The 4 Best Programs for Effortless Efficiency

Following on from my recent post about “The Tricks of Effortlessly Efficient People” I’m going to quickly detail the software I use to keep track of my ever growing list of tasks and how I use them to keep the important things to the fore, and distractions “forgotten but not gone”.

In that post I mentioned the four main types of task I encounter:

  • Events / Meetings
  • Single Tasks
  • Repeat Tasks
  • Things to Remember

I use a few different pieces of software to track different types of tasks.  I must confess to being slightly obsessive about this type of software and always test out new ones when I hear about them.  These are my current favourites.

Events / Meeting – Google Calendar

I use Google Calendar for all of my events, meeting and reminders.  I’ve used a number of different calendar programs over the years and Google, as you might expect, have produced something so slick and easy to use I haven’t seen anything to compare with it for a long time.

Write a simple description of your event and it will work out what you mean and convert it into an event.  e.g. “Meeting with David in Leeds at 2pm” will be converted into an event called “Meeting with David” with location of “Leeds” and time of “2pm – 3pm”.

google calendar

You are of course free to go in and change these details, but it’s a great start.

Of course it also gives you repeats so you can have an event occurring at regular intervals.

For reminders it gives you the ability to set as many as you like, so you can get it to email you the day before, email you again 2 hours before and then give a pop-up reminder an hour before. This is the functionality that really makes it work for me as I can be sure not to miss an important date.

You can also share calendars with different people so that your events will appear on their calendars.  This again works really well for collaborations with work colleagues, or for making your home life run smoothly.

And best of all, it’s free with your Google account.

Repeat Tasks – Vitalist

VitalistVitalist is not one of the trendy types of list software that you see mentioned on social media and blog posts.  It plods along doing what it does very well without making a big fuss on social networks. I’ve been using it for years, mainly for tracking my repetitive tasks.

It has very good heritage being brought to you by David Allen to complement his productivity book Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity [affiliate link]

It allows you to

  • prioritize tasks
  • create projects and assign tasks to them
  • assign due dates
  • set repeats and reminders
  • Add notes
  • Sort by date, contact, priority etc.
  • Share tasks with different users

I find this software most useful for keeping track of my “repeat tasks”.  Each day when I get onto that part of my work routine I load Vitalist and see what needs doing.

  • Daily tasks such as “Pick and pack order” (for my ecommerce business).
  • Each Mon, Weds, Fri tasks such as “update Facebook with offers”
  • Weekly tasks such as “update accounts”
  • Monthly tasks such as “send email newsletter”

When you have done the task you simply mark them as complete and they are either removed (for single tasks) or moved to the next repeat date.

Anything that you don’t complete remains on the task list in the overdue section so you will be reminded the following day as well.

Things to Remember – Evernote

evernote-logoEvernote is incredibly popular software that is great for capturing information and organizing it.  I tend to use Evernote for things to remember such as:

  • Taking clippings from websites
  • Guitar chords
  • Recipes
  • Blog ideas

It’s superb software in both the desktop and mobile versions and is great for storing information.

Single Tasks – Workflowy

workflowy_logoThe new kid on the block for me, within days of first using it, Workflowy has transformed my list making activities. I’ve left it to the bottom of this article because:

  1. It’s new to me – I’ve been using for about 2 weeks
  2. It may well take over some of the functionality of the programmes above
  3. I didn’t want to be too gushy at the start of the article

Until Workflowy came along I always, always went back to paper and pen.  Nothing I’ve used before provides the simple and logical order of just writing things down.

Previously my process was to keep lists of all the things that needed doing on Vitalist, but each day to write a list of tasks for the day.  At the end of the day, any unfinished tasks could be transferred to the following day’s list.

But Workflowy takes away the need for using pen and paper.  That’s probably the biggest compliment I can pay it.  Let me say it again,

Workflowy takes away the need for using pen and paper

At it’s heart it is simply a hierarchical list of items. You simply type something and it becomes part of your list. When you press Enter a new item can be created.  If you press Tab, the new item become a sub-item of the previous item.

You can do this with as many items and levels as you want (caveat: levels I’m not sure about, but it works with as many levels as I’ve found necessary so far). And this means that each of your tasks can have sub-tasks to the nth degree.

The other really powerful part of Workflowy is the tagging option.  You can tag each item with any tag you wish for, and then search for tags.  For me this means that I can tag items as #today and when I search for today these items are all that I see.  i.e. a substitute for my written daily task list.

And like any task list you can complete items to remove them from your list and get that all important sense of achievement.

I think it has already given me back a good 5 minutes per day in terms of time saved.  I’ve been using it for 2 weeks so that’s around 50 minuted saved so far. Multiply that up over a year and I’ll have had time to get so much more done.  And that deserves a smiley 🙂

Honorary mention

Project Management – Zoho

zlFor a more structured Project Management solution, Zoho is very comprehensive and allows the more detailed organizational tools that may be lacking from the software mentioned above (such as project dependencies

Summary

I hope this has been of use.  I really believe that it’s imperative that you keep a track of your tasks and projects in a structured way.  The tools I’ve outlined above help me do that for a massive number of tasks in multiple projects.

If you have any other recommendations then please let me know.

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