Top 3 productivity tools & why you should use them too

Written by Professional Academy Management and Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights

I’ve written a lot of blogs about productivity and recommended a lot of tools you can use to make your world that little bit slicker. So which ones are the best? Which ones do I actually use? And why do I think you should join me in using them too?

1. The Pomodoro technique

What is it?

The Pomodoro technique is a time management tool. Work is broken down into intervals of 25 minutes, with a short break in-between each interval. The technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. Pomodoro means ‘tomato’ in Italian and Cirillo named the technique after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that he used when he was a university student.

How I use it

Every time I fire up my laptop I set my timer for 25 minutes and get to work on a task. When the timer stops I log down my time and what I was doing. I follow this with a five-minute break. I then repeat the process.

This is a tool I use even when I’m surfing the internet at weekends. It stops me from losing track of time and gives me real focus.

Why you should use it

The main reasons you should use the Pomodoro technique are:

• Focus – having a deadline keeps you focused and more likely to avoid distractions.

• Pace – you’ll find that 25 minutes goes pretty quickly so you will work with much more pace as you try to beat the clock.

• Self-awareness – logging your time against each task will make you much more aware of how long you spend on some tasks and how little you spend on others. This will help you become better at planning your tasks.

• Distraction – the technique forces you into a rhythm that becomes addictive meaning the chances of you becoming distracted are reduced.

How you can get started

You don’t need any expensive equipment to get going just a timer, a sheet of paper and a pen.

The official Pomodoro technique works like this:

1. Set a timer for 25 minutes

2. Work on your task until the timer stops – mark a cross on a sheet of paper

3. Take a five-minute break

4. Start a new Pomodoro

5. After you have completed four Pomodoros (four crosses on your sheet) take a 15-20 minute break

2. Task manager

What is it?

A task manager is a tool that captures everything you need to do and organises it in a logical order i.e. it’s a to do list.

How I use it

My task list works in conjunction with my calendar, which is split into blocks of deep work (brain heavy) time in the morning and shallow work (brain light) time in the afternoon.

Most people use their calendars as task lists which just creates a confusing jumble of actions. A calendar should really only contain appointments, calls and blocks of time dedicated to working in a particular type of way e.g. deep work.

Each day I open my calendar and task manager. I briefly check my calendar to see what’s coming up. Then I look at my task manager and complete the tasks I have allocated for that day. It’s that simple.

My task manager is an Excel spreadsheet. I discovered that because I work on my own and I’m not part of large-scale projects all I need is a simple list. However, apps do exist e.g. Todoist, which might be worth checking out if you work as part of a team.

The headings I have in my task list are:

• Work type – deep or shallow

• Task – what I need to do

• Do it date – when I will do the task

• Comments – any additional information I need to complete the task

My task list runs in date order and I have a row divider between each month to help give me a better idea of how busy each month looks.

Why you should use it

The main reasons you should use a task manager are:

• Procrastination – tasks managers are a procrastination buster. After you have put the thought into the order in which you’re going to compete your tasks all you have to do is follow the list.

• Clarity – writing down everything you have to do in one place provides clarity in relation to what you need to achieve and by when.

• Prioritisation – a task manager will force you to prioritise what tasks will be completed first, which ones will be done later and which ones could even be removed altogether.

• Delegation – seeing your work priorities in one place helps you to identify whether you have too much on your plate or not. Too much to do? Then delegate.

• Calendar – by dumping all your tasks elsewhere you will tidy up your calendar and start using it in the way it should be used i.e. helping you understand the shape of your day.

How you can get started

Take a piece of paper or open a document on your computer. Write down everything you have to do. Decide whether it’s deep work (brain heavy) or shallow work (brain light). Now assign a ‘to do’ date against each task.

Look at your list and ask yourself your next three months are looking.

With a quick glance you should be able to work out whether you have too much to do (so you’ll need to delegate or remove tasks) or whether things look just about right.

3. Journal

What is it?

A journal is a tool you use to capture your thoughts, feelings and experiences. It can be digital or paper-based. There is no right or wrong way to write a journal.

How I use it

I decided I needed my journal to be goal-focused as I wanted to use it as a tool for motivating me and for capturing my successes and lessons learned.

I use a paper journal as I like to minimise the time I spend looking at screens. I write my journal each morning when my mind is at its freshest and I spend no more than five minutes writing it.

Each day I write down one thing I’m grateful for, one thing I have learnt / got better at, how much time I have spent completing deep work and how much time I have spent on my phone. I find that having headings helps me to structure my thoughts and stops any procrastination.

Why you should use it

The main reasons you should write a journal are:

• Success – take time to read back over your journal and highlight the positive things. Most people are always focusing on the gap between where they are now and what the want to achieve. Reading your journal is an opportunity to celebrate your successes and there will be much more in there than you could ever recall from memory.

• Motivation – reading back through your journal you will see all the things you have achieved, experienced and learned. This will motivate you to keep going forward.

• Intentional – a regular practice of writing a journal helps you become more intentional in your actions. By checking in with yourself each day you become more focused on how you are spending your time.

How you can get started

Begin by thinking about what you want to use your journal for i.e. the purpose. Then decide on your medium (digital or paper) and at what time of day will best suit you to write your journal. There is no right or wrong way to write a journal. Don’t be afraid of that blank piece of paper or empty document; just get going.

If you need further advice, get in touch via LinkedIn.

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