Helping Creative People Create

On Switching Productivity Platforms

I’ll often find myself switching between different mediums when I’m planning my day, or jotting an idea down, or formatting a post. Different tools allow me to do different things, and I like to take advantage of the tools available.

I used to subscribe to more rigid forms of task management systems like GTD in the past, but over time I find that having my own system has always worked the best. As I get smarter, my system evolves.

on switching productivity platforms- here's my pen and paper on a notebook

This post is an example of how I’ll sometimes use a
notebook and trusty pen to outline my thoughts.

What’s important in my own system is flexibility. This means I’ll use multiple tools to capture and plan things,

For the everyday need of capturing ideas, I’ll use anything from text files to smooth rocks. Sometimes when planning a project, I’ll use a trusty notebook. Other times I’ll use plain text files on my Mac.

The same is true for writing. Often I’ll sketch ideas onto paper, and then plunk them into digital form later (just like this post).

Other times I’ll pull up a text editor like Notational Velocity or TextMate and start pounding out sections of a post.

Scratching ideas and thoughts on paper feels more fluid and free than typing out list items in Evernote. Organizing my day online feels more, well, organized when I’m using a computer for list management.

So really, it all depends on what mood I’m in. Feeling like I need to pull in the organizational reigns? It’s a structured list in a text file on my desktop. If I’m needing a little more flexibility and control over the medium, I’ll switch to paper.

All of these platforms serve a specific purpose. I couldn’t just use one for the rest of my life because that’s not who I am. I’m not a cyborg. I need different tools because they make me a more creative person. The medium can make a huge difference, after all.

Switching Platforms Caveat

The problem with all this contextual switching is that it can be hard to keep track of where stuff is.

The key is knowing where to find everything after you’ve jotted it down. I use Evernote to capture everything for archival purposes. If I’m using a piece of paper, notebook, or some other offline tool, I’ll take a picture and upload into Evernote. Evernote can read text in images, so this means that text within images can be searched.

If I’m using text in a text editor, I have the option of emailing the file, or just copy/pasting it into an Evernote file.

You could also use some other form of archiving, like manually re-typing the info into a text file. (Some people swear that the repetition helps with their memory.) Or you could take a snapshot of your notes and digitally save them.

I know it’s preached among the Uber Productive that it’s necessary to stick to One Platform, but I don’t. This might make me less “productive”, but I think it helps keep things fresh.

And that, to me, is the most important aspect of a productivity or planning tool.

Can I get an amen?

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  • Andy Ihnatko, famous Mac columnist, uses Scrivener for much the same purpose. I think Charlie Stross, famous science fiction writer, does the same, but I’m not sure; he and I are not on speaking terms.

    • Ooooh… I forgot to add Scrivener. I love that app. It’s fantastic for writing longer pieces.

  • Amen.

    I switch platforms, too, same as you do. You convinced me to give Evernote a try.

    • You should! Would I ever steer you wrong? :)

  • Julius

    Maybe ActionMethod would be perfect for you. It has an digital and a paper part.

    http://actionmethod.com/

    • I’ve actually used ActionMethod in the past and I really liked it. Scott Belsky is a friend, and his products are fantastic. From his book to the web app to the paper products to the network, they’re all just done really really well.

      I’ll probably go back to it after a while… :)

  • Great tips!

  • I also like to handwrite ideas, article themes, descriptions, or difficult passages before transferring to the computer. Often, I do this while taking a walk or away from my usual workplace when my mind is free. Somehow, this kind of writing vs. the computer or other digital tools works better for me – more personal – and I’ve heard, for some well-known writers (Stephen King, etc.) as well.

    • Yeah, walking is great. I also like to use voice notes on my phone when I’m walking. That way I don’t have to carry something extra, plus my thoughts are going to keep their natural flow (hopefully) when I’m speaking.

  • Lasvegaswil

    I have been using Remember The Milk and Evernote as a dual system for quite awhile and, while being a workable system was always a bit more work than it should have been. Evernote is the main platform I had wanted to use but it didn’t have the interface that RTM provided. Then after I was passed down an iPhone I installed and started to use Egretlist. Have to say, I’ve been mighty impressed so far by it’s flexibility and ease of use The developers seem to get my style of GTD and the interface lends itself to the aesthetics us old school Moleskine users tend to gravitate towards. It also allows as many input sources as Evernote has, which leaves open the many different creative methods most knowledge workers need to capture what is actually bouncing around in their heads. Egretlist still has a ways to go, but for right now I’m definitely giving it a shot. 

    • I know lots of people poo-poo at the thought of switching platforms, but I think it’s necessary sometimes. I think there’s nothing wrong with trying to find something better that fits your style.

      That said, there is definitely a line to be drawn with improving vs. obsessing. It’s tough! :)

      • Lasvegaswil

        Hit the absolute nail on the head there glen. I went through a phase where I was spending more time perfecting my productivity system than I was actually getting stuff done. Whenever I change methodologies I have to set the rule that there will not be more than an hour to set it up, start to finish. Otherwise I’ll just keep with what I use. Having all of the various fall back platforms available helps though. If you get fed up, just grab your Moleskine or Hipster PDA and do what you gotta do.

        Thanks again for the great post. Good to know we’re not alone out here.

  • Christine

    You definitely get an “Amen” from me! I find that I switch platforms sheerly out of boredom. That’s just me, I thrive on “change”, and I realize that everyone is different. This week it’s OmniFocus. Last week it was Remember The Milk. I may be switching my voice-to-text app from Jott to something else too.

    • Boredom: the new Agent of Change :)

  • Basel

    I think a simple trick would be to make a specific note in evernote, with proper tags, referring to where is the information lies. That would take care of keeping track issue, but not the accessibility issue.

    • Yeah, that could work. I dunno… I think at that point I’d just rely on the search. Good suggestion though!

  • One advantage of switching mediums is that it forces your brain to work in different ways. There is a book called Mozarts Brain and the Fighter Pilot that talks briefly about a study about what parts of the brain were active when people wrote with pen and paper vs. a computer while under a cat scan. There were significant differences in what parts of the brain were being used–much more than could be accounted for simply by saying that different motions were involved.

    Switching mediums can be a great way to break out of a rut or get beyond some type of mental block that is holding you back.

    • I’ll have to check out that book… sounds incredibly interesting.

      Thanks Mark!

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  • I love it! I also love writeroom http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/writeroom
    If you don’t become more productive when writing with it, your life is too hectic.

    And, for hand-written stuff, I’m all about my ‘hipster pda’
    http://wiki.43folders.com/index.php/Hipster_PDA

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  • Chris

    sometimes I feel like I should be able to win the upcoming race, but my training keeps getting delayed because I’m off trying on other shoes and heart rate monitors. I keep jumping between notational velocity, things for mac, omnifocus, omniplan, mindmanager, onenote and outlook. Do I need all of them? Not sure but sometimes I think if I just settled on a workflow for a year and reassessed later I’d be in better shape. Dunno.