The Productivity Tool that Trumps Them All (IMHO)

Productivity starts with values, not techniques

Early in my working life, I struggled a lot with managing time, balancing multiple tasks and projects, and staying on top of things. Productivity wasn’t in my vocabulary yet.

“You know, the hardest thing about training young people is teaching them to be professional,” said my boss, flustered and frustrated, ranting to me about me.

Fast forward, a few years later. Different job, different country. I was working as a graphic designer for the creative arm of a brand strategy firm in Singapore. Because of my supervisor’s sudden resignation, I took over his position of Head of Design. Gulp. Flashbacks of my disorganization and lack of project management skills haunted me.

But, when you’re thrown into the fire, you learn something. Faster than you ever thought you could. (Sounds like 2020).

In a flash of left-brained inspiration, I started to organize and track project goals, timelines, and progress in a the digital tool that was available to me—Google Sheets. I didn’t know that what I was doing involved planning, project tracking, and productivity so I didn’t even think to search for project management or productivity tools.

After 10 years, the spreadsheet is still my productivity tool of choice.

“Are you kidding? Google sheets?”

Yes, that green one with the blank grid. Here’s why:

1. It’s blank.

With Google sheets, you create your own system from scratch. And because you create it, you can customize it, and refine it as needed, to work for your specific situation and for your team.

2. It requires manual labor.

You create and update everything manually. No pre-formatted boxes or modules. This encourages you to think carefully and strategize on how you will design your sheet, according to your goals and needs.

3. It’s notification-free.

The trust is we do not need notifications to be productive and stay on top of things.

What we need first is discipline. Notifications are just like assistants reminding you of what you should already know.

Opening the Google sheet daily creates a habit. You don’t depend on the tool to tell you what to do.

With Google sheets, I don’t slip into autopilot mode or become complacent with notification-dependency.

In my smartphone, all notifications are turned off except for messages, to ensure that I’m not lured by red dots and distracted from what I’m working on at the moment.

4. It’s accessible.

Everyone’s on Google. I haven’t ever shared a spreadsheet with anyone who said, “sorry I don’t have a Google account.”

5. It’s still around.

Productivity apps come and go. You outgrow them, or they change for the worst, or fail to change.

Google sheets is still there and the basics are the same. No unexpected or unwanted product updates so far.

I’ve worked on projects using team collaboration apps; I’ve used time tracking apps and schedulers. But in the long run, they ended up being edged out by my consistent use of Google sheets.

I’ve always come home to Google sheets. I like the blank page. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I thrive on making things. So making my own productivity sheets and time trackers has brought me joy.

Productivity starts with values, not techniques.

My choice of tool works for me because it’s is aligned with the things I value — being able to think independently, make decisions, manage, respond, and create. To lead and not be led by tech.

Because it’s a tool that stays a tool, there’s no ambiguity on who’s in charge — the tool doesn’t manage you; you manage the tool. And there’s no confusion on who’s supposed to bring the value. You bring the value to whatever tool you use.

Writer • Communication Designer • Type Explorer |

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