There are many ways to be productive in the office these days. Personal productivity tools and techniques are very subjective and their effectiveness depends on the person using the system. These systems can be as simple as pen and paper and as complex as an over-the-top GTD application. Additionally, many teams today need the ability to track not only their own tasks, but also that of their colleagues, to make sure that work isn’t being doubled up. Team collaboration tools offer exactly this, again in different degrees of complexity.
There are an ever-increasing number of personal productivity tools available today and there’s no one that’s “the best”. Productivity at the individual level is very subjective. We all work in different ways so you’ll need to find, or invent, the system that works best for you. Whatever you do, don’t start looking for a productivity tools on Google. You will fall into the same trap that many people have in the past where you continually look for a system or tool that is better than what you’re doing… without having a solid foundation of actually doing! The search will be fruitless and endless.
Firstly, if you’ve never heard of “getting things done”, or “GTD”, then go and get yourself a copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity to get a handle of the overall concept. Then, start with pen and paper. I’ve found that the SuperFocus system by Mark Forster is a great way to get started with simple task management and help you get into the groove of actually getting things done and working the system and not the system working you. SuperFocus strips away all the buttons and options and gets to the heart of productivity – getting things done. As you start to get used to the process you’ll find yourself feeling elated when striking out a task. That’s the feeling of getting things done. SuperFocus acts as a platform to allow you to tweak and change the process to better suit your workflow. Soon you’ll have a repeatable set of steps that helps you maximise your productivity.
Once you have established a process you can consider moving your productivity process into something digital. Remember, this isn’t essential. If you’re working well with pen and paper, then stick with it. Personally, I was looking for a better way to expand on my tasks so that I could refer to other material. I was already using Evernote to capture notes, photos and more, that it seemed like a natural progression to add my task list to it. I now use a single note to add all my tasks for a that topic. I can add to them or tick them off from my desk or even from my phone when I’m traveling.
Daniel Gold has written a fantastic guide to capturing everything and getting things done that explains a similar process of making the move to Evernote for productivity.
The other productivity system that I’ve tried and had success with is Wunderlist. Wunderlist is perfect for the quick items and reminders, such as “pick up milk on way home”. I have separate lists for @Work, @Home, Personal and a few others. This gives me the flexibility to add reminders and tasks that are not part of something larger or that don’t need any other resources to get done. Just like Evernote, I can add tasks and tick them off from my desktop and my phone at any time.
Teams need to communicate regularly and keep track or projects, small and large. Personal productivity systems don’t extend to the team. Evernote has the potential to do so with Shared Notebooks, but the result isn’t as effective as a dedicated system. Team Collaboration tools need to be able to track tasks assigned to different people, support file uploads and project milestones. There are many tools around that do much of this and more, but again, find the system that is right for your team is most important.
First, define the workflow that your team uses. Define what happens from the moment a project is received. Who has to do what kind of things and when. I like to use Google Drawing to do flow charts. It’s quick, easy, and can be shared. Then, spend no more than a few days looking for a suitable collaboration tool that most closely matches the workflow you use. Don’t delegate this task. Since you defined the workflow, you’ll have the best idea of what suits and of what your team will adopt. Also, the fewer changes that need to be made to either the workflow or the tool the better. Team Collaboration tools range from very simple to very advanced.
Teamly is a very basic system that helps teams to track and manage tasks quickly and easily. Teamly is aimed at autonomy and is not a project management tool. Teamly’s strength is in providing a system for people to track tasks and priorities while providing managers with insight into the activities of their team.
I’ve so used Feng Office. Feng is a much more feature rich collaboration tool that allows you to include clients and partners or integrators in the collaboration process. Feng is available for free as an open source project or can be hosted and managed for your for a subscription which also includes support.
A lot of teams use Basecamp too. Basecamp is an easy yet powerful tool for simplified project management. This tool is suited to longer, more in-depth projects that need time tracking and a lot of scheduling. From my experience, Feng Office does everything that Basecamp does, and probably a bit more too.
Another player in the team collaboration space is Huddle. Huddle offers a clean user experience to enable better productivity by removing the clutter. It brings together the social collaboration with inline comment adding. Huddle is more than just tasks and deadlines. It proves to be a true collaboration platform for getting things done as a team.
Choose your tools wisely, but above all, make sure you have a process of getting things done in place and working before you start looking for any kind of application.
As always, comments and feedback are welcome. What personal or team productivity tools would you recommend?