Ever used a productivity app that everyone seems to rave about, yet when you give it a try it falls way flat of your expectations?

Perhaps it’s too cumbersome to use, or you spend more time filing, filtering and organizing your tasks instead of actually doing anything. Or maybe you find yourself wondering:

How is this any different than before?!?

Why Your Productivity App Isn’t Working

Here’s the problem with productivity, or rather the problem with how people approach productivity. Too often people try to apply a solution to an unknown problem.

Put a cast on a healthy arm and you’ve only made things worse!

If there’s no problem why is there any surprise that all these productivity apps don’t work? For all the productivity tools, tips and methods out there, rarely do you see anyone step back and first ask “why”.

Why should I try to reach Inbox Zero…?

Why will Evernote help me be more productive…?

Why will one of these million to-do apps ensure I get more done…?

Identify Your Problem First, Then Find Your Solution

Before you begin a single new productivity system first do a simple four step self analysis.

Step 1 – Document Your Workstyle

Spend a week diligently tracking every detail of how you work. Track how much time you’re spending, where you’re doing your work, what you get done as well as what you don’t get done. Capture it all.

Step 2 – Find the Holes

Now it’s time to see what your week really looks like. What 5 crappy meetings should you be skipping? What projects take way more time than they should. Where do you get your best work done? What distractions pull you away?

The first step in ANY productivity solution is to identify the problem you’re trying to solve

Step 3 – Refine the Problem

Once you have a sense of what your issue is, take a deep dive and get as specific as possible.

Saying, “I want to be more productive, more organized, and get more done,” is NOT a problem.

Instead, a problem might be, “I have so many emails that I have trouble prioritizing them, focusing on the important ones and making sure I’m not late to respond to critical messages that need my attention.”

See how much more powerful this is?

Step 4 – (Finally) Try Out Solutions

Now we can start looking at specific solutions. For example, in our email problem from step 3 you might want to try an action based email system like Inbox Zero and use an app like Mailbox to help make it easier to get there.

An Example From Trello

What’s this look like in practice?

Last year I found that I had an issue organizing tasks based on priority and time. All of my tasks would end up in the same list, regardless of how small or big they were, how trivial or important they were, and including everything from stuff to do today to reminders for myself three months out. As a result I spent too much time on the unimportant stuff.

I then did a bake off among a few task and project tracking tools, spending a week or so using each one. Get Flow, Things, Producteev, OmniFocus, Action Method and finally Trello.

With Trello I found a great solution that fit ME. I found that I could still store all my tasks in one place AND:

  • Manage granularity of projects big and small between checklists, lists and boards
  • Reprioritize my list on a daily basis with a slick drag and drop card-style interface
  • “Fire and forget”, meaning I could add a future project, have it automatically surface when I want three months from now yet not clutter up my near term project list

Does Trello work for me? Yes.

Will it work for you? Well first let’s see what your problem is…