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It's not the productivity tool, it's you

How many productivity tools have you tried only to abandon them the next day? Maybe you were productive for one week but then you fell back to your old ways. Perhaps you read up on a new methodology or listened to a podcast promoting a new way of working. You followed it for a few weeks and now you don't even recall the name of it.

There are thousands of books, websites, and tools that promise to get you organized and more productive, yet we still struggle to stay on the bandwagon. Why? Personal productivity is 10% the tool, 10% the methodology, and 80% your own will and commitment.

A good old fashioned pen and notebook

Some people are more productive with a physical pen and notebook. In fact, writing is good for your brain. A 2014 study found that "students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand." It makes sense. Writing is a slower physical process. The direct wiring to your brain lets you absorb the information more meaningfully.

So why are there so many productivity tools and why haven't we figured it out yet?

Everyone has a different work style

A friend of mine sent me this template to describe how he wants to work:

As you can see, this person wants to schedule their day down to the half hour.

On the complete opposite spectrum, another friend told me that he does not take any notes whatsoever. Whatever bubbles up to the top or is constantly brought up is what he will focus on.

Productivity tools are opinionated

In some ways, they have to be. Functionality might be tied to a specific user experience or user interface design. Others may be pushing a certain way of working. For example, Atlassian's project management tool, JIRA, was developed to function specifically with the agile development methodology. The word "Sprint" baked into the tool.

If you agree with the opinions of the tool, then great! Otherwise, it may not be the right solution for you.

When productivity tools start to really matter

Teams

Obviously, sharing your physical notebook with a team is not practical. Productivity tools and methodologies matter most with teams. The entire team has to be on the same system and on the same page on methodology. You must collectively agree on a specific workflow and the tool should be able to conform to it, especially as your needs and requirements change.

Remote

Remote teams require more than just productivity. They need collaboration features as well. For remote teams that are working across multiple time zones, it is important to have a unified productivity tool and a single source of truth where all information and work are contained.

Summary

Productivity tools do not matter as much for personal productivity, but they really matter with teams, especially remote teams. If you are having difficulty with personal productivity, don't expect a tool to fix all of your problems. If you are a procrastinator, it will manifest itself in various ways. No tool exists (yet) that will easily break you out of your own nature and bad habits and as with anything, it takes practice and time.

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