Improve Your Productivity by Dropping These 8 Outdated Tools

improve productivity tools

Raise your hand if you still use a typewriter at work. Anyone? ... Bueller? ... Bueller?

Obviously, you wouldn’t dream of lugging a Royal Quiet Deluxe to the office in the year 2018. And if you are, breaking that habit will increase your productivity big time. You’re welcome.

But I’m willing to bet that you’re using several other 20th-century technologies to manage your 21st-century work. Right at this moment, there are at least eight other ways you could be using the equivalent of a typewriter in a digitized world. (Don’t worry, I doubt anyone’s pointing and laughing at you; they’re all bogged down by obsolete tools of their own.)

If you’d like improve personal and team productivity—and reclaim the 60% of your time that you currently devote to everything but your primary job duties—glance through this list of old-school office tools. Identify the culprits that are holding you back the most and replace them with a modern, automated alternative.

Outdated Tool #1: Email as a Meeting Scheduler

What’s the problem with sending out a scheduling email to six people, asking each to share the dates and times they’re available (or not available) for the coming week? People can’t easily see or absorb anyone else’s availability before they respond, you have to manually sort through and compare all of the responses, and you often have to follow up multiple times to finalize the date and time.

For better results, make sure all key players in your company, as well as contractors, use a shared calendaring system, like Google calendar. Once you get the system set up, with all the right people granted the right amount of visibility, scheduling a meeting is as easy as clicking the “find a time” button. All open appointment times for all invitees are instantly displayed for the time range you select.

But what if you work with contractors or dispersed employees who are all on different systems? Give Doodle a try. This service allows you to send out a survey of available meeting times, and invitees can respond with just a few clicks—and see other people’s responses dynamically displayed. This little extra dose of visibility will save you valuable time, and eliminate the back-and-forth of a lengthy email chain.

Outdated Tool #2: Email as a Proofing Tool

I hate to knock on email too much. After all, it has solved many of the productivity problems we suffered from in the past.

But when used to circulate proofs to multiple people for approval, email can be a giant time suck. Each commenter opens the attachment and replies with feedback, but they can’t simultaneously view the comments others have made, so they are likely duplicating effort or contradicting other suggestions. Furthermore, some stakeholders will hit “reply” while others will “reply all,” which results in multiple email threads for the original sender to comb through. At the end of the day, the person who sent the proof has to manually aggregate all of the feedback, and reach out to resolve competing suggestions.

There is a better way. Today’s online proofing software make it possible for all stakeholders to review and comment in a shared online space, where all suggestions are visible to everyone, all at once. If an important stakeholder fails to weigh in, that will be immediately obvious too.

Outdated Tool #3: Paper Planners

Have you noticed the quiet resurgence of paper planners taking place right under our noses? Think Filofax or the FranklinCovey Day Planner—which delivered improved personal productivity to millions in the 1990s—but festooned with stickers, embellishments and something called “Washi tape.” As of this writing, there were 4.5 million posts under the #planner hashtag on Instagram and 3.7 million posts under #planneraddict, and most look something like this:

productivity tools

Business Insider has even reported on the trend, noting that planner decorating videos on YouTube can garner 10,000 to 100,000 views. Many “planner addicts” confess to maintaining more than one planner at a time.

Whether it stems from nostalgia or a desire to express creativity every day in a tactile way, this trend has one giant problem—apart from the fact that so much planning surely must get in the way of any actual doing. The problem is, of course, that paper planners can’t synch with your desktop or your mobile device. In order for them to be useful as actual planning tools, they must always be with you. If your planner gets lost or stolen, there’s no available backup. And even the prettiest planner around can’t alert you that your next meeting is starting in 30 minutes.

Even if you don’t have a colored marker to your name, any paper-based planner or to-do list falls victim to these identical problems. And sticky notes are the worst; they’re more fragmented, easier to misplace, and more disconnected from the rest of your schedule and tasks. There’s nothing pretty about that. If you’re still capturing to-do lists and appointments with paper and pen, to-do list apps (think Wunderlist or Todoist) and online calendars will save your sanity. They easily sync all the things you need to do and all the places you need to be across all of your digital devices.

Outdated Tool #4: Microsoft Word for Document Reviews

Microsoft Word is great if you are asking just one person to review your document using the “track changes” feature. You can see every suggestion and correction, and accept or reject them one by one.

But if you’re asking multiple people to review a document simultaneously, you suddenly have multiple copies out there, each with a separate set of tracked changes you’ll have to comb through and somehow combine.

