Productivity tools have come a long way. These days there are options for every taste and desire, from paper-based tools to cloud-based digital applications. Finding a tool that fits your needs can be a great way to improve your productivity. Nevertheless, with all the available options, it seems like many people still have a hard time harnessing the power of tools to become more productive. This leads me to wonder why many productivity tools fail?
First, let me acknowledge that not all tools are equally good. There is no regulation of productivity tools, so it is up to consumers to ask around, read reviews, and otherwise figure out which options are worthwhile. Particularly with subscription-based products, it is always a good idea to try out a “free” version before purchasing.
Second, finding the right productivity tool may require a bit of trial-and-error. Just because a tool works well for a friend doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a good fit for you. We all have different priorities, and it helps to know what is most important to each person. For example:
- Do you prefer paper or digital?
- Do you like products that allow creativity (e.g., bullet journals) or is accessibility most critical (e.g., mobile-friendly)?
- Do you need a tool that can accommodate multiple users?
- Which functions are you looking for? (e.g., calendar, task management, email integration, project management, reminders, etc.)
- What size is important to you? (e.g., a wall calendar vs. a phone screen)
- For digital users, which platform do you use? (e.g., Apple or PC/Android)
- Do you need segregation between personal and professional responsibilities?
- What is your budget?
- Do you prefer to pay a one-time investment or a small/monthly charge?
- What integration do you need with other tools you are already using?
Answers to all of these questions, and more, can help you find the tool that is best for you.
The good news is, there is no one perfect tool. I am old school, and still using a paper-based Filofax. My planner helps me capture and track both calendar items and all my tasks. Do I have to carry it around? Yes, I do. Can it be shared with others in my family? No, not really. However, for a couple of reasons, this option works quite well for me. For instance, I love that it doesn’t require charging or internet access. It also has just enough storage for me to tuck in a receipt, or business card. In the back, it has a few pages where I can jot down random notes, observations, and doodles. Hosting my calendar somewhere other than on my phone makes it easier for me to schedule client appointments, freeing me from having to toggle between the phone and my calendar.
Admittedly, if I were starting out now, I would probably go for a cloud-based system. It’s hard to beat the ease of adding an appointment from an email. Also, if I were keeping track of multiple children’s schedules, it would be handy to be able to color code, synch, and view from multiple locations. There are more options now, with functions I may have found very useful.
Which brings me to the point of this post. Given that there truly are a wide variety of productivity tools available, why do many of them fail?
I believe that the answer may have nothing to do with the tools themselves.
Think of your productivity tool like a hanger in your closet. There are many kinds of hangers: velvet ones, wooden ones, hangers with clips, hangers with double rods, slimline hangers, hangers of all colors, etc. This could be a blog post in itself!
Now let’s imagine a bit. What if your hanger could:
- Send an alarm when you haven’t hung up your garment.
- Provide a digital display of the last time you wore the item.
- Feature a scrolling display of all the other items in your closet with which the item it is currently holding makes a nice outfit.
- Have a sensor to notice when the garment is dirty and needs to be washed, possibly placing a pick-up call to the local dry cleaners.
- Light up to help you see more clearly.
Hey, with AI, you never know!
Even if your hanger could do all these things, they still wouldn’t work unless you used them properly. Have you ever noticed people don’t love hanging things up? There is just something about the process of removing the hanger, and then fitting the item onto the bars, and then stuffing the hanger back onto the closet rod, that just feels like a hassle. It’s easier to dump clothes on the back of a chair or over the arm of a treadmill. At the end of the day, a hanger can’t hop off the rod, walk over to your garment, shimmy underneath it, walk back to the closet, and hang itself up. Not yet, anyway.
The same is true for productivity tools. We can invest a lot of money in them, but if we don’t commit to using them properly and regularly – dare I say, every day – we are wasting our time. A common reason many productivity tools fail isn’t because there is something wrong with the tool itself, but rather is the result of a low level of commitment on the part of the user.
To properly harness the power of a productivity tool, it is important to fully embrace it. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, including by:
- Investing time up front to understand all the tool’s capabilities.
- Practicing using features that may not be instantly intuitive.
- Setting aside time to enter all relevant data, both initially, and in an ongoing manner.
- Checking the tool every morning to review the plan for the day.
- Intentionally prioritizing and scheduling tasks.
- Mindfully establishing reminders and alarms throughout the day as needed.
- Tracking progress throughout the day.
- Reviewing the tool at the end of the day, rescheduling incomplete tasks, noting priority items for the next day.
Once we do these things, and only then, can we then put our trust in the tool. It’s wonderful to offload tasks and thoughts into a planning tool, but if we only periodically do so, and/or if we only periodically check in to see what we’ve entered, we undermine our ability to trust that the tool is accurate. This often leads to making a second list or jot down thoughts on little scraps of paper that end up scattered about, both of which further sabotage the success of the primary productivity tool.
Just like hangers, productivity tools are not yet capable of doing our thinking for us. It is critical that we set aside sufficient and consistent time to interact with the tool, thus enabling it to keep us on track. If we only commit half-heartedly, we will never achieve this level of trust.
* * *
Do you both use and trust your productivity tools? How much time do you spend daily reviewing them?