Many people often think of a productivity system as solely a good task management system be it OmniFocus, Things 3 or one of the many others that follow GTD. There is a Youtuber that often says “Stay Productive” and he bases this solely on Task Management. It’s very easy to fall into this, swamp so to speak, but you will soon find yourself thrashing around.

A productivity system is exactly that; a system which is based on different components to get things done. Before we look at anything to do with what has to be done and the tools that could be essential to that we have to look at the core system that guides the rest of our activities.

Two Significant Components to enhancing Productivity

For the purposes of this article the Getting Things Done model will be used by David Allen. Using this model, you need two very intrinsic components in the system you’re building. One is a task manager to guide the process of getting your work done and the other is sort of a bucket to store all the information that you’ve accumulated.

As you work through projects and tasks, for some you’ll find it involves a degree of research information that must be kept for referencing purposes. Evernote and Microsoft’s OneNote are excellent solutions to this. The one I prefer though is DEVONthink Office Pro which will basically allow you to capture any and all kinds of information for future reference. Further, it has somewhat of an AI engine to assist with putting like minded results from a query together.

Outright Sale Model

I have written over time about DEVONthink and it’s capabilities so I won’t repeat that here. However, one thing that is of growing importance to the consumer is that of costs. Many developers have or are starting to move to a subscription based model and a quick scan of the industry reveals a large disliking of this approach.

One aspect to this is cost overall. Every year a recurring charge happens. You are generally not given credit for having use the product from inception. As you add more and applicatons of this nature to your environent, your costs can start to get excessive.

DEVONthink is an outright sale product. The developer tends to have lots of little incidental, non-chargeable advancements to the product but it is only at a complete revision (e.g. V2 to v3) does he have increased costs. This makes for a very stable and cost efficient environment.

Finally though, you have to ask whether it can be that bucket of information that you need to rely on. The answer to this is easy. It is probably the most free form text driven database on the market using an AI engine to help manage the informaton. You can capture any and all varieties of information, link them, annotate and export information in many ways.

If you need it to work with other products, it is very adept at this. Let’s say you’re a writer and you like to use the program “Outline” for sketching out the aspects of your topic. This outline can be sent to DEVONthink for reference. Place it in a certain of folder with tags and the AI engine will be assisted greatly in pulling that information out when you need it.

The Workflow

A system that assists you with your productivity (the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input: workers have boosted productivity by 30 per cent) is made up of components two of which are central to your overall management of the process. In terms of the previous definition, for something to assist with you productivity it has to be able to help in the area of efficiency and within that it needs to assist in:

  • remembering what needs to be done
    • Flows end to end in a more logical as opposed hapsodic process
    • Generally helps with goals
    • the more intuitive process of getting things done
    • The reduction of stress
    • The availablity of time increases for other things

Often it is unclear what it is that keeps us productive. Using a task manager is not the answer to that. Rather it is the use of a system that with time we become more proficient with and thus efficient.

This is where a model helps a lot. It provides guidelines as to how to implement a system that will lead to the above.

Combined with a Good Task Manager, a Notes Database is Essential

Task Management, as long as we’re using a task manager that works for us, can be a tremendous assist in improving productivity. Ultimately, as long as the task manager works for you and you’re not getting:

  • tied in knots around using it
    • Using it incorrectly producing reams of tasks
      • Leads to outcome and a definable completion of goals

Then you have the beginnings of a system that will be of benefit to all. However, a task manager is not a productivity system. It is a component only within your system. The second component of the system is the bucket or place where you store information logically.

Your Productivity System

A complete productivity system will include a task manager that works well for you and a Notes, Free Text database system to manage all the information retrieved. Often referred to as the bucket, your Notes system will be working in a constant mode to capture your relevant information, combined so that the results will lead to a comprehensive solution.

As you’re working on a project, you’ll likely be capturing in your task manager or other systems the information that will be required to finish a project. In this case, a simple Notes system won’t work. It will have to be able to capture any data form from PDF’s, throught to png images and video.

