I’m still traveling, so I’ve commissioned another guest post. The following is a guest post by Bojan Dordevic, who has contributed to the Productivityist blog in the past. Bojan is an Internet marketing professional with a passion for all things productive, and is the co-founder of Alpha Efficiency Magazine. You can invite him for a Hangout on Google+ and follow him on Twitter.
One of the most important decisions that will determine your productivity is choosing a task management and workflow solution that will grow with your needs. When I started this path four years ago, it was important to “future-proof” my task management workflow. I knew that I would not want to change the software that I use as my needs evolved. I recognized the potential for this to become an issue, and anticipated a solution so that once it arrived, I was ready for it. And this is something that ultimately happened when I moved to the U.S. over a year ago.
In evaluating potential solutions, I tried to find a sweet spot: a balance between features, the learning curve required to adopt the workflow, and the usability right out of the box. When choosing future-proof software, we need to be mindful that task management is constantly changing and adapting to new technology. All we need to pay attention to is the real productivity issue that no task manager will solve.
Determining Your Needs in a Workflow Application
So you might ask, “What do I need in a workflow application?” The answer depends on your personal needs. However, I can offer you some things to consider that will help you make the right choice, and to avoid the apps that you might have to switch as your needs change.
First off, it’s important to look at the four simple concepts required to efficiently incorporate any task management workflow. Having these four concepts in mind when choosing a task manager can save you a lot of time and energy later down the road.
But apart from that higher level thinking, we need to really focus on three main mechanical – or rather, technical – aspects of any app that you might be considering to handle your workflow:
- Is it able to seamlessly collect commitments and digital information?
- Can it organize your tasks in a natural way that resonates with the way you think?
- Does it have the ability to remove the friction that can prevent you from actually doing the tasks you want?
Most of the apps I’ve encountered on the market consistently struggle with two of these three points. Even the better apps out there (and those with a higher user adoption) often find at least one of these features a challenge.
1. Collect Commitments and Digital Information
This phase needs to be suited to the environment where you spend the most time. If you spend the majority of your time in a web browser, then the way the system collects information (links) should seamlessly integrate with your existing work patterns.
The solution you choose needs to respond well to your existing workflow environment, so you can quickly and easily achieve your desired workflow, with the least amount of interruption to your activity..
2. Be Able To Organize So It Actually Makes Sense
Solving the problem of disorganized data is more complex than it seems. Often times, it’s not even our fault. As I was evaluating various different forms of software over the past five years, I found that numerous applications have no clear strategy that aligns with the ways we naturally organize information
Organization of tasks, files, emails, links and other commitments needs to have a hierarchical and organic structure that can grow with you. Sure, sometimes a part of the problem lies within our own organizational abilities (or lack of!), and we admit it. But having software that doesn’t think in a fashion that matches how we think confounds the with the rigid structures certainly doesn’t help our mess. This disconnect is actually the biggest reason why I steered away from countless apps. Instead of helping, they were further confounding the mess that was already inside of my head.
3. Remove Friction from Doing
The most important software aspect of task management is to connect the contexts and workspace. When you are writing, you want your workflow manager to take you to the exact file that you are working on. If you need to update your monthly reports, one click or tap should separate you from the actual work. If you find yourself searching, you have already doubled your work: You’ve organized once for the sake of tracking your commitments, and now you need to navigate once again to find the end point of your action.
Integrating tasks, files, emails and links together is the way to go. The apps that can’t handle this integration didn’t challenge the old paradigms, and are yet another “new” version of the old fashioned to-do list. If it comes to that, you might be better off with pen and paper at the end of the day.
The Attitude of the Company Behind Your Solution
Consider that one of the most important aspects behind your software is the engagement of the company that supports it. I believe that a company’s interaction with its own community of users is one of the pivotal factors in determining its quality and long-term success. If your emails don’t receive a reply or, if your suggestions are ignored, you have to wonder whether the company is in it for the long haul, or if it has enough passion to survive. If the support gets discontinued and the development on the app is stalled, you will be dragging feet behind the most modern trends and changes that are shaping your industry.
New product categories will be showing up, new software solutions will become a part of your daily routine, and you will want your workflow to support them. If you feel that a company is passionate about building the software that solves your problems, then you can feel secure in knowing that it will be able to integrate into your workflow in a timely manner.
Note from Mike: I’d be interested to know if you’ve tkaen these 5 things into account when you chose your task manager. Please let Bojan and I know in the comments below what task management solution you’re using, why you went with that solution, and if you feel it fulfills the considerations he’s mentioned in this piece.