My five favourite productivity tools (the fifth will surprise you)

Favourite productivity tools

As someone with more ideas than time, productivity has always been an obsession for me. After all, the faster you can get things done, the more you can do.


Which means over the years, I’ve tried every productivity tool and hack in the world.

Today, however, I use just five …

1. Notebook

I outline my ‘2 pad system for organising my life’ in more detail here, but the core of that system is a notebook.

Most of us have looooooooooong running to-do lists. Lists that cover every aspect of our lives. Lists where it seems you add three items to the bottom for every item you cross off.

I don’t do those kinds of to-do lists.

Instead, every week on a Sunday, I rule up three sections on a page in my notebook, (it used to be four sections but I’m not the Flying Solo Editor anymore). The three sections are ‘Swish Design’, ‘Kelly Exeter’ (for my writing, editing and podcasting stuff), and ‘Home Admin’. I then list out the must do items for the week in each section.

This usually gives me 8-10 tasks in the Swish Design section, 6-8 in the Kelly Exeter section and 4-5 in the Home Admin section. I note any meetings, appointments, kids’ sport and social engagements for the week in each section too.

This gives me an easy-to-process, bird’s-eye view of my week. It helps identify any pressure points and immediately tells me if I’m able to commit to anything else for the week. It also gets my mind set and ready to execute the week ahead.

2. Notepad

Of all the things that allow me to be productive, what I do with my notepad is the biggest key. Especially on the days where I need to get everything done in school hours only.

I map out what I’m going to do that day, and when.

For instance:

9.30am-10am: Write blog post

10am-10.20am: Respond to emails

Many people think this is extreme and restrictive. I find this method has two major benefits:

  1. It quickly shows me if my to-do list for the day is too ambitious.
  2. It ensures I get the hard tasks done.

The reason most people never get through all their tasks for the day is because their to-do lists are unrealistic. And hard tasks never get done because most people spend their mornings, (when their energy levels are highest), ticking off the easy ones. Then, in the afternoon, right when their energy levels dive, that’s when they look at the hard tasks that are the only ones left to do, and decide, ‘I’ll do those tomorrow’.

This doesn’t happen to me. I schedule the hard tasks for the morning, and ensure I allocate an appropriate amount of time to do them. I then spend my afternoons doing things that don’t require a lot of concentration.

3. Evernote

When you’re an ‘ideas person’, you need a digital place to store all those ideas. (It needs to be digital so it’s easily searchable.) For me, that place is Evernote because it syncs with all my devices.

Evernote also means I don’t need to spend any energy desperately trying to remember an idea or thought. This energy thing is key from a productivity point of view. You can’t be productive if you’re taking up valuable processing energy trying to remember things. Once something is out of your head, however, you can direct that energy towards doing the tasks that need to be done.

4. iPhone

You know how they’ve surveyed people and asked whether they’d rather lose their wallet or their phone? I’m definitely someone who rather lose my wallet. I’d be stuffed without my phone.

I use it to capture ideas, write blog posts, do research, manage my social media accounts, learn while commuting (podcasts and audio books), set up appointments, keep my inbox tidy, communicate with staff, communicate with clients, build relationships … the list goes on.

Whatever I desperately need to do, there’s an app on my phone that helps me take care of it. So much so, in July I trialled going on holiday without my laptop. It was only five days, but I did it. Everything that I needed to do, I could do with my phone + a pen and paper.

5. Whitespace

And here we are. Number five on my list. The one I promised would surprise you.

It sure surprised me.

You see, for most of my life, I used productivity to cram more ‘doing’ into every minute of my days.

Then, one day, I had a startling revelation:

Yes … the more productive I was, the more I could do.

But … the more I did, the more productive I had to be.

It was an incredibly stressful cycle to be in. A bit like being sucked down into a whirlpool where the faster you go, the more you’re drowning.

So, I broke the cycle.

Instead of using productivity to fit more into my days, I started using productivity to create more space in my days.

The ironic end-product of that?

I found that the more I created space in my days to move slowly and just be, the more productive I was in the ‘go periods’ of my days.

In short, when I was on, I was on.

Because when I was off, I was well and truly off.

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