You wake up in the middle of the night.
It’s dark and your eyes are barely opened, but you realize you are not alone… at first you start to freak out. Are all those zombie movies actually true? Is Mr. Al Gebra, your 2nd grade math teacher, coming to haunt you for cheating on that test all those years ago?
Whoever it is, it’s coming closer… and closer… and closer… you start to recognize the face. It’s your Fairy Productivity Godmother!
Fairy Productivity Godmother?
Is this a dream? Possibly.
She stands in front of you and with a little bit of worry on her face says: “I’ve been watching over you and I’m so proud. You are sleeping well, productive, focused, healthy and you are getting things done (David Allen told me to say this joke). But, I’ve also noticed that you are starting to get overwhelmed by too many gadgets, gizmos and shiny tools. When I saw that they are slowing you down and diminishing your productivity, I had to intervene.
I’m going to do you a huge productivity favor. I am going to let you choose 3, and only 3, productivity tools to keep and I’m going to make the rest disappear – like fairy dust. Which 3 tools do you choose?”
If you could use only 3 productivity tools for the rest of your life, which 3 would you choose?
That’s exactly what I asked (minus the fairy Godmother story, that one is just for you) 69 of the world’s top productivity experts.
I asked them to go back to the essentials. To put away all the latest productivity apps and tell me what are the 3 productivity tools they cannot live without. What are the 20% of the tools that produce 80% of the results.
Without further ado, here are the tools the productivity experts would use if they could only use 3 of them:
It was a close call between Evernote and good old fashioned pen, paper and a notebook, but the physical tools won the race. Quite surprising in this digital age, where people spend 5.09 hours per day (in their free time) hooked up to some sort of a device and 7 hours staring at a computer at work.
Here is the full list of tools voted by experts (only the ones that received more than 1 vote):
#1 Pen, paper, notebook – 26 votes
#2 Evernote – 20 votes
#3 Smart phone – 9 votes
#4 Timer – 8 votes
#5 Calendar – 6 votes
#8 SaneBox Mac/computer/laptop – tied 3 votes
Read on to discover each expert’s favorite productivity tools along with awesome tips on how to best use them. You can either skip to your favorite expert using these quick links or grab a coffee, get comfortable and commence scrolling!
A – Aaron Lynn / Amy Lynn Andrews / Annie Mueller / Annie Sisk / Ari Meisel / Arman Assadi
B – Belle Beth Cooper / Bob Stanke / Bojan Dordevic / Bradley Chambers / Brian Tracy / Brooks Duncan
C – Cal Newport / Carthage Buckley / Celestine Chua / Chris Bailey / Ciara Conlon / Claire Tompkins
D – Dale Callahan / Dan Hayes / Daniel Gold / Dave Ursillo / David Seah / Deb Lee / Donald Latumahina
E – Elizabeth Saunders / Erin Falconer
G – Gabriel Ponzanelli / George Smolinski / Gregory Ciotti
H – Henrik Edberg / Hillary Rettig
J – Jamie Todd Rubin / Janet Choi / John Richardson / Jeremy Roberts / Jonathan Levi / Joseph Michael / Josh Levine / Justin Harmon / Justin Lancy
K – Kayla Matthews
L – Laura Stack
M – Marissa Brassfield / Mark McGuiness / Mark Shead / Mark Struczewski / Michael Schechter / Michele Connolly / Mike Asbury / Mike Evans / Mike Vardy / Monica Ricci
N – Neen James
P – Penelope Trunk
R – Rafal Moryson / Rami Rantala / Rick Coste
S – Sacha Chua / Scott Ellis / Scott Young / Shane Parrish / Stefan Pylarinos / Steve Pavlina / Steve Scott / Sven Fechner
T – Thanh Pham / Tim Brownson / Timo Kiander / Tracey Foulkes
Z – Zachary Sexton
Responses listed in the order they were received in:
1. Joseph Michael – Efficient Life Skills
(1) Evernote – This is my digital brain.
(2) Things app – This is where I manage my daily tasks plus ongoing projects
(3) Scrivener (of course) – This is where I do all my writing of any kind and plan out complex projects.
2. Ari Meisel – Less Doing
3. David Seah – DavidSeah.com
Hm, that’s a fun question. Off the top of my head,
(1) index cards and card holders
(2) sheets of blank paper that can be bound into a notebook
(3) a big white board
These correspond roughly to:
1. A way to maintain focused to-do items in a portable format (index cards) that can be placed in my direct line-of-sight so I am reminded to do them.
2. A way to maintain moment-by-moment, day-by-day continuity of what I’m working on, so I never lose my forward momentum on complicated projects.
3. A way to maintain the big picture view of what I’m doing, in an easy-to-change format.
I’ve chosen paper because it’s persistent and doesn’t require a screen or window on a device. With paper you can have as many “screens” as you have pieces of paper, reserving the computer for the work alone. Since I am easily distracted, having a non-interactive memory device works better for me.
4. Bradley Chambers – Chambers Daily
(1) An app that can hide what I cannot take action on currently. I want to be able to focus on current tasks and not future one
(2) Apple Notes has become an essential app for me. It’s completely replaced Evernote for me. With great sync to my devices, the ability to add images, and rich text, it’s a great app.
(3) Soulver is a great application for ongoing calculations. I use it as a poor man’s budgeting app. With iCloud and Dropbox sync, it’s easy to work with it on Mac and iOS.
At the end of the day, I want systems I can trust to do their job.
5. Laura Stack – The Productivity Pro
(1) Microsoft Outlook
6. Annie Sisk – Pajama Productivity
(1) Gmail together with SaneLater and UnRoll.me. SaneLater and Unroll.me are my two must-have email add-ons. Unroll.me costs a single tweet for unlimited use (as of now) and lets you “roll up” as many newsletters and emails as you like into one single email you can visually peruse and then choose what you want to read, when you want to read it. (You can also use it to mass unsubscribe from lists you no longer find useful which is INSANELY helpful.) SaneLater, of course, diverts all but the most important emails (for me, that’s everything not from a close family member or friend, or a client) out of your inbox, into a dedicated folder.
