Choosing Tools

In this third productivity post, I want to discuss the importance of choosing the right tools to keep you organized and focused.

A few years ago, we remodeled a good portion of our home.  As we went from project to project, I was on a first-name basis with all the employees at Lowe’s.  I am a penny-pincher, so if I can find a cheaper option for a tool, I go with it.  On some projects, that worked fine.  I used the tool for a minor issue and rarely had to use it again.  For other projects, I would have to go back later and buy the more expensive one after I broke the cheaper one.

I would have saved time and resources if I had gotten the right tools in my hands in the first place.

I’m busy.  You’re busy.  We all have more opportunities than we have time.  In order to accomplish a fraction of what we would like to get done, we need to make sure we have the right tools in our hands.

What Type of Tools Are Needed

Over the years, I have tried many different tools, apps, and gadgets in search of the perfect combination.  I am indebted to Tim Challies breakdown of tools that he describes on his blog and in his book.

For the sake of productivity, he encourages that each person needs to find 4 specific tools:

  1. Information tools. Information tools allow you to collect, archive and access important information.
  2. Scheduling tools. Scheduling tools allow you to organize your time, and they alert you ahead of important events.
  3. Communication tools. Communication tools allow you to communicate, and they allow to archive and access your previous communications.
  4. Task management tools. Task management tools allow you to capture and organize your to-do items.

In another post, I am going to share how I break down projects, but for right now, I want you to know that I use the same organizational systems in all 4 of these tools.

I have organized all that I am trying to keep up with in certain projects and they are consistent through all tools.

The labels, order, and even color of the icons of each project are all identical as you move throughout the tools.

While I am sure the projects will adapt over the years, as of writing this, all of the following tools that I currently use have 65major projects that all individual items are organized within:

  1. Personal – This project is all about my personal sanctification and development.
  2. Family – This project keeps me intentional with my family and home.
  3. Church – This project organizes my responsibilities as a pastor.
  4. Ministry – This project organizes all ministry opportunities outside the church like speaking, writing, blogging, etc.
  5. Trustee – This new project (as of this month) is processing all that is involved with serving on the Board of Trustees at North Greenville University.

Once again, I will describe later how I divide all this information, but before I show you the tools, I wanted you to know that I am striving for consistency and simplicity throughout all the following mediums.

There are many options out there for each of these categories, but these are the ones that I am currently using and loving.

Information Tool: Evernote

evernote-square-social-media-256I tried to use Evernote at a couple of different occasions, but I wasn’t using it well.  Recently, I did some research on tips how to get the most out of Evernote, and it has served me in a much greater capacity than before.

Evernote is described as:

From inspiration to achievement, Evernote is where your work takes shape. Write, collect, discuss, and present, all from one workspace.

Since it is cloud-based, I can access all information, ideas, presentations, notes, etc. from any device in the world.  Once I forced myself to begin using Evernote exclusively for information capture, I noticed these shifts:

  1. Meetings.  Once I began taking all meeting notes in Evernote, I could keep track with progress and not scramble to find that single piece of paper that I stuffed somewhere.
  2. Articles.  All those articles that intrigued me during the day but I didn’t have enough time to process them, I clip them to Evernote.  It goes in the inbox, and then I put it in another folder so I can read it when I have adequate time.
  3. Documents.  I am not frustrated because that document is on my work computer while that picture is on our home computer and so on.

Evernote is a place to collect all your information, keep it stored, and have it portable ready to go.

Scheduling Tool: Google Calendar

calendar-iconOur staff has used Google Apps for years now, and I can’t find a better calendar solution than Google Calendar.  Aligned with my email, it allows me to have separate calendars for my major emphases.  It also serves me by reminding me of events through as many notifications as I require.

Some of my favorite features:

  1. Event Invite. I can create an event and then invite people to it via their email addresses.  Whether a counseling appointment, get-together, or staff meeting, I can create the event, include any needed information in it, and then send it out to other people and they have all the updated information.
  2. Driving Directions.  Once I enter a date into my calendar, I will put the address in it as well.  I will be alerted when it is time to start driving due to traffic between where I am and where I am going.  It removes the step of having to find directions before I leave.
  3. Note Save.  If needed, I can store notes into the event that remind me what I need to bring or do when I get there.  Google Calendar also has numerous features that keeps things organized and focused.

ycbm-ogimgOne Additional Scheduling Tool: YouCanBookMe

Do you know the frustration of trying to schedule an event with someone but you can’t get your schedules to line up?  The emails and texts go back and forth and back and forth. is booking software that integrates with your Google or iCloud Calendar.  With a free account, you can get a personalized scheduling page so people can see your calendar openings and book a time online.  For certain occasions or unique settings, I will pull this tool out.  It is a time-saver.

Communication Tool: Gmail

Gmail-256There are numerous email services out there, but I can’t find one that is as robust and yet as simple as Gmail.

Keeping emails in threads, having a fantastic search engine, and numerous little built-in helps make this email service fantastic.

I think one feature sold me on Gmail years ago.  As I hit “send” on an email, a little box popped up and said, “Did you forget the attachment?”  Before I let myself be offended, I realized that Gmail is on the lookout for the word “attach” and if there isn’t one loaded, it asks you.  How many times have you had to send a follow-up email with the attachment that you thought you attached in the previous one?  This feature is just another indication of how Google is trying to think of everything before you need it.

Task Management Tool: Todoist

478992-todoist-iconTodoist has been a major gamechanger for me.  I have tried almost every task management system out there, but I have grown to love Todoist.

Todoist is a powerful task manager for personal or collaborative productivity that lets you manage your to do list from your inbox, browser, desktop, or mobile device.

Whenever a thought comes to mind of something I have forgotten to do (which happens often), I jot it down in Todoist.  It automatically lands in my inbox, and then when I have time to sit down to process through my task list, I categorize it in one of the major 6 projects or an accompanying sub-project, I put a due date attached to it, and then I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

I have felt my mind ease as of late when I am not constantly worried about what I forgot to do.

When a task comes to my mind, I jot it down in Todoist and trust that I will deal with it later.

Every morning, I receive my essential task list from this app.  All day long, I am knocking down the list and looking a few days down the road to seeing how I can get ahead.

I was regularly stressed out with the cycling, growing list of to-dos going on inside my head until I found this tool.

Time to Choose Your Tools

We have moved from the theoretical to the practical.  I’m not saying that the above tools are perfect for you, but they sure are helping me.  It doesn’t matter what tool you use, but it would be wise for you to identify which tools you will use.

Do some research and figure out what will be your tool for:

  1. Information
  2. Scheduling
  3. Communication
  4. Task Management

Some more to come – hope these posts are helping you make the most of the time (Eph. 5:15-16) and increasing your zeal for good works (Titus 2:14).

Productivity Posts

  1. Disguising Laziness
  2. Learning Discipline
  3. Choosing Tools
  4. Organizing Projects
  5. Moderating Social Media
  6. Overcoming Email