Take the opportunity to review your current digital productivity tools, says Liz Hardwick

The hot topic of productivity, and before that, time management, has been around since the ’80s and the dawn of computers, but no one has ever really optimised the use of digital in such a powerful way. This is my passion: to combine productivity AND digital.

When I speak at events and run training courses for leaders and their teams, there are always many revelations that by implementing and utilising simple technologies, productivity can be increased immediately, both for the individual and the team.

The most important thing to me is that we are utilising digital for human benefit, and helping others do the same.

This means not just buying the latest technology because it’s the newest on the market, but really understanding what digital tools you need in your organisation and using the most appropriate one for the process. So how do you find out what digital tools you need?

Use the New Year to Review Your Current Digital Tools

I recommend at least twice a year to use my digital review tool – usually January and September are the most popular times to do this as we start a “new year”.

On average, we only use 36% of the features of any digital tool, app or software; I also find over time we end up paying for those we tested on a “free trial” that we forgot to cancel and never or rarely use. My Digital Review Tool is here to help both your processes and the company’s pocket!

It’s a one-pager tool (either digital doc or printable) with 4 simple columns: “What programmes are you currently using?”, “What do you have access to/pay for that you currently are not using?”, “What tools do you need to support you in streamlining?”, and “What do you want to make your life easier?” This acts as a reminder and research prompt, and you can use it in a team meeting to facilitate a group discussion – helpful if you’re looking for something to support streamlining your current processes and getting buy-in. A great way to set the scene with where you are and where you’d like to move towards.

Action step

Download the tool at https://www.productivityclub.co.uk/digital-review-tool

Review Your Personal Productivity Focus for 2024

When I spoke at ESTech 2023, I shared my popular talk “Top digital productivity tools to reclaim your time, energy and focus”, which included my most powerful tool, my Productivity Wheel. The wheel has 8 different segments, which in our session together we reflected on and rated with a numbering system – another digital tool to reflect where you are right now with the different areas of productivity, and which you want to put your focus into for the next couple of months. I’d suggest reviewing your personal productivity every 3 months; this works great alongside any quarterly planning goals you have too. My wheel tool is based on the Wheel of Life, which is a good personal development tool I’d also highly recommend.

Action step

Download the wheel at https://www.productivityclub.co.uk/digital-productivity-wheel

Try Out (Again) the Pomodoro Technique

One of the productivity processes I swear by, see work for the majority of people I work with, and which enables me to run my business in four core days per week, is the Pomodoro method.

I’m sure many of you have heard of this process before – it’s by far my favourite. Quick update if you haven’t – single-focused block of time for 25 minutes, then a 5-minute break; do four of these, then have a larger break, then repeat.

I understand that a solid day of Pomodoro workings might never be an option, but we can, like with any productivity process, make it our own, so I’d love for you to have another go at it for me. If 25 minutes seems unachievable, start with just 10 minutes. In a shared environment, can you co-work a Pomodoro?

Action step

Boost your Pomodoro process with a digital tool I love called the Pomodone app – it works across all platforms, and you can edit the time slots and integrate it with lots of other tools to automate your follow-up workflows.

Start Good Intentions for 2024 With Your Schedule

I highly recommend having a digital calendar if you don’t already – the automated integrations alone will save you several hours per week! I love my four-day core week, and my digital diary is central to making that happen.

If you work globally, across different time zones, an online calendar means you can share your availabilities in the time zone that matters to you. Next step, “time block” your tasks in your calendar – time to work on strategy or projects, team meetings, professional development time, big picture reflection time… and don’t forget to block out enough “travel time” and “buffer time” in between meetings, as well as your lunch and comfort breaks.

With digital calendars, you can also create multiple calendars under the same account that you can toggle on and off. You might want to use this feature to separate off your business and personal time, as well as creating an “ideal schedule” of how you would love your days to look so you can toggle between desired reality and current one and see where you can make improvements. This tip proved very popular at my ESTech 2022 talk!

Action step

Create different variations of “appointments” on offer using appointment setters such as Calendly to support your different levels of clients or types of meetings – don’t let everyone have free rein over your or your executive’s calendar.

Life Exists Outside Your Inboxes

One of THE biggest zaps on our time is emails – we spend on average 12 hours per week per inbox. How many inboxes are you currently managing? Imagine what you could do with that time instead!

I got so frustrated with hearing the sky-high numbers of unopened emails in my clients’ inboxes that I created my own system to help called ZenForInbox.

Having a simple and effective process for managing your emails and other inboxes will not only save you time but reduce your procrastination and stress levels too.

One of my biggest tips is to only open your inboxes when you have time to process them. A really simple tip here, but so profound in its impact. You should only want to look at an email once before processing – delete, archive, reply straight away, or move into your new “Actions Needed” folder you’re going to create after reading this, so you can move everything out of your inbox. Then the next time you look at your inboxes, go to the Actions folder first so you don’t get distracted by other people’s emails and priorities. A shock to some, but not all email or comms portals use flags or tags, and different versions can look totally different, so it’s best to create a process away from any particular in-built feature.

Action step

Apps such as Bluemail bolt on modern features to our email systems that haven’t really changed since the ’90s – such as snoozing an email to remind you later when you’re ready to read it, or a “people toggle” to reduce the number of visible emails and send schedules to make sure your email reaches your target’s inbox at the optimal time for them, regardless of your time zone.

Too Busy to Review your Productivity? Take Tiny Steps

In my most popular digital productivity keynote speech, I talk about the tiny steps I took to take my business from struggling and overwhelmed to optimised and streamlined…and it all started with taking tiny steps to get moving. So, if all of these super tips sound too much to take on right now, how about just picking one to have a go at this week? Pick the easiest one and commit to having a go at it tomorrow. Utilise the digital tools you have available and create positive habits to reclaim your time, energy and focus.

I promise you, investing in your digital productivity is worth it!

Take the Opportunity to Review and Reboot

I hope you’ve found at least a couple of nuggets of wisdom in here for you, for where you are right now. I find people come back to these tools time and time again, choosing different elements when they’re ready, so I recommend snipping this article too. (Another digital productivity tool talk for another day perhaps!)

I love the “new year vibes”, as I always find my brain, my heart and the people around me are more receptive to talking about challenges, changes and improvements at these times of year.

The best suggestion I would make is to pick your top three segments of the productivity wheel you want to focus on, review your task list and calendar for the next quarter, and block out some time to review some of these processes, use some of my tools, and create a small action plan, just for you.

Liz Hardwick is a Digital Productivity Specialist, professional speaker, trainer and tech founder, and has been sharing her expertise and experiences of “harnessing digital for human benefit” for over 20 years through engaging talks, trainings and virtual ... (Read More)

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