(2) Levenger Circa notebooks and my favorite pens. I use Circas for notetaking, project planning, and all my organization/scheduling stuff. I also use Google Calendar for calendaring but honestly, I prefer the physical backup. Circas changed my life, and staying analog helps me focus on the really critical stuff – I find digital planning and productivity apps almost inevitably become a crutch and an easy way to be over-inclusive. If I have to write it down on paper, that extra effort has a way of focusing me in on the high-value tasks and plans.
But what I think is far more important than the tool itself is simply to pick one. Or three. Whatever. Then use them consistently and continuously.
I only have anecdotal evidence to support this theory, but I do believe it to be true: The majority of problems attributable to tools and productivity really aren’t about the tools at all – they’re about the user.
Often, we either don’t choose the right tool for the job, or more often we keep hopping from tool to tool, never really experiencing the payoff and growing more frustrated. There’s always a bit of a learning curve with any new tool or app, and we have to stick with any system for at least a few weeks before it begins to become habitual and truly helpful. To avoid this entirely, I advise sitting down and designing a system first, figuring out what you need to accomplish at each step, then evaluate tools for how well they meet each need along the way.
Fit the tool to the system, not the system to the tool.
7. Hillary Rettig – HillaryRettig.com
Tools are helpful but overrated. The true keys to maximum productivity are: (a) a clear sense of one’s mission and priorities, (b) the ability to easily say “no” to non-mission projects, and (c) the ability to easily and effectively delegate large chunks of the mission projects, so that you’re left with the time, attention, and energy to leverage your strengths in support of your mission.
8. Steve Pavlina – StevePavlina.com
(2) Spiral notebook
(3) Timer (CDN TM30 is my favorite)
9. Neen James – NeenJames.com
(2) My iPhone because it has my life in it and I love to be able to run my practice from anywhere in the world, stay connected to those I love and enjoy the world around me with photos and social media.
(3) My post it notes because every day I write down three things I will complete that day that will get me closer to the achievement of my goals.
10. Bojan Dordevic – Alpha Efficiency
(1) My Mac
(2) My iPhone
11. Mike Vardy – Productivityist
(1) Evernote. It’s great for note-taking, clipping articles from the web for research, and when used with the right intentions in mind can satisfy a whole slew of needs. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so popular, but unless you dive in and really decide what you’re going to use it for then you’ll be hard-pressed to use it regularly. Once I figured out how I wanted to use it, I kept at it.
(2) ScheduleOnce. Scheduling meetings can become a back-and-forth email dance but ScheduleOnce prevents this dance from ever occurring. You get a link that people can use to select possible meetings dates and times, and you can even set up services for appointments (coaching calls, podcast interviews, etc.) so it’s incredibly versatile.
(3) A multi-pen. Seriously. I am big on colour and I use paper for capturing and immediate task management, so having a multi-pen with me is critical. The different colours I use for different areas of responsibility act as triggers I can isolate with a single glance, which offers a sense of context right away. When I use a multi-pen with my Strikethrough System, I can survive without my digital task manager of choice far longer than ever before.
12. Mark Shead – Productivity501
Since technology tools change so rapidly, if I had to choose things to use for the next 50 years, I’d probably want to choose practices that will be effective no matter how technology changes. So here are the three practices / tools that I would choose:
(1) Single tasking. One of the best ways to get more done is to stop believing the myth that you can multi-task. Working on one thing at a time is the most efficient way to work.
(2) A clear prioritized list of what needs to be done. The kind of follows from #1. If you are only going to work on one thing at a time, you need a way to know what is the most important thing you need to be doing.
(3) The ability to stop working when I’m not productive. Many jobs require you to work 9 to 5 with out the flexibility to say, “I’m not going to accomplish anything else to day, so it is time to quit.” The ability to stop working when you aren’t making progress or are distracted is a very helpful thing in making sure that you operate at peak productivity.
13. Mark Struczewski – MarkStruczewski.com
(1) Fantastical 2 – this is the app that Apple should have created. It combines your calendars (iCloud, Google Calendar, Exchange, Yahoo) with iOS Reminders. There’s a reason Apple lists this as an Essentials app. It’s not free… but worth the money. All three apps costs over $65 but these apps are so well designed, they are worth it. Virtually unlimited customization. Rides on top of the iOS Calendar so there is Siri integration.
(2) Spark Mail – free. I’ve been a beta tester for Readdle’s apps for several years now and their apps are top notch. I have hidden the iOS Mail app and Spark Mail sits in my iPhone and iPad dock (remember, I’m a beta tester). Virtually unlimited customization. Great interface. Integrates with Gmail/Google Apps, Exchange, Yahoo!, iCloud, Outlook among others.
(3) iOS/OS X Notes (free with an iPhone, iPad or Mac) – since the upgrade with iOS 9, I have ditched Evernote. Notes is my go to app now for writing blog posts, weekly emails or just taking notes on a webinar. Apple made a serious upgrade to this forgotten app. If you’re an Apple user and haven’t tried Notes since iOS 9 was released, do yourself a favor and check it out.
14. Claire Tompkins – Clutter Coach
My tools are pretty low tech. I’m a big believer in writing by hand. Studies show that hand writing engages the brain more fully than writing on the computer does not (as much as I love Evernote). It’s also more satisfying to cross out a completed task with a pen than to delete it from a digital list. The acknowledgement of getting things done is satisfying and motivating.
(1) An index card where I write down the 2-3 things I’ll do that day; small so I can’t write too much. Yes, sometimes my list does grow over the day. When it does, I use David Allen’s criteria: context, time available, energy available and priority to choose the next task.
