When productivity tools get in the way of actual productivity

Productivity Made Simple

I recently got a new iPhone. As I was choosing apps to download, I realized I’ve gotten to the place where I really just want the basics — social media, email, weather and driving directions, etc.

I’m a sucker for new technology, cool apps and fancy systems. I like to try them just to see what they’re all about and to discover where technology is taking us. But at the end of the day, my favorite productivity tool is still a notebook and pen. Sometimes I use a fancy Invite.l notebook and sometimes I stick with a classic Steno pad, but no matter how many systems I try, I always end up back at the notebook.

It’s tempting to think that finding the right app will solve all of my problems, but I know from experience that using electronic productivity apps and programs ends up feeling like more of a chore than a help.

The other day, Stephanie from Keeper of the Home shared a link from Michael Hyatt in our mastermind group. The post on the power of the minimum effective dose really resonated with me and my goals for my business this year, but as I got to the bottom, I chuckled at the irony of the free ebook offered at the bottom of the post, which features 99 tools and resources for your life. Ninety-nine tools…seriously? There is nothing simple or productive about using that many tools, and trying to juggle them certainly makes your life more complicated.

The truth, though, is that any productivity system can have the same effect. When we get caught up in being more productive — rather than doing the actual work — we often create more work for ourselves, not less.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all about automation and taking time to get organized. But the system needs to be a tool used to achieve your end goal, not the end goal itself.

For example, have you ever seen the beautiful color-coded, sticky note calendars and schedules on Pinterest? I absolutely love them, and I’d love to have one. Except I know myself well enough to know that if I took the time to create something like that, I’d be over it by the time I finished.

A good productivity solution is enduring.

It doesn’t need to be updated or overhauled every couple weeks or even months.

It shouldn’t take hours to set up or cost a lot of money.

And it shouldn’t overcomplicate or fancify the simple task of getting things done.

Do you prefer pen and paper or an app for organizing your to-do list? Have you ever fallen into the trap of a fancy productivity system?

Mandi Ehman is the blogger behind Life Your Way. She and her husband have four beautiful girls plus one baby boy, and together they live, work and homeschool on a little slice of heaven in wild, wonderful West Virginia. Mandi loves coffee, chocolate, easy meals, beautiful things and minimalist spaces.
  • Maria

    Hi Mandy, I am a long time silent follower. Thank you for your wonderful blog! Effortless is my word for this autumn. I will try to arrange my life so that duties can feel the most effortless possible. I am not there yet, but that is my aim ;-)

    A great long lasting solution for me and time management has been a calendar that I have created in Excel myself, the lay-out based on how I visualize days, weeks and months and how much space I need for each. This way the calendar base is the same, but you can also customize it almost endlessly by adding special rows or columns for the things that you need to follow – that could be daily menus, errands etc. suited to your needs. You can use different colors for different types of things as well.

    The non-effortless side is that you have update it yourself in the beginning of each year. But I actually take that as an opportunity to revel in the new year, see it laid before me and enjoy putting in all the important dates etc.

    This has worked so well for me for years now. Before I struggled with paper calendars of every sort, but always got frustrated because they did not really suit my needs :-) I am a paper gal in my heart, but with this I give high five to my computer! Helps that I work in an office so I am always in front of it and can add and make changes.

    I have also added separate sheets in the same file for packing lists, budget, weekly menus – the list goes on. You can have everything in the same place.

    Woops, sorry for the lengthy explanation!

  • Krystal Griffin

    I have tried an homemade Excel sheet that my husband (the Excel wiz in the house) and it worked for a while but I was finding myself missing things and using both paper and the Excel file. Last year when the file got corrupted I abandoned it for simple yearly calendar/planner and I am really quite happy. The hubs, who has dubbed me “the paper queen”, can’t stand it but as I forget things less often he leaves me alone about it. ;)

    There was a digital planner that I really loved the looks of but it was in beta for eons and I got tired of waiting for them to finish it.

    I did see a beautiful, rainbow coded binder for Whole30 yesterday. That will take me a while to put together but I’m going to do it anyway. =)

  • http://www.stacymakescents.com/ Stacy

    Paper is the only way to go for me. I tried my Google calendar for a long time and just didn’t love it. I got a desk calendar and now all is happy in Stacyville again. Although I do try to keep my Google calendar updated because my husband looks at it while he’s at work. :-)

  • Bethany

    A paper calendar that I buy at Dollar Tree and a good ol’ pen and paper for my “to do” lists. :)

  • Diana

    My hubs is an IT guy so he is always trying to get me to be a digital diva, but I need the pen and paper/lists to be organized. I keep a calendar updated on my iPhone for us to share, most of the time, lol. I need to have that tangible evidence before me I guess.

