Productivity is Personal

Business and personal productivity is a rapidly growing space. As our lives become more and more chaotic, we look for order, for clarity. Inevitably, we turn to Google for the answers and Google shows us a so many products and services available to bring order back into our lives. There are software tools, articles, strategies, courses and audio/visual resources out there that claim to make you more productive, and reduce stress and anxiety. Some sources also take the approach that to become more productive, you should stop doing so much! (Personally, I’m a big fan of this – its quality over quantity, but it’s hard to put this philosophy into practice).

Normally, the next thing we do (after scouring Google) is try out all these products and services, to find which one works for us. The problem with this is that while we test and test and test, our productivity plummets. We have lost focus of the goal and are more concerned about being able to use the tool than actually completing the task.

Here are a few simple steps to help you find the right system to become more productive.

1. How do you work?

First, stop looking for the magic tool that solves all your productivity battles. It doesn’t exist. You will not find a tool or system that does exactly what you think you need it to do. Why? You probably don’t know what you need it to do yet. Take a step back and assess how you currently manage tasks and how you’d like to.

What are you doing right now to get things done? Are you writing tasks down on a sticky notes and plastering them around your house or workplace? Are you trying to simply remember your to-dos? Is someone else managing your tasks for you? Are you working and managing tasks on your own or as part of a team?

Here’s a simple checklist to help you work out your current state. Simply going through these criteria will really get you thinking about how you go about identifying tasks  tracking them, and seeing them through to completion.

Collaboration Are you part of a team, or working on your own?
Management Do you manage your own tasks, does someone else set and track them for your, or are they all in your head?
Tracking How do you keep track of your tasks? (Email/Application/Paper/Brain)
Consolidation Do you have all your tasks in a single place, in different places, or are they somehow connected?
Satisfaction How satisfied are you with your task tracking and overall productivity? (High/Medium/Low)
Effectiveness How effective is your task management? Do you always add tasks and always get them done? (High/Medium/Low)
Abandonment Rate Roughly what percentage of the tasks you set end up being abandoned?
Completion Rate Roughly what percentage of the tasks you set end up being completed?
Idle State Roughly what percentage of the tasks you set end up never being done, but stay on the list?

2. Getting Satisfaction

Motivation is so important when looking at improving productivity. Us humans, like to have fun and we all love that feeling of accomplishment. It feels great when that weight has been taken off your shoulders. These feelings are easy to come by if you know how to recreate them. When it comes to productivity, try this simple exercise:

Get a piece of paper and pen. Write down “remove email distraction”. Look at what you’ve just written and take it in. Take a moment to think about how distracting your inbox is – constant pop up alerts about new mail, flagged email that needs to be actioned, etc. Now, completely shutdown your email. Yes, close it down. You’ve just eliminated 90% of the distractions you will face when trying to get something done at your desk. Take your pen and put a big line through what you wrote down on the paper. Look at it and take it in. You’ve just completed a very important task. Feels good, doesn’t it.

The act of striking out, or ticking a checkbox (with your pen) gives you a sense of accomplishment. Do you get the same feeling when you tick a checkbox on a form on a website? Not likely. Clicking takes so little effort and is done so often that it hasn’t got any impact.

Pen and paper tasks lists, such as SuperFocus, are great for this feeling of satisfaction. I’ve tried it and it was great. But, personally, I found that I kept losing my paper or I couldn’t read my writing! Some applications will strike out a task when you tick it off. Not a bad compromise. I’d like to see one that slowly draws a messy line through it, with sound effects. That way I could watch my task being marked as completed and I’d be motivated to get the next item done.

3. Don’t get lost

So far you’ve discovered two things:

  1. How you now work and your effectiveness.
  2. That warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment

Now, you’ll need to stay focused. Identify what’s missing from your self-assessment. What would make your completion rate and satisfaction level go up, while reducing your abandonment? The point here is that it won’t have anything to do with features and functionality of some application. It will be personal. Specific to you.

It could be that if you could manage a single list from anywhere; be reminded of due dates somehow; assign and track tasks for your team; or even striking out items with a big black marker. It’s up to you to look at what’s missing from your productivity assessment.

