Tool X is more productive

As you have probably noticed, most of the productivity tools compete with each other by promising greatness. Trying that brand new one, feels like this will be the one that will make you a more productive person. Getting more things done easily is just a few clicks away.

Here are some examples of promises in bold letters on their pages:

  • Wunderlist: "Keep your life in sync"
  • Todoist: "Accomplish more, every day"
  • "Get life under control"
  • Trello: "Trello lets you work more collaboratively and get more done."

So the game is designed in way that you will indeed compare which one of them is helping you get more things done. You will also find plenty of examples on the internet of discussions about "Which is better, X or Y" when it comes to those kind of apps.

It is a common misconception that an app will make you more productive. I discovered that it is more important if an app is tailored for the way you work. So the better the app suits your workflow, the more it will boost your productivity. Also, there is no app that satisfies all needs, and that is a good thing. Test a couple of them and see for yourself which one helps your daily productivity.

It is all about Inbox Zero

It seems like everyone is chasing that mythical "Inbox Zero" status. We are naturally wired for that completion craving, so when you cross something off your list, you get that instant micro hit of dopamine. After a few good productivity streaks, you might find yourself running out of things to do.

Experience has taught me one thing - while it is generally a desired state to have an empty inbox in your email account, the same does not go for your to-dos. Having nothing to do means that either you are bored or you just do not care to put anything down. In both cases, you are certainly not working productively.

"Busy" means "productive"

At some point in my life, I was working very extensively with the timeboxing technique. I had every activity planned in my calendar with some time buffer. This helped me develop some routines and habits in my life, but, as a side product, I have noticed something about my work during the week. On days when I had planned fewer activities, I was more productive than on the packed ones. So I decided to declare "no meetings Wednesdays" for myself and focus purely on software development during that time.

Having Wednesdays clear of meetings made me realize that those were the most productive days for me. When I had a lot of activities during rest of the days I felt busy, but the biggest satisfaction streak was definitely when I could concentrate on longer, highly demanding tasks in terms of focus.

Multitasking is key

Most of us are used to working in chaos. We respond to emails, do code reviews, answer Slack messages, and implement new features all at the same time. I quickly found out that, contrary to common belief, multitasking is not getting you more productive. Focusing on one task at a time often left me finishing my job in four to five hours instead of eight.

Using, for example, the pomodoro technique, made me realize that, most often, when I focus on one task and allow no space for distractions, I am able to accomplish much more in much less time. Muting almost all notifications on my phone also helped me enjoy the things I am doing and being more mindful about them.

Start small

Most of the times when I started my day with quick and easy tasks, I ended up postponing more serious and complex ones that mattered most for me. While reading an email or doing a pull request review might get you that first wave of success in the morning, completing small tasks first makes you lose momentum to approach difficult tasks. I have found myself postponing a big code refactor for several days after doing 10-20 small tasks during the beginning of each one of them. Small talks give you great start and satisfaction but they also drain your energy to approach more complex issues at hand, leaving you falsely satisfied with what you have done.

Technique X will make you better

The same thing that goes for productivity apps also applies to techniques. I came to a realization that there is no single technique that will make you a happy person, guarantee that you will have more time and do more stuff stress free. Instead, I would strongly advise you to try out most of them on your own. During that time, be sure to observe how you work and what works for you best. Armed with that knowledge, try to take the best out of every productivity technique you come across and mix them into something of your own. Remember, it is what works best for you that will make that special sauce.