I guess I consider myself a productivity nut. Don’t tell anyone this, but I admit that I spend time looking through the Apple App Store for productivity tools – for fun! I know, it’s sort of a geeky thing but I enjoy it.
Some of my favorite productivity tools include Evernote for note taking, Dropbox for managing my files, Scanner Pro to store documents electronically, Feeddler to subscribe and read all my favorite blogs and KeePass to remember all my accounts and passwords.
I’ve recently added a few new ones too. I started using Instapaper to save articles I want to read later and Pinboard to manage all my bookmarks. I also started using Google tasks and Gtasks (iPhone/iPad app integrated with Google tasks) to manage my list of to-do’s.
Benefits of Productivity Tools
I feel like there are a lot of benefits to such productivity tools and mobile devices in general. Here are just a few that come to mind:
- Time savings – I can locate a lot of information quickly using my iPhone and these tools. For me, that’s better than searching through a stack of papers or sticky notes.
- Accuracy – With productivity tools such as Gtasks, I don’t have to remember things in my head. I’m not perfect and it’s too easy to forget things when you have a lot going on in your life.
- Accessibility – My information is with me wherever I go. I don’t have to run home and look in my file cabinet. Files are accessible via my phone or from public computers if the information is stored in the cloud.
Productivity Tools Require Work to Use
While I love my productivity tools, they aren’t exactly free of work to maintain and use them. For example, if I find a website I really like I have to take a few minutes to send it to Pinboard. Once it’s over in Pinboard I need to tag it to easily find it later. Perhaps the shortcut is to a great financial calculator. If I don’t tag it under my financial tools I’ll lose it in all my bookmarks and just end up spending the time searching for it again later.
There is also some time required to access and use all these tools. While the benefits of Evernote are keeping all my notes in a searchable database, I have to take time to type them into the app versus writing them down on paper. Sure, sometimes it might be a bit faster to just write down a phone number or idea. But where will my idea be next week? It could still be on the kitchen counter or lost in the trash!
Categorization and tagging of notes, files, etc. can get backlogged and then you end up spending a lot of time trying to organize your information. This is work and sometimes takes you away from doing the work you need to be doing. You don’t have tagging when it comes to writing on paper, but it is helpful when using electronic tools.
How to Keep Productivity Tools from Backfiring on You
I have asked myself if spending time organizing and using my productivity tools can go overboard. As I mentioned above, I feel like I’m sometimes spending time tagging backlogs of notes that I didn’t tag when initially entered. Is this truly productive? Perhaps the long-term benefit is still there when I need to find my information later.
So, how do you keep your good productive intentions from backfiring on you? Here are some thoughts that come to mind:
- There is a problem if you haven’t started work in 10 minutes – Stop if you’ve been sitting at your desk more than 10 minutes and haven’t started to do your work because you’re still organizing, filing, tagging, etc. My theory is that organizing shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes per day. Set a limit and then get to work!
- Your productivity is costing you big bucks – Another key thing to watch out for is the cost of productivity. I know it’s always difficult to measure time and money savings (the return on investment), but if you find yourself continually buying new tools, chances are you’re just buying toys. Stop buying toys and assess your real needs.
- Figure out your needs – It’s important to understand the problems you’re trying to solve and then get the right tools to solve those problems. For example, I needed a way to capture all my bookmarks for websites and articles I wanted to quickly find again later. Pinboard is a simple web app that allowed me to do this. Plus, I can send my articles directly from Instapaper or Feeddler to Pinboard.
- You don’t have a workflow – Not only do you need to assess your needs, you need to have a workflow. How do you add tasks and when do you organize them and prioritize them? How do you capture notes? This doesn’t have to be complicated but you should have some steps in mind, otherwise, you’ll find yourself bouncing around from tool to tool wasting time. My problem is that I often don’t stay true to my workflow because I don’t properly tag or categorize information when initially entered.
Too much tooling around can cause us to be unproductive. In other words, we have to stop organizing and using tools and just get to work! Productivity tools should be simple to use and they shouldn’t require more time to manage than the work itself.