(2) Limited time, either in the form of an appointment with myself on my calendar or my Time Timer iPhone app. Knowing I only have to work on something for half an hour helps a lot to overcome resistance to a task. Also, it’s been shown that willpower is a finite thing; we only have a certain amount of it per day so it’s best to use it wisely (yes, I’m a psychology geek).
(3) Coffee. Not too much! It helps focus the mind. Plus, it tastes good and provides a ritual activity that I associate with being productive.
15. Celestine Chua – Personal Excellence
My three tools:
(1) Google Calendar – To record and keep track of time-sensitive deadlines
(2) Pen and paper – For brainstorming, idea generation, and listing immediate to-dos
(3) Excel – To map out my long-term and short-term goals, my game plan to realize my goals, and everything in between. My life handbook (a manual to live your best life) is wholly created in Excel too.
With so many productivity tools today, my three tools may seem surprisingly simplistic. But I believe the best productivity system doesn’t have to be highly sophisticated or complicated — it’s about creating a system that meets your needs and helps you to make the best of our days. These three tools help me to do exactly that.
16. Josh Levine – Great Monday
(1) I love the mobile app mail. Given your book, you probably know it already, but it really helps me deal with all the stuff I don’t want to be dealing with.
(2) Partnerships: as a creative I need to be accountable to someone, or else it doesn’t get done. Co-authors, project managers, clients all help me be productive.
17. Sacha Chua – SachaChua.com
I’m totally cheating with my answers. I can’t imagine using only three tools. What counts as a tool, anyway? Is the Internet a tool? What about the scientific method? Are we talking about apps, applications, platforms, systems, frameworks? =) Anyway, these are the answers that came to mind. They’re not your usual suspects, but I’ll explain why I like them a lot.
(1) Emacs: This arcane text editor from the 1970s is capable of far more than most people think it can. It’s not an application, it’s a platform. I use it to code, write, plan, connect, automate, calculate, and so on. People get intimidated by its learning curve, but for me, it’s well worth it. I’ve been learning and blogging about it for more than ten years. Based on what I’ve seen, I could probably keep going for decades. I love the way you can dig into how things work, tinker with the code to make it fit what you want, and combine different packages. Great user community, too.
I’m not sure what to say to productivity newbies considering Emacs. It takes a certain kind of person, I think. If you’re someone who likes constantly learning and tweaking, you’re good at learning from what other people have written, and you’re not afraid to do a little worse in order to do even better in the future, this might be for you. You don’t have to be a programming geek, although it helps.
(2) Linux: Again, I’m cheating by including an entire operating system, and probably I mean all the little tools I’ve gotten used to rather than the operating system itself. But I love being able to use utilities like grep and find (thanks, GNU!), stitching programs together, scripting things, installing other tools… People have suggested that I look into Mac OS X, but it gets a little on my nerves. I like Linux more. There are some programs I want to run on Windows, though, so I end up using Linux in a virtual machine so that I can do my development in a proper environment.
(3) Ruby: I use Ruby for little automated scripts as well as special-purpose web-based tools like QuantifiedAwesome.com, which helps me track my time. It feels like the way my mind works. I used to use Perl for scripting and I’m learning Python, but Ruby has the least friction for me. This may change as I get deeper into other languages, but in the meantime, Ruby is a good language for the kinds of things I want to do.
All of these tools take effort to learn. They’re not like, say, Boomerang for Gmail or ScheduleOnce, which are easy to pick up and have clear benefits. My favourite tools require imagination, but they open up infinite possibilities. I’m not locked into one way of doing things. I still have limits, but they’re the limits of my own ideas and skills. I think that’s what I like about these tools. They have depth. Whenever I reach for some new capability, I almost always find it.
So, if you’re a newbie and this sounds intriguing, how do you get from point A to point B?
I think I got here by being interested in learning, being unafraid of tinkering, and having the space to do both. When you’re learning a complex thing, you might feel frustrated and intimidated by it. Good games design that learning experience so that people enjoy small wins as they develop their skills, but not all topics are like that. Sometimes you have to enjoy the learning for its own sake.
… which is an odd message to share with people who are looking for productivity hacks, maybe, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. There’s a cost to picking general-purpose tools that are perhaps not the best at one specific thing, but experience results in compounding benefits. There’s a cost to keeping both your schedule and your eyes open, but perhaps it can lead to surprising things. There’s a cost to choosing the path of learning rather than the quick fix, but who knows what the true cost is down the road?
18. Thanh Pham – Asian Efficiency
(3) Sublime Text
19. Arman Assadi – ArmanAsssadi.com
Evernote is a must, but since everyone loves that already I’ll give you 3 others:
Bonus (4) Mixmax
20. Scott Ellis – VSELLIS
(1) Evernote (surprise I know). I keep almost everything I can in Evernote, and love how easy it is to use and access on all of my devices. For me, Evernote has solved several problems well. First, there are a myriad of ways to get information into Evernote. No matter what device I’m using, there is a fairly easy way to capture content, ideas, etc… Second, Evernote search works well so I can always easily find what I’m looking for. When you get more advanced, the Evernote search parameters really amp it up.
(2) Google Apps: I continue to be an evangelist for using Google Apps, especially for email. Again, search is the killer here. I don’t have to mess with folders which are a horrible way to organize content, and I can tag things but don’t necessarily have to (though many of my tags are automated). I can have multiple accounts coming into one in box and always find what I’m looking for. All things being equal, I wish I could get rid of email but until that happens Google Apps it is.
(3) Slack: it has become an indispensable tool for keeping up with the multiple companies I’m involved with. Not only has it significantly reduced email and helps keep me in the loop when I have time to catch up, but the multiple integration points mean I don’t have to jump to a number of different systems to be in the know.
21. George Smolinski – 4 Hour Physician
Does a Virtual Assistant count as a productivity tool? Perhaps more of a productivity concept. Nothing I have found has boosted my productivity more than competent VA’s, hence my inclusion of them as a productivity tool/concept.
