Productivity Tools, Ahoy!

Then I rationalized to myself that if one is super human, he does not need tools. It is only for the average Joes that tools are needed, to lessen the struggles with life!

In a recent “Oh I don’t seem to be productive enough”, “I am stressed & need to get IN SYNC with my life”, “Get back to GTD, that is what works always”, “Start that Pomodoro process from today” moment, I made a checklist of things to look into, to make the day’s ToDo list:

  • Brain / Mind, whatever: Things that happened in recent past but probably have not been dumped into any other list as yet (It is important to clear this first to get rid of stress)
  • MS Outlook Calendar: Any preparation to be done for meetings today/tomorrow
  • Evernote-SKY IS FALLING note: ToDos from yesterday/before still lying unreviewed
  • Evernote—DEFAULT note: Place where random things get dumped
  • Evernote—Uncategorized notes: I do not have any of them usually (since they all go to Default note) but sometimes they do exist
  • Evernote—List of projects: To see if I am on top of every project under way and identify the next activity that needs to be done on it
  • Emails: In spite of Zero-Inbox, some urgent things do remain here! Inbox & Sent Items as well. Yes, I try to maintain Sent-Zero as well, by moving mails to appropriate folders
  • Gmail / SMS / Whatsapp: Sometimes things exist here as well. Gmail & SMS are usually Inbox-Zero as well so it is a question of looking at anything remaining there; Whatsapp – just a quick look at all recent conversations
  • Desktop folder in the PC: A quick look at files stored there which may need attention (Usually my desktop has only item: Recycle bin, which is empty. Always Shift-Del)
  • WIP Folder: I have a WIP folder in my PC where I put “files” that are in various stage of completion, review and so on
  • Bits of paper / Notebook: From various meetings, random notes scribbled down while working on something else etc. (I usually dump things into SkyIsFalling and throw the papers away and mark “done” in that page of the Notebook but still they creep in once in a few days)

Productivity

When all these have been looked into, I can confidently proceed with a list of things “to do” that day, without any stress at the back of the mind if I am missing something else (FOMO). From these items, things for the day get into ‘Sky is Falling’ note while the rest of them go to various other project notebooks, which will surface once I complete SIF note & go look into “Projects” note.

As I did this, I realized how much I am indebted to several productivity tools, without really appreciating them all! So, I decided to make a list of those stuff as well, just for fun. Once I did, I thought it is better to document it formally as a blog post for my own reference later.

