By Carrie Kirby
Before becoming a stay-at-home mom, Carrie worked for six years as a business and technology reporter at The San Francisco Chronicle. Nowadays, she focuses on personal finance -- very personal, as in feeding a family of five on $100 a week including the all-important extras like wine and cat food. (Neither of those are for the kids.) Carrie writes about hard-core Chicago bargain hunting including CVSing, extreme grocery couponing and the occasional garage sale or alley treasure. To assure herself she's not turning into her grandma, Carrie likes to think of her blog as irreverent and fun.
We all know that technology can be a distraction – about half of workers admit to wasting at least an hour a day, mostly on email, social networking and texting. But we can turn the tables and increase our productivity by using tech tools to keep track of time, collaborate, and stay on task.
If anyone understands these tools and how to use them to improve productivity, it’s an information technology professional. A typical IT pro may spend the average day juggling endless help requests from users, installing emergency software patches, researching new products, and replacing hardware -- with all tasks flagged as urgent. Many IT pros also travel from one worksite to another, keeping track of client needs and upgrade schedules on the go. It’s only natural that IT pros use what they know best to be efficient. Here’s what IT pros can teach us about getting more done with the help of tech.
1. Get a Second Monitor
“When it comes to productivity, there's almost nothing that compares to having a second monitor,” says Scott Kendall of Outhouse IT, citing research showing that using two monitors can help workers get so much more done it’s like adding dozens of work days to the year. If you can’t have two, upgrading to a larger monitor also increases productivity.
2. Use the Cloud to Store Files
Instead of saving files on your hard drive, or even a flash drive, use the cloud to store your files. Gregory Go, CTO of Killer Aces Media, advises that “using the cloud for your files does three important things: you can access the files from anywhere, on any device, you can share and give permission to others to make edits and collaborate, and you don’t have to remember to bring your files with you or even to save your changes because it does that automatically.” You are also saved from the dreaded system failures that could result in lost files on your computer. Google Docs, Dropbox, and OneDrive provide simple, easy to use cloud services for your documents.
3. Find the Best To-Do App for You
According to app-ranking website The Sweet Setup, to-do lists “should be beautiful to look at, easy to organize, and have an understandable hierarchy.” There are plenty of good free task-manager apps for Android or iPhone. Some IT professionals like using Wunderlist ($4.99 per month for pro) to compile and share to-do lists, while others prefer Todoist ($29 a year for pro) or Any.do ($2.99 per month for pro). All of them store your tasks in the cloud, which eases collaboration (you can share and assign tasks to others) and allows you to access your lists from anywhere.
4. Stay on Top of Software Updates
You might not think of regular updates as a productivity hack, but you should, says John Barlow, an IT professional in insurance.
“Often new versions will incorporate new features that save time or money. Example: New versions of Windows can zip and unzip files, a function we used to have to download a separate program for.”
5. Organize Your Contacts Effectively
Address books are fine, but if you don’t remember the name of the person you need to e-mail, scrolling through an alphabetical list is a time waster. The free Humin app pulls contact information from your emails and social networks, and lets you search your contacts based on when you met them, where they work, or other factors, and shows you what connections you have in common. It’s like a social networking system for your private contacts file -- perfect for IT pros who need to interface with a lot of people and don’t have time to sort through business cards.
6. Keep Yourself on Task
Many technology professionals report using programs to help them avoid the distractions of the Internet, their phones, or even competing work tasks that can distract them from the job at hand.
"I use Strict Workflow as I have zero willpower on the Internets,” says software design engineer Gareth Morgan, referring to the Chrome extension that sets a timer for 25-minute periods of focused work, punctuated by five-minute breaks.
Aaron K., a software engineer in the advertising industry, uses segregated browsers to stay focused.
“I use two separate browsers at all times, one that is open while I'm working and has my work in it. The other is for personal stuff. I close it frequently and have it set to remember my tabs, so when I need a mental break I can open it up and pick up where I left off,” he says.
7. Know Where Your Time Goes
Just like a financial budget is destined to fail if you don’t know where your pennies and dollars go, you need to track your minutes and hours in order to make effective use of your time. Some IT consultants need to bill every minute of work to a specific client, making time trackers even more vital.
Aaron K. uses the free desktop Klok app ($19.99 for pro) for time tracking. The app offers Klok Cloud Sync for Mobile, so that you can store project lists online and time work in the field using a mobile device. Wisconsin IT guy Brad T., prefers the Google Chrome plugin Task Timer. Build manager Erik Purins swears by team time tracker Toggl (free or $5-$59 per month for pro) to help him build weekly reports of how he spent his work hours. Whether you’re using it on a phone or desktop, Toggl syncs to the cloud in real time so that you know how much time you’ve spent whether in the field or in the office.
8. Streamline Repetitive Tasks
Help desk analyst Ryan S., finds himself copying and pasting the same information over and over in response to client requests. He says he couldn’t live without the free Windows clipboard utility CLCL, “a huge time saver.”
“It allows me to pull up the last 30 items copied to the clipboard, as well as create templates for phrases and, in some cases, entire troubleshooting processes that I frequently use. Those templates can be assigned to hot keys and inserted with a keystroke,” Ryan S. says.
9. Communicate Efficiently
No one hates a lengthy meeting more than a busy IT pro, and long email chains are almost as bad. That’s why they turn to collaboration apps such as the free Trello ($8.33/month for Business Class), which shares to-do lists and tracks tasks across teams, and Slack (paid versions range from $6.67 to $12.50 per month), which allows teams to share messages and documents in a continual group conversation. Because both apps are cloud-based, you can access or search your communications from anywhere.
10. Take Notes Strategically
There are lots of note-taking apps out there, but many pros still prefer to simply email themselves reminders, to-do lists, and other information. The $1.99 app Captio makes emailing yourself a one-click affair, ensuring that fewer thoughts fall out of your brain before you have time to record them.
In the end, technology can be a help or hindrance when it comes to productivity. Those who take control of the tech in their lives by using the proper tools are more likely to avoid the distracting downside of our constantly wired environment and get more done.
This article originally appeared on Wisebread