All the notes systems outlined here can manage any kind of information. One thing that may help define which Notes system to use will be the requirement for cross platform. DEVONthink, although probably the most powerful of the bunch, does not run outside of the Apple ecosystem. That does not mean you can’t use it.

Say you have an Android but all the rest is Apple in your own work environment. For the purposes of the Notes application that being DEVONthink, it will run perfectly fine on an inexpensive iPod touch. If your preference were DEVONthink, the easiest thing to do to employ it fast, is simply use an iPod Touch for this portion. It works perfectly fine and there is no need to give up your phone for an iPhone.

Four High End Notes Managers

DEVONthink Office Professional is a very powerful product and it is my favourite for this job. However, it is designed solely for the Mac environment and is therefore not cross platform. There’s no way to run it on Android and with this in mind, if you really want to work with it you have to kludge systems to work around the problem. This problem is only going to get worse as Android becomes more capable and IOS remains anywhere near where it’s at. I have a full Mac environment except for my phone and there’s a reason for that.

To elaborate, when assigned to a workgroup to accomplish something for your company, till now the iPhone probably dominated and your workgroup likely was outfitted with iPhones. The common theme in the workplace these days is “bring your own device”. Soon, workgroups will become less and less dominated by the iPhone for a variety of reasons.

Evernote, OneNote and Nimbus Notes are Heterogenous

Putting all this to the side for now, a Notes System that is high end is necessary to complement your task management system for the gathering of information and then the use of relevant information to accomplish the project or even the task. A task management system cannot cordinate all this information alone effectively.

With your tasks guiding you in what to do next, the Notes system supports the activities and needed information brought about by doing tasks. If it is a complex project, the systems you choose would have to be scaleable and ultimately take any form of info pointed at them.

All these systems are able to manage a wide range of information. The differences tend to boil down to notes based systems such as DEVONthink, Evernote and Nimbus Notes and their style. All three of these systems are Notes systems based on an entry equals a note. Microsoft’s OneNote can handle any kind of information but it’s flow is different. An entry can be combined of many things including an outline of the material or any combination of information to complete the note. Although there are similarities, DEVONthink and Evernote would be more structured. Folders in DEVONthink or Notebooks in Evernote would handle the entries. In the entries you could have either a simple entry based on purely text or a complex entry based on say and a diagram. OneNote, on the other hand, would be the most freeform of the bunch.

Regardless, it is important to realize the value of maintaining notes but not any note but a simple or complex note. What you choose tends to go back to personal style or preference. Sometimes without trying these systems, it is impossible to know that which appeals to you more.

Most importantly though, when you are using your system, is it solely based on Apple or multiple environments. If it is solely based on Apple, you could choose DEVONthink. However, if it is not, you will need to look at one of these three systems.

If you are working in a team, and one of the team members either doesn’t use Apple products or some use some products that aren’t Apple, DEVONthink would be impossible. So even though DEVONthink is an excellent system to work with your task management system, it is quite delimited to a homogenous Apple environment.

A Good Productivity System Must include a Good Notes Adjunct

To conclude, it is a mistake to think that a Task Management system, be it good or bad, simple or complex, robust or not will give you a full scale productivity system. In fact, without a way of collecting your information as you go about working through projects, you’ll soon be at a crossroads. In a simple scenario that involves one or two tasks, little will be problematic. However, in anything larger that involves the accumulation of information to complete a project or assess the completed item/s, you will need a system in which you have catalogued, so to speak, your information.

This will either assist you in determining what needs to be done next or allow you to take inventory on what has been done and if more is needed and if so, how to go about that.

I have seen, far too often, people making the mistake and thinking that their task manager alone is their productivity system. It can be but it will not be very effective. Rather, it is the combination of tasks along the path and good information gathering that lays out an effective productivity system.


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