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Taking Charge of Your Productivity

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January 3, 2014

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I’ve often observed that great leadership is built on the mundane. But spending too much time on the mundane has precisely the opposite effect. It drains leaders of energy and bogs them down in irrelevant, granular detail.

And yet I see it all the time–individuals who could, and should, be great leaders, constantly undermined by their own inability to keep on top of their day-to-day activities.

There’s really no need for this to be so. There are plenty of tools out there to help anyone master their own working environment and take charge of the information flow we all sometimes fear drowning in. In fact, the sheer volume of those available tools–apps, books, systems for mastering productivity–is such that, rather than help fix the issue, they often simply add to the sense of overwhelm.

So, for those of you who want to take charge of your personal productivity but don’t have time to investigate every possible tool out there, here’s my “just-do-it” list of must-have tools, plus my personal preferences as to how to use them. Your mileage may vary.

1. Evernote

Buy it, download the appropriate version on to all your devices, and simply start dumping everything you might need sometime into it. Don’t overthink this. Just cut and paste anything, everything that matters to you into Evernote. Later, you’ll learn how to categorize all this ‘stuff’, but initially, the search feature in Evernote will find anything you dump in there while you need it.

2. OmniFocus

Buy it, download the appropriate version on to all your devices, and start making lists of everything you need to do, have promised to do, or would like to do.

Again, don’t overthink this–like Evernote, OmniFocus is a powerful piece of software, and if you begin by reading the manual and trying to understand all its bells and whistles, you’ll never get started. Just start making lists.

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The key distinction is to use Evernote for stuff you might need to access, read or understand, and use OmniFocus to produce lists of what you need to do. (And yes, existing users, I know each can do the other–I’m merely passing on my personal preferences having used them both extensively over many years).

3. GTD

David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology will take what you’re doing in Evernote and OmniFocus and turn it into a trusted, robust system for mastering the mundane in your life. There are plenty of other systems out there that claim to do the same, but GTD is my methodology of choice, and believe me, I’ve tried them all. Fair disclosure: David Allen is a friend of mine and his company have been clients in the past, but both are a direct result of my admiration for GTD, not the other way round.

Buy it, read it, implement it. This is where you’ll need to put in most time, to understand and implement the GTD system, but trust me, the rest of your life will thank you.

4. Scanner

Buy a good scanner–here’s my recommendation–and use it relentlessly. Why? Because typing a couple of letters into the search box on your computer and finding the document you want beats getting up, locating a physical file and rifling through bits of dead tree. And you’re going to do one or the other thousands of times in your lifetime.

5. Turbo-charge it all

You’re under way, and now’s the time to take it all to the next level. Grab a copy of Evernote Essentials, by Brett Kelly, Creating Flow With OmniFocus by Kourosh Dini, and The MacSparky Paperless Field Guide by David Sparks.

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