Productivity tips – Part two: Tools & Apps

In the last article, I covered the key aspects of productivity. This time I want to give you some practical tips on how to improve your productivity in day-to-day life. 

To briefly sum up the last article: the key aspects of productivity are a good time-management method, habits, willpower and a distraction-free, focused work. Now you know it, you just have to turn it into a practice.

But where to start? Turning your time management upside down can be overwhelming. It takes changing your old habits. Besides, nobody likes changes. Luckily, there are tons of tools that will help you transform your time-management method and are fun to use.

Before you dive into the ocean of to-do apps, let' me tell you one thing: there is no perfect tool. It's not about the tools at all. They can help you to get organized, but won't make you more productive. You should always focus on the habits first.

Try changing one aspect at a time and see, if you can stick to it for a month. Then reflect on the changes to your productivity. If you feel nothing has changed, simplify it! Don't overthink it in the beginning.

Note-Taking

Probably the best habit to start with. It's amazing to me, who few people actually take notes on regular basis. You might say: "Oh, but I remember all the stuff!". No, you don't. But that's not the main point. You have to write things down in order to set your mind free and to collect all the stuff in one place. When you turn in into a habit, nothing can slip away from your system. You will learn to trust your method and that's the foundation.

Evernote

Evernote

https://evernote.com – Windows, Mac, Android

I first started with Evernote. Now, I can't imagine having any note-taking app on my computer. And Microsoft Word really isn't a note-taking app. Evernote is probably the best-known app in the field. It's awesome and I would recommend it to everyone. It's your personal Wikipedia.
Evernote offers a free account, however, it will only allow you to sync your notes across 2 devices, which is kind of lame since it used to be unlimited back in the days...The pricing model is changing from time to time and they've cut on some serious features for the free version, which turned me away.

Bear Writer

Bear Writer

http://www.bear-writer.com – Mac only

I found myself switching from the elephant to the bear, nowadays. If you're on Mac, Bear Writer is a serious Evernote alternative. It's simpler, cheaper ($15/year) and it offers better text formatting than Evernote. It's free If you can sacrifice cloud synchronization.

Notes

Notes

Mac only

Another alternative on Mac is the Notes app. It comes preinstalled with the operating system, it's free and synced in the iCloud. Apple has improved it over the years so you can organize your notes into folders, just like in Evernote or Bear Writer. The text formatting is also quite nice. The odds are, you are using Notes already.

Microsoft One Note

Microsoft One Note

https://www.onenote.com – Windows, Mac, Android

If you are on Windows, you can consider One Note. It's free (also available for Mac) and offers pretty much the same in Microsoft Office package. I never really liked it (it just doesn't feel so cool), but it sure is a great choice on Windows.

Paper notebook

There is no better way of note-taking that a simple paper notebook and a pen. There is no pricing model to it and it's available for every platform. Carry a notebook with you all the time and write down everything that comes up during the day. Then sit once a day and review your notes. You can transfer it to digital if it matters.
If you have an obsession with paper notebooks like myself, you might want to get a Moleskine or Leutturm 1917. I currently use the Bullet Journal Edition of Leutturm 1917.

Don't buy a notebook too expensive or too pretty at first. Buying a new paper notebook is always a rewarding thing to do, but you will feel not wanting to ruin it with your ugly handwriting. Just start with a cheap one.

Calendar

Everybody uses a calendar already so I probably don't have to tell hell lot about that. The best choices are obviously the Google Calendar, iCloud Calendar on Mac or Microsoft Outlook on Windows. Or you use a paper planner. I personally like the Moleskin's weekly planner. One site for the current week and the other for your notes or to-dos.

 

To-Do App (for GTD)

Now we come to the most complicated part: choosing a to-do app. There is plenty out there, so it's really up to you, which one you prefer. This is my personal recommendation. All of the apps listed below work fine for the Getting Things Done method.

 

Things

Things

https://culturedcode.com/things – Mac only

As the most of the best productivity tools, Things is mac only. It's made specifically for GTD, which makes it a perfect tool. Priced at $50 for macOS, $20 for iPad and $10 for iPhone, it's really expensive for a to-do app. But it might be a good investment in a long term. I never really found it was worth it since there are almost identical free alternatives.

 

OmniFocus

Omni Focus

 

https://www.omnigroup.com/omnifocus – Mac only

And another mac only app. Omni Focus is probably the most powerful time-management app with tons of features. It's priced about the same as Things ($40 for macOS and $40 for iOS), which makes it a direct competitor. It's too complicated for most of the people, in my opinion.

 

Wunderlist

Wunderlist

https://www.wunderlist.com – Mac, Windows, Android

Wunderlist is probably the best to-do app for most people. It's free, available pretty much on every platform and it's simple yet powerful enough. It works well for GTD, which makes it a perfect app to start with!

Trello

Trello

https://trello.com

Trello is different from the other apps listed above. A Trello-Board consists of lists (columns) and cards (to-dos) you can drag-and-drop around. This simple principle can be applied to all kinds of things. You can even use it for GTD if you like. I personally use it for specific projects with a specific time schedule or for collaboration with other people.

When I'm traveling to a new city I usually set up a Trello-Board with lists for every day of my vacation. Then I make a list of all the POIs I want to see and move the cards across the days.

Paper notebook

Bullet Journal

Just like for notes, going back to analog can be the best option for a lot of people. After trying all the apps listed above, I felt like it always got too complicated. I also missed the feeling of a pen and paper, the possibility to sketch or easily break the system. For me, it's the most flexible option.

Currently, I'm using use the Bullet Journal method by Rydel Carroll. I adjusted the system for my needs and change it slightly from time to time. It works like this:

  • On the left side, I have the current week calendar
  • On the right side, there are all my to-dos for the week as well as S/M items
  • I use post-its for random lists or some project's next steps
  • Whenever I need, I just flip over to a new free spread to take notes or to sketch
  • Every Sunday, I review the to-dos from last week, set-up a new week calendar and migrate the open to-dos.

Don't overthink it

As you can see, there is plenty of apps to try out. It may take some time to find the one that works the best for you. And maybe it isn't an app at all and you will end up being most productive with an analog system. And I can only recommend you, again, to not overthink it and start with small changes first. Maybe just start with a folder structure for GTD inside of your E-Mail client. Get a simple notebook and start to carry it with you all the time. Explore, how you can use it.

In the next article, we're gonna take a look at some tips and trick to manage habits and deep work!

 

 

Filip Pižl

Filip Pižl

Filip is a Czech interactive designer, living in Dresden, Germany. He focuses on UX/UI design and strategic web design.