Producing lots of work and increasing the quality of that work is difficult to accomplish when you are disorganized and can’t keep track of what is next.
I used to do the following:
- Have thousands of emails in my inbox
- Have posted notes all over my workspace
- Have files all over my computer desktop
- Have a reminder app that always caused me to forget
- Have a calendar full of useless tasks
All of these problems caused me to be disorganized. As a result, my career, writing, and family suffered. It has taken some time, but one by one over the period when I wasn’t working, I made some drastic changes and tried a few new tools.
It turns out the answer to doing more work of a higher quality was easier than I thought. The goal was to do less so that more time could be invested in the areas I wanted to go deep on and produce more results in.
Removing the bad habits
Before exploring a few new tools to help with my productivity, I first looked to delete bad habits that caused the original problem. Here are the changes I made:
- Implemented inbox zero for my email
- Threw away all posted notes and refused to use them again
- Removed everything off the desktop and created folders for documents, pictures, videos and downloads that were stored on an external hard drive, out of the way
- Deleted all reminder apps and used the Outlook Calendar as my sole source of truth for where I had to be (it’s synced across all devices — tablet, phone, desktop, and laptop)
- Only items that were a must got scheduled in Outlook (no podcast interviews, “write me a free article,” let’s have a call about nothing — you get the message)
Once the bad habits were taken care of, I trialed and shortlisted the following productivity tools:
For browser abusers like me, OneTab is a dream.
It’s a browser extension that takes all your hundreds of open tabs and puts them on a single page in one tab. You go from lots of windows to one window with one tab, overnight.
What I do is have windows with certain tabs grouped together for later.
For example, I have a set of tabs used for writing inspiration, a set of video tabs for sharing on social media, a set of tabs for sending emails, and a read later or do later set of tabs. Once the task is complete, I file away all the tabs in OneTab and am back to a single browser tab. This is an ongoing experiment for me and there are still some tweaks that need to be made.
Our obsession with hoarding browser tabs is a weird one, and OneTab can help.
2. New Tab Draft
This is a productivity tool that Tiffany Sun recommended. It’s very basic and easy to use. New Tab Draft makes it so every new tab you open by default becomes a beautiful blank page that you can write down thoughts on.
It’s minimalist by design and can be used to scribble ideas or to-do lists on. Every time you open a new tab and see your browser notepad, you’re reminded of what is important.
This tool has made the biggest impact on my life. The problem I was facing started at work. I started out with an Apple Notes App on my laptop and work phone to keep track of meetings, training, action items, and learnings.
One day I logged into my computer and found all my notes had disappeared. My workplace had blocked the Apple Notes App because it used iCloud instead of the company’s own cloud (understandable). I quickly had to find a company approved solution and this led me to think about how ineffective managing tasks via a notepad app was. There were pages and pages of notes and no way to work out where things were at or what was important.
Thinking back to the days working in an innovation lab, I remember this tool we used called Trello.
In a productivity rage of inspiration, I downloaded Trello like a five-year-old who just got given candy for the first time and began playing with it. I then went around the office and asked a few colleagues who also used it.
The approach to Trello was simple: Things to do (not started), in progress (doing), and done.
By seeing everything visually on a Trello Board, I could set due dates and see red for items that were overdue. It was better than any notes app or CRM for making me productive.
I loved the process so much that it became a tool for my personal life too. All my writing tasks, life admin and to-do lists are now done on Trello. Making your priorities organized, with deadlines, as well as visual, is life-changing.
For as long as I’ve lived, I have hated managing email lists. It is one giant pain in the butt and sucks up precious time — with the clunky user interfaces and poorly designed user flows.
When MailChimp banned me for life for no real reason, I was forced to find a new provider to manage email and be productive. ConvertKit is used by many bloggers, including Tim Ferriss — with his wildly popular Five Bullet Friday — and I thought, “if it’s good for Mr. Ferriss Wheel, perhaps, it might work for me.”
It has been a game-changer. It’s easy to use for people who hate sending an email (like me) and it’s straightforward to build email audiences and create some simple funnels.
5. Notes App
All Apple devices come standard with the Notes App (pretty sure Android has its own one). Even with all the tools mentioned above, I’m a writer by trade. This means writing down loads of thoughts and even drafting out stories or writing whole articles on the go.
The brilliance of the Notes App is that it syncs with all of your devices. Now, this may seem stock standard but it’s not.
At work, I changed my notes app to Microsoft OneNote and it’s not even close to the Notes App. The problem? OneNote doesn’t sync seamlessly. You can write a note on your phone and then a minute later attempt to read the same note on your tablet and it’s not there. There are too many screens and it is hard to sort your list of notes.
The simplicity of the Notes App and the speed in which it opens and allows you to quickly write a note is brilliant. The speed is crucial because when you’re dying to take a note, you don’t want syncing or app updates to spoil your day and rob you of a good idea.
Having a Notes App that syncs with all your devices is beautiful.
Side note: I had the Notes App for more than five years and tried syncing my notes to be stored on all devices with one master copy. Call me stupid, but this is huge and has helped me not have to carry my laptop around as much now.
Using these five productivity tools has allowed me to work four days a week at a 9–5 job, be more organized, manage a messy career change, earn six-figures, write hundreds of articles this year alone, and spend more time doing what I love.
If your life feels disorganized, try removing your bad productivity habits first and then experimenting with productivity tools like OneTab, New Tab Draft, ConvertKit, or The Notes App.
With the right productivity tools, you can produce the best work of your life and smile at what you have achieved.
by Tim Denning
Aussie Blogger — Writer for CNBC & Business Insider. Inspiring the world through Personal Development and Entrepreneurship. www.timdenning.net