Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Best App for Productivity Isn't an App.

I get the question frequently.  As a tech guy what's the best app out there to manage your time?

New task and productivity apps come and go all the time and I've used them all.  So to go ahead and technically answer the question, day to day I'll always use Google Calendar (meetings/scheduling),  Google Notes (don't forget), Trello (prioritization/progress) , and even Gmail (this stuff all comes from somewhere).  I've found you can manage most any project within the combination of these apps. Sure,  there's more specialized ones out there but I'm talking about what makes us productive.

Turns out there's many good apps out there and then there's the process that I actually rely on:


6"x 9" Steno Books.
So hold on.  You're a tech startup guy and you're not using an app?  Blasphemy.

Well - yes and let me give some background on why you always want these in your toolkit. I like ones with a plastic cover,  for what it's worth.

They're always on.
You don't have to charge or plug in a notebook.  It's always on,  it's always there.  They're mobile, no wifi, and work everywhere.

It's an archive.
You always have a physical record nearby,  no password to remember - no locking your information into someone else's platform. No changing platforms.

You physically write.
This is an important one.  There's something about physically writing something down that binds you to a task, and triggers importance to see it through.  I'm not a psychologist,  but it's true.  At least for me.

You physically cross things off.
Goes hand and hand with the above.  I only cross something off my list when I have verified or reasonably confident it is complete.  Sticking to this one rule faithfully adds vital importance to the act of crossing something off.  Make it a habit and soon you'll start getting a feeling of accomplishment when you cross something off.  Hold yourself accountable.

Years ago I worked for a company that had an internal task management system.  Tickets,  tasks, projects would come into it assigned from everywhere,  and I would login to see what I had to do.

Once I completed a task and click a link,  a huge page size image of a coffee cup would appear,  along with something along the lines of "Congratulations this task is complete".  Ah.  I could relax.


I worked there for five years. Literally thousands of tasks I completed to see this silly message and picture.  Some tasks took 2 minutes,  some took weeks but the outcome was always the same.  Seeing the coffee cup was pretty satisfying.  Also knowing that if I closed a task when something wasn't actually fully completed, quickly felt like cheating.  That same thing applies when crossing something off in my notebook.

I picked up the habit of using Steno books about 10 years ago while working on government projects.  They always had them around.  I'm cheap.  I started using what was there,  and it stuck.  The key to making it work is to define a standard process.  There's many standard ways to do it but I just made up a simple one that works for me,  your mileage may vary.
  1. Date the top of each new page.
  2. Draw a box next to any line signifying it's an action item
  3. Only cross off tasks when they're verified complete/closed
  4. If page fills up, I use circles across entire line signifying it is not complete and copy the line to a new page.  (This also helps show things that are taking more time or you're procrastinating on as you flip through the pages)
  5. Don't commingle tasks and notes.  Any new page can be used for notes (meetings etc) but no tasks lists on a notes page.
On the notes pages,  I will usually staple a post it note so the edge hangs outside the book and title the notes so I can find them easily.

Every Friday I will go back through the last 10 or so pages of the book and look for things I may have missed or note any accomplishments.  This helps close the week, reflect,  and plan for the next.

Each new notebook I put my name,  email address and phone number on the back cover in case I leave it somewhere (saved me several times).  I also put the date I started the new notebook.  It takes me 45-90 days to fill up a notebook,  and when it's full I write that date on the back.  This allows me to see what date range the info in each one is when I have to look back through my stack.  So yes,  I have stacks of notebooks crossing many years and projects at this point.

So that's my app. Keep things simple,  follow your own process,  and write things down the old school way.


5 comments:

Maggie Conklin said...

you rulez.

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