Communication Managing Self Technology

Productivity tools

Written by Jill Farmer

There is an almost endless array of productivity tools out there. They can be a little like kitchen gadgets-highly useful and efficient (think veggie peeler) or, they can really be largely unused and become clutter that gets in your way (the pasta press in our kitchen, for instance).

I’m sharing a few tools that have worked great for me, or for peeps I really like. My tools may not be your tools. That’s okay. These are ideas to explore if you could use some help tracking projects. They should be fun to try, like playing around with new gadgets. If they don’t feel fun, they’re not the right tool for you.

Low Tech Options

Intention tool
This is the best strategy l I have for starting my day right. It’s a foolproof way to make it more likely you feel satisfied and accomplished at the end of the day.
When you feel crazed, frustrated, unfocused or unmotivated…

1. Take 3 breaths.
2. Think of 3 things you are deeply grateful for in this moment.
3. Savor that gratitude (for at least 10 seconds).
4. In that brain space, intentionally decide how you’d like to feel today (connected, calm, energized, joyful, empowered, curious etc.?)_______________
5. Then, imagine how you act when you feel that way (productive, kind, innovative, fun, interested, present, loving, efficient, focused etc.?)_________________

OWN it. Today…
I want to feel____________ so I can be____________.

Turtle Step flow charts
If you’ve spent more than five minutes in my orbit, you know that I think turtle steps (ridiculous easy, short, efficient steps-the way a turtle moves) are the way to go. My turtle step flow charts (inspired by my mentor Martha Beck) are just like they sound, flow charts that map out a task or project one ridiculously easy step at at a time. I have these going for every single project in my life that feels even the slightest bit onerous or heavy. Taking two minutes to create one of these puppies gets me rolling.Here’s a link  to a template for you to use.

Mind Maps
My creative, artsy, super fun and visual friends find these awesome tools for getting ideas to flow. They are really good tools when you’re feeling stuck on a project or task because they let the other side of your brain get in on the action. I’ll leave describing the “how to’s” of creating a mind map to the experts. Check this out for a good overview.
For a video tutorial, take a look at this.

To Do List
I’m not a fan of long To Do lists. They are often diatribes-never ending lists where we vomit up every single thing we “should” do in order to be good enough, worthy, etc., into a dissertation that serves as black and white proof we are inadequate at the end of every day.
Lots more about To Do lists in my book, but in general, stuff that can be time specific belongs on your calendar. Just make sure you don’t jam it too full with back to back tasks. Life–including unscheduled schtuff like calls, e-mails or kitchen fires–will get in the way. With no breathing room in your calendar, you’re asking to get behind and feel defeated and frenzied. To Do lists are guideposts to help you move through priorities that you don’t assign a specific time. They’re for today. They should have no more than 5 tasks, include breaks for rest and fun mid-way through and separate out 2-minute tasks (just what they sound like, things you can get done in 2 min. or less.) Here’s a template to print out your own.

High Tech Options

Reminders App
This is a iPhone, iPad and iMac app. It’s super simple, and super helpful for making basic To Do lists. I have one for each day of the week, a master list,  and a 2 minute task list. It’s simple and I can even use Siri to input the tasks for me.

This is an app that I tried a few times and kept asking “What is all the fuss about?” It seemed a little too complicated for my ADD and slightly impulsive way of doing things. But, a few months ago, I circled back around to it and spent an hour watching tutorials and reading tips from others who love it. I decided I liked it, after all.

Melanie Pinola of Lifehacker says, “Evernote is an app that serves many purposes-it can be your digital file cabinet, note-taking tool, daily journal, task or project management system, recipe-keeper, and more. Evernote can both appeal to a lot of people and feel like overkill to others.”

Evernote has been really helpful in cutting down on my e-mail clutter. (For more tips on getting rid of e-mail clutter, check out this article.)

My bro-in-law (and friend) Eric introduced me to Omnifocus.
Users like the fact that it’s a little more sophisticated than a standard list and files. Reviews say it’s not as complicated as some task management software that can take a while to learn and require you to type in so much info for every task it feels burdensome and diverts users back to paper lists and post it notes strewn all over the desk.

I learned about this when I worked for Martha Beck doing communications stuff. This is a fabulous tool if you are doing group projects, tasks, or events. It’s like having a “home office” where everyone can stay on the same page, track tasks, avoid duplication, share information and get stuff done. This would have saved me  a lot of e-mails and phone calls back in the day when I was coordinating school and charity auctions.

Active Collab
My Virtual Assistant, Martha, (who lives in Scotland) uses Active Collab to keep track of her stuff. It’s been an easy way for us to coordinate and communicate about tasks and projects.

Bullet Journal
This is a cool calendar, list making and task tracking program for people who would really rather use paper because that’s how their brains work. It’s really intuitive and its advantage over paper is its ability to index your ideas, tasks, and notes so you can actually find those scraps of brilliance or action steps your brainstormed when you need them.

Finally,  here’s a great comprehensive list of really useful websites compiled by people who know a lot more about this stuff than me.

One last tip.
If you think some of these tools might be helpful, but you’re intimidated by the technology or learning something new, ask your techy friends, relatives or social media buddies if they would spend a few minutes with you (meet for coffee or a phone call) to show you how to use it or share tips on how it’s worked for them. Or, simply go to YouTube for great video tutorials where extremely helpful (and often adorably techno-geeky) people will teach you how to play with your new gadgets.

About the author

Jill Farmer

I love helping people get more meaningful work done in less time. I am the author of "There's Not Enough Time... and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves" which debuted as a bestseller in the Time Management Category on Amazon. In 2015, The Washington Post named me to its 21-Day Time Hacker team. I travel the world delivering keynotes and seminars for top corporations and organizations. I am also a wife and the mother of two teens and I have the two worst-behaved dogs in the universe. You can reach me at or visit my website

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