As Product Managers, we’re often deeply and intimately involved in the processes that our companies use in their everyday business. Issue tracking systems, customer feedback systems, email and IM systems — there’s a neverending list of tools that we use on a daily basis to further our own (and others’) professional productivity. Having such a laser focus on the things that we do at work sometimes means that we forget that some of these very same tools (or tools like them) can be used to help ourselves on a daily basis in our personal lives. As I’ve taken on this blog, and written paid posts for other companies, I’ve come to value several tools for both professional and personal productivity that I thought it would be fun to share.
Habits Are Hard to Break
Before I get into the nitty-gritty details, though, I wanted to talk a little bit about why personal productivity is as important as professional productivity — and the fundamental reason is, habit. Habits build up over time, and are things that are incredibly difficult to change. When we separate our personal and professional practices, sometimes the habits that we build up in one area leach over into the other. For a long time, I was a rather terrible procrastinator with personal projects — I’d start something, then just never get around to finishing it, telling myself that I had all the time in the world and would pick it up later. When I launched this blog, in fact, I found myself often writing my posts the night before they were to go live — which obviously impacted the quality of the work. But, by leveraging some of the same tools and approaches that I used every day as a Product Manager, building products for other people, I’ve managed to (mostly) cut down the effect that these habits have on my blog, and indirectly on my personal life. It’s force me to be a better planner, to keep to schedules, and to parse out work that I need to do in more effective and efficient plans. While I don’t always get things done when I wanted to, I find that adding just a little structure to my personal work has provided benefits across the board, in nearly everything that I do.
And Now, Some Tools…
I’ve got to be honest, for the longest time I’ve scoffed at to-do list apps; never felt like I really had a use for them, and put them in the category of “Inbox Zero” tools. This summer, however, I suddenly found myself with a ton of things that I needed to get done, with a variety of deadlines, and a need to balance personal, professional, and some volunteer work that I’m involved in. And my brain just wasn’t enough anymore — I had to admit to myself that I really couldn’t keep track of all of these things just using my brain. So I looked around, thought about using some things I already had in my repertoire (Trello and Keep, notes to come below), but wanted something that was purpose-built. And there was Todoist, exactly what I needed with a clean interface, simple UX, and easy syncing between different devices and platforms. It’s helped me immensely — tracking personal tasks like going to the gym more regularly, or planning for our weekly guys’ night, managing professional commitments that I take on like paid blog posts (or even my own scheduled blog posts), and really helped me to better manage the deliverables that I come up with for my volunteer work. I’d highly recommend Todoist as a tool for helping you focus on what needs to be done, and what can be pushed off to another day.
While Todoist is great when it comes to simple to-do lists (and that’s all it claims to be), there are times when we need something more. There are several projects that I have running in parallel that need a higher level of tracking and planning than just a simple to-do list. And that’s where Trello comes in very handy, as the go-to solution for my own personal Scrum board. Trello has a very clean and simple UX, but also offers some additional features even at the free level that make it more than a mere tracking tool. On the few projects that I’ve needed collaboration on, Trello has become invaluable for keeping everyone involved up to date on progress, status, and what work is remaining to do. When a simple to-do list won’t cut it, my first instinct is to set up a Trello board and run from there, and I’ve yet to be disappointed in the outcome.
I’m an unapologetic Android fan, and when Google Keep launched a few years ago, I was ecstatic. Here was a tool that was built to capture quick notes, checklists, or tidbits of data and store them on the cloud. It sounds very simple, and it really is — it’s easy to use, simple to interact with, and cloud-based so you can access your information everywhere. It’s not a full-baked notebook solution (for that, I’m now using OneNote — see below), but it doesn’t need to be. You read something that you want to follow up on later? Just toss a note into Keep and it will be there for next time. It does what it does exceptionally well — it’s my go-to tool for shopping lists, for example. It’s not meant to be as long-term as Todoist or Trello, but there are always those little nuggets of data that you want to store for later — and that’s what Keep does effectively and efficiently.
I was once in love with Evernote, and it seems like so very long ago that I had to abandon it for something better. And I remember back in the day just how terrible OneNote was when it first launched, so I was extremely hesitant to make that jump. But, quite frankly this is one of the areas that Microsoft swung for the fences and slammed it out of the park on — OneNote is everything that Evernote wanted to be and then some. It syncs seamlessly across devices (for my personal work, at least), is quick and easy to use, and fits the bill for a central location of disparate information that’s not status tracking, to-do lists, or ephemeral notes that do not need to be kept for posterity. They’ve certainly come a long way since the terrible early days, and now OneNote is my go-to tool for storing detailed information that has to be accessible long-term.
So…what tools do you rely on for personal productivity? Share with the rest of the crew on Twitter or here in comments!