Followed by that, #2 would be a second monitor for your computer and #3 would be a great scanner (to go paper-free).
If you’re looking for particular online tools/webapps/etc, I’d rank:
(1) Google Hangouts on Air (produce a video reference library for your VA’s)
(3) Newsify RSS News Reader – It’s the best way I’ve found to get up to date on the knowledge I need to be efficient and grow my business.
22. Donald Latumahina – Life Optimizer
To be honest, I have no tool that I’m certain I will use for the rest of my life because technology is always changing.
For tools that I use now and in the near future, however, here are my top three:
(1) A timer (I’m using Chronos, but there are many other alternatives)
(3) Google Calendar
23. John Richardson – Personal Success Today
@KosioAngelov 48 minute time block, top6 daily planner, and goal setting tool kit.
— John W. Richardson (@success2you) May 14, 2014
24. Mike Asbury – MASBURY
(1) Evernote: This tool allows me to capture and readily access critical information anywhere. Not only can I access it, I can modify it and easily share it with others.
(2) Smartphone (iPhone, for me): With the ability to capture this information anywhere, I mitigate risk of failing to snag important information. This powerful device allows me to capture information on the fly, add to and remain accountable to my calendar, and catch a glimpse of incoming information (i.e. Email and texts) in real-time.
(3) iPad: The power of this completely portable tool allows me to compactly carry, access, and manipulate correspondence and information in an unobtrusive form factor to any meeting. I can stay 100% on top of my game without lugging around a mainframe server.
25. Daniel Gold – DEG Consulting
(1) A notebook. Unfortunately in our age of productivity apps, many will be surprised to hear that the one “app” I rely upon most is actually my notebook. While it does not fall within the typical definition of an app, I find that the best way to remember things, keep track of action items I have given to myself, and take great meeting notes will always be in a notebook, which I can then transfer reference and task items to a digital app. At least with a notebook, I don’t need to worry about whether the app developer has enough money to continue a long-term sustainable business which will allow my data to be safe.
(2) A pen. No, not a stylus for a tablet, but a pen. Specifically, I enjoy using a fountain pen whenever I use my notebook. There is something about utilizing a fountain pen which helps me right better, and think more clearly.
(3) My brain. An app is only as good as two factors. First, you need to have an app developer create an app that is mapped around the way you work, not the way the developers thinks you should work.
Second, you need to take a strong and detailed look at the company’s financials. Are they a newbie to the market, are they backed by private equity and venture capitalists, are they ad based, or are they using their own funds? In any of these scenarios, you need to make sure that your data is safe and can be exported into a usable format.
Using your brain too think about what needs to get done, strategizing on how to get it done, ant most importantly, when you need to get it done is really all you need. An app will never help you nor will it ever be a replacement for the thinking that needs to be done in order for you to become more productive.
26. Dale Callahan – DaleCallahan.com
(1) My Calendar
27. Elizabeth Saunders – Real Life E
Somewhat of an unfair question given that we barely know what will happen in a year, let alone a lifetime…
But based on where I am now, here would be my picks:
(1) Google calendar (My #1 most important tool for staying organized and investing my time effectively)
(2) TypeIt4Me (I love text expanders!)
(3) Calendly (amazing for speeding up appointment setting and dictating parameters around appointments)
28. Marissa Brassfield – Ridiculously Efficient
I use a ton of digital apps, many of which are quite good, but I haven’t found one that I love enough to swear by for the rest of my life. When digital noise becomes overwhelming or I have to get a ton of work done in a short period, I default to the following:
(1) Sticky notes: I use these on a whiteboard or on my desk to keep to-dos organized and select the three major tasks I’m going to tackle each day.
(2) Whiteboard: I use my whiteboard for two primary productivity strategies:
Organization: I create a column for each project, and arrange my sticky notes by project. This lets me capture and organize essential tasks.
Prioritization: I review the whiteboard each morning and select three tasks to tackle that day.
Actualization: When I have too many sticky notes to fit on the whiteboard, I know it’s time to enlist some help, put a hold on taking on additional projects, or just block an afternoon to get caught up.
Organization: I make little bets with myself each day to incentivize effectiveness. I draw four columns with the following headers: Task, Estimated Time, Bet, Reward. The Task is for my to-dos, the Estimated Time is for how long I think that task will feasibly take to complete, the Bet is for my wager time, and the Reward is what I’ll get if I complete the task by my Bet time.
Gamification: The Bet time should be challenging yet achievable, and the reward should be attractive enough to really motivate me to work hard.
(3) Muse Headset: Each morning, immediately after I wake up, I meditate for 20 minutes. I’ve tried, started and stopped a meditation practice dozens of times in the past few years, but Muse has helped me build it into my daily morning routine. I noticed a distinct difference in how I process strong emotions – and, accordingly, how I manage stress – after about two weeks.
29. Penelope Trunk – PenelopeTrunk.com
30. Gregory Ciotti – Sparring Mind
As a writer, I definitely have some specific picks in terms of productivity tools:
(1) Readability — It takes great input to have great output, so I try to read for a couple hours each day. Sometimes this takes place online, and I’ve found I read articles much faster when I view them in Readability, which eliminates distractions and turns ugly typography beautiful.
(2) Strict Workflow — They couldn’t call this “Pomodoro” due to copyright I bet; it’s actually just a Chrome extension that allows you to work in the Pomodoro cycle! During the 25 minute work session, it automatically blocks all time wasting sites, and you can edit which sites are allowed and which are not.
(3) ZenWriter — Another writer’s tool, who would’ve thought! For exceptionally long pieces of writing where I need to focus, I find the distraction free style of the ZenWriter interface to be perfect. No links allowed, no editing or spellcheck; it forces you to just get the words on the page, so you can edit and tweak later.
31. Dave Ursillo – DaveUrsillo.com
(1) Evernote Premium. I do 95% of my word processing in Evernote Premium, which is affordable at $60 and very functional for me as someone who is often traveling or alternating between writing on his computer and jotting occasional notes and ideas through my Evernote App. The Premium version offers offline writing and allows me to keep all of my ideas, thoughts and essays backed up securely across multiple platforms.
