September 4, 2013

designer productivity - 5 tools for getting things done


I won't hesitate to admit it, I am a productivity junky. GTD (Getting Things Done) blogs, life hacks, time-management tips: I can't get enough of them in my quest to do as much as humanly possible with each and every day. 

A recurring theme in productivity advice is the idea of creating a "catch-all" for tasks and responsibilities - a central location that makes it easy to keep track of everything you need and hope to accomplish. It's important to keep in mind, your tools are only as good as your discipline in utilizing them; it's much less effective to use various methods or to keep track of some tasks mentally while externalizing others. 

For me, this tactic of transcribing every task - from replacing a lightbulb to accomplishing a life goal - has been instrumental in suppressing the scatterbrained artist in me and her penchant for perpetually forgetting to buy more coffee creamer. I've used various methods over the years that have served me well, from ball-point pen on found construction paper to iPhone apps bought at the price of a small pizza. Here are my top 5 favorite tools I've found in my search for the perfect way to get things done:

Workflowy is a simple, free, in-browser list that doesn't distract with any superfluous graphics, animations or bells and whistles. Hierarchy is an important factor in to-do lists, so the cascading lists and bullets make it easy to organize tasks into categories. You have the ability to sign in on any computer and access your list from anywhere, including a mobile browser. (And most importantly, you still have the satisfaction of crossing things off with a strikethrough when they're completed.)

4. 2 Do

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2 Do has no shortage of features – which in my opinion makes it worth the $9.99 it'll set you back in the app store (believe it or not). In contrast to Workflowy, 2 Do has everything and the kitchen sink - great textures and graphics, various tabs for different lists, the ability to set alarms, as well as setting recurring tasks. You can add notes, record audio, attach phone numbers to call, or even set it up to alert you when you're geographically close to a task. Imagine having a reminder alarm go off near the pharmacy if you have to pick up a prescription!

At one point I wanted to get back to basics, and found that setting up columned lists in a Google Doc for the bigger picture things (like plans for the year, or for a specific event/project) seemed to be more conducive to staying on top of all my tasks. While it's no longer my way of capturing day-to-day responsibilities, I still like to keep longer term lists this way - such as christmas gift ideas or New Years resolutions.

2. Trello

Trello is my current weapon of choice when it comes to my to-do lists. It's intended to be more of a collaborative project management system, but I've found it to be a useful productivity tool for one as well. You can create a number of different lists that are displayed on a single page or board, so all projects and errands are visible at the same time. You can also add comments, links, images and checklists that show the percentage completed as you check things off. It's free, and both an in-browser and an iPhone app, so it's easily accessible whenever inspiration strikes you.

Google Calendar is more central to my ability to function than I probably should admit. I use it to organize every part of my life - planning my workout schedule, organizing daily tasks and reminders, carving out time for working on design projects, keeping track of social events - if I'm spending time doing it, it's in my calendar. Google Calendar's simplicity makes it one of the best tools out there, and still has the important features of different color-coded calendars, creating recurring events (like grocery shopping every 2 weeks), and a checklist to add time sensitive tasks to specific days. If you're an iPhone user, I've found that Calendars + is the best app to use your calendar with - it's the most simple and visually close to Google's calendar that I've tested.

I am constantly looking for more ways to fit more productivity into my life - do you have any favorite apps, methods or websites? Share them in the comments!

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