I recently read a blog post about bad productivity habits, and one of the bad habits was using too many tools. This really resonated with me, because in the last couple of years I’ve found myself paring down the number of tools that I use and simplifying the way that I use them. I had realized that using so many tools meant that I was forcing myself to multitask and that I wasn’t keeping up with the things that mattered the most to me. So here’s my list of apps I use daily for productivity.
Reference and notetaking: Evernote
Reading: This one is more complex, because I do a few different types of reading.
For news and blogs, I use Feedly.
For longform reading, I either use GoodReader for pdfs of journal article, Kindle for ebooks, or books when I can’t get a book in digital form.
I recently read Mark Arnoldy’s “This Is How I Work” on Lifehacker. He had a lot of great tips, but the one that really inspired me was how he and his team have “No Meeting Wednesdays”. They have no internal or external meetings on Wednesday so they can have dedicated time to work on complex tasks that require focused thinking. I love this idea, because I feel like I really miss out on quality “work product” time during the work day. I often find it waiting for me at the end of the day when my mind isn’t fresh. While I don’t think it’s realistic for me to dedicate a whole day to “no meetings”, I’m going to experiment with blocking off my Wednesday mornings.
UPDATE: So I’ve done two “Work-product Wednesdays”. The first one did not go particularly well, because I did not plan out my time. Without clear priorities, my blocked off time quickly turned into some phone calls and I checked off very few items from my to-do list. The second attempt was much more in line with my intent. At the end of the day Tuesday, I planned out my Work-product Wednesday time and scheduled out my to-dos. I got much more accomplished. I like the timing of Wednesday morning, because I haven’t let the week get away from me and mornings are my best focus and energy times. I’ve continued to keep this block and plan to complete my bigger projects at this time.
VERDICT: Effective technique
I subscribe to over 60 RSS feeds using Feedly. I made the switch after years of being on Google Reader. I chose Feedly mostly because of the bridge they created from Google Reader, but I’ve stuck with the service because of the easy-to-use interface and the ease of connecting to other services (e.g. Twitter, Evernote, Pocket).
All of those feeds equal several hundred posts every weekday, so it’s a lot to process. I have a workflow that works pretty well, and makes sure I don’t lose myself in the black hole of new content.
- I pick 2 times a day to review my feeds, usually early morning and before I wind down at the end of the night. Each review session is only 10-15 minutes.
- As I’m going through Feedly, I pick a category (or a single feed if it has a lot of posts), and go through the following decision:
- If it will take me less that 30 seconds to read/view, then I look at it immediately.
- If it will take me longer to read OR it leads me to a task (e.g. checking out a new app, exploring a website), I will add it to Pocket.
- When I have dedicated time to read, I use Pocket. I treat Pocket like Feedly, as a temporary spot for reviewing information. As I’m reading in Pocket, I identify anything that I want to keep. I have Pocket connected to Evernote, which is where I keep anything that needs a permanent home. I’ve found that it much easier to store and find things if you pick one place (Evernote, OneNote, Google Keep) to keep everything.
I’ve been using this process for about a year. I find that it minimizes the amount of time I take sifting through content that interests me, and I don’t overlook the content that I’ve found helpful or important.