8 of my Favourite Productivity Things

As a self-confessed productivity nerd, I am always seeking new productivity tools that can help me become more efficient with my technology. By popular request I’ve decided to share a few of my current favourite tools that help me get stuff done. All of these are firm favourites rather than ones that I use only for a few weeks before discarding. Where they are platform-specific I’ve tried to offer alternatives. Hope you find this list useful.

1. Note Taking

8 of my Favourite Productivity Things Purple SalixFor taking notes on my iPad I use Notability (available for iOS and Mac). I’m a terrible note taker. If i use pen and paper I end up with random words on a page that make little sense out of context. Notability offers several features that improve this experience significantly:

  • I can type or use a stylus/finger to capture notes. Stylus is my preferred option in a meeting as it feels more natural and less intrusive than typing on a keyboard. The zoom feature allows me to write quite large on the screen which tends to make my handwriting easier to read later. (By the way, my current favourite stylus is the Lynktec Apex bluetooth stylus which has a nice small “nib” allowing for greater precision)
  • Synchronised Audio Recording. This feature is a lifesaver. Not only can I record an audio file of the meeting (remember to ask permission first, as a courtesy), but the audio is synchronised to the keyboard/stylus input. If I just capture an unintelligible scribble 47 minutes into a 3 hour recording, tapping on the scribble later will immediately take me to that section of the audio. Love it!
  • Import PDFs and Office files. When reviewing documents, it’s a breeze to import the PDF (or the powerpoint presentation) into Notability and then scribble your comments there. I often also use this feature for my speaker notes at conferences, rather than fumbling with notes on paper.
  • Files can be easily synchronised to your Cloud provider – therefore it’s easy to take notes on the iPad and then tidy them up on your Mac later on.
  • It doesn’t do handwriting recognition, but for me I’ve learned that is just a red-herring. While there are some pretty impressive apps that have this feature (e.g. Goodnotes) I never found it as useful in reality as I might have imagined.

2. Mind Mapping

8 of my Favourite Productivity Things Purple SalixI find Mind Maps an incredibly useful method for capturing thoughts and then placing them into a structured flow. I’ve been using iThoughts HD  on my iPad for sometime now – for many years I used it in conjunction with the excellent Opensource FreeMind application on windows machines (also on Mac) but now there is a native version of iThought on Mac itself which is even better. One of the features that I find particularly useful is the ability to start structuring my thoughts for a project within an iThoughts mind map and then later on exporting the file to PowerPoint or Word where the branch hierarchy gets preserved in the Word headings structure or as Powerpoint bullets.

3. List Manager

8 of my Favourite Productivity Things Purple SalixDo you write your todo lists on paper still? If so, I’d really recommend investigating some sort of list manager. It’s so much easier to maintain than rewriting your list every morning. However the choice of list managers is overwhelming and extremely personal. If you’re new to this space you may want to check out this review of apps from the Verge. They range from the simple to the highly sophisticated/complex. I’ve tried several – for some years I used Toodledo, and then IQTell, but for the last few months I’ve moved to OmniFocus (Mac/iOS only). For many this would be overkill and expensive, and it does have a learning curve that many would find off-putting, but for me it is the centre of my productivity system and I would recommend it to any serious GTD junkie. I’m particularly enjoying the separation between the list app and the email app (unlike IQTell which attempts to provide a fully integrated experience). For me, this helps me reduce email distractions when I’m trying to get work done. And the iPad version is very nicely implemented.

4. Reference File

8 of my Favourite Productivity Things Purple SalixDuring any day I come across multiple things that, whilst not requiring specific action, I may want to to store for reference at some future date. This might be web pages, blog posts, emails, photos, random thoughts, recipes, train times, maps, tweets. Like millions of others I use Evernote as this universal reference file. Some of the key features I love are:
  • Great search. Not only can you search text, but even handwritten notes and photos can also be searched/indexed. So now pictures of flip charts are now searchable, as are business cards etc.
  • Search Evernote from Google Search. By turning on a simple feature, whenever I search in google, it also presents the results for the same search term from my Evernote library.
  • Tags. Although Evernote supports having multiple notebooks, I tend to only use 3 – an inbox (primarily used to capture items that I haven’t yet processed), a Cabinet notebook for storing almost everything, and a Shared Notebook for sharing things with specific people (e.g. research for our upcoming family holiday). I can do this because Tags allow a much greater flexibility over notebooks (e.g. a note can have multiple tags, which therefore makes filing things in specific notebooks somewhat redundant). Michael Hyatt wrote a great post on his setup, and my own setup is modelled from this.

5. Typing Accelerator

8 of my Favourite Productivity Things Purple SalixI’m surprised more people don’t use some sort of typing accelerator to take a predefined string (e.g. “xPS”) and expand it to a larger string (e.g. “Purple Salix Limited”) or even a page or two of text. TextExpander is perhaps the market leader, but I use aText (mainly because its a fraction of the price, and does all I need). I use it for repetitive paragraphs, regular invoices, directions to my house,   templates for blog posts, etc. Simple but really effective.

6. Accounting (for UK accounts)

8 of my Favourite Productivity Things Purple SalixWhen I started my business 3 years ago, I originally used a spreadsheet for managing my accounts. However it soon became apparent that there had to be a better way. By chance I stumbled across Quickfile and have been using it ever since. Remarkably this cloud application is free (they hope that you’ll send your annual accounts through them for a fee, but I already have an accountant so don’t take up that offer). Some of the features that I love:
  • I can email receipts (or photos of receipts) to a dedicate email gateway which makes collating transactions and receipts almost enjoyable!
  • A chrome plugin allows you to automatically pass your bank account transactions across to the system
  • I create all my invoices through QuickFile and can provide clients access to my invoices via a bespoke URL (also means I can check whether they have looked at my invoice).
  • Integrates with the HMRC gateway for VAT payments etc.
  • Produces export files with everything tagged to appropriate nominal accounts (makes the job really easy for my accountant)

7. Time Tracking

8 of my Favourite Productivity Things Purple SalixAs I covered in a recent post, I use Toggl to track my time through the day – particularly useful when it comes to producing invoices for multiple clients at month end.

8. Flowcharts and Diagrams

8 of my Favourite Productivity Things Purple SalixOften in my work I need to create simple flow charts of clients’ processes. Powerpoint is pretty weak at this and Visio is too cumbersome (and not available on Mac). Fortunately theres a nifty Chrome app called LucidChart which makes creating professional-looking diagrams really easy. And you can even use it to collaboratively create a diagram which can be incredibly useful when running workshops online with clients.



So there you have it. A peek into my productivity toolbox. I hope you found it helpful. Please let me know what tools really make a difference to your day.

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