I’ve switched between different task management apps far too many times in a quest to find the perfect tool that will give me a 300% boosting productivity. Oftentimes it is in frustration that I can’t get my productivity system organized enough.
I peek at Twitter and see users reaching out for help. They ask for suggestions about what task manager do other people use? How do they keep their s**t together? I think this is putting the cart before the horse. Before you can finally select a task management app, it might be a safer choice to create your productivity system first. Then choose the task manager that fits your productivity system. The task manager is a tool and not the secret magic sauce that fixes everything.
Your task manager will magnify any deficiencies in your productivity system. OmniFocus, 2Do, Todoist, or Things won’t improve your productivity skills to black belt levels. If your capture skills are poor, that task manager won’t help you. If your organizing skills are scattershot, you’ll be left trying to figure out where you placed that important e-mail or appointment card. If you don’t review when needed, your app will show your glaring lack of inattention to your projects. We need to sharpen the saw by working on our productivity workflow first before finally choosing a task manager.
People trick themselves into thinking that a new task manager will make them more productive. Making a switch often involves clearing out the crap out of your current projects list and starting fresh. This gives you a false sense of accomplish right from the start. Poor productivity habits will railroad even the best task managers and will start leading you into frustration when your projects list no longer reflects reality.
How your task manager can fail you
You need to consistently your productivity routines to get your workflow running smoothly. If you fail to perform these routines, no task manager can fix a broken system. Here are three failure points that will cause friction in your task manager:
- Not capturing new tasks and projects. It’s easy to forget something if you don’t capture it. If you don’t consistently enter items into your task manager’s inbox, you’ll lose it.
- Not organizing your tasks and projects. If you don’t process your inbox and put new tasks into the proper folder or project, it just becomes a big box of unrelated stuff that just floats in the digital ether.
- Not reviewing your projects and tasks. You need to keep your projects up-to-date and organized to reflect the current state of reality. If your projects list aren’t reviewed on a routine basis, your lists will become outdated and no longer fresh. You won’t trust your task manager because reality is separated from your task manager’s projects list.
Keeping your task manager up-to-date will give you the confidence and security that you have everything where you need it to be.
Finding a productivity system for you
GTD is one of the more popular productivity systems that has gained a large footprint. David Allen’s system can be broken down into five areas:
If you can get the five steps working for you, translating it to your task manager becomes easier. Adopt the habits needed to get each step working for you.
J.D. Meier’s Agile Results system is another workflow that you can master if you found GTD difficult to absorb.
Leo Babauta’s [Zen To Done] (ZTD) is a simplified version of GTD that is boiled down to 10 habits to adopt.
There are many other productivity systems that you can find in books and blogs that will fit your personal work style. Find a workflow that fits you and then experiment with different task managers to see if you can use your workflows with these apps. Many task managers have a free trial demo period or offer free basic features to try out. This should give you a good idea of which task manager is suitable for your work style.
Know when to use the right tool for projects. tasks, appointments, contacts, and reference information.
It is hard to find a task manager that will do everything for you. The task manager isn’t a calendar although you can schedule tasks and add due dates when needed. It’s not a good place to store your reference notes either. It also can’t efficiently store your phone numbers, e-mails, and addresses.
The main purpose of your task manager is to store all of your projects, tasks, one-off actions, maintenance tasks, and responsibilities in one place. It will show you what you can do but it won’t get your work done for you. Switching task managers will not motivate your to finish your work. So we can put that myth to rest.
My calendar app is my place to store all my appointments and to schedule tasks from my task manager between those appointments.
My contacts app safely stores all of my contact information and makes it available on my phone.
My notebook app holds my reference information that I might need for future use. Most notebook apps such as DevonThink or Evernote has great tagging features to help you cross-reference items or group separate notes into a variety of groups.
Find a task manager that is capable of taking care of your projects and tasks. That’s all you need. The other areas such as scheduling, reference files, and contacts should be handled in other apps.
Actions items to work on
- Find a productivity system and study it. Incorporate the individual building blocks slowly over time to build your own productivity system. Developing sound habits will lead to better use of your task manager.
- Find a task manager that allows you to incorporate your building blocks. The right task manager should be able to cover at least 70% of your project and task management needs. Your task manager should deal in projects and task managements.
- Find apps that will fill in other needs that aren’t covered by your task manager. Areas of concerns can be (but not limited to) calendars, contacts, and reference files. I added Fantastical 2 and DevonThink to my toolbox to work effectively with appointments and reference information. My office uses Asana for collaboration with others. Other popular apps includes BusyCal, Evernote, and other assorted apps to take care of your non-task management needs.
When you have finally figured out your productivity system, it makes it easier to find the software apps that will work for you. I wouldn’t recommend trying to find a task manager first and then trying to create a workflow around that app. You will not be developing the correct building blocks that can create an effective productivity system. If you are trying to lift weights but don’t develop proper form, you might be doing more harm than good.
At worst, you’ll be ping-ponging between task managers while you are trying to figure out your productivity system. Pick your productivity system first. That choice will give you a better idea of which task manager to go with.
Scene from Forrest Gump (1994)
Your challenge of the day
Stop bouncing between task managers. Try to build your productivity system first. Your task manager should support your productivity system, not the other way around. I’ve been a fan of apps such as 2Do, Things 3, and OmniFocus. After years of bouncing around when a new version release came out, I’ve finally settled on OmniFocus because it fit my work style. Develop your productivity system first. Develop solid habits that can work in any task manager. Then try the different task managers with the trial periods. You can waste less time bouncing between task managers and actually getting work done.
Are you still bouncing between task managers? Are there any productivity habits that you can develop to let you stay in one task manager? I’m curious what everybody thinks.