(2) Pilot G-2 .05mm pen (or Calliber .07 mm mechanical pencil). I also do plenty of writing by hand. Writers and creative types can tell you that there’s a stark difference when you write by hand as opposed to when you write by computer. My favorite pen is the Pilot G-2 .05mm, which allows smooth and fluid writing. Lately, I’ve been using more and more pencil in my hand-written notes, but less for essay-writing and more for scheduling and other eraser-prone notes
(2.5) Classic (5 x 8.25) Moleskine notebook, red hardcover. My favorite notebook is the classic Moleskine 5″ x 8.25″ notebook in red hardcover. Red is the color of my creative rallying cry, and these popular notebooks are functional, easy to work with and easy to pack.
(3) Accountability groups – join a group that helps you stay accountable to your personal and professional goals. The trick is to not just join a group but interact with it: share your goals, assess (out loud) where you are in your current progress and set some soft deadlines or intentions to help you move in the direction of your goals. I run an online writers’ group called The Literati Writers to help writers stay accountable – ironically, my writers’ group helps me stay accountable to my own writing!
32. Ciara Conlon – CiaraConlon.com
— Ciara Conlon (@CiaraConlon) May 14, 2014
33. Rafal Moryson – Creating Personal Flow
I must say to response came quite easily to me. So the three tools are:
(1) GTD methodology, I consider it a tool that’s has the most impact and value.
(2) Pen and Paper key tool for capturing notes and ideas that arise once you follow GTD.
(3) Plain text files because they are simple, easy and ubiquitous. They will work on any platform, don’t take much space, can be searched and manipulated.
34. Janet Choi – iDoneThis
So my productivity tools fall more into categories than specific apps. I think I’d be set with tools that help me do 3 things: reflect/gain insight + focus on the present + plan for the future. So:
(1) Some way to quick-journal about my day — whether this is iDoneThis or a paper diary or doing something like morning pages/750words if I’m in a more ambitious phase.
(2) A timer for pomodoro-esque spurts of working. This could be a literal kitchen timer, or timer tool on your phone, or an actual app.
(3) A physical/paper planner. I’m currently using one from Moleskine. My brain deals better with paper whereas I tend to overlook things if it’s on my computer or phone. It’s also what I turn to because I can jot down notes and ideas outside of and related to planning. So it’s one case where I find multifunction super useful and probably why I get frustrated with to-do list apps.
35. Brooks Duncan – Document Snap
(1) TextExpander (or similar tools that will evolve throughout the rest of my life)
I don’t think typing will be going away any time soon, and I can’t think of a bigger productivity enhancer than a text expansion tool. I use TextExpander all day every day, and when I am using a computer that doesn’t have it I want to cry and curl up in a ball on the floor.
I truly believe that a big part of being productive is being able to access the information that you need, right when you need it. Evernote has become my “external brain”, and I am always surprised at the things I need to quickly look up. If Evernote’s stated goal of being a hundred year company is achieved, I should kick before they do.
3) A text editor
Almost all my writing (including this) is done in plain text. Individual apps and platforms come and go, but plain text is forever. As long as I have access to a text editor, I can write and be productive.
36. Rick Coste – Pursuing A Happy Life
@KosioAngelov Good question! Most likely Evernote, the ‘ToDo' app on my iPhone and Devonthink.
— Rick Coste (@rickcoste) May 15, 2014
37. Stefan Pylarinos – Project Life Mastery
The 3 productivity tools that I’d use for the rest of my life would be:
(1) My Journal
I prefer to use a simple paperback journal to plan out my day in and create my RPM blocks (see below).
(2) Time Of Your Life Program by Tony Robbins
This is the best time management program I’ve ever been through. It teaches a method or managing your life and planning out your day. This is a program that I listen to again and again that helps me make my life work. I then use my journal to plan out my day using the RPM method to set my Results for the day, my Purpose behind them and then my Massive Action Plan.
(3) My iPhone 5
I use the calendars feature on my iPhone 5 to set schedule my appointments and reminders throughout the day. This helps me block off specific chunks of time to dedicate to certain tasks, projects, coaching clients, or outcomes that I have.
38. Cal Newport – CalNewport.com
(1) My Black n’ Red executive notebook (for building my daily plans)
(2) My moleskine (been using them since 2004 for capturing ideas)
(3) My office door (sometimes you have to cut yourself off from the world to make things they care about)
39. Tim Brownson – A Daring Adventure
To be honest I don’t use very many productivity tools simply because I dislike structure more than a sloth dislikes being told he’s got to move trees by a week next Thursday.
Having said that there are three tools I use that I’d hate to be without as I use them on a regular basis and they genuinely add a lot of value.
I had a prospective client call me one time and say, “I need help with time management and productivity’ to which I replied “Yeh me too, do you know anybody that’s any good?” Needless to say we didn’t work together. I’d be in a mess without iCloud synching my two Macs and iPhone because I will often enter appointments on my phone. Knowing that I then won’t forget about it if I’m sat in from of my desktop when the appointment is due to take place is a huge weight off my shoulders.
I think it’s illegal in some states of the United States not to say you love Evernote to bits. And it’s a fair law because it is awesome. Because I train other Life Coaches I have to keep up to date on topics as diverse as Social Media, SEO and marketing as well as coaching. As such I subscribe to probably a few too many blogs and newsletters. Evernote allows me to clip the articles I think may add value and then dive in every so often and catch up on things all in one place.
My life was a meaningless travesty until the day I stumbled on Snagit many years ago. Now I bounce out of bed every morning, hug random strangers and regularly burst into song at the supermarket. I largely use it for creating images for tutorials I am writing for other coaches. I used to use the Mac bundled ‘Grab’, but Snagit is so much better because the ability to save in multiple formats (not just Tiff files that then need converting as with Grab), add cute little arrows and speech bubbles and generally give people the idea that I actually know what I’m talking about. How cool is that?
