begin with the end in mind. In others posts I have either or will describe how planning is a great skill of a productive and effective person. I’m not using this to tell you why you should be planning (I’ll do that in another post). Just be sure that you have the right tools available.

My preferred planning tool is mind maps on paper. Paper is not constrained and this property along with mind mapping allows free flow thinking and amendments. Remember though that papers tools are not automatically backup up like online tools. If you want to try mind mapping online there are loads of free sites. I’ve tried MindMeister and is seems good.

Other planning tools: Lists, Planning software (for example MS project) I find many tools to complex for most purposes except where I am forced to use it in a professional context.

I’m a big fan of lists. I keep lists for everything. Things to do, music to buy, dreams (places to go), checklists for planning etc. I find that simple is best so I keep lists in a fairly linear fashion. However, as my lists are important to backup my brain. It’s best not to store information in your brain for a number of reasons!

I was using Gubb for my lists, but I have recently switched to Zenbe on the iPhone, and it is great that it is synced to a website for backup piece of mind.

At work I still haven’t found the right list management system for me. I’m currently using excel for it’s sorting facilities as I manage a team of people and deliverables it is quite useful for this.

Another thing to note is that I do not use Outlook at work for my to-do list management. This is for a very important reason. To keep me out of my email!

Calendar / Reminder System
You should try and schedule as much of your activity in a calendar system to enforce deadlines and make sure you do it. Notice how if something non-important is in your calendar like a staff meeting then you still give time to attend? Make the same commitment to personal high importance tasks.

For work I use Outlook , as it is the standard at my place of work. You can do fancy stuff like colour code etc. but I’ve been there done that and spend the wasted hours maintaining it with the false belief it will make things easier. For me simple is best.

For personal calendar and remind I use I love the interaction element of this tool and I have written a review of iwantSandy here. I think that it is important to enjoy using your system and that is what Sandy gives to me. I am looking to move more of my system to Sandy as more features come available, as having everything in one place is food for the interests of keeping stuff simple.

Outsourcing / Delegation
These are great tools for getting stuff done but do require time and patience and learning for using as an effective tool. You should think of delegation at work (and personal outsourcing as appropriate) as you first option for every task. This way you can eliminate as much as you can. “Can’t someone else do it?” – make this your Mantra. See my other post on delegation.

Against the recommendations of GTD I do keep separate work and personal systems. Both of my systems are accessible from both places. I don’t want them to overlaps to that I can concentrate on the different contexts of work and home in isolation when I need to.

I will write an separate post about this, but seen as email and internet are the biggest distractions in the modern workplace it is worth using the tools available to maximum benefit. Make email your slave not your master.

1) Auto-Responder – Set an out-of-office so that you can dictate when you check emails.
2) Filters – I have a CC folder for mails I am copied on which means that when I look at this folder I approach with the different mind set. I also use a waiting for filter, so that when I send an email I have @wf in the email so my filter puts a copy in my waiting for list.
3) Delete Key – Use it
4) One inbox – Email is great for capture. If someone asks you to do something say ‘can you send me an email so I don’t forget’
5) Turn off notification popups – if you don’t see the popups you’ll be less inclined to dip in to your inbox as often.
6) Turn off Auto Send/Receive – you choose when you want to get emails.

So these are the key tools in my current Productivity arsenal. I’m sure that I’ll review this post and refine it and it is something that I could go in to a lot of depth about. I wrote this post in draft a few months ago, and in that type my system has evolved and changed – I am coming to accept that this is a side effect of the productivity culture.

This post will eventually form part of a series on Productivity: Tools, Skills & Techniques.

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