Choosing the right productivity software

Productivity software options have grown significantly in the past few years. If you are not yet incorporating any of these products into your workflows, it is important to give one a try. This post gives you some hints for choosing the right productivity app(s).

The key considerations are:

  1. Function – what you need it to do for you
  2. User – whether it is for your own self-management or for the wider team
  3. Integration across your devices – how it will run on all the devices you use so you can use it anywhere
  4. Integration with your office suite – how it will integrate with the other programs you use

Function – What do you need it to do for you

For the individual these programs can include the following types of support:

  • task management / to-do lists (e.g. Trello, Todosit, Wunderlist (Microsoft owned))
  • time-tracking to aid your self-reflection on time spent and/or to aid billing tasks (Monday.com, Hubstaff, HoursTracker, Timely, Hours)
  • project management (Asana, Trello)
  • well-being e.g. reminders to take breaks, focus, setting good habits, stretching (Today, Momentum, Focuslist, Strides (habit mapping), Calm (mediation))
  • automate tasks around use of an existing software e.g. email management (e.g. Zapier, Automate.io, Asana)
  • manage distractions from your current task (Leechblock – free and works to block certain websites on Chrome, Mindful Browsing, Freedom, Hocus Focus – Apple only) and providing focus-promoting audio (Focus@Will, Brain.fm)

Select software which deals with what you need help with most. By focusing on the biggest one or two issues for your personal productivity you will find a better fit solution.

Pick one and give it a try if you haven’t used any productivity software before. If you are still stuck, I suggest Wunderlist for a simple to do list functionality, try Trello for more visual based task management and Leechblock to block out 2 or 3 websites you waste time with. A little more advanced is Zapier to create an automation between a trigger and an action (e.g. if I get an email from a new person, add that person to my contacts). See how to link Microsoft and Zapier. 

User – Just for you or for the whole team

In addition to functions which help the individual, some of these apps are designed for the whole team to promote:

  • team communication e.g chat options instead of email
  • team collaboration e.g. documents on the cloud for all to work on
  • transparency of work progress/resources in the team
  • project management, task allocation

Many productivity software offerings are designed for businesses to manage the whole team’s communication and collaboration and to manage the project. These include Slack, Trello and Asana. Microsoft has made recent efforts to build its comparative services, so check out this link as your existing office software may be sufficient without using additional software. These have great functionality but are based on all the team being involved, if this is not the case then it may not offer as much time saving for an individual user.

Unless you are in a leadership role, it is not practical to roll out these team solutions. (It’s not completely impossible, but this post isn’t the place to expand on it.) However, even if you can’t use software to facilitate better team productivity, you can select the right software to benefit your work flows. You can take command of your time, even if you don’t have control over the team’s tasks.  By keeping on top of your tasks, you can cope with those last minute requests from the team better. Plus you can even collect some data to support your case in asking for better task management from the rest of the team.

Integration across devices

You need to use solutions which are seamless across any of the devices you use. In the software market, mobile app development is bigger than software for traditional computers because of the rise of the mobile device in recent years. There are many software offerings which are designed only for mobile (or only for PC). Make sure that any software you adopt will work across your devices (or there are add-ons or integrations available). Your productivity will suffer if you can only manage time/tasks on one of your devices but not the other(s).

Integration with your office suite programs

When it comes to office software, Microsoft dominates the market particularly amongst traditional professional businesses. So for most of us, we need to ensure that the productivity apps we use are compatible with the Microsoft office suite.

It’s easy to assume that anyone needing an office suite uses Microsoft. However, for the average person the other major platforms of Google and Apple have well performing offerings. Google’s Docs, Sheets and Slides is the equivalent of Word, Excel and Powerpoint. These alternatives to Microsoft are also commonplace, so don’t assume that every productivity app is designed to be seamless with Microsoft.  

Recognise that the productivity software market is in a “gold rush” phase. Software start-ups are looking to cash in on their innovations. If they can identify an everyday problem and design a solution which takes off in the market, they could be brought out by one of the major platforms for their intellectual property. This can impact on how well their offering integrates with the major platforms. If they identified a gap in the market relevant to only one of the major platforms, they are going to design the solution with that issue in mind. If the gap they identified is the same across the major platforms then it is in their interest to design something which can be slotted into any of the platforms. So take advice from your friends and colleagues on useful apps, but with an understanding of whether you are using the same platform – if they are an Apple user, you may not necessarily get the same benefits from the app if you are on Android.

In Conclusion

We are at a very interesting time in the individual’s work habits and productivity. The different generations in the workplace today operate in quite different ways and with different mindsets. This can make it really challenging to work together. In general older generations are happy to do ‘admin’ in their heads, whereas younger generations look to technology to automate some of these processes. The only way we can bridge this divide is to do more to communicate and share with each other how we do what we do. Everyone has something to learn about productivity in the modern office.

I haven’t used or vetted all the examples above. As always, please make sure you vet the software that you use. Ask your IT person if you are not sure about the security or reliability of a software offering. Some of the data you put into your productivity software may be sensitive client/project information. If the app doesn’t have robust security it could be hacked and confidential information made available.

Remember that maximising productivity is not just about technology, goal setting and mindsets also play a big part. Get in touch if you would like to know more about this.

Happy productive work!

This post is part of the How-to June series, so subscribe to the blog to see more How-To’s and hacks. I’m also excited to announce that next month we are looking at some of the emerging concepts in technology for planners….more next week.

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