Tools are an important part of any task. Knowing which tool to use for a particular task is absolutely necessary to stay productive. Yet, it is not the tools that enhance your productivity, but how well you use and maintain them.
There is an old adage referring to taking time to sharpen the saw in order to increase productivity. When you are too busy sawing (producing), you tend to forget to take time to sharpen the saw (maintenance). The following tools, if kept sharp, will keep all aspects of life running smoothly.
- Dayplanner/Calendar – Use only one dayplanner/calendar and block off personal and family time first, then fill in the rest of the available time with prioritized tasks and appointments. I use a smart phone that syncs with my computer, but you can use a paper calendar if that works for you. For me, relying on one digital input of appointments and work time, I am able to view expectations across many devices, keeping me balanced. Accessing my phone, computer, laptop or tablet, I know where, when and what is ahead of me — for the day, the week, the month… Consider filling in time-blocks with color to designate different aspects of life. I use green for business, red for expenses, yellow for pending, blue for action and purple for personal. As a productivity tool, the calendar is your personal control system. Use it wisely!
- Tickler File System – This is a place to put time-sensitive papers that require a future action.
- Contact Manager – Whether paper or electronic, this system maintains addresses, phone numbers and pertinent contact information. Consider cross-referencing names and categories. If you don’t remember the computer repairman’s name, you will always find him under ‘Computer Repairs.’ Again, the smart phone syncs with other electronic devices and keeps all contact information handy.
- To-Do List – Lists are no substitute for planning and scheduling. However, if used effectively the to-do list augments the process to turn good intentions into action. Title your lists with action words; such as Calls to Make, Errands to Run, To Read, and so on. Remember to list your priorities rather than prioritize your lists. Again using electronics maintains all this information digitally and accessible from many devices. But if paper is your thing, then make sure your lists and pertinent notes are contained within your dayplanner.
- Colored File Folders – With the use of color, you can identify files or categories three times faster than using the standard military-green folders. Correlate your system of color for appointments and tasks to the file folders — emerald green for business files or those items that bring in the money, red for expense files, yellow for pending files, blue for action files, purple for personal files, or any colors that specifically work for you. Don’t forget to label.
- Telephone – As AT&T once said, “Let your fingers do the walking.” A while ago the advice would be ‘Call Ahead.’ Today most of us do research, shopping, social media and connections via our cell phone. The phone is truly a productivity tool but easily becomes an addiction. It can be a time-waster with the presumed need to continually check messages, emails, voice mail, apps and more. Assess the effects of spending time and energy on electronics and what triggers the compulsion to check notifications frequently. Be aware of what interferes with your ability to focus on the task at hand and take the necessary steps to solve the problem.Turn off notifications, remove your phone from the dining table and kick it out of the bedroom. I recently read that many investors are pressing Apple to develop new software apps to help users curb their phone addictions. Hum-m-m… It is not the tool, but how we use it that interferes with our productivity. It is a choice how you use the tool, so choose wisely!
- Headphones/Headset/Ear buds – Saves the neck and chiropractic expense. They allow for hands-free chatting or listening. Headphones are best for appreciating music as they deliver superior sound quality and decrease ambient noise. Earbuds are lightweight and portable, and more expensive earbuds are noise-cancelling. If you are not sure which is best for you, purchase both a headphone and earbuds. Then, swap them out depending on your circumstances.
- Voice Mail – Voice mail provides a 24/7 capability to receive and record messages when the person being called is unavailable. When used effectively, it is a boom to productivity. It controls interruptions so you can focus on the task at hand. Simply turn off the ringer until you are ready to capture your messages. Make sure your outgoing message educates the caller. Ask for the information you need to make informed decisions, especially the return phone number.
- E-mail – Email is short for ‘electronic mail’ which is sent via the internet to a recipient. It is a tool that enhances the speed of communications. Keep messages clear, concise and one topic only. Consider using “Response Needed” or “No Response Necessary” in the subject line guides the recipient to the needed action.
- Wastebasket – 80% of all papers filed are never looked at again. Utilize the circular file more.
A tool is simply something that aids in the performance of an operation. Tools cannot make you more productive, but if used efficiently and effectively, tools enhance productivity. Take some time to open your toolbox of possibilities and be diligent in usage and maintenance. Keep them sharp!