Keeping Things Simple.

This article first appeared on my Medium blog

As I read articles and blog posts and watch YouTube videos about productivity, I am amazed how many people use a multitude of apps to get stuff done. There appears to be a compulsive need these days to keep trying new apps to do simple things and end up with work stored all over the place. Some work is stored in Google Drive, some in Dropbox and more saved in iCloud. And then I find some have work in Google Docs, some in Microsoft Word and some in Apple Pages. It all seems unnecessarily complex.

All this complexity just adds to your digital stress. Not immediately knowing where stuff is, having to check inboxes from your Gmail accounts to your company’s Outlook system. Having a company calendar as well as a Google Calendar and using apps like Slack in the hope this will clear up your inability to keep on top of your inbox (it won’t). I’ve even seen people using OmniFocus for their personal tasks and project management and Asana as their team’s project management system.

If you are one of these people, then stop for just a moment and be completely honest with yourself. Are all these different tools really making you more productive? My guess is they are not.

A good productivity system is supposed to help you become the most efficient version of yourself. Having to check multiple inboxes, cloud drives and todo lists is not going to achieve this. You need to have everything in as few places as possible if you are going to become the most productive version of yourself. Having a lot of windows open on your computer when you are working is just going to add to your distractions and drag down your ability to focus on the job in hand.

As with all those Get Rich Quick books, most of these productivity apps that promise to make you more productive are not going to do that. Most are just toys (some are expensive toys), a lot of them just shuffle around the work that needs doing and because of their own complexity, just add a layer of procrastination to the mix. (What colour should I label this? Should I use bold text or italic? How should I be alerted to this? Etc.) This really is not the way to get to your most productive self.

To become the most efficient and productive version of yourself you only need a few items, and the simpler these items are the better they will be. These items are as follows:

  • A todo list manager
  • A Place to store your work in the cloud
  • A calendar
  • An address book / Contacts list
  • An email programme that collects all your emails
  • A Writing suite such as Microsoft Office, Apple iWorks or Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.
  • A note taking app
  • A instant messenger app
  • A digital reference materials storage

And that’s it. Of course depending on the type of work you do, you may need some specialised software such as Photoshop, Premiere or BBEdit, but the basics need not change for the type of work you are doing.

You do not need many different forms of any of these items. One of each is enough and it is up to you how you configure these items. It is advisable that each of these items are available on the devices you use for your work, your computer, tablet and phone.

When you think about it, things haven’t really changed over the years. Back in the days of black and white TV, we had a desk, a typewriter, a filing cabinet, a diary and a pad of paper to write down our todos. The only change is all these things have gone digital. We certainly didn’t have three typewriters to type out different documents and three diaries for the different parts of our life. Until the dawn of cheap plastic pens, we usually carried the same pen around with us. Ah, life was so much simpler back then.

Having one dedicated app for each specific job will allow you to become the most productive version of yourself. If you have to write a report, you choose the app you write with, if you need to prepare a presentation, you choose the app you always use for presenting, if you have a task to do, you write it down in your todo list manager, and if you receive a document for reference you file it in your digital filing app. There’s no need to have to think about how you will write the document or where you want to keep the item. The decision is already made for you and you can just get on and do it.

Yes, I know some have to use specific document types in their companies. But that still does not mean you have to have many different tools. Apple iWorks allows you to export files as Microsoft Office documents, as does Google Docs.

Of course things change, and better tools come a long. There’s no problem in changing your tools. The only issue you have is adding more tools to your already bulging tool bag. It’s far better to keep your tool bag light. It also allows you to learn all there is to know about the tools you use, so you can become even faster and even more efficient at using them.

I must confess, I write from experience. I have been down the road of having multiple tools that can do the same job, and I have been in perpetual digital stress having to decide where I should be saving different files and then having the nightmare a few weeks down the road trying to remember where I put the file on the logistics of getting purple inflatable frogs from China to the UK. Only to discover the I wrote the file in a non IOS compatible format and don’t have my laptop with me to send the file.

So why not take a few days this weekend to purge your tools. Choose one tool for each specific task you do and delete all the others. You will find you have much less digital stress, your decision making will become faster and you will move even closer to becoming the most efficient version of yourself.

Remember: one tool, one job.