Boost Your Productivity: The Tools, Systems And Framework To Get More Done
When was the last time you analyzed your productivity?
The way you work, the way you act, the way you manage and lead others?
For a long time, I thought it was a given that 8 hours of work is enough for a day. And that one 8-hour period couldn’t possibly produce more achievements and success for me or my employer.
Not only did I find out that I was wrong, but in the process, I learned how to double my productivity.
Stay with me and we’ll talk about 3 key elements that have the ability to increase your productivity:
I’ll be talking about each from 2 perspectives: that of an employee (I work as a Digital Marketer in a full-service digital marketing agency) and that of a freelancer (besides my day job, I spend time working as a Content Marketer).
You’ll learn what makes me tick, how I deal with my day and how you can apply these productivity tricks and techniques to your work life, drastically increasing your productivity.
Tools alone won’t improve your productivity. Using them properly does.
For me, that means deploying 3 systems that work hand in hand. They not only ensure my productivity is increased, but also guarantee that my future efforts will be more profitable. And all the people helping me achieve my goals will naturally fit into my work processes.
I usually enter the state of focus by using Brain.fm. This external sound app informs my brain that it’s time to get down to business. Since I’m using headphones and not speakers, one of my senses (hearing) is completely overwhelmed. This calms me and lets my other senses be in tune with my current state.
Once I’m focused, I’m not just able to write and work better, but also more efficiently. Which leads to a noticeable increase in productivity for most of my daily tasks.
I don’t want myself to be in a focused state just for a moment but enjoy this state for longer. By documenting all the little tricks and shortcuts I find in my focused state, I’m able to look back and learn from my own experience.
Sometimes I write articles, notes, and guides. Other times I record videos or take screenshots. Once in a focused state, it is crucial to teach yourself (and others) what works and what doesn’t.
More often than not, when you exit this state and start interacting with people or implementing other tasks, you’ll forget your triggers and productivity tricks. Document them while you can.
I started documenting my productivity discoveries about 2 years ago. Therefore, I’ve amassed a large collection of techniques and elements I can play around with to increase productivity. Only recently I’ve seen the benefits of sharing my ideas with the world.
Sharing generates countless comments and pieces of advice.
People come up with ingenious solutions to common problems. Imagine having the power to poll the masses and gather instant answers, so your research basically gets done on its own. So powerful is sharing and connecting with like-minded people.
My productivity framework stands above all else. Without it, I have only a collection of tools and systems without anything binding them together. Since one of the secrets to increased productivity are clearness and simplicity, my efficiency framework is divided into only 2 parts.
1. What is actually urgent?
We like to think that we’re in control of our lives and our daily tasks. In reality, they own control over us.
We need to move from “I need to do this right now” towards “I want to finish this first”. The difference is in choice. I choose to do one specific task before another, based on my judgment and data.
Surely, data can sometimes be wrong, but at least I’m making my own choices and they’re not thrust upon me by urgency.
Figuring out what ACTUALLY needs to get done first is essential. I handle this problem in a couple of ways.
First, I think about the project stages. Whether this little task connects to others down the line (it usually does). If the people involved in the next stage of the project need my contribution to be able to continue their work, I’ll do the task immediately. When working for a client, it depends on whether they need to check the work now or maybe they’re on holiday.
I consider the possibility of delaying a task if I’ve already implemented it in the past and the client didn’t think it’s urgent.
Once you’ve figured out the list of urgent tasks for the day, you can move on to the second part of productivity framework.
Before you move on to the next section, take a look at the A-Z guide of productive time management.
2. What do you really like to do?
This one’s tricky, as not everyone enjoys the same type of tasks. Some people are more inclined to achieve the harder tasks first, just to get rid of them. Others might focus on something easy at first to get the ball rolling. If you’ve got any urgent tasks at hand, that’s what dictates the priorities for the day.
You don’t want to feel sluggish while working. Dragging your feet, forcing yourself to work isn’t fun for anyone.
One by one, you’re going to cross tasks off your to-do list. Before you know it, you’ve focused on your work, finished your day and actually enjoyed it.
I’m not a big fan of using complex tools for my daily marketing and writing tasks. They’re supposed to enhance work, not dictate how it’s done. I prefer productivity tools to be somewhere in the background, supporting me while I’m focused on the actual job at hand.
And the first tool does just that.
Based on the idea that sound and music influence your mood, Brain.fm uses scientific methods to provide a calming and relaxing sound atmosphere. I’d say it’s the greatest invention since sliced toast (and at times it does feel like a perfect tool). But still, I must admit something – it’s not as personalized as I’d want it to be.
I’m currently using only the free sessions and I sometimes feel like they’re 3-5 MP3s on a loop, designed for a few purposes – focus, relaxation, and sleep. Since I don’t have trouble going to bed, I’ve only played around with the first 2 options.
