Top 5 productivity tools to add hours to your day

Some people are naturally highly organised and for others…well… it’s a little bit more of a struggle. There are countless productivity tools out there that claim to help you become that productivity ninja but how to choose?

There is more to increasing productivity than just using a good To do app. To start with it helps to look at your time and how you work as a whole.

1. What are you currently doing with your time?

The starting point is to log what you do now in your raw, perhaps less ninja like, state. Toggl is perfect for this. It runs on all platforms including android and iOS devices. The free version is great. It’s really easy to use on the go — and that is exactly the point. Each time you change tasks, stop the timer on the current task and start it up again with your new task.

You can add a category to each task, for example work and / or home; such as emails / marketing / chores / school run / TV etc which helps when you review how you spent your time . Do this religiously for a week, including the weekends and evenings. You will be amazed at what you discover. Be ruthless. If you’re meant to be working, but then get diverted to sorting the washing, then log it. At the end of the week you’ll get a pretty little graph:

There also apps which monitor what you do on your PC / phone. Worth considering are RescueTime (again works on all platforms with a free plan available), StayFocused, (a Chrome extension that you can use to restrict time spent on time wasting sites) and iOS’ own Screentime app released in the latest iOS 12. These apps will log each time you check Facebook, let you set up time limits to each site or app to help you focus better on what you actually need to do without distractions.

If you want to review across all platforms such as iPad / Mac / android / windows etc then RescueTime is probably the best option:

2. Weekly planning:

Once you know how you’re spending your time it’s time to start up a weekly planning session for your diary. Sunday afternoons work well with me. Get or draw up a vertical diary layout and some coloured pens and start time blocking. First of all block out non negotiable work hours in one colour, then say child related duties in another colour (school runs etc). Then put in something you really want to do — schedule that while there’s still the time! Then time block exercise / dog walks / shopping etc. Then review the white space that’s left…. Of course, whilst pen and paper is great, there are apps for this. Simple calendar apps will suffice such as Gmail Calendar or Outlook or inbuilt phone calendar apps. The crucial thing is to view the layout in a vertical view so you can see available time not booked. Doing this and combining it with a good todo app means that you know what you need to do and you can see where in the week you can do it.

3. A good to do app.

Different apps suit different people. If you are very visually organised, try Trello (free version available for all platforms). Also great for people who have a workflow that suits a “pipeline” layout. You can create columns that represent stages of a workflow and drag tasks between columns as the task progresses. See below:

Otherwise I recommend Todoist. Again works across all platforms and is very simple to use. Supports basic team tasks too and the free version does pretty much all you really need.

If you work in teams and you need more functionality and the ability to share tasks then Asana is your tool. There is a free tier which is excellent, for up to 14 people and has more functionality than Todoist.

All these apps give you the option to create projects, within that tasks, and specify due dates, deadlines and some general notes. Asana has the greatest functionality but also the steeper learning curve.

Start by “brain dumping” everything into the todo app’s inbox. And I mean everything. However minor. Once it’s out of your mind and in the app you will feel so much better! (Your brain is then free to think again rather than trying to remember what it’s meant to be doing). Then you can start to organise — create your projects / categories, and assign due dates, priorities etc.

4. Next up is a place to store and manage those bits and pieces….

General snippets of information, meeting notes, business cards, snapshots. The virtual equivalent of your filing cabinet for “bits”. Most people have some structure for word docs, spreadsheets etc but organising the general bits and pieces is a little harder. Evernote is the king here. Available on all platforms, including android and iOS.

The free version is great; the paid version even better. Take a photo of a page of text on you mobile, save it to Evernote. It will save it as a pdf and make the text searchable to help you find it later. It will even recognise handwritten text., so long as it is relatively legible. You can create a structure within Evernote using tags, folders or both. It’s an app I have used for years and it has always been highly reliable. I use it for receipts, school reports, recipes from magazines etc. Using this you can almost become paperless. Alternatively consider Microsoft’s offering, OneNote, (which is free and included in your 365 account if you have one) which works in a very similar way.

5. Finally get some help with managing your email.

There are some useful email apps that can take some of the strain for you — “Inbox by Email” used to be a favourite however this is now merging with the latest Gmail version (which has incorporated most of “Inbox by Google’s” features). One feature that I love is “labels” rather than the more generic “folders”, which enables you to assign more than one label to each email rather than having to decide which one folder to store it in. Plus the ability to “snooze” emails so they reappear at a more suitable time.

If you have a particular email app you love and don’t want to change look at Sanebox to help strip out the junk and auto categorise your emails before emails even hit your app. This has a free trial but does eventually cost. However, it does a brilliant job.

None of these apps is perfect. Much of the time they are trying to guess what to do with emails from your previous actions — but they do help. I shall be writing a post on how to set up your email account more efficiently later, but for now, getting a mail app that takes some of the hassle out of email is a great start.

So,

  • You know how you’re generally spending your time
  • You’ve planned your upcoming week proactively; you know what you have to do and by when.
  • Your mind is free from having to remember tasks and information
  • You have an email assistant on hand.

Go and be that productivity ninja!

#HarnessTechGetProductive!

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Melanie Wymer

Tech geek and productivity nerd. Always on the lookout for ways to use tech to be more productive. Also a learning enthusiast and wannabe writer.