Digital Tools for Productivity & Time Management

Everything seems to exist and happen within the parameters of time. Einstein was intrigued by time and changed the 400 year dominance of the Newtonian concept of time with his famous theories of relativity. Building off of Einstein’s work (not really) Melissa and I wanted to explore time management and productivity through the best use of digital tools and create a workshop where we could find ways to use technology in harmony with our work (rather than as a distraction!) Our goal is simple. To improve our relationship with time.

In our conversations we came up with one common dilemma – Why is it that when we find a new tool or app that is supposed to help with time management, it can seem to start off woring pretty good for us, but then little by little we often default back to our old behavior? (Much like a New Year’s resolution.) Adapting a quote from Professor Beryl Levinger, we can see that a change in tools does not equal a change in behavior. So in the workshop, before going straight into showing digital tools, we thought it would be a good idea to do a little analog self assessment to better understand our behavior.

Not All Lists are Created Equal
We all make “To Do Lists” but do our lists reflect our priorities in such a way as to enable our best time management?? “OK Einstein,” You may be thinking. “So how do I make my list reflect my priorities?” Well, let’s do a simple exercise. Where would you place yourself in this spectrum?

How do you approach work?

Would you say you are more “task oriented” or more “people oriented?” Wherever you are on this line, having a clear understanding of how you (and your team members) approach work is very beneficial when it comes to productivity. We can avoid misunderstandings and make schedules that are more in line with (and hence, more realistic) people’s varied approaches to tasks.

Now that we have located ourselves in the above spectrum, let’s look at a prioritization matrix that can help us sort our tasks according to what is “important,” “urgent,” “less important,” and “less urgent.” We can also think of any combination of these (i.e. important and urgent vs. important and less urgent). By being able to categorize your tasks and list them according to their importance and urgency you can plan the next action step and when to do it. The chart below is simple, easy to apply, and (we think) an effective method for organizing your lists.

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If something is “important” (up on the vertical axis) and “urgent” (left on the horizontal axis) the plan should be to do it now. If something is “important” and “less urgent” (up and to the right on the axes) the plan is to schedule a time to do it, and you can decide how soon this should be. If something is less important but urgent you may see if you can delegate it to someone else. And if something is less important and less urgent you can ignore it. If “ignore” sounds too strong, you can at least decide if this unimportant and not urgent item should even be on your to-do list at all. Things listed in this section can give us insight into the different things that we allow to enter into our day that take up space and time but that do not contribute to our productivity. The important thing is that you know what should be done now and what should wait for a later time. And when you are clear and comfortable about this you can free up your mind to focus on what you are doing now without having that scheduled task floating around in your mind and taking up mental ram, space and energy.

We have heard that “knowledge is power” but knowledge can also be time-saving and productive when paired with the right tools that work with your personality and lifestyle. We believe it is important to understand clearly how we see and prioritize things in order to have digital tools work best for you. So, now with this understanding up front we can go over some cool (and FREE) digital time management resources. Let’s take a digital walk through these and see what feels right for you!

Workflowy – “Organize Your Brain” 
When it comes to making lists, Workflowy doesn’t mess around. You can make multiple lists and sublists, you can make lists within lists, categorize lists, locate lists or items in your lists, you can share lists, import and export lists and more. Make lists as simple or as complex as you need them to be. This program is very easy to use. If you go to their website you can give Workflowy a test drive from a sample display list that they provide. On their site it also tells us that “Stewart Butterfield and his team used WorkFlowy to brainstorm and implement the first version of Slack, a company now worth more than $1 billion. They managed their entire team and product development process in WorkFlowy.” Along with your future billion dollar company, you can manage your schoolwork and grocery lists as well.

Evernote – Good for Staying Organized! 
If you need a system of keeping your notes organized, or you have a habit of writing things down before you forget them, Evernote could be your best friend. You can create notebooks & notes, as well as add text, web clips, photos, and files. You can also create “to do” lists & reminders.  All of these items in Evernote are searchable and synced across devices (you can import Workflowy notes as well).

The Pomodoro Techinque – Good For Getting things Done!
This is not software but a time management technique that is a simple and effective way to improve your work and study habits. It was introduced in the 1980s (I think) in a book with the same name by Francesco Cirrilo. I recommend you click on the link above and watch the 2 minute video for a very good explanation of how to use this technique. But the basic idea is to work on one task in 25 minute increments un-interrupted (ideally) with 5 minute breaks.  Each one of these sessions is called a “pomodoro session.” You decide how many pomodoro’s it takes for you to finish a task. By the way, pomodoro is the Italian word for “tomato,” and this technique is named that because in tomatoes in Italy grow in 25 minute spurts. (Is this true? Probably not, because I just made it up, but it would explain to me why the heck this is called the tomato technique! )

These are some of the tools that we covered in our workshop. You can find the complete list of the digital tools that we covered in our workshop here: And as always, you can stop by the Digital Learning Commons to talk with any of us about any of these tools and methods (as well as Einstein’s theories… well, some of them… OK, probably not).

We hope that these ideas , tools, and techniques help you get things done in the ways that best fit your personality and lifestyle. Practice makes us better so try things out for little bit and don’t be afraid to change from one method to another. Time management is a constant work in progress. But with a little bit of time, we can all improve our relationship with time!