Like most small business owners, I struggle to find a balance between all there is to do and the few hours in which I have to do them.
Remaining focused and on track feels increasingly difficult, sometimes impossible, but the cult of productivity says we can do it, and they’ve given us a plethora of tools to make it happen.
(And by “a plethora” I mean thousands upon thousands more than we could ever hope to make use of. Case in point: A search of the Apple app store for “productivity” returns 4,147 results.)
It can be tempting to throw your hands in the air and admit productivity defeat. After all, there are cute cat videos to watch. And that pile of laundry in the corner hasn’t gotten smaller. And will you look at that—squirrel!
It is easy to fall into the trap of spending more time researching, setting up and learning an available tool than actually using the tool to create real, sustainable habits that move you toward your goals.
Downloading a shiny new app or tool can make us feel good and give us that sweet hit of “Oh-yes-I’m-on-the-road-to-greatness-and-nothing-can-stop-me-now.”
But here’s a little secret: The only thing that truly makes a difference is doing actual things.
Ahem. Easier said than done.
We’ve researched the best of the productivity best (with only a few breaks for cute cat videos, the occasional Twitter update and a load of whites) so that you don’t have to. The tools fall into different categories depending on your preferences and goals.
Rock your to do list
The traditional pen and paper list may not be dead, but it’s got some serious competition.
1. 1-3-5 List (desktop)
An example of beauty in simplicity, 1-3-5 encourages you to “Get things done by setting these few, simple goals for the day.” Choose one big task, three medium tasks and five small tasks, simply check them off when complete and add new tasks the next day. By limiting you to a finite and accomplishable list, this system can help you feel in control of setting realistic goals, and meeting them.
2. Carrot (app)
Who says to do lists have to be boring? Carrot calls itself “the to do list with personality” and promises to make your to-do list fun by gamifying the process. The app lets you earn rewards by completing your tasks, but warns that slackers make Carrot upset.
3. Wunderlist (desktop and app)
Named as one of the best of 2014 by both Apple and Google play, Wunderlist bills itself as a tool for home, work and play. Wunderlist has a long list of features, including public and collaborative lists and real time sync.
4. Teux-deux (desktop and app)
What deux yeux have teux deux teuxday? With a tagline that cute, this has got to be good, right? Teux Deux combines graphic and functional simplicity into an interface that makes productivity a pleasure. It’s a simple as a pen and paper, but much prettier, and the mobile app lets you take your to do list on the road.
Get down with your analog self. (You rebel, you.)
So, maybe you’re not a digital diva. Never fear, old soul, there are tools for you too.
Bullet journaling bills itself as a system ”for the list-makers, the note-takers, the Post-It note pilots, the track-keepers, and the dabbling doodlers”. A system for organizing the present, recording the past and planning for the future, it centers around a technique called rapid logging, helping you direct your time and energy efficiently.
According to the today.txt method, it’s not the distractions that are the biggest problem but the lack of prioritization. The system rests on a simple desktop text file that asks you to define the one thing you will accomplish that day, and then breaks that down into smaller steps.
3. Post It
Sometimes all the fancy systems in the world can’t beat a simple post-it note. This concept can be summed up in one simple line “If it won't fit on a Post-It, it won't fit in your day.”
Get by with a little help from our friends
Often, even as small business owners, we need tools to aid in productive collaboration with peers, teammates or others in our field.
Evernote may be the most beloved and most frequently recommended productivity app. The website promises that “for everything you’ll do, Evernote is the workspace to get it done.” From writing, collecting, finding and presenting, Evernote allows you to keep track of everything you need – and share and collaborate with others.
Trello acts as a board of virtual post-it notes, allowing you to move from content planning and creation to distribution in a simple, yet robust, platform. Cards, color and stickers keep projects organized and defined. Trello can be used by an individual or a team, and can keep everyone involved up to date on the progress of every project.
Asana promises to reimagine team communication from the ground up, keeping conversations and tasks in one place. The system allows you to navigate and track projects and liberates your team from email overwhelm.
Embrace a System
1. Get It Done
The book description explains that “creative people tend to see the world a little differently than everyone else”. The Get It Done system promises to take you from procrastination to creative genius in 15 minutes a day – helping creatives zero in on goals, focus, get organized and harness energies in productive and income-generating ways.
Pomodoro is based on the idea that we’re more productive when we work with our available time, instead of struggling against it. The system allows for short, scheduled breaks to limit overwhelm and burnout; by combining a longer uninterrupted stretch of work with a short, timed break, Pomodoro helpswith both productivity and balance.
Kanban is a visual, hands on system that relies on four foundational pieces: visualizing your work, limiting the work you have in progress, focusing on flow and continuous improvement. The system works for individuals or teams, and for personal work or large projects.