Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Seven productivity tools and resources I recommend

This November I am speaking at the AVSM annual conference where I have volunteered to run a workshop on time management and productivity for Volunteer Managers. It’s a theme I’ve wanted to train on for a while and the AVSM conference gives me a chance to finally develop and trial a workshop which I intend to add to my list of available training topics.

Coincidentally American colleague Liza Dyer and I have been discussing productivity recently via a Slack group for leaders and managers of volunteers. That led me to this brilliant video on TED where Yves Morieux draws some great parallels between 4x400m relay racing and the culture organisations create around productivity (it’s about 17mins long but well worth your time to watch in full).

My interest in productivity came as a result of starting up Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd five years ago. I realised that I would need to adapt my work practices as I was now running my own business rather than working in a large team. No longer did I have IT or Communications or Finance support, it was all my job now. I was also becoming frustrated with suggested time management practices like blocking your diary out to work on projects. Such approaches didn’t seem to reflect the variable and fast paced nature of changing requirements and schedules, leading to time being wasted re-scheduling rather than doing work.

So for this blog I thought I’d outline seven of the resources and tools I really rate (and use!) to aid me with my own productivity. There are others of course - I only briefly mention my calendar tool of choice and I don’t mention at all some key resources like Evernote. This is because I have chosen to focus on the resources and tools that I think have made or the biggest positive difference to the way I work (or have the potential too).

NB - Please note that a Mac, iPhone and iPad user I therefore use these tools on those platforms and devices.

How To Be a Productivity Ninja Written by Graham Allcott, a former colleague when he was CEO of Student Volunteering England, this excellent and readable book gives sound theory and very practical advice on becoming more productive. Sharing many similarities with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) approach, yet presented in a more accessible format, Graham advocates steps like adopting a ‘second brain’ to store all those tasks we try and keep in our heads. He also challenges our tendencies to procrastination and distraction. I particularly found helpful the steps to identify when my attention levels were highest during a day and then schedule the most complex work accordingly.

Things This is my ‘second brain’ system. Almost every task I have to do, personally or professionally, goes into Things. Tasks are sorted by project and can be allocated to specifics dates but, as per the GTD and Productivity Ninja approaches, this isn’t encouraged. Why? Because if you schedule that task for Monday then something comes up on Monday which takes priority then you have to spend (waste) time re-scheduling the task. Instead Things allows me to have a due date and then specify how many days in advance of that I want to be reminded the task needs to be done. I can even tag tasks for specfic contexts such as an errand to run or something I have to do in the office or when online or at my computer etc.. Then, every morning, I have a list of tasks to choose from which I can allocate to that day, defer to decide upon later depending on what else comes across my desk, my attention and energy levels etc.. With Things synchronising seamlessly between all my devices and having powerful search and sorting features this is an essential productivity tool for me.

Due One feature Things doesn’t support is the need for some tasks to be allocated to particular times, for example a reminder that it’s my job to pick the kids up from school today. That’s where Due comes in. I can quickly and easily schedule a task for a specific date and time, create recurring tasks and defer items if I have to postpone them. Critically Due never lets me forget that task needs doing. Whereas other reminder systems just remind me once at the set time, Due keeps reminding me over and over again (at a frequency I can specify) until I do the task. Sync isn’t quite as seamless as Things but it works fine and between the two systems I always have a list of what needs doing.

Airmail 3 As a Mac user I try and avoid Microsoft software and have not once missed using Outlook in the last five years. Instead I have relied on the standard Mac and iOs mail software. Until recently, when I switched to Airmail 3, a product that’s all about efficiency and getting that inbox to zero. Processing email is now a breeze. I can far more easily move messages between all my different accounts and folders, allocate messages to be actioned later or (in the case of newsletters and the like) to be read later. If something comes in that needs a task creating or requires a diary entry then with just a couple of clicks I can add that to Things or Fantastical (my calendar app of choice largely down to it’s natural text features and time zone management). Airmail 3 is also super fast to set up and syncs beautifully between all my devices.

Tyme 2 This is a new one for me. As a freelancer I sometimes need to record the time I spend on projects and bill this to clients. As someone keen on productivity I also want the ability to keep track of the time I spend on tasks and projects. Am I spending too much time processing email? What is the balance of my time between marketing and client delivery work? That kind of thing. My old time-tracking system no longer syncs between devices so I opted for Tyme 2 as a replacement. It’s still early days but it’s working well so far, although it did need some time to set up at first, as many of these systems do, and wasn’t instantly intuitive. I am quickly and easily recording the time I spend on different work tasks and projects and starting to gain insights into my working patterns and habits. Time will tell how truly effective this tool will be - I will be using it for my first ‘on the clock’ client next month - but early signs are very promising.

Pocket I’ve had Pocket for ages now and I love it. I couldn’t be without it. If you aren’t familiar with Pocket, it’s a tool to collect and store all those articles you want to read, sort (tag) them into categories and then read offline at a later date and time. Anything I come across that I think would be worth reading for work or for personal interests gets ‘clipped’ from my web browser into Pocket. Then when I’m on a train or just have a few minutes spare I can open Pocket on any of my devices and get reading. If I think it’s something worth sharing or keeping, I can quickly and easily share to social media and / or Evernote. I also love that once a year they send me an email saying how many words I’ve read in the last twelve months and what my favourite topics have been etc.. Best of all Pocket is entirely free and, whilst there is a paid for option, I have never felt like I’ve needed it.

Buffer If you post to social media, especially to multiple accounts (and in particular to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Google+) then you need Buffer in your life. I use the free version (paid options provide more in-depth analytics and access to other social networks) and Buffer enables me to quickly share articles and items of interest to my professional social networks without having to post separately on each site. I can even automatically schedule posts for each network to the times my followers are most likely to engage with my content, essential if (like me) you have followers and clients around the world and don’t fa cry being up in the middle of the night to post something in their local timezone. Buffer also produce a superb and very helpful blog packed with tips, ideas and through provoking posts about using social media and online marketing.
So there you have it, my top seven productivity tools and resources.

What are your top tools and resources for enhancing productivity? What could you not be without?

Also, to help shape my workshop, what issues would you love to see covered in training on productivity and time management for Volunteer Managers? I’d really value your input.
Over to you.