People ask me at least once a week, “What’s the best tool for staying organized?”
The best methodology I know of for self-mastery and self-management is called Getting Things Done. But most people who ask this are simply looking for the name of a software application where they can manage their agreements. If you’re in the position of looking for a personal productivity tool, here’s what I’ve learned about selecting a good one.
Tips For Choosing Your Productivity Tool:
- Make sure to choose something you LIKE. To me this is the most critical factor in determining how long you’re going to keep using it. Follow your enthusiasm.
- Digital or paper-based systems? What works better for you? Are you highly kinesthetic? How fast do you type and navigate a computer?
- How portable will it be? Can you add to/review it from any location? How important is this for you? Do you really need to work from anywhere? Should it sync with a smartphone or tablet?
- Is there integration between Email, Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks? Is this important to you? Some people love to have everything in one program. Other people can switch easily between a calendar app like iCal and a task manager like OmniFocus. Personally, I’m in the former category.
- Where does most of your work show up? Delegated by your boss? Emails from clients? Projects created from your own imagination? If you “live in email”, I suggest a system that’s well-integrated with your email program. Look at where you spend your time and make sure the tool you choose aligns with that.
When in doubt, a paper planner is always a great way to start. That’s how I started over ten years ago, with a simple three-ring binder and some computer printouts of calendar pages and action lists.
Now you can get a fabulous paper planner (with all the necessary innards) from David Allen Co. Everything you learn about managing your workflow in a paper planner can be transferred to a digital tool if you later decide to go digital.
But the vast majority of people who ask me about choosing a tool already know they want to go digital. Here are a few options to consider, some of which are probably already on your computer:
1. Options that integrate with Email/Calendar:
- Lotus Notes
- Gmail/Google Tasks
- Do.com – I know of several GTDers using this with great success.
2. List managers that don’t integrate with Email/Calendar:
- OmniFocus (Mac only)
- Word Documents / Excel Spreadsheets / Text documents
- Google Docs / Google Spreadsheets
- Notes (Mac only)
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the tools I’ve explored. Some of the other applications out there don’t have everything you need, where others are simply less popular. If you come across a different application that you love, let me know and I’ll be happy to tell you what I think of it: firstname.lastname@example.org. Better yet, leave a comment below so we can all benefit from your experiences.