September 24, 2013

Using fewer tools

We're obsessed with productivity. I know because a search for "to-do" in the Mac App Store brings up 97 applications and in Dribbble gives you over 15 pages of results.

Every to-do application has a different way to help you get things done:

  • cloud syncs between devices
  • a "minimal" design
  • team-based
  • uses a gantt chart
  • has an extensive API

I've used many complicated, tech-laden systems and it feels like I never get anything done. The problem has nothing to do with an app's feature set. The problem is the tools get in the way of my productivity.

Using too many tools creates gaps

At one time I used Evernote and Mail...and Things...and Reminders. And it was hard to keep track of everything. "Did I jot that down in Evernote and schedule it in Things or was that an email?" The more tools I used the less productive I was.

Now, every thing I need to take care of is in Things. If I get an email it means I need to move it to Things so it gets done. If I need to make a car appointment I create a task in Things (though I do occasionally use if I'm on the go because Siri integration makes it so quick).

Force yourself to use as few tools as possible

Reduce the number of places that tasks can get to you. The more channels you use, the more likely you'll forget something.

Try using just a pen and paper or a single, simple task manager. Zach Holman uses a simple touch script to create a single file for each task he needs to complete.

If I'm in a client meeting I could jot down my notes into a notebook and then copy the notes to my to-do list and then schedule individual tasks out. Or I could eliminate the notebook and create actionable items as they're discussed. Then meetings tend to stay on task and help everyone know what needs to be done next.

Don't fall for what's new

Don't ever feel like your system is "old" or unsophisticated. If it works, stick by it. The best systems last for many years. The new "even more minimal" to-do app won't double your productivity.