I have employed every app designed to make me more productive. If it is available in the Google Play Store, I’ve installed it. If there is a web app, I’ve used it. If it’s been in iTunes, I have looked for an Android alternative. No one has used more productivity apps than me.
Todoist, Trello, Wunderlist, Cloze, Remember The Milk, Google Keep, and so on.
My process was as follows.
I read a blog post. Or I listen to a podcast. Or I read a comment in reddit. Someone describes how they use an app to keep track of their tasks or their events or their reminders. They mention how intuitive it is. They talk about how it keeps them focused.
I could use something like that to keep me focused. I need this app.
So I install it. I sign up for the free-at-first premium version. I read all the tutorials and FAQs. I google the best set-ups. I start using my shiny new toy and I’m in love. I tell my wife how everything is going to be different now! I’ll remember to do my expense report every single week! I’ll never miss an email I need to return! I’ll be a productivity master!
Then within the first couple of weeks, something will go sour. It’s usually something like a day full of meetings or a quick business trip. I get distracted and I forget to keep things updated. I don’t add some tasks or I don’t check off what gets done or I ignore a reminder because I’m too busy. And then it all goes to hell.
I don’t admit it at first. I give it a few more tries but by the end of the month, things are big and messy. The idea of opening the app causes me anxiety so I stop. I ignore the reminders that keep going off without reading them. It is now reminding me to do my expense report for the fourth day in a row.
I need to take my mind off this anxiety, so I check out reddit — hey look, someone mentioned a new app! And here we go…
Starting a new productivity app is no trivial matter. It requires some time to set things up. You move your tasks and events from your old, crappy app into the brand new, wonderful, this is going to be a miracle app. That takes about an hour to get the basics, but the better part of 5–10 hours over a week o get finalized.
I spent more time setting up my program than I did using it.
I finally learned — there is no magic app. It’s about the process. It’s not the tool. It’s the workman.
You only need three things to be organized and productive.
You need a calendar.
You need a list.
And you need a commitment to use them.
Any calendar will do. I use Outlook. Google Calendar works. A paper calendar or planner book work. iCalendar works. They all perform the same basic functions so don’t stress over it. Pick what you like.
Any list keeping tool will work. I use Evernote. Google Keep works. OneNote works. Apple Notes works. A notebook and a pen work. Pick what you like.
You can commit to any time of day to use these tools. I prefer the evening. Planning the next day is less stressful than waking up knowing you have to figure out what today will be like. So use your calendar and make a recurring event every day at the same time. I do this at 7pm. Schedule an hour but it should take you at most 30 minutes.
Now, here is how you use these tools.
1 — Schedule everything
Everything gets scheduled. Start off adding all your recurring events to your calendar. Do you go to the gym three days a week? Put it in your calendar. Don’t forget to include time to get ready, drive home, and drive back.
Do you take meds every morning? Put it in your calendar.
Do you meditate? Put it in your calendar.
Add everything else that requires your time. Include your pickup basketball games. Add your kid’s play, your doctor appointments, dates with your spouse. Put it all in your calendar. And don’t forget to include travel time.
2 — Keep your list updated
Keep your list handy. If it’s a mobile app, store the icon in a handy location. If it’s a web app, keep it open on your computer. If it’s paper, have it with you always.
As things come up during the day, you have three options. Do it immediately; Schedule it in your calendar; or put it on your list.
Need to discuss something with your boss? Put it on the list.
Need to book a hotel? Put it on the list.
Need to submit your expense report? Put it on the list.
Need to find time to go for a beer with your buddies? Put it on the list.
3 — Review and update
Here’s how you keep things simple and straightforward. You review things every day. No matter what. If something comes up during your usual review time, reschedule it for a different time that day. But do it.
Here is the review process:
1 — Review the past 24 hours in your calendar. Are any follow ups required? Did anything not get done? Add these things to your list.
2 — Check your inboxes. Not just your email inboxes. Also check your social media accounts. Any physical inboxes. Any notes you’ve taken. If new actions are required, put them on your list.
3 — Review your calendar for the next 24 hours. Do things still look OK? Should you reschedule anything? Make any adjustments as necessary.
4 — Review your list. Pick the most important thing on your list. Estimate how much time it will take. Then double it. We are all horrible at estimating how long things take. Schedule this to your calendar during a free time slot when you will have the most energy. Remove this item from your list.
5 — Repeat #4 with the next most important item on your list.
6 — Keep repeating until your day is as full as you would like. This does not mean that schedule every minute of every day.
7 — Now look at the rest of your list. Is it OK that these things don’t get done tomorrow? If not, consider rescheduling some things that are already on your calendar. DO NOT squeeze your time estimates. It won’t work. If it is fine that it won’t get done tomorrow, inform
That’s it. Now you’re ready for the day ahead.
Add recurring events to your calendar for routine things like answering emails. You can adjust the exact time each day but get it in there.
Try to schedule similar tasks together in blocks. If you need to make several phone calls, schedule them together.
Give yourself some breathing room. No one can work every minute of the day. So, don’t schedule your calendar as if you could.
Stop coveting new apps.