Tools to help you increase your productivity and learn something new every day

These days there seems to be no end to the things you ‘must’ or ‘should’ read. More than 27 millions pieces of content are exchanged every day in the US alone according to an AOL Nielsen study. That is a huge stack of books, articles, blog posts, white papers, etc. But the truth is that many of us are falling into the habit of not ever really reading anything any more. We’re faking it. The constant stimulation — the scroll, scan, flick, flash culture of modern internet use — is eroding our attention span and in some instances even eroding our basic desire to read.

In truth some of you are probably are already struggling to keep focus now.Admit it. Skip the guilt trip. For the tl;dr folks, at the bottom of this post I talk about:

  1. EvernoteGoldfish mindset - distracted in meetings
  2. Trello
  3. Overcast
  4. Hootsuite
  5. Feedly
  6. Audible
  7. Coursera

…and how I use them to get out of the goldfish mindset.

One of the biggest challenges we all face now is the constant battle against distraction.

  • We suffer from ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FOMO) so are constantly checking our various devices — scanning email or social media feeds and generally spreading ourselves thin.
  • Microsoft conducted a study which revealed we now have attention spans shorter than goldfish and can’t maintain attention past a measly eight seconds.
  • Research shows most people only read about a quarter of the words on a web page. Most of you probably will get through 20% of this…at best!
  • We’re constantly fending off the pings and dings of notifications and desire to skim something because there’s probably something more interesting just a click away. Researchers are now showing that our ability to read offline is now affected by our online skim and scan habits.

It’s easy to feel that there isn’t enough time to stay on top of the latest trends in whatever you sector you work in. It’s even easier to get into the habit of ‘faking it’ . Constantly skimming headlines in news feeds or quickly scanning the introduction of articles but never actually reading something. Scanning so you know ‘enough’ to drop a line into conversation or make a witty comment about the latest McKinsey report or HBR article (are you that person?). This is a bad habit to get into as ultimately you’re only kidding yourself.

How can you stay on top of things & rediscover the value of actually reading?

goldfish memory from digital distractionI’ve been asked a few times now what websites or apps I use that I can’t live without. Looking at my iPhone screen it’s easy to see that the apps I use each and every day are those that help me keep on top of things and to keep learning without it becoming a chore.

Here’s seven tools that help me be more productive and a short description of how I use each one.

  1. Evernote

    I use Evernote Pro and it now a digital extension of my brain. Since I started using it I have been telling everyone I know how awesome it is. Like any tool, you need to commit to using it and get used to it, but when you do you will not go back. I’ve used many bookmarking (e.g. Pocket and Instapaper) and note taking tools (OneNote, Google Notebook) in the past and Evernote surpasses and has replaced all of these. It also limits the need for other document storage tools like iBooks.

Why I like it:

  • Evernote allows you to write notes and group these in Notebooks. Everything is quickly searchable and can be available across all your devices.
  • You can use the ’notes’ feature for extensive writing — just in the way you would Microsoft Word or Powerpoint. It also has a build-in presentation mode to turn any note into a presentation.
  • It has a handy bookmarking tool — it’s Web Clipper — which allows you to capture a URL, a whole article or PDF when you’re viewing it anywhere online and save that into a notebook. This is useful for keeping a list of articles or documents that you want to read when you have more time or, for example, to gather research for a presentation.
  • You can  create audio notes — useful if you’re walking/biking to work and think of something you want to save and you can capture photos and ‘read’ the text within them. This means you can take a photo of notes on a whiteboard, a sign, a book page, a business card…whatever…and store these in Evernote and make it instantly searchable. I can’t begin to explain how often I use this.
  • Depending on whether you’re using the free or paid version, you can also have everything available offline. This means everything you save can be viewed when you have no internet connection which is really useful when travelling or when you want to ‘disconnect’ and work without distraction.
  • There is a ‘chat’ feature to allow you to message other people you’re connected to in Evernote and sharing notebooks with so you can really work and discuss topics within Evernote.
  • There is a Pebble or Apple Watch companion app so you can see your notes on-the-go.
  • Evernote has some ‘extension’ apps which are really useful. I use ‘Scannable’ a lot. It has literally replaced the need to use a traditional scanner. You can hold your iPad over a document, scan it and save it in Evernote, email it or share it. The quality is excellent and it removes any background elements just capturing the document image.

Get it here.

2. Trello

Trello is a project management tool that’s built on the Kanban methodology. You can create a ‘board’ for a project and create ‘lists’ within that board. For example you could have three lists (as I often do) — ‘Now’, ‘Next’ and ‘Soon’ — to divide tasks or groups of tasks within a project. You can share tasks or boards with other people and again you can use this across devices.

Get it here.

3. Overcast

I love Podcasts. I like to listen to a couple every day — making breakfast, on the way to work or walking the dog. Overcast is a podcast player that allows you to create playlists of your favourite podcasts. You can also discover new podcasts based on recommendations from Overcast or based on the behaviours of people you’re connected to on a social media. It is this ‘discover’ feature that I really like.

Get it here.

4. Hootsuite

After using many other tools, I now use Hootsuite religiously to manage my social media accounts. I can group all my accounts into one place, view the feeds of activity, share or schedule posts, see how posts have performed and so on.

Twitter is my favourite social network and I get a lot of my news there in addition to finding new sites to follow or discovering things I want to read more about. I save articles I see on social into Evernote if I don’t have time to read them then and there.

Get it here.

5. Feedly

Feedly allows you to save your favourite sources of information in one place. You can create different folders/categories and add a website to it. Then each time you go to that folder in Feedly you’ll see the latest feed of content from that website. This might be a news site like BBC News or a blog that you came across.

Why I like it:

  • Any time I come across an interesting site I pin it in Feedly so I never have to remember. I browse my feeds of content in Feedly every day.
  • If I decide I don’t like a particular content source, I just delete it.
  • If I find that a particular source has become something really useful I move that into a ‘must read’ group. Then if I’m short on time I just read whatever is new in that feed.
  • If I need to do a ‘spring clean’ because there’s a backlog of content, e.g. after vacation, you can delete the content that is ‘older than a day’ or ‘older than a week’ so it’s not overwhelming.
  • I can send content directly to Evernote from Feedly if I don’t have time to read it then and there. I can also share directly on social media or schedule a post in Hootsuite.

Get it here.

6. Audible

As I said before, I like to listen to podcasts to fill otherwise dead time and learn on the go. I often interchange podcasts with audiobooks depending on my mood or how much I’ll be able to concentrate. I also use Kindle for ebooks and read actually ‘real’ books as well but for books that you can easily dip in and out of, I find audiobooks really useful.

Get it here.

7. Coursera

I like to learn new, and sometimes seemingly random, things. Coursera is great because you can use it across devices. With the iPad app I can browse for interesting ‘courses’ and take these for free. I travel quite a lot for work and can download the course videos to view offline. I often watch a few of these during a flight and you can quickly progress through entire modules of courses.

You can also pay an additional fee if you want a certificate to demonstrate you completed a course.

Get it here.

What tools do you use every day?