4 Tools That Will Make You More Productive

… and the Secret Sauce to Getting Bigger, Better Results

10 Johnn Four_largeby Johnn Four

The dirty secret of productivity apps is there's no feature that'll suddenly make you productive. Instead, it's how you use an app every day that makes the difference between feeling like the King of Getting Things Done versus another week gone by with not much to show for it. I'm going to share my favourite productivity apps with you now. Please add yours in comments below. I'm also going to share the secret sauce of getting the most out of my picks, which is more important than the app itself.

Good ol’ Email

I use GMail for massive productivity. I know, email isn't sexy. The secret sauce though is I direct everything into one bucket for processing. All my communications, alerts, updates, receipts, support requests. When everything lands in one place, I only need to manage one place. It makes archiving and looking up old items a snap, too. A couple years ago I realized I had several information buckets and that I lost precious time digging through them all when looking for information.

I use the zero inbox strategy. So my inbox is just a routing folder. Information comes in, I spend five minutes a couple times a day filing it into other folders – Projects, Response Required, To Do, Shopping, etc. Then I block time off to clear through each folder when the time is right for me. This reduces a lot of distraction and busywork, so I can focus on the important, not the urgent. If you need help processing email fast, try the Email Game. Another great plugin is Rapportive, which will help you map a face to an email address.

Declutter with Evernote

Dave Allen of Getting Things Done fame says, "Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them". Declutter your brain and flush those swirling thoughts so you can be focused and always present. I do this with the free Evernote app. While email is for actionable and transaction information (stuff I gotta do), Evernote is for reference.

I put project files, ideas and brainstorms, images, PDFs, great blog posts, clippings, recipes and a ton of information into my Evernote, which is available for almost every device and accessible via web app. The secret sauce here is to learn Evernote search so your information is always at your finger tips. Put notes into notebooks with tags, then learn how to search by notebook, tag, time, location, title, keyword and more. Search-fu makes life easy. 

Evernote also has a web clipper so you can save information from the web with a click. You can rest easy knowing you've saved your ideas and information without wasting time fiddling with some complicated information manager. And once saved, you can clear your mind to focus on your next task.  Evernote works great with other cloud services such as Dropbox and Google Drive through helper tools like If This Then That  and Zapier.

Track yourself with RescueTime

One of the best productivity tips comes from the ancient Greeks: know thyself. Be self-aware and learn where your time actually goes. We all have the same 24 hour budget each day – how do you spend yours?

An app called RescueTime can help you discover this, and the answers might surprise you. I know I was shocked the week I got my first report and it said I was below 50% productive! RescueTime tracks your app and web usage and then generates a report on how you spent your time each week. It gives each site and app a productivity score, which you can tweak, and then tells you your usage patterns. I looked forward to each week's report and final score. It became a game for me to improve my productivity rating.

The secret sauce here again is not the app but the goal to be aware of where your time actually goes each day. You never get spent time back. So make the best use of each day's allotment.

My Favourite App = Old School

My last productivity app is…a pen and index card. No computer chips required. :) Each day I write my top two priorities and the next two or three actions I need to tackle for each. Before I check email, chat at the water cooler, or do some other distracting activity, I make these notes on a fresh card and then get at least a couple actions done. I also do this when I get home from work and have my night ahead of me.

And I do it again each week at Starbuck's. Sundays I head out for a coffee and spend time reflecting. I ask myself four critical questions to keep me on track and productive (I put my answers in a diary notebook in Evernote):

  1. What went right this past week? (Stuff to repeat this week.)
  2. What didn't go so well and why? (Stuff to avoid or fix this week.)
  3. What are my top 2-3 priorities this week?
  4. What results for my priorities do I want to achieve this week, and what are the next 2-3 steps to do for each?

The answers to questions #3 and #4 go on an index card to keep me focused during the week.

The secret sauce here is to work with purpose and focus in ways that tie back to the most important things in your life. Make consistent, persistent progress like this and your life changes in wonderful ways.

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