Managing Personal Productivity in a COVID-19 World

Which tools can I use to better manage my personal time? Article #3 in a series exploring the big questions that entrepreneurs ask as they’re starting up and growing their businesses.

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Managing personal productivity is a challenge on a good day. These days, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be especially challenging. Some days, it can be downright impossible.

Distractions to our business agenda abound, from the reality of our newly adopted workplaces (anybody else out there trying to work alongside their spouse and kids?) to worries about our health and very valid concerns about what we’re doing to address the inequities that have led to police brutality and other increasingly obvious signs of systemic racism.

Thanks to the new forcefully-imposed work-from-home culture, the use of productivity tools has increased. According to one survey, 48 percent of consumers report they are more productive working from home (compared to 29 percent who say they are less productive). Perhaps more importantly, 57 percent of respondents said they would prefer to work from home in the future.

But the reality is, as Dom Nicastro writes in CMSWire, that once we return to the office, as many have already begun to do, usage for many of the flashy productivity tools we’ve grown accustomed to will drop.

How do we maintain the productivity gains?
I believe the only way to truly see productivity gains is by adopting both the tools and the techniques. People who adopt only the tools are much more likely to revert back to old habits the moment that a “new normal” is established and old routines and habits creep back. So for this article, we are going to look at both the tools and the techniques. Let’s start with the techniques.

Personal Productivity Systems

What’s the right productivity system for you? Something that you can adopt now, and hold on to after things return to something resembling normalcy? The good (and the bad) news is that there are a lot of options for you! How do you get started?

You need to do a self-assessment before you begin any productivity enhancing activities. Most self-assessments take the form of “personality tests,” and there are dozens of tests you can take that will give you plenty of acronyms and abbreviations that you can rely on to understand yourself better. But most of these have little applicability to business. I’ve developed a very informal (at this point) business personality assessment that might give you some insights. I call it the eight aspects of your business personality. It’s still in its very early stages, but I hope to get a good sized group of people to take it so I can see how well it works for folks. I’ll update the link here as soon as there’s a few more questions and a proper survey form ready for you.

Very briefly, the personality areas are:

  1. Am I digital (D) or analog (A)? 
  2. Am I focused (F) or more easily distracted (E)?
  3. Am I a visual learner (V), an auditory/oral learner (O), or a kinesthetic learner (K)?
  4. Am I an intuitive (I), rules-driven (R) or model-based (M) problem solver? 
  5. Do I commit something to memory best through interaction (T), memorization/lists (L) or explanation (X)?
  6. Do I prefer specific, tangible “extrinsic” rewards (W), or am I easily satisfied with “intrinsic” rewards (N)?
  7. Am I a spontaneous creative (S), or a deliberate/planned creative (P)?
  8. Am I an analytical/divergent thinker (G) or a synthetic/convergent thinker (Y)?

Click here if you want to learn more about these. Your answer to these will, among many other things, inform the kinds of productivity tools and systems that will work best for you.

Picking the right system for you isn’t easy, but there are great online resources. Our own Allison Frieden outlined three of the simplest approaches in a recent blog post. One of my favorite online resources for finding the right productivity tool is Doist, which has created the “Ultimate Guide to Personal Productivity Methods” and the Productivity Methods Hub. They also have their own productivity assessment, which is worthwhile as well.

I’ve taken their list, and added a few from some other lists.

MethodTime CommitmentNotes
The 12 Week YearMediumGreat for folks who need a sense of urgency
The Action MethodMediumGives structure to creativity
Agile ResultsMediumVery outcome-focused
Biological Prime TimeHighPerfect if you love data and self-reflection
Bullet JournalingHighDesigned by and for ADHD
The Daily TrifectaLowSimple day-to-day prioritization
Don’t Break the ChainLowBoth checklists and blocking in one package
Eat the FrogLowPerfect for procrastinators
The Eisenhower MatrixMediumVisualize your priorities in an easy grid
Getting Things DoneMediumGood for folks who are easily overwhelmed
KanbanLowGreat for people who struggle with follow-through
The Medium MethodMediumThe best of both analog and digital
Must, Should, WantMediumGreat for prioritizing lists
The Pomodoro TechniqueLowAnother great one for procrastinators
The SMART MethodMediumTurns big ideas into attainable goals
SystemistMediumA stripped down version of GTD
Time BlockingMediumHelps minimize your distractions and focus efforts
Zen to DoneMediumLike GTD, but with a focus on habits and tasks


Online Productivity Tools

Once you have a personal productivity system in place, you can start to think about the tools you can use to get the most out of your system. Here is a collection of tools, gleaned from a number of different lists:

10to8📅EScheduling & appointment booking system✔ 📅BAll-in-one mobile project management app
Apple Shortcuts🤖CAutomate your iOS experience
Asana✔ 🎯ACEPopular, inexpensive, relatively easy
Basecamp✔ 🎯CCollaborative project management
BeeminderBData-driven motivational iOS app
Blink💬 🗞️DCollaborative project management🔎EMusic focus tool
Buffer👍 🗞️DSocial media curation & management
Calendar📅ECalendar management
Calendly📅AFreemium model group calendaring
Canva👍ECollaborative digital & print design
Celoxis🎯EAll-in-one project management & collaboration
Evernote📓 🔖BCENote taking & curation
Fleep💬 📧ETeam messaging and email
Freedom🔎BDistraction-free computing/mobile tool
GoToMeeting🎥EVideo chat & webinar management
Harvest⌛ 🎯 💰ETime tracking, project management, payments
Hive🎯 💰EBusiness & collaboration management
HubstaffERemote time tracking
IFTTT🤖BCConnects all your platforms together
Just Say No🔎DDistraction-free computing
Keep📓ENote taking
Missinglettr👍 🗞️DSocial media campaign management✔ 🎯DECollaborative project management
Noizio🔎BMusic/ambient noise focus tool
OneNote📓CENote taking & curation
Paymo⌛ 🎯 💰ETime tracking, project management, payments
Pocket🗞️ 🔖AGreat curation tool
PomoDoneEPerfect for Pomodoro system
ProductiveAiOS task management
ProofHub🎯 💬EProject management & collaboration
Quip💬ECross-platform collaboration
QuuuPromote👍DSocial media campaign management
RescueTimeABCEiOS productivity app
SaneBox📧CEmail management
StayFocusd🔎CURL blocker focus tool
Slack💬 📧ADETeam collaboration & chat platform
Spark📧BEmail management platform
Teams💬CTeam collaboration & chat platform
Time DoctorETime tracking & accountability tool
TogglBETime tracking for freelancers & consultants
Todoist🎯BCDFreemium project management platform
TomatoTimerAPerfect for Pomodoro system
Trello💬 ✔ 🎯ACEGreat visual task/project management tool
Troop Messenger💬ETeam messaging
Upflow👍 🗞️DSocial media curation & management
Workzone🎯EProject management
Wrike🎯CProject management
Zapier🤖ACDConnects all your platforms together
Zoho Projects🎯CProject management

🤖 Automation
💰 Business finance, payment, invoicing, etc.
💬 Collaboration/Communication
📧 Email management
🔎 Focus tools
📓 Journaling/Note taking/Curation
🗞️ News/Information filtering & aggregation
🎯 Project management
📅 Scheduling
🔖 Social bookmarking
👍 Social media management
✔ Task management
⌛ Time management
🎥 Video chat & webinar management

Do you have any tools to add? Share them in the comments below.


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