40. Justin Lancy – Veritrope
Quite honestly – A pen, paper, and a calendar.
As I see it, almost every modern “productivity” tool or app is an attempt to extend—or improve upon—the pen, a piece of paper, and a calendar. Nothing else comes close to the productivity benefit of these three tools and, since you’ve said it’s for life, I’d want to stick with something proven.
– Readily obtainable almost everywhere in the world;
– Useful in a variety of contexts.
Of course, I am a technologist and so I love and use all of the new and shiny things. But whether new tools or old, all productive people should use things which speak to their human and creative needs: Something which lets them record their thoughts (pen), a space where they can create and then reflect on those thoughts (paper), and something which reminds them that there’s urgency in this life (a calendar).
41. Daniel Hayes – Simple Life Together
(1) A plain piece of paper and pencil (can I count that as one?). I enjoy ideation. Sometimes that narrative and sometimes it’s a conceptual drawing. Sure, there are tech tools I could use for that (I love mindmapping with Mindmeister, for instance), but I still love a plain old piece of paper and a pencil. That’s still my first choice for taking a note or drawing a picture.
(2) Evernote. I know it’s cliche to say “it’s my external brain.” Still, Evernote is fantastic as a repository for info and files, and it’s the best thing I know for ubiquitous capture.
A lot of what I work on in my business with clients, colleagues, and with my wife on Simple Life Together involves collaboration. So, my (3) would have to be the Google suite of products and especially GoogleDrive. It makes collaboration so, so easy.
Here are a few for honorable mention. I love TextExpander, 1Password, and Dropbox! I use each of these daily. Another bonus would be Day One app. It has become my journaling tool of choice for its flexibility and availability on both iOS and my Mac. I especially like the tagging function for quick reference!
42. Rami Rantala – Better Productivity Blog
@KosioAngelov I'm using Evernote everyday and my own paper form. Evernote is like swiss army knife…
— Rami Rantala (@RamiRantala) May 15, 2014
43. Jeremy Roberts – Cloud Productivity
It would have to be this:
(1) Evernote – everything I ever need to remember goes in here. I have a memory like a goldfish so this tool is vital.
(2) Asana – my exclusive system for managing all my projects and actions. It’d be hard to manage anything in my life without this.
(3) Evernote Moleskine – being able to dump out my thoughts helps me to get clear and current.
44. Annie Mueller – AnnieMueller.com
(1) A simple notebook is the one productivity tool I really wouldn’t want to live without… and, of course, a good pen to go with it.
A notebook serves for my journal, my note-taking, my list-making, my free-writing, my brainstorming, my outlining, and my rough drafting. In a pinch, it could also easily work as my planner: just sketch in a grid and write in the dates and I”m set with a monthly or weekly calendar. I get my head out on paper better than on any digital device or app.
45. Aaron Lynn – Asian Efficiency
Allows me keep in touch with people all around the world in real-time. Let’s me see my calendar, tasks, projects, thoughts, journal and pretty much everything else on-the-go. Don’t leave home without it.
(2) Computer / Laptop / Notebook.
It is absolutely amazing the number of things we can do with a personal computer today. Email, Internet, knowledge work, research, creating art, words and more. If I had to choose between a desktop and a laptop, I’d go with the laptop for portability. Though in an ideal world I’d have both for the rest of my life.
(3) Squat Rack / Barbell.
Allows me do everything I need to do in the gym without the need for 101 isolation machines. I consider them the hidden productivity tools of the modern-day simply because of the energy, focus, discipline and determination that comes from working out on a regular basis.
46. Tracey Foulkes – Get Organized
First thought is a cheat answer … I’d stick with my iPhone. While not quite as streamlined as my iPad/PC, it is the one tool that simply has the potential (albeit slower) to do everything. That means it’s home to my social media platforms (you can find me on Twitter @traceyfoulkes), my customer management system (onepageCRM.com) and my team collaboration app (teamworkPM.net). It’s my virtual office in a, um, box, with the added bonus of also being my phone! Evernote.com for notes, Wunderlist.com for to-do list, Dropbox.com for document storage … too too easy.
Then, if I use the term ‘tools’ loosely, I’d need to say I couldn’t (more like, wouldn’t want to) survive without (a) my annual goal setting retreat, and (b) my weekly blueprint (time table) that transpires as a result. The goal setting lets me get real with myself. I assess where I am at, where I want to be and what I need to do in order to bridge the gap. From there I schedule my time so I can minimise the excuses and maximise the output . Sharing the blueprint with my team and family means I have both accountability buddies and a support structure.
47. Mike Evans – Macfilos
The app I now used most for writing is Ulysses. It’s not as complicated to use for long-form articles as Scrivener, but does a very similar job. What’s more exported text in HTML format slots right into the Squarespace editor for Macfilos.com
So my choice now would be:
The third choice is an oddball among your group. Few would include an accounts program, but I find that it is the mainstay of my financial life, providing a simple way of keeping things under control and well organized.
Bonus tip: cloud computing is now perhaps the most important aspect of all. In my case iCloud and Dropbox provide the “back office” support for the use of my favourite apps and for the storage of all my data.
48. Henrik Edberg – Positivity Blog
(1) A pen and paper. For planning, reminders for new habits and for daily to-do lists.
(2) Teux Deux. I use this online calendar for my weekly and monthly planning.
(3) An egg-timer. To help me switch between bursts of fully focused work and fully focused rest. By doing so I keep my focus and energy up more easily.
49. Steve Scott – Develop Good Habits
(1) Timer App — I’m a big believer in “time blocking” where you 100% focus on task without interruption for a short period. Using a modified version of the Pomodoro Technique, I use my timer app to manage my work on specific projects.
(2) Evernote — With this app, I have a ubiquitous idea capture device. Every thought, project idea, bookmark and future plan goes into this app.
