The (minimalist) productivity stack I use for creative work
I must have spent hundreds of hours thinking about productivity. And some hundreds more trying to find simple productivity apps that will help keep me productive.
The amount of time I’ve spent over the time I’ve actually saved is, to say the least, astounding. As someone chronically obsessed with productivity, productivity itself is the bane of my existence.
That is…until I’ve settled on a couple of tools.
The idea is to say “no” to over-optimizing for productivity. It’s ridiculous to believe—like, actually believe—that I’d be able to do 25 hours of work in one day, now that I think about it.
So, here’s what I did: I chose three tools.
A note-taker (knowledge management)
A to-do list (task management)
A collaboration tool (project management)
No more, no less—three tools handpicked to help propel my work forward.
By limiting the number to just three, I knew I had to be very selective. I can’t have myself working around the tools, the tools have to work out-of-the-box, individually and in conjunction with one another, in a way that’s cohesive and makes sense with my work.
Here’s how I’ve come to pick my three tools:
Choosing simple productivity apps
Let me start off by saying that I’ve tried just about every popular productivity software in the market. I’ve tried free and paid tools. Tried simple ones and needlessly complex others. None of them fit perfectly like a glove.
That’s because, in hindsight, my standards were too high.
Here’s an important lesson in finding the best tools for you: no tool is perfect. A simple concept, but one that took me years to fully imbibe.
So, here’s what you should do instead:
Ask yourself what are the most important things to you when it comes to productivity tools. For me, they only needed to be two things:
Simple enough to use without a steep learning curve
Beautiful enough that I won’t mind using it every day
With these two things in mind, I started my search. Ultimately, I landed on these three amazing simple productivity apps.
My Productivity Stack: 3 simple tools for always-on creatives
After testing out dozens of productivity apps, I’ve landed on the following three which works best for me, currently.
With the exception of one, I’ve been a user of these tools since 2012.
The newest addition to my task, TeuxDeux is probably the most simple as well. Over the years, I’ve learned that when it comes to tasks, simple is always good.
I’ve been using Todoist for many years but I finally made the move.
Make no mistake, I still like Todoist. It’s still the best cross-platform task management tool, second only in my opinion to Things 3, which is a Mac/iOS exclusive. Recently, Todoist has been playing with a Boards function, which tells me that they want to participate in the project management space as well.
That makes now a good time as any to test out different task managers like TeuxDeux, which is so simple it might as well be a piece of paper.
Well, it kind of is. Just take a look:
You have daily columns you fill with tasks. That’s it. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, and honestly, I love that about it. That isn’t to say it lacks any smart features. Recurring tasks are decent, tasks you miss are automatically moved to the next day, and there’s a cute astro-cat that pops up whenever you finish a task.
All of this culminates in an uncommonly simple and straightforward experience that I think enables creative pros like me to focus on the work, rather than wasting time tinkering about an overcomplex tool.
Not entirely helpful, but should you find the urge to print your tasks so you can cross it off physically with a pen or a Sharpie, you can.
I’ve tried using modern iterations of it—Notion, Roam, OneNote, etc.—and certainly fell in love with some of them, but I always, always go back to Evernote.
For my setup, I use Tiago Forte’s PARA filing system, making full use of an inbox notebook and filing them regularly so they don’t get lost.
Why Evernote? Well, there’s simply no better web clipping, no better search functionality, and no better note-taking experience than those in Evernote.
It hitting what experts call its “maturity” isn’t a loss, but a milestone that it has, in fact, perfected the tool, and is ready to make the tool even better. Which is exactly what current CEO, Ian Small, is setting out to do.
As of this writing, I consider Evernote still the best note-taker of all, with fine-tuned improvements finally on the horizon.
Trello — the friendliest collaboration tool for projects big or small
One of my favorite collaboration tools ever, this simple productivity tool is just as good as it was the first time I used it. It uses Kanban boards to help organize tasks, resources, and other key items in your project.
I use Trello for all of my projects, including my movie website, Unreel.
Here’s what our editorial calendar looks like:
Trello is ideal if you’re working with various people from different teams. Sharing and editing permissions are straightforward, the UI/UX is clean and intuitive, and the design language is familiar enough for you to instantly know your way around.
It’s perfect for small agencies, editorial teams, and development teams.
Keeping productivity simple and effective
In closing, what I want you to walk away with is that tools are probably the least important bit about all of this.
It’s the mindset that productivity shouldn’t be this overcomplex thing, but rather a crutch to help you move your creative work forward. Make it a strict rule that your tools help you, not hinder you from doing great work.