A Simple, Free System of Productivity Tools

A Simple, Free System of Productivity Tools

One of the things that makes us human is the ability to develop, use and maintain tools to boost our efficiency and organization. Along these lines, there are a variety of productivity tools out there that can help you with these types of things, but there are also a lot of traps that you can fall into with this sort of thing. With the people I’ve worked with personally, I suggest a very streamlined system that consists of just a few types of tools that give you the most effect with the least amount of distraction and maintenance time.

How to Increase Productivity With Smart Tool Selection

First and foremost, there are a few different individual tools that we’re going to need. I’m going to break these down by category because there are a lot of individual options for each.

  1. Capture System – You need a system that can capture any types of ideas, reminders or thoughts that you have and keep them together for you to process later.
  2. Task List System – You need a system that lists out the specific tasks that you need to do in a given day.
  3. Calendar System – You need a system that keeps up with future deadlines, events, etc.

There are a lot of fancy-pants programs and apps out there that will do all kinds of stuff, but these three functions are all you really need, and there are free tools that will do each. We’re going to break down each of these three types and show why they combine to give you the best productivity tools setup that you can have.

Good Productivity Tools for Capturing Information

Your brain is not designed to remember things in an efficient way. That’s why you remember that you need batteries for a flashlight when you go to use the flashlight and not when you pass by the batteries at a store. A capture system can help you with this by reminding you that you need to put batteries on your shopping list.

Have you ever thought of something important, assumed you would remember it for later, and then you completely forgot about it? That’s completely normal, and virtually everyone has done that at one point or another. A capture system can fix this as well.

All a capture system does is allow you to add things to a list to remember for later, and then at a later point (usually once a day or a couple of times each day), you’ll go through that list and process it. This is one of the fundamental points of the Getting Things Done approach by David Allen, but it’s been used in a lot of different systems and approaches both before and after GTD because it’s so important.

It’s also one of the easiest ways to be productive because you get to put everything you need to remember in one place so that you don’t have to deal with the stress of possibly forgetting about it.

My suggested approach for this is either a paper list that you keep in a notebook or using a free app called If This Then That. Known as IFTTT for short, it allows you to set up what amounts to an automatic forwarding service where you can send yourself an SMS or text message that will be automatically added to a list (in the form of an email, a text file, an item in a popular to-do app, etc.), which is perfect for a capture system like this.

A smartphone laying on a wooden table

Better Office Productivity Through a Task List System

A task list system is pretty straightforward, but there are measures you have to take to keep it from getting so big that it’s useless to you. Essentially, your task list is the specific list of things that you need to achieve or work on in a specific day. Here is the most important thing to remember about this list:

You don’t want this list to get any larger than a day, or you simply will not keep up with it in the long run.

Your capture inbox and your calendar, which we’ll talk about below, are the places for things that are happening on other days or that need to happen in the future. Your task list, however, is only for today, and it’s a list that you work from by going back and forth, to and from it, so that you know exactly what you are working on at any given time.

This is especially important for office productivity from either an employee or managerial standpoint because it’s often the case that workers simply don’t know what it is they are supposed to be working on at any given time, especially if they have multiple projects going at the same time.

My suggestion for a free program/app for the task list system is Todoist. It works as a downloadable program for your computer and as a mobile app. It also runs from in your browser, so you can access it from anywhere. You can also use IFTTT to send your captures to a list in an inbox within Todoist, so everything is organized in one place.

Ways to Be Productive With a Calendar System

How to increase productivity with a calendar seems obvious. You think you should put down when you’re going to do things on a calendar, and then you do them at the time, on that day. Simple enough, right? Wrong. We all know that this sort of thing doesn’t ever work out 100 percent of the time the way that we want it to.

First off, we have to be clear about what a calendar system’s purpose is. It’s not to give you a strict agenda of what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis. The task list system above is what tells you what you’re doing on a given day. Instead, the calendar is there to help you keep up with things that need to happen on specific days so that you can make your task lists around them.

That’s it.

There’s not really more to it. You may send yourself a reminder through your capture system that you have a meeting to go to at 10 am on December 5. When you process those items from your capture system, you’ll see that you have a meeting that day at that time, and you’ll add it to your calendar. It’s that simple.

My free suggestion here is Google Calendar. It has options to interface with Todoist as well.

Picking the Best Productivity Tools For You

What you’ll find is that there are a lot of different apps and programs and tools to choose from. To pick the right ones for you, you need to find a balance between what’s accessible and what works for your needs. Pick out one tool for each of the three systems that I’ve listed above, even if they’re all on paper, and use them as described to have a complete, but simple and easy-to-manage, productivity system.