How to Choose Your Productivity ToolsAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
“It's best to have your tools with you. If you don't, you're apt to find something you didn't expect and get discouraged.” ~ Stephen King
Everyone likes tools. Tools excite us. They empower us. They slow us down. A tool that is not sharp doesn’t allow you to do so much. A very sharp tool allows you to stab yourself.
Thanks to the current technology, the internet, and the more and more powerful mobile devices, nowadays tools allow us to do amazing things. We can now do things in a few minutes that took ages before. And we can do them wherever we are. Tools make us more efficient.
Some tools are general, they do many things without doing any of them particularly well. Others are much more specific, they focus on developing one feature exceptionally well, and keeping an acceptable level in the rest. Some tools are optimized for security, others for speed, others for flexibility, others for simplicity, others for integration and others for design.
In addition, the great thing about tools is that they provide us a magnificent scapegoat. When things don’t go so well, everyone blames the tools. But make no mistake, tools are only tools. And a tool only has the value you can create with it.
So what is the best productivity tool for you? That depends on what you’re looking for. The first thing you need to ask yourself is what role personal productivity plays in your life:
- Is managing your commitments and attention essential for you? If it is, you need a full productivity system that allows you to manage your personal and professional life on top of projects and tasks, and one which doesn’t let you lose track of your long-term goals and dreams. In this case, you need a specific personal management tool which provides you with the correct method to get things done. Tools such as FacileThings, Nirvana or Nozbe use this kind of management.
- Do you need a system to partially support an specific aspect of your life? It could be that you already have a system that allows you to be effective at work—or you just don’t need it because your work doesn’t require a complex management—, but you feel that you’re not effective in some other aspects of your life. In that case, a more general task tool which lets you deal with reminders, tasks, and maybe projects, would be enough to fill the gap. Tools like Todoist can help in this regard.
- Are you going through an exceptional situation due to an overwhelming project and need something to get by? In this case, you will need a specific project management tool to dump all the outstanding tasks, organize them and make the project advance. Tools like Trello or Asana can make your life easier here.
- Are you missing a piece to complete the puzzle? It could be that you already have a personal productivity system that is working pretty well, but you need to strengthen a specific aspect in order to make it more efficient. In such case, you need to look for general tools with a high integration level to incorporate them in your work flow with minimal effort and without producing collateral damages. As examples, Google Calendar is a good calendar software, Evernote is a great system to store support information, and Slack could beef up the cooperative side of your system.
Should you look at what applications are being used by others? Well, other people’s problems are not your problems, neither their way of thinking is yours. Each of us function in a complete different way and while it’s good to contrast opinions, you mustn’t do it before clearly knowing what your goals and motivations are. Otherwise you would choose something for yourself which is good for someone else.
Once you know your goal, to what do you give priority? If you are looking for security, you must choose a tool in which security is paramount. If you are looking for speed then speed must be its most important feature. If you are looking for method, then pick tools that help you doing what you need following the best practices. If it’s hard for you to maintain specific habits, search for tools that help you keep on track. If you have a very structured mind, look for complex tools that allow you to properly capture your metal structures. If you are never stuck in the office or at home, look for applications that offer good mobile solutions. If you interact with a lot of people, look for tools in which collaboration is the main thing.
New or old tools? Personal productivity is not a trend and surely what worked 5 years ago still works now. Similarly, what works now will work in 5 years time. Normally, the older the application is, the less errors it has and the more solid it is. If you’re looking for long-term stability and security, an older tool will give you more confidence in regards to its continuity than a new one (a bunch of productivity tools are created and shut down every year.) Just make sure that the application is regularly updated—personal productivity may not change too much but technology does. A new tool has somehow a little more risk, but it may have more current technology. If you need the latest, check who is behind the app and what is the long-term company vision. On top of all make sure the app does whatever you want it to do and it does it well.
And what about the price? If you value your time, using a tool which helps you being organized—and as a consequence, save time—and having everything under control with relative calm must be considered an investment that produces benefits. In contrast to what many people think, this factor is the least important. Think that if you consider that an hour of your time is worth $20, an application that costs $5/month would always paid off if it saves you 15 minutes of work each month, something immediate for the sake of staying organized.
Finally, don’t keep changing from one application to another each time a new one pops up. This is the most inefficient and unproductive thing you could do. Personal productivity is a matter of long-term persistence and habits. If you find a system that works for you, just stay there.