  • http://the-secretary-blog.com/ Emily

    So true! I am not a paper girl, though. I use Wunderlist because I am a big believer in writing down every idea or to do as it pops in my mind–in other words, getting my mental clutter out.

  • randomrecycling

    Paper for me. Both for my daily agenda and for writing some of my more lengthy blog posts. I read an article last fall that said we remember more of what we handwrite, versus typing into a keyboard. I took that to heart and felt a lot better about writing down my weekly plans on paper. It helped me remember what was on deck when someone asked for an impromptu play date.

  • http://calebs-story.net/ Chirleen

    I carry a notebook with me and write everything in it, from my budget to my thoughts, things or websites I want to remember, and drafts for blog posts. It’s completely unorganized but it works for me. I’ve tried the apps on my phone and my tablet and neither seems to be right. I love handwriting. It’s all I need!

  • Sarah

    I actually prefer my phone calendar because I can see my work and family obligations all in one place. I recently converted my personal to-do list to evernote and it’s been successful because I can put reminder dates. At work thought I use the good ol’ paper to-do list and lots a sticky notes. I find it very refreshing to rewrite my to-do list every couple of weeks.

  • Kim Hyland

    This is funny to me, because before my iPhone I carried around a two pound Franklin Covey planner affectionately called “The Brain”. But even with all my phone’s planning devices, I still find myself pulling out an 8 1/2 X 11 piece of paper, folding it in half, and keeping a running daily schedule on the front, my weekly schedule on the back and notes written inside. It just works!

  • http://joyceandnorm.wordpress.com/ Joyce (and Norm)

    I am the same way!! My apps are down to the basics, and I use my HelloMornings Workbook and Post-its or notepads from Dollar Spot at Target.

  • theKomodo

    I think good productivity tools are those that don’t get in the way of how you process and manage your tasks. Paper-based system has its purposes, but it is not flexible enough for me, e.g. I can’t readjust the priorities of my tasks on the fly, whereas I can do so on an app.

    Unfortunately there are a lot of bad tools out there that introduce ‘friction’, i.e. slow you down, or tools that are not suited to how you work. I have to admit that even the good tools introduce ‘friction’. If you are open to having tools help you, I think the more realistic goal would be to find tool with the minimum amount of friction.

    I also think that you can’t be 100% paper-free, so I try to integrate paper into my system. I use a cloud-based solution called Nirvanahq for tasks (web app on desktop browser, ios app, lots of keyboard shortcuts), and Microsoft OneNote for my reference notes. Incoming papers get scanned using a scanner that automatically sends it to OneNote as a page. So far it’s working well. This is night and day compared to when I tried to manage my tasks on Outlook Tasks – It was too clunky.

  • http://colterreed.com/ Colter Reed

    I use an app. Three, actually: OmniFocus for tasks, Calendar for events, and Evernote for notes. I used a Franklin planner for years (starting back when it was Franklin Quest) and only recently went digital. There are some tradeoffs involved, and right now, the winning consideration is that I can’t forget my planner and leave it behind; if I have my phone, iPad, or a computer, I have my trusted system right there. Though on the really hairy days, I’ll track what I’m doing on a 3×5 card.

  • Bobbi JG Weiss

    I still use stickies because…well, because they stick to things that I need to stick reminders on. But I depend on my iPhone. No fancy apps, just the simple list app and the calendar. Oh, and the address book. But other than that, I do what you do — keep abreast of new fancy apps, but I don’t use them.

  • Ann

    I was recently in a meeting where we were setting future meeting dates for a full year. I pulled out my trusty red Week-at-a-Glance calendar book and turned to the next month to suggest a date. I waited several minutes while everyone else tried to access calendars, notes or you name it on their tablets or smartphones. Then I listened to the groans and mutterings as several tried to enter the proposed date, only to lose the screen, put it on the wrong month, and so on. The same thing happened 11 more times, with me and my paper calendar book patiently waiting for everyone with their “timesaving” devices struggling to catch up to me. I take a ribbing for being so “behind the times” in using a paper calendar, but I fail to see how they are ahead of me on this one.

    • hambo

      Can you access your page a day remotely if you leave it at home? Thought not!

      I use Sunrise which consolidates all my calendars and I can access it from any computer should I forget my laptop but it’s also available on my iPhone too.