productivity tools

Productivity Tools: Mind Mapping, BuJo, Trello – What Really Works?

Apr 15, 2019

I am a natural organizer, therefore I crush on productivity tools.

Well, there you go.  They say that admitting the problem is the start of facing down the problem, but if the worst thing in my life is an addiction to a wide and varied set of productivity tools, then I suppose I can live with it and move on to important stuff, like sailing or binding a quilt.

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I often wonder if I have a love of productivity tools that far exceeds my love of being productive, and I do believe I could be on to something with this admission.  It’s not guilt, mind you, more of an observation – or a “Reflection” if you’re into BuJo; I figure this falls in the same category as do you or don’t you doodle your journals into a happy place or do you Marie Kondo the hell out of every character and glyph you insert…

What do you expect from productivity tools?

It occurs to me that before we can determine the effectiveness of a particular tool, we should examine the reason for using said tool.  I am a Trello type (sorry Asana and Basecamp), having fallen in love with the platform almost immediately and coincidentally during their first few months in existence.  I have few complaints about the service, the main one being that I’d love to see the cover images in the calendar power-up view – that would probably make my experience complete, or at least complete for the moment.

I also have a love for writing things down, and I have always favored yellow notepads for the business type of lists, notes, and musings.  I am a bit of a weirdo; I have notepads in boxes that reach back roughly 25 years.  Each one is dated randomly throughout the entries so I can track where I was and what I was thinking, but unlike the BuJo method I have no index, contents, or contextual listings of what is in them.

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Perhaps one day I will remedy that but it won’t be any time soon.  I’m not even sure why I haven’t chucked the lot of them in the rubbish bin, but I also wonder why I have wall calendars that go back roughly ten years stacked in the floor of my closet under my shirts…

Can you draw me a map for that?

Oh, mind mapping, how I love thee, let me count the ways.  The main way is mostly on paper with colored pens and plain pencil, I never really could get into using the computer to create a mind map or even fill in the blanks on a pre-drawn version.  Just not my thing, and it did not make me happy to attempt it more than a couple of times before I abandoned the idea entirely.

I do integrate mind maps into my yellow notepads, especially if I am stuck on the phone having a discussion with someone, or if I am watching a webinar, listening to a podcast, etc, while my hands are free and the paper is just sitting there begging to be doodled.

Does the hamster actually like the wheel?

I believe that people are in love with busy work, although I’m not entirely sure about the hamster.  It’s my firm suspicion that he would rather run free in the field than just keep going round and round on that wheel, but I am not a hamster and don’t play one on tv, so it’s quite possible that I am dead wrong.  Busy work is non-productive at almost any level, other than keeping someone from robbing a liquor store with a set of Arteza markers, if such a thing is actually a possibility.

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There has been an incredible amount written about how technology is killing our minds, dumbing us down, turning us into zombies, and ruining the double space after a period.  The last item is indeed an issue, at least for those of us who find reading much easier with the double space after a period (I’m a fan of the Oxford comma as well, if you didn’t guess) since it creates a natural break for the eye to follow.

I have my doubts about these technology theories, or at least the one size fits all nature of such postulations.  Personally speaking, my iPad lulls me to sleep nearly every night while I’m reading a magazine via Texture (don’t get me started on Apple News +), or my old school Kindle does the job if I’m reading a book.  I love to sit in bed in the morning with my phone and a cup of coffee, checking out the day from the comfortable and comforting pillow fort in my room.

Why do we need organization?

Oh, grasshopper, that is a very deep question, and for some I believe the answer is no.  For others, especially those with children, careers, hobbies, or travel schedules, then a bit of organization is not a bad thing.  Especially for those of us without personal assistants of the breathing sort.  While I have zero experience being a monk, I would not expect that the underling monks have much of a need for organization, since the impression I get is that their lives consist of meditating most all day, and showing up on the corner to spread the word of how their brand of joy sparking means they don’t have much to worry about.

That brings up an interesting question…  with the housing crisis the way it is, why don’t more people go and become monks?  That would settle the “where am I going to find an apartment I can afford” crisis for at least a while, if I say so myself.

At the end of the day, organization is kind of like hair dye (although many would argue that hair dye is an more needed necessity in some circles), or at least the results are similar.  Too much of a good thing and you look down to see your hair breaking off in clumps in the shower.  Organization can be like that as well – if you aren’t judiciously meting it out, you’ll find that you spend all day working on your organization and none of your day actually getting anything done.  Bad habits won’t be changed by practicing them until you have them down pat, you know.

Which productivity tools are the best to use?

