I’m not exactly a Luddite. Yes, I often prefer to do things the old fashioned way. Yes, the only reason I got my first smart phone was because my mother – 36 years my senior – forced me into it. But hey, I’m fine with letting the early adopters take the risk and endure the bugs that untested technology brings.
I’ve come a long way, though, and have discovered a few productivity apps that I can’t imagine living – or working – without now. The good news? They’re totally Luddite friendly, easy to use and quick to learn. Full disclosure – no one paid me to say any of this (ha! if only).
The three apps I’m recommending you give a try? Workflowy for easily-nested to do lists, Evernote for creating a digital filing cabinet, and OurGroceries for making grocery shopping faster and easier. Here’s the rundown:
Cost: Free (premium version available for fee)
What it is: Digital to do list
The story: Everyone in my office is pretty attached to their paper to do lists. I was too. I’d spend all kinds of time editing it, scratching things off, rewriting it… and I had to because it’s paper and it’d get messy and not everything fit and I had to look at the whole dang thing every day and figure out ways to make my most pressing tasks stick out. My to do list required about 4 different colors of highlighter and a numeric AND alpha coding system for prioritization purposes. The other thing? If I left it at home, I was hopeless. Completely at a loss for where to focus my energy next. And that happens to other people I work with – all the time.
Then I discovered Workflowy and I’m really happy with it. It’s quite simple – just like a paper to do but digital so I can access it at work and at home or from the coffee shop I’m writing from right now. It lets me:
- Easily search though my tasks
- Use sub-bullets to track each step of a long-term project (they’re nested so you don’t have to look at all that detail all the time)
- Prioritize my tasks so I just look at the things I need to worry about today, or next week, or next month
- Remove the items I’ve completed so I don’t need to see them anymore
- Quickly reorganize the items however I want
- Reference my work history via daily emails of my completed tasks
- Save a lot of time
Downsides: This app is pretty limited. It does what it promises and nothing more.
Verdict: There are lots of to do list aps out there. Workflowy wins my heart because it’s so clean and simple. If you’re happy with a paper to do list but find it inconvenient, time consuming, and that it limits the amount of detail you can write down – try Workflowy. It gives you so much more flexibility than paper and takes about 30 seconds to learn.
Cost: Free (premium version available for fee)
What it is: A complete organization system – I consider it my digital filing cabinet
The story: Evernote was mentioned on a couple of podcasts I listen to so I looked it up out of curiosity. I was immediately intrigued by this app that lets you create digital “notes” out of just about anything – a photo, an email, a website, a to do list… you name it. Then you can file those notes into different notebooks to keep everything nicely organized and easy to find. It’s also totally searchable so you never have to rummage around trying to remember where you put something.
Disclaimer alert: Living up to my Luddite ways, I’ve likely used less than half of Evernote’s functionality. There’s a LOT you can do with this app. I’ve heard some folks say to really benefit from Evernote you need to bite the bullet and learn everything you can do with it and use if for everything. But for me, the basics alone have really benefited my work process and were easy to learn.
Similar to Workflowy, I love having Evernote on my work computer, laptop, and phone. I can update notes or add new notes from anywhere without any fuss. What do I find Evernote useful for?
- Keeping my personal to do list.
- Holding all my frequently referenced documents in one place – a photo of my landlord’s bank number for paying rent, business cards for doctors I’ve seen, a list of birthday gift ideas for loved ones, a photo of my eyeglass and glasses prescription… easily referenced anywhere.
- Jotting down items I want to remember to address in upcoming meetings with clients or coworkers.
- I keep a running “note” for each recurring meeting I have. I add thoughts to each note as they pop into my head and have seriously minimized the amount of meeting prep time I need as a result.
- Taking meeting notes. Often these are just for my personal reference so I don’t need anything more formal, and Evernote makes it easy to file the notes for future reference.
- Saving copies of emails I don’t want to look at in my inbox, but will need to reference at an upcoming time. I like to keep my inbox as sparse as possible following the “touch it once” philosophy, so I like using Evernote as a place to hold onto things I can’t completely file away just yet.
Downsides: Learning the app doesn’t take that long, but figuring out a notebook system that enhances your work process can be time consuming. Rarely I’ll run into syncing issues – I updated a note on my phone and it didn’t come over exactly right on my computer so I’ll get an error that I have “conflicting changes”. It’s a minor annoyance and can be avoided by always making sure you’ve synced Evernote on the device you’re using before making new changes.
Verdict: Evernote is one of the most popular productivity apps out there and I can understand why. I tried a couple different approaches to using this app before I settled on my method of notebook organization, but now I don’t know how I managed without it. It is well worth the relatively small time investment to get up and running.
App: Our Groceries
What it is: A shopping list app that multiple people can update
The story: Like many households, my husband and I have different grocery store desires. He needs 8 different cereal options – I require a back-up bottle of maple syrup always on hand. Then there are the items we have on our list every single week (bananas, kale, frozen fruit – green smoothies for all!). Plus, there are certain things we always get from one store (any other Trader Joe’s big roll toilet paper fans out there?) and others we can only find elsewhere (Whole Foods organic almond milk, I’m looking at you). What’s a family to do?
OurGroceries has been the solution for us. Jesse and I both have the app on our phones so we can add items to our grocery list exactly when we realize we’re out of something. The app saves your items so entry is super fast. What’s more? You can categorize each item in any way you like. For example, when I put in “bananas” it automatically goes into the “TJ Produce” category – the first category on my list, since I start our shopping at Trader Joes and the produce section is the first spot I hit up.
We use the app for groceries mainly, but we have other lists saved in there like fun things we want to do or items we need to ask our landlord about. You can also access the app online from your computer, so if you wanted to add a whole bunch of items or categorize things more easily you can do so.
Downsides: If you want to get really specific with your categorization like I did, it takes a little time to customize that. But it’s ultimately worth it if you prefer to get in and out of the grocery store really quickly since you’re not running all over the place. Also, there are advertisements for sketchy looking dating sites. But hey, it’s a free app so it comes with the territory.
Verdict: Paper grocery lists need not apply. This app makes household collaboration easy and I’ve found my grocery trips are so much faster and easier because of it.