Relaxation tends to be underrated as creative work needs moments of high-focus and moments of settling in. For that, the Brain.fm Relaxation objective works wonders. It feels like you’re floating away and it does have a calming undertone.
As an employee, I’m constantly surrounded by colleagues, on-going discussions, various appliances (coffee machine, sandwich maker, microwave, water cooler, fruit juicer, etc.) going on and off and people asking for my opinion or advice. In these typical office conditions, don’t you sometimes feel that it’s difficult to focus on your work?
I use the Brain.fm Focus objective to filter out most noise. And since I’ve got my earphones on, people usually know not to disturb me.
What ends up happening in the combination of isolation and focusing tones, is that I enter a state where only work matters. Not only that but the quality of my work improves a lot. I attribute that to getting rid of distractions and not being tied to my current work environment.
I can start my work from a foundation of excellence and ask myself: “How would this be done, if I were to ignore everything around me, and just focus on delivering a great product or service?” Then I start working on the task, ignoring all restraints.
As a freelancer, time is of essence. Sometimes I get paid on an hourly basis. At other times, I have a limited time period to work for every day. And I assume that’s exactly the same for you (if you’re a freelancer, of course). So unless you’re outsourcing parts of your freelancing job, you have to rely on yourself and your productivity.
Brain.fm enables me to work productively and as I’ve used it for about 3 weeks already, it also acts as a trigger. I start the program and enter the work trance. It might be a placebo that I’m self-administering, but all I know is that I get most of my work done under this condition.
I use the online application, not recorded MP3s, to avoid the urge of changing or pausing the track. I considerBrain.fm a work enhancing app, so I treat it as such.
Takeaway: While Brain.fm isn’t backed by major medical and scientific organizations, it feels like it’s working. I’ve tried binaural beats in the past and they did not change anything for me. Take it or leave it, at least give Brain.fm a try.
If you do any sort of writing or editing, Grammar.ly is a must-have. To be honest with you, Grammar.ly is what’s keeping this entire text look like it was edited with a fine comb.
Imagine having Google’s English prowess in any online situation you can think of. Right now I’m using this tool in WordPress through the Chrome browser extension. Since Grammar.ly isn’t a plugin for each dedicated app or service, you can use it anywhere within the browser (which is where I spend 90% of my work time anyway) – emailing, coding, creating web forms, etc.
The free version is more than enough for my usage and I never felt like something was missing from Grammar.ly tool. There’s also a native Windows version, into which you can drag Word files and get thorough error analysis. That’s useful in some use cases, but since most of my work is done online, I don’t feel the need to use that version.
As an employee, I rarely use Grammar.ly. Since I don’t do a lot of writing in terms of articles or guides, I recommend this grammar tool to my team of copywriters. As a manager, I want to feel that there are outside elements that robotically check grammar and spelling errors in all our texts.
We’re using a single central account for all our error-checking. Meaning that I get an overview of common mistakes, the number of checked words and so on.
As a manager, that’s a killer feature to have, in terms of helping your team with their work. First, you see how they work and later you’re able to provide guidance and monitor improvements.
While the app itself doesn’t automatically fix errors like Microsoft Word, it’s still a very powerful tool in our marketing arsenal.
As a freelancer, I never want to be caught with my pants down. My articles need to be polished and feel like they’ve been meticulously taken care of. And in a sense, they have been. Just not by me.
Grammar.ly checks your text in real time and provides suggestions once you hover over a word. That’s what makes it extremely easy to get an overview of your mistakes and only correct the ones that you feel are incorrect. For example, I dislike the word “e-commerce” and prefer “ecommerce”, even though Grammar.ly thinks it’s wrong.
This grammar browser extension saves me a lot of time. Previously, I used to copy all my text and paste it inside an online grammar checker. And repeat that with every major article revision.
Takeaway: Not only do I know my text is always in top shape, but the simple Chrome integration means that I always have access to the tool and I’m more efficient.
3. Google Drive
If you have a Gmail account, you already have access to Google Drive. It is hands down the best storage solution for my productivity requirements.
Uploading and downloading files in Google Drive is a fast process – it’s Google’s servers after all. The simple user interface makes me feel like I’m in control and I don’t need to learn any new shortcuts or filesystems – Drive feels and acts like Windows in terms of the folder structure.
You get 15 GB of free storage and can add extensions to open specific file formats. Google Drive can natively open most Microsoft Office files. Google’s own Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings do not count as extra storage, so working online never felt safer and faster.
As an employee, I save a lot of my work on Google Drive. Since all of our work accounts are Gmail for Work, we’re integrated with the Google ecosystem. Which is fine for us, since it covers everything we might need in terms of files, search, and productivity.
