10 Easy Hacks To Make You a Productivity Ninja
You’re probably familiar with the egalitarian adage that “we all have the same 24 hours in a day.” And although this is technically true, life is not egalitarian. Disparity in ability and resource oftentimes constrain what we can accomplish on any given day.
The purpose of this post is to share ten tech tools that can give you greater ability and resources, no matter what your area of specialization is.
Whether you’re doing technical, corporate or social communication, these tools can save you a lot of time and make you far more productive than you were without them.
1. Schedule your emails
If you are a communication professional, odds are that a large part of your job involves follow-up and relationship building. If you work in productivity spurts like most people do, this is problematic: odds are that some days will be busier than others, and some days will be more productive than others.
But what if you could schedule your follow-up and networking emails during your most productive times to compensate? You can.
Many email service providers allow you to schedule your emails days, weeks or months in advance.
For example, if you need to follow up with a person on a certain date you can send a reminder email or even the follow-up far in advance of the day. David Allen would be proud of you!
2. Clean your inbox
If your inbox is like mine, it is littered with all kinds of newsletters, promotions and otherwise unnecessary stuff. Yet, there is a threshold where we can’t manage email anymore (some research suggests that it is 50 emails per day, though my personal threshold is far lower). Something must be done, but the tedium of sifting through hundreds of emails is excruciating.
The good news for Gmail and Google Apps users is that there is a pretty cool way to deal with email quickly and effectively, called the Email Game. The email game is another creation by Baydin which gamifies email processing and helps to knock out processing of 50-100 emails in a fun and fast way.
The Email Game is free to use, and it is the only thing that keeps me close to Inbox Zero. Here is a video of how it works:
3. Develop Email Templates
I know it’s a bit of a stretch to think that anyone in communication would send redundant emails (a bit of sarcasm, sorry). Email templates were probably made by a PR pro. For example, if you have a message that you’re sending out to key people, you may create a template that has your redundant messaging and signature and then tailor the greeting and first paragraph to the recipient.
Email templates are an example of how good planning at the outset of a project can save you lots of time later on.
4. Use Voice Recognition Software
Voice recognition software has come a long way recently with the integration of “Siri” into Apple products, Google’s “Google Now,” Microsoft’s “Cortana,” and Amazon’s “Alexa.” There is a lot of time to be gained by using voice recognition software.
One of the software packages that I am most bullish about is Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Contrary to Amazon or even Apple’s voice-recognition products, Dragon NaturallySpeaking does a fantastic job of transcribing what you say into perfectly spelled text (you’ll notice in the video that I jinxed that by using the word “perfectly” but you get the idea).
Here’s a video of me transcribing that last paragraph:
The mobile voice recognition apps may be able to save you time when you want to dial a number while driving, are texting or emailing (this is primarily what I use them for), or have a basic search that you want to execute.
But if you’re doing a lot of writing and can speak like you write (which is not as easy it seems), you may want to check out Dragon’s voice recognition products. Dragon NaturallySpeaking retails for $99.
5. Use the Pomodoro Technique
“If you could just stay focused on the right things, your life would stop feeling like a reaction to stuff that happens to you”
It used to be en vogue to have a proclivity to multi-task, but recent research suggests that our overall productivity may decrease by as much as 40 percent when we are actively juggling many projects. Maintaining flow and concentration is key to accomplishing the largest amount of work in the shortest amount of time.
Enter the Pomodoro technique. This time management technique is designed to get you in an uninterrupted flow and keep you focused for 25-minutes at a time (I’m writing this is in a 25-minute block of time using a Pomodoro app on my phone). Here’s how a Pomodoro session is designed:
- Focus on one task
- Set a Pomodoro timer to 25 minutes
- Work exclusively on that task until the bell rings
- Take a five minute break
- Start over.
It is suggested to take a 15-minute to half-hour break after four consecutive Pomodoros.
This is probably the least tech-y of any of the suggestions, but you can use tech tools to do Pomodoros pretty easily. While you can see from the video that pomodoro sessions are typically timed with a tomato-shaped timer (”pomodoro” = “tomato” in Italian), there are numerous Pomodoro apps for iOS, Android and Windows that you can use to time your 25-minute sessions.