(3) Stitcher — While it’s technically not a productivity app, I use Stitcher as my central location for all business-related podcasts. Having these at my fingertips helps pipe in great lessons on a daily basis, which helps me stay inspired and focused on my work.
50. Carthage Buckley – Coaching Positive Performance
My 3 choices are as follows:
(1) Pen and paper
No matter what technology or software is created, I am a firm believer that you must be able to create your productivity system on paper first. Keep your system as simple as possible. The more complex it becomes, the more difficult it is to maintain. While I do use Google spreadsheets for most things (as they can be accessed from most places) I know that should all else fail, I can always get my hands on a pen and a piece of paper. And once I have it down on paper, I know that I have gotten it out of my head.
Having an in-basket to collect all of your unprocessed notes, agreements and information is essential. I can just dump things into my in-basket as they arrive; then I can process them at pre-determined times. This allows me to move on with my work, safe in the knowledge that I have captured my commitments. I agree with David Allen when he says that if you do not have an in-basket in your home then your home is your in-basket. An in-basket for each location that I live or work from is essential for me.
(3) My orthopaedic pillow
This may seem like an unusual choice as a productivity tool but if you are not getting a proper night’s sleep, all of your productivity efforts will be worth nothing. 15 Years ago, I damaged my neck playing rugby. For many years after, I lacked energy and my productivity was average, at best. It is only when pain forced me to consider a proper pillow that I started to see improvements. As soon as I started using my orthopaedic pillow, the quality of my sleep began to improve. I started to wake with more energy and enthusiasm for the day ahead. Not everybody will need a special pillow but if you want to be more productive, you need to examine the way you sleep. You need to ask yourself ‘ Is my sleep of a high enough quantity and quality? ‘ You are likely to spend an average of 8 hours per day in bed so it is worth making sure that your mattress, pillows etc. are offering you the proper comfort and support.
The same also goes for your desk. If you experience discomfort while working at your desk, your productivity is going to suffer.
51. Jamie Todd Rubin – JamieRubin.net
It’s tough to pick 3 tools that I’d use for the rest of my life. For me, productivity is, by definition, an evolving process. If I can’t change my methods over time as I find better ways of doing things, I can’t really improve my productivity. That said, here are three productivity tools that I use today that I can’t imagine not using well into the future, mostly because they work really well for me now, and I see them only improving over time.
(1) Evernote. I take Evernote’s slogan, “remember everything” almost literally. The tool has continually improved and I’ve gotten better and better at using it. These days, I can find just about anything I need within 5 seconds by searching in Evernote, whether I’m at home sitting at my computer, or on the road somewhere.
(2) Audiobooks. At first glance, audiobooks might not seem like an obvious productivity tool. Until last year, I didn’t think I could tolerate them. But I gave them a try. I discovered two things: (1) I love voice acting–listening to someone read the books; and more relevant to this discussion, (2) I can listen while doing other things. Walking, commuting, exercising, doing chores around the house, I can listen to audiobooks while doing all of these things. It is the only real multitasking I do on a daily basis. Discovering this was like finding extra hours in the day.
(3) Google Docs. I do all of my writing in Google Docs. I keep all of my freelance-related business spreadsheets in Google Docs. I never have to worry about saving. I never have to worry about which version of the document is the current one. I can easily collaborate with editors in realtime. I can work from anywhere on any device. The time I save by not worry about copying files here and there, not having to email files back and forth, not “forgetting” files at home has allowed me to get more writing in during the day.
52. Justin Harmon – Justin-Harmon.com
Three productivity tools I would choose would be something like (1) Spotify, where I can listen to my favorite music which helps to get me inspired and zoned in to my work.
(2) My notebook and pen is another one. I probably wouldn’t remember anything if I didn’t take notes and write down ideas when I think of them. It’s also nice to get away from the computer screen every once in awhile and let the ideas flow. If I can get out in nature somewhere with my notebook, that’s just a bonus.
The third tool I would use…I guess would have to be my (3) body. I really believe that to be as productive as I can be, I need to be at my best, and that starts with my health. On all levels…physical, mental, and even spiritual. In the past I never paid much attention to this tool, but I’ve been many times more productive since I’ve just started paying attention to my health and my body’s needs.
53. Michael Schechter – Workflowing
@KosioAngelov Think I’d need Dropbox for storage, OmniFocus for tasks and nvALT for text.
— Michael Schechter (@MSchechter) May 16, 2014
54. Scott H Young – ScottHYoung.com
(2) To-do list
55. Amy Lynn Andrews – AmyLynnAndrews.com
(1) Google Keep
56. Sven Fechner – Simplicity Bliss
As the question relates to “rest of your life” I need to make some careful choices here since that is hopefully a long time. During that time platforms and technologies will come and go, companies will cease to exists and new ones will be emerging. Hence I should choose tools that survive these transitions.
(1) Notebook and a good pen (totally timeless and keeps notes, thoughts, ideas, todo list, Eisenhower matrix, …)
(2) Plaintext or Markdown files (they would hopefully still be good in the future)
(3) A smart device (today it is iPhone and iPad, but who knows what it will be in 20 years from now)
Surely today it would be OmniFocus, Evernote and MindNode, but as much as I love these applications and companies, it is hard to predict if they or the platform and technologies they run on would be there for the rest of my life.
57. Gabriel Ponzanelli – Disturbances In The Wash
If I had to stick to 3 tools for the rest of my life, I’d go old school and ditch technology altogether.
Although I use my MacBook and iPhone/iPad regularly with a few apps I really like (primarily OmniFocus, Apple Notes, MindNode Pro, 1Password, Ulysses III, the iWorks suite, and the built in apps), the reality is that technology evolves and who knows what new gadgets will be available and which ones will disappear. So for continuity and peace of mind, I would have to go analog.
