Productivity for Leaders: The Best Apps to Manage Your Day
Everybody wants to be productive, but being productive is hard. There are so many competing interests and present challenges in the life of a leader. In today's society, it is often hard to remind people that there is a hierarchy to crisis management: important, urgent, and emergency. Everything cannot be all three at the same time! However, it becomes a new challenge trying to impress that message upon the stakeholders in your life. Rather than lament what we cannot change in this moment (that's a whole 'nother blog post), let's instead focus on solutions.
First, you need to get focused. Being able to focus on one task at a time will reduce your anxiety, force you to prioritize, help you establish clear boundaries, and increase your overall productivity. In one of the books I highly recommend all leaders read, The One Thing, author Gary Keller drives home that success is attributable to an individuals ability to get very focused on the things that matter and then their ability to see those things through to fruition with the same laser focus. The success of his ideas are why this book has been on multiple bestsellers lists and used by companies, churches, coaches and consultants to encourage people to get stuff done.
Second, and in tandem with the first thing, you have to stop trying to multitask. Not only is multitasking overrated, it is actually harmful to your ability to get work done in the long-term. Studies have shown that over time people who multitask lose cognitive ability and are less likely to finish projects. When they do, they are not completed with the same quality as those who maintained single focus. Lastly, single-taskers see a 40% improvement in their level of productivity over those who multi-task.
Third, we must address an elephant in this proverbial room...procrastination. Many of us are not productive because we procrastinate. However, I've discovered procrastination is rarely about what we think we're putting off. An eye-opening book I read, The Procrastinator's Guide to Getting Things Done, by Monica Ramirez. It's a short book and easy read, but the opening quiz points out that most of us procrastinate for a variety of reasons including avoidance, fear of failure, insecurity, and other reasons. Do you find every time you have to give a presentation you wait until the last minute to prepare? Do you put off difficult conversations with people until you reach a breaking point and snap? Do you believe everything has to be perfect before it's done, so you wait to complete assignments? Each of these is a form of procrastination that stifle your productivity.
So, what are some tangible ways that you can boost your productivity, while you work to adjust your mindset? Well, that's where this list comes in. The systems, tools, and apps I'm suggesting will help you immediately start to organize and focus your work. These will work because they will mainly systemize, automate, and "delegate" some of the basic and recurring tasks that you perform that take up valuable time you need. Also, they will help you get a sense of the areas where you are wasting time and help you find ways to adjust your schedule so you can utilize your time better and in ways that will help you feel better. So, let's go!
1. A Planning System
If you follow me on Instagram and saw my story, you know that I have a planning system that I use to stay organized. It is based on bullet journaling, the Midori Traveler's Notebook system, and my take on the Japanese philosophy of kaizen. The foundation of my system is rooted in a quest for continuous improvement and introspection. So, tasks and lists flow from day-to-day and are incapsulated within a series that covers all of the thoughts, ideas, activities, and goals that I have set. To make it manageable, however, I create a break for each month and then every quarter. This allows me to assess my goals and track, pivot, or scrap plans in a timely fashion. At a later date, I may move to a weekly metric.
You can create whatever system you like, but the point is to have a system. You need to be disciplined and methodical about what you intend to do each day. If you want to be productive, manage your time well, accomplish goals, and live a successful life, you need the discipline to follow a schedule and hold yourself accountable to that schedule. Wake up early, complete a morning routine, work on your goals, accomplish at least one thing each day, meditate, find some time to exercise, stretch, and relax, follow a nightly routine and get good rest. Each of these actions is an act of self-care. It is also structure which will allow you to get your life together and manage your life, team and work better.
After, you've established your system, you need to plan around your goals. If you need help establishing goals, head to my Resources page for my personal planning system. My planning system is built around fulfilling your purpose and working towards your vision. Starting from your ultimate goal(s), you work backwards to your day-to-day activities. Within it you have built-in checkpoints, accountability metrics, and room to pivot when necessary. It will help you evaluate the goals you do have and the goals you should have, create a plan to achieve them, and determine the areas you can maximize those goals for greatest impact based on who you are.
Once you have your planner system created and have defined your goals, you can start inputting your activities, meetings, and events into your calendar. This may seem backward, but you needed to articulate your goals and order your priorities in order of importance. It is only with that information that you can determine what activities, meetings, appointments, and events take precedence over one another.
Now, it's time for coloring for adults. Outlook wins here. But, Google is adequate for the task. You need to establish your categories. I am actually amazed how few people utilize categories. While I worked as an executive assistant I found my most effective bosses categorized everything---or rather I did it for them. But, they had established categories for everything that came into their email, was put on their calendar, or required their participation. Similarly, you should establish a category system. If you need a template, join me Live where I will cover it or you can preorder a copy of the replay if you cannot make it. Trust, I still employ after years of working for C-Level executives and board members and it works very well to keep me organized.
Most companies still use Outlook as their email client. They also are very strict about your use of other systems for company email (other than what they provide)---and with good reason. If they aren't, I have serious questions about your company's internal controls and IT department. No tea, no shade.
So, if you like most people use Outlook for work, you have two great opportunities to maximize your productivity and automate things. The first is categories as I mentioned before. Using the categories you established for your calendar (or different ones if necessary) you can mark emails as they enter your inbox automatically by establishing rules. Rules equal automation, use them! You can also easily add a category to an email with a shortcut. You will see shortcuts assigned to the colors already available, and these can be changed as you wish.
