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If you like reading about technology online, you should have noticed that the past few years have been about an obsession with productivity. E-mail apps, note-taking apps, task management apps, automated solutions like Google Keep, and browser extensions for productivity keep getting everyone excited.
But what if productivity apps don’t do it for you? Then what do you do?
You’re Not Alone
First of all, it’s important to realize that just because Wunderlist, Todoist, or Vesper isn’t your thing doesn’t mean that you’re a productivity failure. Plenty of people don’t find these sorts of apps helpful, and they still find ways to get just as much done as anyone else.
Some people thrive on productivity apps because the apps help them stay focused and give them direction. Others just like trying the latest thing.
But for many people, simplicity is the most important factor in a productive life. Using a system of apps can make things unnecessarily complex, and that leaves many people feeling less productive. And that’s fine. We like to say that there’s a productivity app for everyone, but that’s not true: some people just don’t need them.
Stop Wasting Time on “Planning” Productivity
One thing that turns a lot of people off from productivity apps is that they take time to use. You need to install them, set them up, transfer your existing task management system into the new one, and then get used to using it. That can take a lot of time that would be better spent doing things.
Similarly, some people start each week and day with a review of their task management system; this can add up to hours of preparation over the course of a month that could have instead been spent on working. These can be valuable hours if they help you work more efficiently, but not everyone finds them helpful.
If productivity apps and systems don’t work for you, go for simplicity.
Don’t spend time planning your productivity, just spend time being productive. This is true if you have problems remembering or prioritizing your tasks, the two things that apps are really helpful for. Just sit down and get to work.
When you do, take note of what strategies you use to remember, prioritize, and delegate tasks.
Do you jot things down on a desk calendar? Do you send yourself e-mails? Do you write things in pen on the back of your hand? If productivity apps aren’t your thing, you probably have another strategy that works; take some time to think about what best motivates and keeps you organized.
Choose a Simple Tool (and Stick with It)
Once you have an idea of what you already use, choose a simple tool to keep going. Choosing a single, simple to-do app and sticking with it will save you a lot of time — you won’t have to look at the newest productivity apps every time a new one comes out.
You can also use other types of apps. For example, if you like to jot notes, make lists, and write quick reminders, you could keep a text file open on your desktop in which you keep all your scribblings. It doesn’t even have to be something like Evernote — just a plain text file will work. Apple’s Notes app and Google Keep both work well for this, too, and make it easy to sync between devices.
Mihir wrote an excellent article on using Google Keep to its full potential that could help, too.
Use Siri or Google Now to manage your tasks. Take one step out of the process — just pick up your phone, tell your chosen program to remember something for you, and it’ll show up in your Reminders or Keep app. You can even use IFTTT to move it from there to your chosen to-do app. It might seem like a lot of effort, but once you’ve set it up, you can just say “Siri, remind me to buy milk on the way home.” Simple.
Of course, the ultimate simple tool is pen and paper. Maybe, it’s a reporter-sized Moleskine notebook that you can keep in your bag, a larger desk notebook, or Post-It notes that you can stick around your office. There’s nothing wrong with using the simplest of methods.
In fact, I think there’s great value in putting pen to paper, even if just for a few sentences each day — there’s something about it that just can’t be replaced by typing, and it can lead to inspiration.
If you feel overwhelmed by the number of productivity apps out there, just choose one and go with it. Don’t worry about switching to the latest and greatest or establishing a complicated life management system like Getting Things Done (GTD). Some people find these absolutely indispensable—but they’re not for everyone.
Develop a Routine
Once you’ve convinced yourself that you don’t need a complicated app ecosystem, it’s time to develop a routine. One of the best things productivity apps do for us are helping us create routines — check Todoist in the morning, at lunch, and before you leave work; open up Evernote on Sunday night to prioritize the coming week; look at your GTD folders to remind you of what you’re working towards.
But you don’t need these apps and systems to create a routine. If you have a habit of looking at your notes from yesterday and using them to prioritize today’s tasks, and that works for you, stick with it. If putting up a Post-It note with every task you need to complete by the end of the week keeps you on track, keep it up. Writing everything down is a really popular strategy (it’s one of the most important principles in GTD, in fact), and that can be done with just about any app or notebook.
And using the Siri / Google Now method I mentioned above makes developing a routine very easy — whenever you want to remember to do something, just tell your phone. Done.
Do What Works for You
The most important part of being productive, regardless of the strategy you use, is to do what works for you. Using a combination of Evernote, Pocket, and Wunderlist works really well for me, but I occasionally scrap Wunderlist and just use a notebook. Apple’s Reminders and a few Chrome extensions might work for you. Someone else will use GTD with Evernote, Todoist, IFTTT, Google Now, Post-Its, and file folders. The complexity of the system doesn’t matter — what’s important is that it helps you finish what you need to do.
What do you use to help you stay productive? Do you try out all the latest apps? Or do you stick with just one? What’s the best system you’ve come across? Share your thoughts below!