Now we are getting down to the crux of the situation, the nitty gritty, the kernel, horses for courses, whatever you want to call it.  I believe this depends on two different factors:

  • What is the assumed goal?
  • What is the medium of participation?

Such simple questions, maybe not with the easiest of answers.   Let’s start with the first one – what is the assumed goal.  I will give you a personal example for each of these questions, and explain why a certain type of productivity tool is more appropriate, which really just means more efficient, at least in my case.

If my assumed goal is to increase the number of followers on a business Instagram account to more than 10,000 in a few months, I will need a plan to successfully gain enough followers to hit the mark.

In case you don’t do Instagram for your business, the reason to get to 10k followers is the almighty “Swipe Up” inside Stories, which offers you the ability to link to a website from your content.  Otherwise you are restricted to a single live link in your bio, and that adds at least one more step to getting traffic.  Your alternative is paid advertising on the platform. 

I would (and do) use a combination of legal pad journaling and mind mapping doodles to lay out the plan initially; at some point I’ll transfer the ideas into a demo or at least an outline in digital form so that others who are going to be part of the plan will know what we are doing and why, and will have the opportunity to comment or suggest additions or alternatives to my plan.

In order to execute this particular plan, we are going to need digital organization – as I mentioned before, I love, love, love Trello – that falls into the type that makes it easy enough to share the content digitally, since that’s what Instagram is about and how you use it.  We would create a Trello board for the project, and on that board, our lists would be tailored to how we were going to use the contents.

Talk to me about the way you organize!

My first list on the Trello board would be a monthly list with a card each day for the square post (and if you are a Trello user you can understand why I’d love to see the cover images on the calendar view).  I would (and do) keep only a single month in a list, and each month moves to the end of the board as it’s been cleared (we maintain a lot of the pieces that went into creating the finished post on the cards and we might need them again, so we don’t archive), and the new month moves into the first position.

The second list on our board is our blog post schedule, since we integrate new posts, podcasts, etc from the site into the IG posting squares.  The next list is a cross between items to include and miscellany – hashtag groups, potential shout out account users, groups of quotes, it depends on what type of product or service owns the account.

The next few lists include particulars – colors, fonts, mood boards, anything we need to incorporate into the overall look and feel of the account postings.  We also like to keep a list that contains the templates we are working from (you don’t think those posts really just create themselves on a nice feed, do you?), and then we have other lists with raw graphics dumps, links to articles or pertinent pages like other social media accounts, URLs, mentions, etc so we have quick and easy access to almost anything we might need to generate the posts.  We have a couple of lists for Stories content, but since Stories is a more fleeting situation, we don’t put the same deliberate attention into creating them that we do for Posts.

We would also, more as a side note, keep screenshots of particularly important Insights – good or bad – in a list on the board, in order to monitor what worked and what didn’t.  These are not complete synopsis and summaries, just quick notes that we can refer to when we are going to meet to discuss the effectiveness of what we are doing, and to decide what we can do better.

Sounds good, why doesn’t one size fit all?

Before you get too excited about Trello (or Basecamp or Asana or whatever digital organizer you like), let’s take a quick moment to look at another example.

You may have seen some of my blog posts about sailboat racing, which is my side hustle from a hobby standpoint.  I’m not interested in doing it professionally (even if I were good enough to get paid for doing it), but I absolutely love going out as often as possible with good teams.

If we were trying to put together a successful sailing team and win a regatta, there would not be any Trello involved, it would be legal pad notes, emails, maybe a few texts, and in person debriefs and practices.   We would show up for a practice or a race, and someone, usually the tactician, would take notes about the variables such as weather conditions, competition, boat prep, and so on.  At the end of the day on the water, we would have a crew meeting back at the dock, and talk through what needs to be upgraded as far as crew performance or boat setup.

See how the medium of participation can totally alter the means for deliverables to get to their destination?  And rightly so.  It would make no sense to create a Trello board or to pass around a written journal with only one copy in the sail racing team instance.  It would be counterproductive and a complete waste of time and energy.  You don’t win by doing it that way, and the trophy you get for winning is the indication that you’ve done it right.  No digital awards, just pickle dishes.

What’s the chief takeaway here?

In case you went all TL;DR on the post length, the summation goes like this:

  • Identify the goal.
  • Understand the delivery mechanism.
  • Decide what productivity tools are best suited to these two things.
  • Don’t waste time trying to fit square pieces into round holes.

My loose plan is to talk more about how to use different productivity tools for different projects, as well as how to string together multiple tools in order to achieve the maximum results with the least amount of time spent piddling around with organizing.


So stay tuned, we’re just getting started on how to effectively use productivity tools!




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