Three Free Technological Tools to Improve Time Management and Productivity
by Ryan Jardine
echnology is blamed for everything: the inability to connect emotionally with one another, decreased attention spans, increased materialism, growing obesity, poor penmanship, pervasive acne from cell phone bacteria (better not to know), anxiety, hearing loss, radiation and even a loss of independent thinking. But before you jump to conclusions and shove your computer off of your desk, throw your cell phone out the window and run around shouting, "Down with the robots! You will never get me," let’s take a moment to examine the good that could come from the deliberate use of technology. Below are summaries of three free technological goodies — basic and beyond — that will help you be more efficient and manage your time more effectively.
The Stopwatch or Timer
Whether you are using the timer on your phone or the clepsydra on your desk, filling the "unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run" can be a challenge that spurs productivity. Deadlines, even the self-imposed, have a way of motivating us to action. There are several circumstances where this simple technological tool might be helpful. Many of us, if not all, have different tasks that we are required to complete each day. When confronting these situations where "task list > 1," you might feel stressed while working on one project knowing that the other, equally important projects, are sitting unaddressed on your desk. In these instances, decide on a set maximum amount of time you will work on one project. It might be 30 minutes or an hour or any interval in between. You are in charge. Set your timer and off you go. Work focused on that one project for your predetermined interval. When the time is up, reset your timer, and switch to the other project. Focus on that project for the next interval of time, and then switch again. By rotating through the high priority projects on your tasks list, you will make progress on each project. By making progress on each project, you will decrease your level of stress. By decreasing your level of stress you will work more productively, effectively and efficiently. Additionally, the variety will cause your mind to stay sharp.
This tactic also works with the projects that sit on your desk neglected. You know the ones — a dark and foreboding dread fills your heart even at the thought of them Get the worst one in the timer rotation. Tell yourself, "I will only spend 30 minutes on this project, then I will get myself a gingerbread Pinkberry topped with crushed gingersnaps, white chocolate crisps and nutmeg." You will be surprised at how much you can accomplish in 30 minutes — and that dreaded task, not to mention the sweet reward, might not be so bad after all.
Outlook Task Manager
Most of us are familiar with the email function of Outlook — but oh, there is much more to Outlook than just email. One of the neglected features of this great email behemoth is the task manager. It has nearly limitless organizational possibilities. Not only can you create tasks from scratch, but if you receive an email that requires you to take some action, simply drag and drop it in the "Task" tab on the left column of your screen. This simple click-and-drag will automatically create a task within the task manager. You can then fill out the details related to that particular task including: the subject, the start date, the due date, the status, the priority, and the percentage complete. You can also create a reminder that will let you know when some action related to that task needs to be completed. As if that wasn’t enough, you can add additional details such as total hours expected to be expended on that task and billing information. Furthermore, you can classify this task with fully customizable categories. You also have the ability to assign a particular task to another person. This is especially helpful if you have a task for which you are primarily responsible, but that you would like to assign to someone else. Simply click the "Assign Task" button and that task will be sent to the designated person. You will then be able to track that assigned task and its status on your task management screen.
Technology can keep you organized. Evernote is a free app that I have been using for several years to keep track of tasks, to-do lists and reminders — a repository for anything I simply want to remember. The utility of this app centers on the creation of notes. You can create a note that includes anything you would like: quotes, things to remember and checklists. You also have the ability to note-take in any format you like, whether that is text, pictures, audio, internet clips or PDFs.
The organizational power of Evernote arises in the user-defined metadata. For each specific note, you can tag it with any category you choose. You can also categorize a note to include a specific place. This comes in handy when you have many notes on different topics and you want to find them in the future. In the deluge of information that falls from the skies that overshadows the superhighway, Evernote inspires the elephant in each of us, so that we will never forget.
To some, the rise of technology may be akin to the stampeding of one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, and for others, it might be a source of anxiety and facial blemishes. But to those who take control of the technology in their life and use it deliberately, productivity increases — and when productivity increases, you get more stuff done.
Ryan T. Jardine is a public finance attorney with Kutak Rock LLP in Denver, an avid consumer of Pinkberry and an advocate for a renaissance of the clepsydra as a simple substitute for the wristwatch. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. No remuneration of any kind was received for suggesting the use of any of the products in this article.