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Being a productivity trainer, I get asked about my personal productivity tools a lot. There are a few rules for tools which I think are true, and valuable:

  1. Everything in one place. Some people look at the “one place” as their computer, but I think if you can drill down more than that, it’s better. If everything is on your computer, but in 5 different programs or documents, that’s not as efficient as if everything is in ONE program.
  2. You need to consider FIVE things for comprehensive productivity: calendar, to-do list, contacts, email, and notes. If they all can’t be in one program, then the programs should at least play nicely with each other (the ability to easily create a task or calendar event from an email, for example.)
  3. You are most productive when you can refer to your system on the go, meaning a handheld device will increase your productivity. However, your handheld device shouldn’t be your only tool, or even your primary tool, unless you are a true road warrior and are almost never in front of a computer. Handheld devices are not designed for convenient entry of data. Do the entry on your computer, accessit on your handheld device when you are away from your computer.

Another thing that’s really crucial to personal productivity is an effective methodology. (I use my Empowered Productivity System. But I’ll have to discuss those specifics another time). So, given those rules, I used to use Outlook with a Palm handheld, then later with a Windows Mobile phone. If you are a PC user, Outlook syncing with a Windows Mobile device is a very powerful combination. (If you are a Mac user, come back tomorrow when I will continue the post). Outlook plus a Windows Mobile device handle all five things very well, and it is very easy to integrate each of the five things together in Outlook (creating a task from a to-do, or birthdays in the contacts appearing in the calendar, for example.)

A single installation of Outlook does have some drawbacks, however. It’s not a project management tool, but I think there are many ways to get around this shortcoming that work just fine. I’ll have to save those for another post. One of the biggest drawbacks is the inability to share calendars. Because of this, some people abandon Outlook and use only Google Calendar. I think this is a mistake, because Google doesn’t yet handle the other four items at all, or as well as Outlook does. I have two suggestions if you need to share calendars. One is to consider a hosted Exchange solution, like from The problem with this is that it’s not free, but for a small business it’s inexpensive and easier than hosting your own Exchange server. An easier (and free!) solution for an individual is to just use Outlook as your primary calendar, but sync it up to Google calendar to share with others.

IMHO, that’s the best solution in personal productivity tools for a PC user. A couple of years ago I switched to a Mac. I’ll explain what I use now in tomorrow’s post.

Have thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them. And you can follow me on Twitter where I try to post lots of productivity-related information @mnthomas.