The next area you should customize is folders. I also have a category list for your folders. To go into that would make this too long, but I will also cover my folder list in my video class. You can have messages routed automatically to the appropriate folder with rules as they come in and set automatic responses with a little bit of tweaking. I'd also suggest that you create canned messages and message templates for emails you send regularly.
If you have an assistant, these tasks, your calendar management, and contact maintenance should be delegated to them. You create the system, they complete the task. Delegate!
In short, Spark filters your email so that you read the most important messages first, can get to messages you want to remember quickly, can respond to messages succinctly, and accomplish Inbox Zero frequently.
Spark utilizes a "smart inbox" system. This system will short emails based on new mail, pinned, snoozed, and seen. The clean design of its interface makes it easier to process emails and the sectioning of emails into these groupings allows you to focus. Additionally, you can snooze emails for later at intervals that you set. Got a birthday invite for two weeks from now, you can snooze it until you're ready. Are you in the middle of something, but get an important message you want to get back to later that evening, snooze it. Spark also has quick replies. These generic and customized replies allow you to respond to an email with the click of a button.
Because Spark syncs your email with a cloud server, your email is up-to-date on all of your devices.
Honorable Mention: Edison Mail
Once you have your system down, it's time to start the automation process. The first thing you need is Trello. I use Trello for the tactical plans and day-to-day activities that are derived from the strategic plans and goals I have set for both my business and personal life. Trello is a project management system, but the simplicity of the system is perfect even for those who have no project management experience.
Trello functions on three levels. You have boards, lists, and cards. Boards manage projects and/or high-level goals; information and activities are managed on this level. Lists are a collection of activities. These lists together fall under each individual board. Cards manage tasks. Thus, several cards make up a list, and multiple lists make up a board. The app has both desktop and mobile versions. It works great with Gmail or Google Apps (it has an integration with Spark, too.). It syncs with your calendar and numerous other apps through PowerUps. You can learn more about their integrations here.
Honorable Mention: Asana
I'm not sure if there are very many people who don't know about Evernote, but in case you don't, run and get it. Evernote does everything you think a note taking app should do and more.
In Evernote, there are notebooks and notes. Your notes go into a notebook. You can share those notebooks/notes with others, add images, PDFs, voice notes (it can transcribe your notes through your mic---that's how I create many of my blog posts), set reminders, add links, tables, checklists, audio recordings, and handwritten notes. Since Evernote is cloud-based you can access your notes on your desktop, tablet, and phone and notes sync automatically. If you have more than one app open at a time, it syncs immediately. You can also clip web pages which is amazing, too. With Evernote, you can email messages to it or have attachments automatically saved.
But now you have all of these windows open and the whole reason you started this was to cut down on how much you had going on. This is where Magnet comes in. Magnet allows you to create sections of space on your desktop. You can move apps within those sections in a variety of sizes. Because it runs as a utility it is very light and you can use it with any app on your Mac system.
If you use it with Mission Control the number of things you can manage at one time can get quite impressive.
Similar to Magnet, Mission Control allows you to manage multiple apps at a time. Unlike Magnet, Mission Control allows you to create additional desktop windows to manage those apps on.
Generally, I use four windows. I use the first window for my email, calendar, and file explorer. The second window is dedicated to Google Chrome. The third window is ad hoc, and the fourth window is for my music app. For me, that's a natural and logical flow.
Here are directions on how to use Mission Control.
IFTTT takes all the work you just did and start to do it for you. Through a series of "If-This-Then-That" actions, an applet runs to complete a variety of tasks for you. The possibilities are really endless, and where they do end you can create your own. There really isn't much to say other than...this app does everything and works with just about everything you use in life. If it connects to the internet, it connects to IFTTT. And the beauty of it is you can use it anywhere.
Similarly, there is another great automation app called Workflow. Novel name, right? Workflow, like IFTTT, allows you to create multistep automations between apps. However, Workflow works natively with the apps on your devices.
My suggestion would be to use both apps. Both apps also work together to create additional automations that don't work as well alone.
RescueTime tracks all of your time and does its best to organize that time into groups of activities so you get a picture of what you spend the most time doing. It can be shocking to see how much time you really spend on social media versus on learning and reference activities or conducting business.
If you struggle with discipline, RescueTime can help you by blocking certain kinds of sites. You can set productivity targets and see statistics on how you spend your time over different periods.
The app works on most devices and runs in the background so you barely even notice it. But, this is a good way to find out what takes up the most of your time and where you should adjust your schedule accordingly. Before I forget, the app lets you manually specify which apps are productive and which are not. Is Facebook necessary for your work and MSNBC isn't? Then you can change that.
Momentum is a landing page for Google Chrome. Whenever you open a new tab in Chrome, the Momentum screen shows up. How does that help you stay on task? Momentum integrates with Trello, Asana, Wunderlist, Google Tasks, and other task apps. You can also manually input your tasks and it will remind you when they need to be done. You can set a focus item that will show up each time you open a new tab, too. It isn't intrusive, so it doesn't get in the way of your doing work, it just reminds you that you have work to do. You can customize your level and period of time for focus, change your background, get motivational quotes, and take notes and manage a countdown. It's also much nicer to look at than the Google home screen. Sorry, Google.
If you're like many you work better when there is some background noise. Studies have found that some background, the ambient noise actually works to help people focus better. Coffee shops and coworking spaces tend to be the best places to get work done. This is where Focus@Will comes in. Using science about how our brains work with noise and music they've created playlists designed to boost your productivity. After a short quiz, they provide you a recommended playlist.
Eat Healthy Meals
Utilize the help of a therapist or coach to help you deal with issues that affect your ability to focus.