  • Evernote: Needs no introduction. I am a Power (but unpaid) user. Do not use it to dump files/photos etc. Purely a “To Do” + “Info” tool for me. Fits my Quasi-GTD mode (in the sense that I have notebooks like ‘Cabinets’, ‘Archive’, ‘Projects’ etc.). To utilize the full power of Evernote for GTD, refer to The Secret Weapon. (Note: I do not use tags extensively as TSW suggests)
  • Feedly: Following the demise of the beloved Google Reader, this has been the one to the rescue. All things I want to read regular go in here. Yes, I am old-fashioned and still rely on RSS feeds than Twitter/Facebook for news/perspectives. In fact, I look more for perspectives than for news. For news, a visit to Techmeme, The Hindu, once a day is sufficient. NBW, YS and Medianama serve Indian tech news and are part of Feedly. And I read only headlines of the news items.
  • Pocket: Any article that takes more than 2 minutes to read go into Pocket. This gets cleared whenever I am in an boring meeting, waiting for someone, just before sleep etc. Like Inbox, this too is usually ‘0’ at the end of the day. Or at least, end of the week.
  • AutoHotKey: For opening applications using shortcuts, for quickly typing long texts that are regularly typed, this is like magic. Nothing less. For example, typing “Let me know if you need any clarifications. Thank you.” takes me exactly 2 seconds because I type only “cla”. I wish I used this tool to its fullest potential with scripts and macros!
  • FollowUpThen: This is another gem that many people do not know. There are reminders that you really do not want to occupy your calendar, because they need to be done on a certain day/week/month but not at a particular time of the day. This is best for such things. For example: If I need to make a call on Saturday/ follow up with someone on a Tuesday etc., I need not put it in my calendar. I just send a mail as “saturday@followupthen.com” and so on. That day morning, I get an email reminding me about it. I will then simply add to the To Do of that day. Simple. I use this extensively for even things like Car Insurance, Health Insurance payments so that I do not lose track of them, nor do they occupy my calendar. You can even remind others through this. You just send a mail to them and CC follow up then. It will be taken care of.
  • StickK: I have been experimenting with this lately and has been fairly successful. For habits that you want to inculcate in you, use this. I had this habit of spending a long time in the early mornings reading News than doing more useful things (like exercising, writing or simply planning for the day). Used StickK to break that habit. I do not use the ‘social tools’ there, the contract is only between me and me!
  • Habit Bull: This is similar to StickK but I use it for another purpose. I have recently become a fan of James Altucher’s Daily Practice. I wanted to mix it up with Seinfeld’s productivity secret through a calendar. I tried ToDoIst but it did not give me a calendar, so switched to HabitBull and it is working well so far. At some stage, I should try to merge StickK and HabitBull into one.
  • Health related: Runkeeper & 7 Minute Workout. If you have not read the NYT article about 7-min workout, you should do it now!
  • WebWhatsApp: I go here once a day and quickly reply to all messages from friends/relatives, who would otherwise feel bad. I am on ‘mute’ in most Groups I am part of anyways. People know/respect that and send me things personally if it is important.
  • Other tools I regularly use: Hootsuite for following all my Twitter accounts together, Perfios for tracking investments, Dropbox (obviously), Sqworl (for short term book marking for specific short term projects – like scooter comparisons when we bought one at home recently), Google Bookmarks (for long term bookmarks, obviously)

While those are apps, there are some chrome extensions as well that save me time:

  • MyQuotes: I had the Motivation as my default page for an year (it shows your age in real time! Do you really want to go to Facebook now with your age ticking?). Another similar one called Mortality exists as well. Fatigue set in and I started ignoring it. I then looked for something that would give me motivational quotes – not any random quote from the Internet but ones I enter into it. Got hold of My Quotes and it has been good so far.
  • ClipBetter: Helps with sending a page-link as an emails without having to copy-paste the link. It also creates a neat summary so this is better than other extensions that just ‘send via gmail’. One peeve on this is that I need to wait till it creates the preview, if I switch to another tab, it would vanish.
  • FlipIt: To add things to my Flipboard boards
  • Hootlet: Quickly sharing on Twitter/Facebook etc. through Hootsuite
  • SaveToPocket: Quickly saving a page to my Pocket
  • ScreenCastify: Video screen capture for demos. This works only within Chrome. For desktop capture, I use Jing
  • ShortCutsForGoogle: To reach to any Google service quickly

Things that I wished I explored/used more:

  • Shifu—A personal assistant on your phone, which can be customized for your location, time of the day etc.
  • IFTTT—You would know this, does a lot of magical things automatically for you (similar to this, there used to be one Yahoo Pipes, which too I did not explore much).
  • NFC Tags— The main issue with Shifu & IFTTT being ‘sucks lots of battery’, NFC tags could be useful. For things like “Switch On Bluetooth as I enter the car”, “Go to vibration mode” and “Send text to wife that I have reached” as I enter office etc., I could paste NFC tags at appropriate places.
  • Pomodoro (Focus Booster) – As a technique, Pomodoro is brilliant. On days I have used it, it has been super-productive. But somehow, the discipline to use it everyday is not coming in! There are so many tools/Chome extensions available. I use Focus Booster, an AIR based desktop app.
  • Freemind— Mind mapping software. In spite of several trials, I am not very comfortable using a mind-mapping software. Paper-pen works best. But given the time it takes to transfer back to PC, I should get used to this

As I complete compiling this, I wondered if using all these should have made me super-productive and a super-human. Which I am clearly not. Then I rationalized to myself that if one is super human, he does not need tools. It is only for the average Joes that tools are needed, to lessen the struggles with life!

The day I become super human, I have promised to myself that I will use none of these 🙂

[Karthik Srinivasan is senior manager with a telecommunications company.]

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