I personally use the straightforward Pomodoro Timer app for iOS , but there are plenty of different apps to choose from.
6. Use Trigger/Action Apps to Automate Routine Tasks
With all of the technological tools that we use, there are a lot of routine tasks that we do that take up a lot of our time: social sharing, checking websites, checking multiple platforms for messages, transcribing appointments to calendars, saving local files to the cloud, et cetera.
Everyone is probably somewhat familiar with trigger-action apps like IFTTT and Zapier which use application APIs to link disparate applications, but most people don’t take full advantage of the automation opportunities that these apps provide.
There are three apps that you should know about and explore: IFTTT, DO and Zapier.
- IFTTT (if-this-then-that) is probably the best known of the trigger-action apps, because it was first and is free. It is a great application to automate social sharing from RSS feeds, send reminder messages from calendar entries or even to control smart thermostats and lights.
- DO are a family of mobile apps from IFTTT (DO button, camera and note) that are optimized to trigger specific actions from a single-button trigger.
- Zapier is a freemium service that offers integration into a rich group of enterprise-level apps, as well as to most of the APIs that IFTTT integrates.
The possibilities of trigger/action apps are too vast and specific to get into in one post, but sufficed to say that if you are not using one or more of them you’re spending more time doing repetitive tasks than necessary.
7. Use Scrivener to Create and Edit
As I started writing about more interesting topics (or when I realized how little people were interested to read my opinion), I found it harder to organize my research into a logical outline ahead of time.
Same deal with listicles like this piece, where I found it difficult to place passages higher or lower in the piece and was dealing with unknown inputs (subject matter interviews, for example). Then I found Scrivener.
Scrivener is an application that subdivides your post into pieces (placed in individual word documents) and then associates the documents in a database that you can rearrange how you see fit. It’s a great tool for researchers and writer in general to tell your most coherent story.
As an example, if you were writing a post about things that people irrationally dislike (like this one) and decided that Luddites were more sympathetic than bicyclists, you could change the order by reordering the sections rather than editing an entire document.
If that’s too opaque, I made a video showing how I used Scrivener to create this article (brace yourself for my charisma):
Scrivener is free to use for 30 days and then costs $40 to purchase.
8. Use Note Taking Software
Everyone knows about note taking software like Evernote and OneNote, but as some more specialized apps tend to get a lot of press these two apps continue to add features that make them reasonable alternatives to cloud storage apps and to-do lists.
Here is a partial example of what you can do with Evernote and OneNote:
- Take audio, text, written or photographic notes
- Clip text and pages from your browser
- Trigger and create actions using IFTTT, DO and Zapier
- Create and maintain documents and lists in the cloud for mobile and desktop use
- Tag documents for quick organization and search
I tend to use both of these a lot, I have a premium account with Evernote because the ease of use is high, but I also use OneNote because of a specific functional advantage that it has (handwriting):
9. Get (Some of) Your Contact Details at a Glance
Rapportive has a pretty straightforward utility (this is a Gmail-only app). It consolidates social data (with emphasis on data from its parent company LinkedIn) and provides it to you at a glance in your email. Like this:
No doubt you’re doing a lot of networking, this is one way to reacquaint yourself with a contact quickly while drafting an email. You can get the browser extension here.
10. Use a Password Manager
If you’re using the same password for every account that you have, this tip isn’t for you. You probably know that the security of all of your accounts is as vulnerable as the least secure website that you used that password on.
For the rest of us (who regularly reset passwords after forgetting them, or who have every password we have written on a piece of paper in our wallet or desk), you should consider getting a password manager.
A password manager keeps all of your usernames and passwords secure under one master password (the one you should remember). I use a lesser known password manager (f-secure key) but there are plenty of apps with the same utility everywhere.
Here’s an example (most work in more or less the same way):
What I wanted to do in this post was to save you some time with ten cool things that you can do with technology. This is not an exhaustive or extraordinary list, however. YOU could make it better by sharing your productivity hacks in the comments, and I cordially invite you to leave one.
In closing here’s a great quote to take to heart when considering whether you want to be a productivity ninja:
“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
– William Penn
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