I like to think of myself as efficient. Efficient may have a bit of laziness tied into it, to be honest– I don’t want to work any harder than I have to in order to get something done. In this get-it-now era, there are a whole lot of ways to cut down on the time it takes to get things done, and most of them don’t hurt the quality of the task at all– in fact, a lot of them improve it.
So, here are 7 productivity tools that you’re probably not using, at least to their full extent.
1. Feed readers. If you are spending ages going around to all of your favorite blogs one by one each day, you are livin’ in the ’90s. Get on the train and get yourself a feed reader. My reader of choice is Google Reader. Subscribe to all of the blogs you read, then check Google Reader on your device of choice (my personal favorite is on my cell phone in the check-out line) and read all new blog posts from one spot. No more hopping from blog to blog to see who’s written something new.
If you are way obsessed with keeping up with your social networks, and you’re not following too many people, you can put your Twitter feed or whatever other social feed in Google Reader, too. Be careful, though. If you follow too many people it quickly becomes overwhelming, and then it’s not efficient anymore because you won’t use it.
2. Mint.com. You probably have a budget. (You should if you don’t.) You’re maybe using a spreadsheet to track your budget, which involves reconciling your receipts against your spreadsheet AND your bank account. Or maybe you’re even using Quicken… which still involves reconciling, etc. Don’t do it. Use mint.com. I am rarely such an advocate for a product, but mint.com saves me tons of time. No more reconciling, etc. I make my budgets all in the same spot and mint.com imports everything from all of my various accounts with no work on my part. Of course, it won’t track my cash spending, so we do our best to use credit cards/debit cards whenever possible. A very small percentage of our spending is cash, so I feel ok that it’s not being tracked specifically.
3. Auto-draft billing. Most, if not all, of your utilities have auto-billing and paperless billing. If you’re not signed up for those things, you should be. There’s nothing worse than missing a bill because the bill got shuffled to the bottom of a pile of papers on your mail landing pad at home. Also, if you ever need to locate an old bill and all you have is paper, you may be out of luck. If you’re getting it in email or online, you can always search back to find the electronic copy.
4. Online calendaring. If you are still carrying around a paper calendar, stop it. Stop it now. There are tons of calendaring applications out there. If you are in the working world, your company probably makes you use a particular one. If you are still a free agent, I suggest Google Calendar, or something that will sync with Google Calendar. It’s the most intuitive calendaring system that I’ve found, and can be shared with really whoever you need to share it with (your spouse, your mom, your kids, your coworkers). It’s also available from your mobile device, so there’s no need to have an appointment book in your purse anymore.
5. Folders in your email. Email inboxes are the scariest place in the world for an efficiency-whore like me. Most people’s inboxes are atrocious. Horrible. Gag-worthy. They don’t have to be that way. Your inbox is your holder for your To-Do emails. Emails that still have an action item attached to them are the only ones that should still be in your inbox. Everything else needs to be archived. Archived doesn’t mean deleted. It means stored somewhere other than your inbox. You can archive any way you see fit. At work, I keep my archived emails in folders based on who sent the email. For my personal email in my Gmail account, I just archive the little suckers and do a search if I need one.
6. Social networking sites. Now, usually social networking sites are thought of as anti-productivity tools. They can certainly be a time suck! But, think of how they can also make you more efficient… If pretty much everyone you know is on Facebook, maybe it’s easier to invite everyone to your cookout using Facebook. If you’re trying to track your dietary habits, using Foursquare to check in when you go to restaurants may help you remember what you’ve been eating recently. Think outside the box, and make your social networking sites work for you. See? Efficiency can be fun!
7. Jedi mind tricks. Ok, ok, nerd alert. But sometimes the best productivity tool is a little mind game. Do you want to work out every day? Don’t set the goal to work out every day. Set the goal to put on your sneakers. Once they’re on, the inertia is overcome, and you’re rolling. If you’re working out to a DVD, make your goal to press play. If you want to have a clean kitchen, make your goal to run the dishwasher every night before bed. It gets you to clean up the biggest part of the mess and inspires you to do the rest.
What are your favorite productivity tools and which ones did I miss?