Apparently it’s a couple of weeks in to the year that everyone’s resolutions start to crumble, all those good intentions wither and we go back to our old ways, unchanged but for a slightly increased level of disappointment in our own strength of mind. Anything resonating here?
Ok, well there is no technology which can award you willpower you haven’t got, but you can use various tools and tricks to help you feel in control, and start to get a grip on the stuff you want to achieve. After all the year is still quite shiny and new, there’s still plenty of time to get what you want out of it.
I am not going to tell you what you should be trying to accomplish – what you resolve to achieve is your business. But, there are certain productivity tools which could help you get a handle on some of your most urgent priorities – whatever they are
Firstly, some productivity basics – actions and projects You can’t ‘do’ a project, it’s too big and amorphous – so break it down into stages/actions, and put them in a list. A list of projects, and a list of actions associated with each one, is a good start – whether it’s a personal or business goal you have in mind.
Different tools work for different people but ultimately you are going to wind up with a load of lists. You can make as simple “to do” list using a word processor or spreadsheet very easily, print it off, and cross through each task as you complete it.
Want something portable? Your Smartphone or tablet probably has a built-in notes or reminders function – keep your lists handy at all times, add to them on the fly (remember how easy it is to dictate new items), and many apps sync across your devices so they are always up to date
Need something a bit heftier, to manage multiple projects with a range of different items? You have a LOT to choose between. So think about how you plan, and what kind of features you need. There are free apps, expensive ones, and everything in between – spend some time test-driving different ones to see what suits you.
Apps like Trello and Asana are very visual and intuitive, storing your lists online (and via sync’d mobile apps), making it easy to see your commitments attractively and colourfully, and also to share with others. Team productivity is a whole other subject however.
If you like the simplicity of lists and bullet points, take a look at Workflowy – this clear and clean app is basically an endless list, within which you can expand an embed sub-lists at infinite levels. Starting with a simple hierarchy like ‘work’ vs ‘personal’, you can add bullets below ‘personal’ for areas of interest like ‘health’ ‘finances’ ‘family’ and so on, then drill down health into ‘exercise’, which might contain items like ‘research gym timetables’, ‘download map of walking routes’… you basically keep going, digging deeper and deeper until you reach a level like this one which is actual things you can do as next actions. It’s free and very easy to use.
If your life is complicated, with multiple demands and commitments, you might prefer to get a handle on your stuff through the lens of ‘contexts’ as well as projects. This comes from the classic productivity methodology first outlined in the early 2000s by David Allen in ‘Getting Things Done’ – highly recommended reading, but for now a key point is that as well as projects most actions we need to take have a context associated with them as well. For example, ‘call bank about mortgage overpayment’ requires you to have a phone to hand, and ‘buy batteries for radio’ can only be done when you are at the shops.
There are a range of apps which allow you tag your to-dos with both contexts and projects, which is a very effective and granular way of deciding what to do next. For example, I fly a lot so I find it useful to be able to punch up a list of things indexed for reading offline.
These apps really come in to their own when you let them use the geolocation features on your phone. Those batteries we just ran out of, the very last time my brain is going to remind me about them is when I am actually at the shops. But, as I park at the shopping centre my phone beeps an alert from my Omnifocus app, to remind me of all the things I need to buy – things I threw in in there at any point since my last visit, tagged to the location ‘shopping centre’. Or that question to ask at my daughter’s school office, or pick up next time I am in London, etc.
Omnifocus is an expensive fully-featured productivity heavyweight, I love it and have my database synced across computer, iPad and phone. I dictate ideas via Siri, they pop into my desktop inbox, it’s life-changing and a worthwhile investment.
Similar apps include Things, and ToDoist, and Remember The Milk. IQTell is a neat one if your work/life is very email driven. Most of the ones which you have to pay for have a free trial so you can set up some lists and take them for a test drive, see how you get on with them
Just remember that whilst the time invested in setting up the right system for you is time well spent, spending endless hours tweaking and perfecting your system is NOT being productive, and will not help you achieve your goals!