During this month’s WorkLifePsych Community meet-up, we had a great discussion about the tools we use to get things done.
It’s a topic that comes up regularly in my coaching practice, and one for which there is definitely no one single, correct approach. But there are some simple principles that are worth considering when you’re looking at the tools you use each day.
Your context is the starting point
When thinking about the tools you’ll use and the processes you’ll impement in your daily and weekly work routines, first start with your own context. Your routines, approach to work, working preferences and role are what matter.
Do you work from different locations? Then scanning your paperwork to a digital format makes them accessible everywhere. If you work on a team, you might benefit from a task management app that allows you to share projects. Does your week include lots of frequently-changing meetings and calls? Then a digital calendar will make life infinitely easier than paper.
Comparison is the thief of joy
Comparing your tools and systems with others’ will just lead to disappointment. Yes, a colleague may have a super-efficient system for dealing with their emails or taking meeting notes. But if this isn’t a priority for you – or even reflective of what your role requires of you – then it’s interesting but doesn’t require change on your part.
Sue, we can all learn from how others do things, especially when it’s relevant to a challenge we’re dealing with. But just like the professional athlete running the 800m race – stay in your lane and keep your eyes on the prize ahead. Looking left and right will just slow you down.
Change for change’s sake is costly
I write this as someone permanently battling ‘shiny object syndrome’ – attraction to the latest and great thing in technology and productivity. It’s incredibly difficult for me to ignore what’s new and stick to my systems and apps. But experience has shown that switching between apps without a very good reason incurs multiple penalties – time, effort, efficiency and sometimes even data.
I urge my clients to stick with an approach, an app or a system until it no longer meets their needs. This is why we start with context. Once you start to encounter friction in your approach you can look at alternatives. But not before.
An intentional purpose for each tool you use
This is all about avoiding needless duplication in your productivity toolkit. Why would you use multiple note-taking apps? Is there really a need for more than one task-management apps? Why do you have more than one physical notebook on your desk?
Starting with your requirements is really helpful here. In other words, you need somewhere to note your tasks and projects. You need somewhere to keep your project-related notes. You need somewhere to keep a record of your appointmnets and commitments. This approach guides you to a bare minimum number of apps to meet your needs. Which is much more efficient than gathering a toolkit of apps and then trying to work out how to squeeze them into your system.
Mirroring structure where possible
One of the frustrating challenges that slows people down when trying to get stuff done wasting time finding important information. The simplest useful filing system is what to aim for here. Whether it’s notes, files or other project resources.
Tiago Forte’s PARA system is an excellent option here – a hierarchy for organisation that you can apply in your electronic notes, your online filing system, your emails and your task management app of choice.
So, while it’s all too easy to get fixated on our apps and productivity systems, it’s far more effective to keep things simple, focused on our own context, and reflective of what we actually have to do. f you’d like to learn more about crafting your own productivity toolkit, check out this episode of My Pocket Psych, our podcast: