What Productivity Tools Work?

Do you ever have conversations with yourself?
No, I’m not talking about being on the street corner, waving your arms and having an argument with that person in your head who is telling you to go one direction when you want to go another (or whatever else may be going on…).
I’m talking about those questions that pop up like, “Is this working?” or “What’s the point here, Holt” (You may not have used my last name…), or, “”When is this EVER going to work for me like it works for EVERYBODY ELSE in the world???”. You know, questions like that.
It’s the answers I come up with that can be really entertaining, though! They are, of course, highly intelligent answers, as I’m sure yours are as well, but their wisdom may not always be self-evident to the listening ear, which is mine alone, so hey, speak away! I’ll spare you the remainder of the conversations, as I don’t want to interrupt the recordings playing in your own head by now…
voices in your head

What was I Looking for?

Before I dive into my journey with time in the arena of productivity apps, let me tell you what I was looking for. I don’t think of myself as picky, per se, but, in this arena, let’s face it – I’m picky. I know what I want, and I know what I don’t want. And the challenge with these apps is that they all make themselves sound like they are EXACTLY what you want on their website, so, it’s not so much a thing of just checking the site out to see what they offer, don’t offer, etc., to see if this is the shiny bullet I’ve looking to pack my productivity gun with. Noooo, would that it were so easy.

Close up of a Man with a Tattoo Using Tablet

No, what I have to do is look the site over, check the feature set out (specifically related to the price point I can afford) and see if they at least offer the features I am needing at a price I can afford. (And hey, if price is not the option for you, you’re probably not even reading this post, so if that’s the case, I don’t even need to talk to your situation, so I’ve just made you more productive by not wasting your time! 🙂) Then, if they fit the bill so far, I have to test it out. I have to create an account, download the app, login to the web app, whatever, and set it up the way I would use it and “test drive” it for a bit. Sometimes that is accomplished literally within just a few minutes, and sometimes it can take a week of working with that platform, testing things and working with projects and settings to see how things work there. It’s an investment in time, to be sure, but all the while, I’m still getting things done, it’s just that I’m using a different platform to do it in.

The bottom line that I’ve come to over the years is this – the platform in and of itself doesn’t matter. What matters is having clarity in what you are needing to accomplish and how you want to do it. You can use a paper and pen or you can use a complex task management platform, but the key is clarity. That said, clarity also helps when choosing your method of keeping track of things.

Here are some of the most important features that I was looking for in narrowing down my goto productivity system:
  • Ease of Use. I needed to be able to quickly and easily create tasks, find tasks, figure out a workflow, and find my way around whether on my computer or my phone.
  • Flexibility. I have several different business endeavors, from affiliate marketing to online digital marketing and web design, along with two start-ups, not to mention teaching responsibilities and projects around the house, so whatever I use must be flexible enough so I can adapt it to the various divergent needs represented in all the areas of my life.
  • Dependability. Whatever I use must be reliable no matter what in regards to availability, consistency of design flow and their approach to changes and updates. I like to try new stuff, sure, but it has to be at least tested first by their team!
  • Time-Blocking. Okay, now we’re getting to the hands-on stuff. I was looking for something that would empower my time-blocking approach to planning my day and week, so at a glance I’m able to see what I should be focusing on at any point during the day.
  • Perspective. I needed to be able to easily see the same information from different perspectives, or views, such as a timeline view, a kanban view, a mindmap view, a list view, a calendar view, etc. Depending on the type of project I’m working on, these different perspectives make a world of difference in being able to see the big picture and stay on top of things.
  • Focus. I needed something to help me focus, not to distract me from my focus. What that means for me is that I was looking for a solution that would really fit with the way I think and not have to figure out the way the creators thought about how to do certain things. This relates to the design flow above and ease of use, but essentially, if I find myself thinking “What were they thinking?” too often, it’s time to end the trial.
assorted-color padlock lot
So, what things have I tried? This is by no means an exhaustive list, as to be honest, sometimes I’ve even forgotten that I’ve already tried something! But, here are the names that stand out…
  • Podio
  • Plutio
  • Asana
  • Teamwork
  • Trello
  • Airtable
  • Basecamp
  • Wrike
  • Flowlu
  • Notion
  • ToDo
  • Todoist
  • Quire
  • Microsoft Project
  • ClickUp
  • Ayoa
  • Motion
  • Taskworld
  • Taskade
  • nTask
  • SmartTask
  • Hive
  • MeisterTask
  • NiftyPM
  • Weekdone
  • Oh yeah, BUJO (aka, Bullet Journal)
I won’t go into all the details of what I did or did not like about the respective ones, but if you have a specific question about a particular platform, let me know in the comments and I’ll give you my input.
For me, the one that I migrated to from Asana was ClickUp. It was at its early stages then, but I could see their vision to create a single platform to manage everything, and that caught my attention. I’ve ridden with them through the rough times, always wondering if there was a better platform out there (essentially, one that did the same things that ClickUp could but better), and every time I tried something new out, or went back to another platform to see if their improvements were enough to keep me there now, I found I was always comparing to ClickUp. And now, since they have resolved most of their slow loading issues, imho, there is really nothing else out there that can compare. So, that is what I use, along with a hybrid paper planner/BUJO where I can just put pen to paper and get my hands away from the keyboard for a bit and a productivity tool called Rize to help me keep track of how I spend my time..
Next post, I’ll go into how I use ClickUp to help me manage my endeavors such as affiliate marketing and more.


Even while writing this post, I had forgotten about one platform I had tried (Infinity) and I went into it to check it out, and it looked great, so I went to their login screen, and hey, I’ve got a login – I guess I’ve used it before! So, it is robust in terms of functionality, clean and simple, very flexible, and has about all of the functionality ClickUp has, so I spent some time today checking back into it. Well, Now I remember why I did not choose it in the first place. There is no place to view a complete master overview of the entire workspace, as all of what they call the Blocks are managed independently of each other. So, if I want to see a calendar or a list of tasks, I’ve got to go into each Block (Project space, type of work, etc.) in order to see what is inside.
In ClickUp, I’ve got the Everything View where I can see exactly what I want to see from anywhere in the Workspace, so I can manage EVERYTHING from one dashboard. So there again, I keep measuring every app I look at against ClickUp, and well… (Oh, by the way, next post I’ll let you know how I use ClickUp to create these posts…)

3 thoughts on “Productivity Tools”

  1. Nakina Lawson

    Interesting, Michael. I checked out ClickUp. I’m not sure how I would use it, but I look forward to hearing more about how you use it. I can see that maybe I could create a Project, such as setting up my YouTube channel, set up the different tasks involved, and then check them off as I go along. Is that the kind of thing you use it for?
    Very interested,
    Nakina Lawson recently posted…A Plan Plus Action Equals SuccessMy Profile

  2. Micheal, wow, that’s quite a list of things you’ve tried. I’ve tried Trello and Microsoft project. Trello I think is quite cool it’s a very simple task list and reminders. However teams also does the same thing. Microsoft project can be quite difficult. I find it quite tedious and it ends up being a project in itself. I like to keep things a little more simple. There’s another tool called mural which I find very useful which is like a whiteboard and you can do all sorts of mapping, planning, brainstorming and share and collaboration with it. I suppose all these are really good, it’s a matter of what you actually need and what you can pay for in terms of licenses. Thanks, Atif.
    Atif Perwiz recently posted…The benefits of successful behaviours in Affiliate MarketingMy Profile

  3. I use Asana everyday and love it. It is by far the best free project management system. I am so glad I found it. I use to try and do it all in a spreadsheet but it was clunky.

    Out of the list of tools you’ve used which ones have been the most beneficial? I am always look for tools to automate processes.

    Thanks for posting some tools that can help at different points in a business.

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