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Are you on a never-ending quest to find the singularly perfect productivity tool? While I haven't found a single tool that serves 100% of my needs, I believe it is possible to create a productivity toolbox that works well for you.
After a previous post, where I pulled back the curtain on my weekly review, I received several questions about the productivity tools I use regularly. Please, keep in mind what works for me may not be right for you. But I'm happy to share my daily tools and how I use them. Perhaps it will spark inspiration for you.
As a general rule, I strive to keep the number of tools I use to a minimum. Why? Because the more tools I use, the more locations I need to check when I'm looking for something. When I was a teenager, I used to keep one humongous pile of (ahem) "stuff" in the middle of my bedroom. My parents would tell me to clean it up and put it all away. My resistance excuse was that it only gave me one place to look for things. I knew it was in that one place somewhere!
As you might imagine, life is a bit more complicated now than in the stone ages of high school. So, I will admit, the single-pile method no longer serves me.
Instead, I have loaded my productivity toolbox with the following system of tools:
Note Taking: Discbound Notebook (Levenger, Office Depot, Staples)
I love taking handwritten notes. I've tried taking notes on my laptop and my tablet, but for me, it doesn't feel right. Admittedly, part of what I love is how quiet it is to take notes by hand.
We've all been in meetings where someone is (quite literally) pounding away on their laptop or tablet keyboard. I, personally, find this very distracting, and somehow they're always positioned right in front of the microphone. Their keyboard pounding drowns out all other discussions, which is problematic if I'm participating via conference call from a remote location.
But I digress. To efficiently extract action items from my handwritten notes, I delineate the top third of the page for this purpose. Action items I must complete, and items I expect from others are both gathered here. Each meeting or conversation gets its own page, so the action items generally relate to that topic. If I think of unrelated tasks during a meeting, I still capture them at the top of the page. After the meeting, action items get moved into my task manager.
To quickly find handwritten notes at a later time, the pages are electronically captured, tagged, and stored in my note storage tool (explained below). Then, the pages are shredded and recycled.
I used to struggle with destroying my paper notes before I captured them digitally. Eventually, I came to accept there was no way I would search through years and years of notebooks to find a specific note. And, even if I knew precisely where a note is, that exact notebook is rarely with me when I need it. My best chance of note retrieval in the future is digital, and it allows me the best of both worlds. I can take notes by hand and find them digitally.
Note Storage: Evernote
I have to admit, I tried Evernote many, many, many years ago, and I didn't quite understand what everyone saw in it. So I abandoned it for a very long time. But it continued to be such a lauded tool, I tried it again, and now I have been a loyal user for years.
Evernote is where I store the electronic capture of my handwritten notes. I can title and tag the notes for quick retrieval, and Evernote's OCR technology can read my handwriting if I write legibly enough. Their web clipper makes it a breeze to capture articles, websites, and videos.
Task Manager: Nirvana
Nirvana is my cloud-based task manager rooted in the David Allen Getting Things Done or GTD® methodology. While I am not a strict, conventional follower of GTD®, I love the core structure and have made it my own. All of my tasks and to-dos, both personal and business, live in Nirvana.
I can email to-dos right to Nirvana's inbox, add links to relevant notes in Evernote, and reference specific paper action or reference files. Nirvana may not be the most talked-about task manager available, but it is an excellent platform-agnostic tool that has served me well for years.
The phone app is a convenient way to capture items on-the-go using speech-to-text, and Nirvana is always an open tab in my browser.
I love the convenience of an electronic calendar. It's readily accessible on my phone or computer, easy to edit, and a breeze to share information with others. I can also include links to relevant notes in Evernote and reference specific paper action or reference files.
Reminder System: SwiftFile / Evernote
A reminder system is an essential tool.
For paper/physical reminders, I love the layout and quality of SwiftFile. And the portability of having individual files makes it so convenient for travel.
For electronic reminders, I set up an Evernote notebook to resemble SwiftFile. I use the convenience of reminders in Evernote to alert me when there is something to review.
In addition to the core tools above, here a few extras I enjoy:
Daily Snapshot Page: Agendio
There is a convenient "Focus" area within Nirvana. Still, I love a single-day snapshot, including my appointments and other daily prompts. To help me stay focused on the day's essential information, I created a streamlined, one-page-per-day insert on Agendio for my discbound notebook. I take 5 minutes daily to prepare the following day's snapshot.
This page is not where I capture new information. It is where I consolidate data from other sources like Nirvana and my Google calendar. The idea for the daily snapshot grew out of a tool Kevin Kruse calls his Millionaire's Day Planner.
Time Tracking: Timeular
I've always been fascinated by the tricks our brains play on us. While we're convinced we spend our time one way, hard data often tell another story.
The 8-sided tracking device and the accompanying desktop / mobile app make it easy to see the real picture. I've used it now for a couple of years, and it helps me quickly understand my time usage for any given period.
Music: Calm Radio
I love the variety of music Calm Radio offers. They have channels specially designed to enhance focus, concentration, work, and study.
Even when I'm not working, I frequently tune in to channels that provide nature sounds, meditation and yoga music, and various other background music choices.
So, there you have it. These are the tools that play a significant role in my daily productivity.
What tools are in your toolbox? Are they serving you well? I'd love to hear from you.
If you want to talk through them, I invite you to contact me.