Google docs and other similar platforms, on the other hand, will host your document online, allowing multiple reviewers to edit it at the same time and leave feedback that everyone can see and comment upon.

If you need feedback on something more complex than a word document (i.e., graphics, pdfs, videos, web pages and other media-rich assets), a digital proofing solution is your best bet.

Outdated Tool #5: Google Chat for Project Questions

Google chat and other instant messaging services are a great way to see who’s available for a quick question. (If they have a green dot next to their name, they probably are.) It’s also a great way to get question answered without having to pick up the phone or trek across the office to their cubicle. Slack and HipChat have similar benefits. The disadvantages? There are only two people privy to both the question and the answer, and while the conversations are usually archived, they’re not organized by work project or topic. They’re hidden inside a chronological stream of all your other IM activity, including those snarky side conversations you have while you’re supposed to be paying attention to a conference call.

Instead, use the commenting and updating features inside your work management solution. This way, all questions about a project are collected alongside the other details about that job, providing a record for anyone who has a stake in the project, now or in the future.

Outdated Tool #6: A Whiteboard for Tracking Work Progress

Many Scrum and Kanban purists say there’s nothing better than a physical Kanban board and sticky notes for your Burndown Chart or Work in Progress board. These tangible tools are colorful and eye-catching, they reflect the current status of all work, they’re easy to update, and they’re almost always located in a central, highly visible space. That’s all the transparency you need, right?

Well, whiteboards work great for some teams, but there’s always one big drawback: they’re really only visible to project teams while they are in the office (unless you decide to train a webcam on your whiteboard for remote employees). Executives and other stakeholders remain in the dark unless they actually wander into the team’s workspace.

Instead, look for an enterprise work management solution that supports Agile, such as Workfront, where you can use a digital Kanban board to track team work. If you like the large, physical-display aspect of the old whiteboard, install a large monitor that displays your electronic board in a public area. Might as well get “on board” now. (Pun intended. Pun always intended.) Electronic tracking will grow increasingly important as the trend of remote working continues to rise. According to our 5th annual State of Work report, 38% of enterprise workers believe remote working will be commonplace in the next 5 years.

Outdated Tool #7: An Internal Server for Managing Digital Assets

Believe it or not, 48% of creative teams are not using any form of digital asset management solution. As for the remaining 52%, many are using old-school solutions that are installed on-premises, meaning they lack the power and flexibility that cloud-based options provide.

If you have all of your digital assets stored in a series of folders on a company network, your files may be accessible, but they’re definitely not quick and easy to locate. You’d have to know the filename or approximate date of creation of any file you hope to find. And then you have to have the right software installed on your computer to be able to open half of the files to even see if they’re the right ones.

With a digital asset management (DAM) solution, you can view and find files fast, convert and share files without leaving the interface, and ensure the right files are used properly by managing access and permissions. Robust metadata, filters, and searchable keywords make it even easier for anyone to zero in on the file they need, without needing to go through a human gatekeeper.

Outdated Tool #8: Multiple Disconnected Tools

If you have a half-dozen different tools, all promising you increased transparency, insights, and efficiency, but none of them are synched up with each other, you still have a big productivity problem. You’ll find yourself manually entering information from one system into another, duplicating work in different systems, and wasting time on other inefficiencies.

What to do? Before you ever invest in a new software solution, make sure it plays nice with the other systems you currently rely on. Writing specifically about DAM, Workfront CMO Heidi Melin recently said: “Your DAM solution should support integration with other IT systems, eCommerce systems, content management systems, websites, intranet sites, project management software, and design software like Adobe InDesign and Photoshop. And don’t forget Single Sign-On, which conveniently allows employees to use their existing credentials to access the system.” But the same holds true for any cloud-based solution.

Workfront, for example, is an Operational System of Record that integrates seamlessly with Adobe Creative Cloud and Experience Manager, ProofHQ, Workfront DAM, Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft Word, Box, SharePoint, ExactTarget, Salesforce, Jira and more.

Improved Productivity Awaits

You wouldn’t dream of using a typewriter in the modern work environment, unless you were pulling an ironic stunt. Yet there are plenty of less obvious—but just as obsolete—tools that could be hurting your productivity just as much. Fellow knowledge workers, we can do better.

So, which of these eight outdated options offers the biggest opportunity to increase your productivity? Replace them one by one with modern work management tools, and just see how much time you can reclaim for your most important and energizing work. With most of us spending just 40% of our time on the work we were hired to do, there’s a lot of room for improvement.