I wonder if our ancestors ever thought that productivity would be the big business it is today. There are entire websites, applications, and businesses build solely on helping people to be more productive.
And here comes the kicker…
The amount of time we spent researching, testing and switching between productivity apps actually makes us less productive. So, in reality, the 50 gajillion ‘Getting Things Done‘, ‘Pomodoro‘ and ‘Kanban‘ apps you have on our phones aren’t fooling anyone…but you.
And me. I have a serious app problem. I spend hours a week just browsing through websites and app stores hoping to get a fix.
Suddenly, a wild app appears. It’s sooo pretty! And it has that one feature no other one has that I never really thought about before but could really use. So I pay my $2.49 and I download it. I’m reminded of my grandiose dreams projects I’ve been putting off since forever and I pour them all into this new app. My saviour! My life will be back on track and I’ll become the productivity ninja I know I was meant to be.
For two days, I’m the most powerful woman in the world. Then pffft.
This is too much work. And that one feature is really annoying the hell out of me. Adios, stupid app.
Time for a Purge of Productivity Apps
So three months ago, I decided to punish my stupid Shiny Object brain. I went through my all my devices deleting every niche, gotta-have-it app that I had accumulated over the years. I did some really in-depth analysis of myself and my work patterns and determined that I needed to limit my productivity tools to no more than three apps. These couldn’t be just any apps, they had to meet a minimum set of criteria:
1. They had to be multi-purpose tools, not limited to any particular niche.
2. They had to be cross-platform. I own an iPhone, a Samsung tablet, a PC and I use Chrome so I needed to switch seemlessly and be continuously synced.
3. They need to facilitate brain dumping, but also allow me to schedule and set alerts when necessary.
4. They should ideally be free, or at least have a free plan – I’m not interested in spending money if it’s not necessary, especially on a subscription.
Very quickly, I settled on the following:
Evernote is one of those apps people absolutely love or love to hate. Those who hate it don’t hate it because it’s a horrible application, though. They simply can’t figure out how to use it effectively. I used to be one of those people.
Then I read this article on Lifehacker (told you, I’m addicted). It kinda sorta blew my mind. It turns out, the only way Evernote will ever work is if you commit to it fully. Just throw your whole life into it.
So that’s what I did. The moment I thought up some new list or blog post idea, I added it to Evernote. It was refreshing not to have to think about where the best place was to put it.
I struggled a bit initially trying to figure out to organize my notes. I’d write a note that could go into two folders and be stuck deciding where to put them. I’ve now figured out the perfect system, which I’ve been working with for three months with minimal adjustments.
I classify my entire life into projects – personal, business, Social Media Chica, and one for each client. Projects never overlap, hence I decided to use a folder for each one. There will probably be a Past Projects stack in the future for when a work project is closed. I also have a Miscellaneous folder that really should be named ‘I don’t know where the hell to put this’, a Reference folder for templates and outlines that I use regularly, and my Inbox folder. Anything I discover or need to note quickly goes into the Inbox. I have an organization and purge session once a week where I clear the Inbox, putting everything away into folders and deleting all the quick notes.
This system works for me and it could work for you, but there are several alternatives. You can check out Micheal Hyatt’s system – he uses a comprehensive tag system instead of folders – or just Google ‘how I use Evernote’ and check out other ways. Once you stop resisting and start using Evernote as your main app for notetaking and storage, it will become an extension of your brain. (That sounded really rapey for a second there, didn’t it?)
Evernote is free, but you can upgrade to premium to get access to more space and additional features.
Just like Evernote, Trello is one of those flexible tools that can be used by almost anyone for a variety of things. This makes it unappealing to some who don’t want to spend a lot of time developing a system. Also like Evernote, once you have developed a system, you wonder how you ever lived without it.
For those who have never used Trello, it calls itself a visual organizer for project management. It’s basically a digital version of sticky notes, except these sticky notes don’t get lost, or run out of space and you can organize them a lot better. If you’re a fan of the Kanban system, Trello is perfect for you.
At the top of the Trello hierarchy are boards. On each board, you have lists – which are a series of columns. In each list, you have cards. Cards and lists can be rearranged and moved between boards, so nothing is ever set in stone. When you sign up, they give you a sample board with To-Do, Doing, and Done lists – I’m not a fan of using the tool this way, but it works for some.
I use Trello mostly for running my freelance business and organize social media content for my clients.
(A quick note on my freelance business set up: I’m a ‘solopreneur‘ so I do most of the work myself. To manage all the areas better I divide all the work into roles; so I have a Business Manager, Accountant, Community Manager, Writer, etc. but they are all me.)
I have a Weekly Business and a Monthly Business board – in each I have lists for each business role. In each list, there’s a card for each task that role has to do each week/month. So when I sit down to do ‘business stuff’ I just bring up Trello and work through these lists.
My social media application is a little more complex and deserves a post on its own. Basically, I create boards for each channel used by each client, so each board has the format [Client Name]-[Social Network]. On each board, there are 11 lists – an Inbox for dumping content, three lists for sorting according to type, then a list for every day of the week for weekly content planning.
I also write a content marketing client and we recently started using a Trello board to track assigned articles and completion.
Cards can be as simple or as complex as you need them to be. You can attach images and files, add due dates, write comments, share with others and other things. I like the simplicity of being able to see everything at a glance so I tend not to use most of these features.
Trello promises to be free forever, with a Trello Gold paid option that gives additional features.
Update: Sunrise has officially shut down. I may or may not have cried about this. Now, I’m back to using Google Calendar as my main hub on the web and my Android phone, and integrate it with the native Calendar app on my Macbook.
There’s nothing else like Sunrise out there.
I love Google Calendar for it’s ability to schedule weird stuff like meetings on the first and third Wednesdays, but the interface is ugly and crowded. Sunrise integrates with Google Calendar (several, if you use more than one) and a host of other apps so you can literally see everything at a glance.
What makes Sunrise super perfect in this context? It integrates with Evernote and Trello! So if I should ever schedule an alert in Evernote or add a due date to task in Trello, it appears in my calendar. Perfection.
It also tracks Facebook Birthdays and Events. I can go straight to the timelines of people with birthdays in one click and I can get notifications for and accept/decline event invitations in the app.
I had literally no setup to do when transitioning to this app. I logged in through Google, linked Facebook, Trello and Evernote, and it instantly imported everything. Now I have the same app as a shortcut on my taskbar, a bookmarked tab in Chrome, an app and homescreen widget on my tab and an app on my phone. I’m never going back to anything else.
Sunrise is free and and available online and for iPhone/iPad, Android and Mac.
So there you have it – my trinity. As I mentioned, I’ve been using this system for three months now and it has worked perfectly. I no longer feel overwhelmed about using productivity apps and I know exactly where everything is.
I’m currently working on eliminating apps I use in the other areas of my life – will share when I’ve found workable solutions.
How do you do productivity? What apps are you using? Are you completely comfortable or still hunting? Do you have Shiny Object syndrome – if so, how do you curb it?