I would choose:
(1) A Sketch Book with blank and thick paper. I currently use Spirax Sketch Book No. 534 that has 20 sheets of 110 grams in A4 size (roughly Letter size in US), but any would do.
2. A small Notebook. I currently use a soft one from Moleskine, squared.
3. A black Pen. Preferably a fiber tip one.
With those 3 things I can do pretty much everything: keep my to-dos and other lists, mind map, write, etc. Even today I still use those things daily for brainstorming, temporary notes, and some writing.
58. Timo Kiander – Smart Productive Work
This tool is now my “daily command center”. It’s easy to use and it has plenty of features that meet my task management needs.
I use the premium version which isn’t that expensive – less than 30 euros per year.
I’m following Pomodoro technique when I work, so this timer is my choice for this activity.
However, you can also adjust your time blocks freely – not just for 25 minutes as in Pomodoro.
In addition, this tool is cloud-based and free.
I meditate every day, as the first thing of the day.
There are many benefits to meditation and I have seen improvements in my focus, also the ability to resist temptations like cravings.
The best of all, meditation is free!
59. Erin Falconer – Pick The Brain
(1) Smart Phone (I have an iPhone)
(2) A portable WIFI hot spot
(3) Camelback thermos – to drink a lot of water
60. Brian Tracy – BrianTracy.com
(1) Pad of paper – list
(2) Pen – to set priorities
(3) Discipline – to work on #1
61. Chris Bailey – A Life Of Productivity
My favorite three:
(1) My meditation cushion. As unproductive as sitting on a cushion for 30 minutes straight sounds, meditation is one of the most productive activities out there. It has been shown to help you defragment your thoughts, come up with better ideas, relax, destress, and so much more.
(2) My whiteboard. I use my whiteboard to brainstorm, capture thoughts and ideas, and think. The tactile nature of writing on a whiteboard makes it difficult to become distracted – unlike when you brainstorm through an app, where a world of distractions is a tap or two away – and it’s fun.
(3) The rule of 3. I guess this one’s more of a technique than a tool, but it’s one of my favorite ways to become more productive. The rule is simple: at the beginning of each day, think of three outcomes you want to achieve by the end of that day. This technique allows you to channel your time, energy, and attention into just three outcomes over the course of a day, which is incredibly motivating.
62. Kayla Matthews – Productivity Theory
If I could use only three productivity tools for the rest of my life, I think I would stick to (1) Evernote for every little idea I want to save and revisit later, (2) Kanbanize for actually getting projects completed and (3) Buffer for sharing my finished projects on social media with my followers. I love all of these tools and work with them religiously.
(Bonus answer: If I had to pick a fourth tool, I’d say coffee!)
63. Shane Parrish – Farnam Street
This is going to sound really odd … but the two things I do more than anything are 1) schedule time in large chunks and 2) remove distractions.
Basically we live in a world where everyone is constantly working in 3-5 minute increments. The only thoughts you’re going to have in that time span usually belong to someone else. We need time to think about problems in a three dimensional way. To do this we need time and focus. And the remarkable thing is when you do this you start to make better initial decisions. And the key to having a lot of free time is good initial decisions.
64. Belle Beth Cooper – Hello Code
I guess I’d choose pen, paper, and some kind of reminders/task management app.
I rely on software to remind me about things that are due at specific times, and to not let anything fall through the cracks, but apart from that I think pen and paper are the most flexible tools you can use.
65. Monica Ricci – Monica Ricci
— Monica Ricci, CPO® (@MonicaRicci) January 12, 2016
66. Michele Connolly – Get Organized Wizard
I’d probably choose:
1. My Moleskine cahier notebook – extra-large, ruled, soft-cover in magenta
2. My current favorite pen – at the moment I’m liking Staedtler pigment liner in .4 or .5.
3. My iPad mini – for learning, writing, and connecting.
67. Jonathan Levi – Jonathan Levi
Well, the short answer would be “a macbook pro, Bose noise cancelling headphones, and wifi. All else is unnecessary.” But that’s a cop-out answer, because on that laptop and on the web, I have access to millions of tools…
68. Zachary Sexton – Asian Efficiency
(2) A to do list manager and calendar
69. Bob Stanke – BobStanke.com
Evernote is my repository for everything I need to remember, whether it be checklists, articles I want to read or reference in the future, or quotes I want to remember.
Google Drive holds all of my files, whether they be solely for reference or are working files that I need to access and modify. Google Drive’s mobile apps are great for being productive on the go.
Finally, Google Now is truly my personal assistant. I use voice commands all the time to search the web, send text messages, and schedule meetings. Google Now is a HUGE part of my productivity system!
Bonus 70. Mark McGuiness – Lateral Action
(1) Dragon NaturallySpeaking – helps me speak text faster than I can type it (and I’m a fast typist).
(2) Scrivener – writing software designed for the way writers actually think. As well as using it to write books, I have a Scrivener file for all my major projects.
(3) A 3″ x 3″ stack of post-it notes. Because if it won’t fit on a post-it, it won’t fit in your day.
Bonus 71. Deb Lee – DAllisonLee.com
(1) Smart device
(3) Due App (task reminder)
Bonus 72. Paula Rizzo – List Producer
Over to you now
There you have it, the top 3 productivity tools used by the world’s leading productivity, organization and time management experts.
Here are the final results:
A few notes to keep in mind:
1) I was surprised to see pen and paper on top (I believed I was the only one who still uses them :), but that could also be skewed by the interview question involving “for the rest of your life”.
2) Evernote came in 2nd place, but there were a lot of alternatives such as Apple Notes and MS OneNote that received votes. If all of these similar tools get pooled into the same category, the total vote count would be 25.
Now, go grab a Moleskine notebook and a pen, fire up that Evernote, keep your smart phone handy and get cracking. Napoleon Hill said it best:
Knowledge becomes power only when, and if, it is organized in definite plans of action
Before you go, leave a comment below and tell me what are your 3 favorite productivity tools that you can’t live without?