What you’ve now created is a set of requirements. This is what you need to be more productive.

4. Stay focused!

Armed with your knowledge of what you need and a healthy appetite for that warm fuzzy feeling browse the list of Google results. Pay close attention to the products and services that meet your requirements. Don’t get caught up in the many other unessential features that may be available. Always remember that in order for you to be more effective, the requirements you have listed need to be met (as closely as possible).

Give yourself an afternoon to browse what’s available. If you’re able to try them out, then you only have one goal when you do so: Make certain that the most important of your requirements are simple and quick to find and use. The last thing you will want is to find a solution that meets your requirements, but takes so much time to make them work that the benefit is lost.

Stay motivated. Stay focused. If you try one, and it falls short of the mark, note it down somewhere and move on. You’ll want to note it down so that if you don’t end up wasting time assessing it again by accident.

Narrow down your shortlist and pit the finalists against each other. If a few meet your needs fully, then move on to assessing the service behind it. Is it sustainable? Will you find help quickly should it be needed? Is your task list safe? If you still can’t decide, bring it down to price – this should only be a last resort. You can’t put a price on warm fuzzy feelings.

5. Connectivity

You may not find any solution that meets your needs. That’s perfectly fine. Remember we set out saying that there is no one system that will do everything you want it to, or the way you want to do it. In that case consider using more than one system. That way each has its specific purpose and will have a better chance at being successful for you than if you ask too much of it. Of course, the fewer systems, the better. Alternatively, look for systems that connect together. In this case, each system focuses on what it does best, but when combined with others into a single holistic system, will easily meet your requirements.

A fantastic example of this is Evernote and ZenDone. Evernote captures actions and gives you the ability to add as much context to an activity as you can imagine. ZenDone takes the actions thrown at Evernote and turns them into a task list. ZenDone also connects to Google Calendar so you can schedule your tasks with ease. With everything in the cloud, you can work from anywhere at any time.

Using the steps above, you will be able to break down your habits and look for gaps that, if filled, will help you become more productive. The main takeaway from this is to look at yourself long before looking at the many, many tools out there.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jeremy I think you are right that productivity is personal however in my experience most of th e productivity tools have the same functions and I would advise people not to spend time researching just to chose one and try it out. The trick with these tools is to be consistent and if you are going to store your tasks make sure they are all stored in the same place. After some evaluation time you can reassess and see if it the tool meets your requirements. At least you will be more familiar with the capabilities of one to be able to compare with another.

    • Jeremy Roberts

      Hi Ciara, yes you’re right – a lot of them are the same, but the are all subtly different, and it could be this subtlety that makes a world of difference, personally :)

  • Adina

    I agree with Ciara but every day a new productivity tool comes to market and you’re tempted to try new functionalities. Although storing tasks in the same place is a less time consuming alternative, using a unique tool may not meet your productivity needs in any situation. I think a tool that’s widely used by your co-workers is also important when looking for a collaboration solution as it can increase the entire team’s productivity.

    • Jeremy Roberts

      Yeah and if that’s important to the individual it should go on the list of requirements. Team based task systems are becoming more common now with Orchestra,, Asana and others.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jeremy, just found your blog and will definitely be checking in again. I am a devotee of Google and Evernote and am looking forward to Zendone…if it links up these two then it sounds good.

    Another piece of tech that I would advocate is a scanner like the Fujitsu ScanSnap linked automatically to Evernote. Whilst it doesn’t remove all paper from my life it substantially cuts it down and I can actually find things now for the first time!

    • Jeremy Roberts

      Thanks Jon. I have a scanner now, but I one of them Evernote Scanners is on my Christmas list, that’s for sure.

  • Jennifer Mark

    I think that personal productivity ultimately results in productivity related with the person as well.

    Think of the situation when a person is assigned a task by his boss which is related to the company and lets say if the concerned person will not think of the company then automatically that is gonna affect his career in future. But at the same time when the personal thinks of his career growth then ultimately he will pay proper dedication towards the task assigned to him.

    There is no doubt that not only the personal but also the company thinks of the best ways how to get the task done up and provide all extended support like task management software, expense reporting software and many more tools.