This year, I made a goal to be more productive, which required me to asses the tools I was using that helped me manage and balance my time between long term riorities and short term and urgent daily tasks. The ultimate goal was to make more progress, not necessarily get things done.
What I have learned through the process of applying new tools and forming new habits is that eliminating one thing made all the difference between getting bogged down and actually being productive: friction.
Friction is how difficult something is to do. The more friction you have, the harder it is to process and, hence, the more valuable time you take doing it.
For instance, I have tried numerous different apps to help me manage my life. I tried to integrate one tool that had a feature that the others did not, or I would default to tools I knew best, even if they were less effective. It turned out that all the technology advancements meant to help me be more productive actually had the opposite affect -- something I am sure many entrepreneurs have faced.
With that said, I have found a nice balance between a few apps, all of which can fit onto my mobile home screen. Here are tips you can consider if you want to reduce friction and make progress.
I used to keep running tasks, or actions, in a journal, and while I still find value in journaling regularly, I have transitioned to a mobile and web-based task tracker called Todoist. I personally like this app because it allows me to easily create, categorize, prioritize and assign important tasks. Moreover, I can use Siri to quickly add tasks on the go, and I can save tasks by emailing them to the app or quickly saving them from my mobile device.
The free version is limited, and I personally find that premium services and benefits are worth $3 per month.
Whatever task list you use, just make sure that you can easily create and prioritize tasks, so you can quickly put it into your list and stay focused on the task you were doing.
I am always thinking of ideas or coming across information I want to read and digest later when I have time. A task list is useful in this regard, but I use Evernote to quickly save and tag this information so that I can return to it later.
While Evernote does have a premium cost, I have been using the free version for years now with no issues. If you plan on using Evernote on an enterprise level or with others on a team, it is worth considering the premium service.
No busy entrepreneur or manager can survive without a calendar. For the most part, most calendars sync together, between Google, iOS, Miscrosoft365 and any number of other calendars you may use, so choose something you feel comfortable with.
One app I have found very useful is Calendly.com, which syncs to whatever calendar you use and allows you to create a custom URL you can share with others. After setting it up, you can send the URL to anyone looking to set an appointment without the back-and-forth of email or voice mails trying to find a time that works for everyone.
The free version of Calendly is limited, and the premium will run $8 per month. Only you can weigh the value in that, but I have certainly appreciated the ease by which setting appoints has become.
Lastly, we all need a "file cabinet" to keep documents and file away important things. The safest place these days (so long as you set up the right protection, starting with your password) is to keep your files in the cloud using a service like Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive. Like calendars, all of these services are easy to use, have web and mobile based interfaces for easy management, and all start with an adequate amount of free storage (unless you are storing videos or other data-heavy files).
The advice I give, and what has worked well with me so far, is to spend a little time with your cloud storage and organize as if you would a physical file cabinet. The nice thing is that with cloud storage, you can easily change and move files around, unlike when you create actual file folders for your desk.
To reduce friction, have your cloud storage set up with an "Inbox" folder, where you will save all files to file later. Again, this helps reduce immediate friction to free you up for more important tasks.
Lastly, I also advise to have a good scanning app -- Evernote and many cloud storage apps have a scanning feature -- and keep all your files electronically. This may not sit well with some readers, and I get it, and in the end you need to do what is most comfortable for you.
With these four things, I have managed to reduce the number of steps and actions needed to save a piece of information, create a task for later or set an appointment. Every week, I go through all apps and organize everything, process it, or get rid of it. All of these features work well together, but ultimately, you should find the apps or service that you like best.
What do you think? What other apps and services do you use to help you make daily progress toward your goals? Please share your thoughts with me on Twitter.