Systems NOT Software

The software that you use for productivity are not as important as the systems that you use. See the video or read the transcription below.

Full Transcription Below

Recently a client asked me “what’s some good software to make me more productive at work?”. And to that, I had to say, “it depends”.

What are you trying to do? What problems are you having? Because software is only a tool. It’s the systems that are more important. It’s how you put that software together; how it fits into your day and into your workflow [that’s important].

The system is the way you do things. It’s your habits. It’s the processes. It’s the way you communicate with your clients, your customers, and your team. It’s how you manage your work, your day, your energy during the day. And software is just a part of that system. No matter how good it is or how expensive the productivity software is, is not going to give you a system. And that’s because no software is complete. No tool is perfect. You can’t build an entire house with just a hammer or even a multi-tool.

No one thing can get you the perfect combination [of features] for your work because everybody’s work is different and no company could make enough money designing the perfect tool for just one customer. So you’re going to have to integrate several different pieces of software. Even if you’ve got the one almost perfect productivity system, you’re still going to get some requests in through email.

Most email clients nowadays like Gmail or Outlook have integrated task tracking software that’s good at reminding you about unanswered emails or responses or setting a To Do list based on the words it finds in an email, and while that’s very impressive it’s not a complete system either. It can’t scale very well and it can’t cover every eventuality. So you’re going to need something that you can trust fully to be the core of your system.

In fact, I’d almost argue the only complete software is something like Windows, Linux, or the Apple operating systems. They do literally everything. But what are you going to do with that? That won’t make you more productive at all. You’re going to have to get more specific than that!

So let’s get a bit more specific. I just mentioned a few softwares. So I’m a big fan of Google Sheets. I’ve used Notion and I think it’s great, but I already had my own system, so it didn’t add anything to my workflow and so I stopped using Notion. todoist is great as well but a similar story; I already had my systems, largely based on Google sheets, and so those are perfect for me.

That’s because Google sheets or Microsoft Excel (Sheets is free) are incredibly flexible. If you look up some code, or you’re able to code, you can go even further with them, but even the standard spreadsheets are very flexible. There’s a lot you can do with them, but you have to set it up your own way in your own system.

And then it might not even add that much for you if you’re someone working on your own and you’ve already some perfect pen and paper systems, you work well in a written diary, maybe you use the Bullet Journal/ “Bujo” techniques, then maybe Sheets wouldn’t even add much for you if there’s not much number crunching to be done in your work.

So I’m saying you need to get more specific to the problem. So, okay. What about some software aimed at improving your focus? There are browser plugins like StayFocusd or News Feed Eradicator and they can be great at limiting your use of social media or other websites.

StayFocusd can block anything. For example, you just manually set it and it gives you a certain amount of time for the day that you’re allowed to spend on that site and it can be very useful, but then that’s good productivity software IF you were having a problem with browsing websites. If your systems are already habitual enough and disciplined, and you didn’t have problems with browsing the wrong websites during work hours, then those softwares won’t add anything to your day.

When it comes to tracking your time and billable hours for clients, you could be using something like Clockify or Harvest, and they can be great, particularly if you’ve more clients or you want to integrate the stopwatch directly with billing the client automatically. But you could equally be using a pen and paper and a stopwatch very well for years and have no interest in this type of software because your system is already in place and it’s working perfectly well for you.

So to answer that client’s question – what’s some good software that could make them productive? Well it’s whatever fixes the specific problem that you’re having, whatever saves you the most time, and whatever integrates the best with the existing systems that you have.

So it’s the systems, not the software!