Speaking of search, Google’s indexing and browsing skills are transformed to Drive. I’m always astonished by how much faster Google finds files online than Windows on my own local hard drive.
Sharing files with colleagues can be done instantaneously and I never find myself asking “Now where is that file attachment I needed?”. Google Drive keeps us all in the loop. Sharing documents and sending surveys can be done in just a few clicks. We no longer searching for alternatives to Google Drive since the solution does it all.
As a freelancer, I need to be always organized – including my money, my time and especially my files.
I work as a Content Marketer in my free time and I usually switch between WordPress, Word and Google Docs. Since Google Drive also has folders, I use those to keep all my articles and customers’ projects under control.
Google Docs also enables me to share drafts with the people I work with so that we don’t waste time looking for an article’s version 523 part B in a 25-email-long thread. They can add comments right within my shared draft, without compromising the original file. Fast, simple and streamlined.
Takeaway: Since you most likely already use Google Drive for light file storage, why not make it the foundation of your file sharing and folder organization? There’s little chance that Google will shut down this popular service, so feel free to explore what it has to offer.
4. Everything app
Why would you want that? Because even with Windows 10 and fast SSDs, finding specific files still takes time. The time you could’ve spent working.
You might remember that there once was an app called Google Desktop that did pretty much the same that Everything does today. The difference is that Google tool’s implementation took a while to build the index. And after it was done, you were left with new files that took up a few GBs.
With Everything app, file search is faster and the index files tiny (think KBs). Once you start the tool, it works on the background and automatically adds new files. If you’re like me, you can remember file names and dates, but not exact folder locations. Everything app bridges that gap and saves you time, over and over again.
As manager, I’ve made it mandatory for my colleagues to install and use Everything. There can be no excuse for not being able to work on a task. The file isn’t there anymore? – Find it on Google Drive or search it using Everything. The computer is slow? – Fix it or get an SSD. There’s always a solution that gets obstacles out of the way, enabling you to focus on your work.
Since it’s so tiny and has no memory footprint, we’ve made Everything one of the apps we re-deploy every time after a fresh Windows install.
It’s also one of the few apps we set to start with Windows. We don’t want people to forget that they can use Everything to find files in an instant. There’s no excuse to default to classic Windows search.
As a freelancer, organization is the key. Not only do I work with Word files, but I’m also an avid Photoshop user and an amateur designer. Meaning that I’m working with different files, but also different file extensions.
Every day, I work with files with.DOC, .XLS, .PNG, .JPG and .PSD extensions. But I’m not always sure where I’ve saved all my work. And since Everything lets me be a little bit lazy, for the most time I am.
I start my file search with a few keyword-heavy filenames and continue with file extensions. Finally, I click the “Date Modified” column twice and I’m know looking at the latest modified Photoshop files – which is exactly what I was searching for in this example.
Takeaway: Since not everything has moved online, Google Drive and Everything make an unbeatable combination for file indexation.
Raindrop productivity tool also deals with file organization, but also distribution. Since Google isn’t renowned for great-looking design (simplistic, useful – yes, but jaw-dropping, Apple-like – no), I’ve been looking for another app to help me save articles, present them in a visually pleasant graphical interface.
Also, I use this tool to privately share files and presentations with my marketing team.
It might seem odd to talk about feelings when it comes to files and productivity, but Raindrop just feels right. From the moment I logged in for the first time, I knew that there were significant thought and love behind the service. Design-wise, it feels polished, clean and colourful. Development-wise, it feels fast, light and useful.
Although there isn’t an actual how-to guide or tutorial, getting started is fast and intuitive. Create a few folders, assign colourful icons, add your first bookmarks and off you go!
As an employee, this tool is a godsend. Since I’ve established the company-wide knowledge base, this works wonders. I created separate folders for our teams (HR, Project Management, Engineering, Marketing and Design) and I’ve assigned the right people to each folder.
Now my colleagues can contribute files, articles, and websites. Suddenly, I’m no longer limited by the information I myself find and process. I gain access to 10X more data of great value.
With the ability to upload files, Raindrop helps us build a private knowledge base that complements our work and forms a solid basis for future hires.
As a freelancer, I’m not completely satisfied with Google Drive as a file storage solution. And its bookmarks management still leaves a lot to be desired.
The graphical UI is configurable and it’s just pretty to look at. Since there’s also a mobile app for Raindrop, you can take your bookmarks and files with you anywhere, without feeling that you compromise the user experience.
Takeaway: You can get started with the free account, but I highly recommend the PRO version (which is only $2/month right now), since it adds a lot more features and value.
Without proper guidance and control, work can get out of hand. That’s why we need a productivity framework to unleash our true potential. I’d love to hear about your productivity tricks and rituals. How do you make your own work fun and worthwhile? The comment section is open!