We all know that technology has sped up and simplified the way we learn, shop, navigate and communicate with people.

Few of us would want to go back to pre-digital days. But – there is a downside. Digital methods, even commonly used ones, are sometimes false friends.

Let's look at two commonly used tools.

Beware Outlook's 'Tasks'

I was delighted to hear Mike Song, an American productivity expert who specialises in helping people be more efficient with their digital tools, share some research findings a few weeks ago.


Get this: his research shows that 74 per cent of people who tried to use digital task lists for their daily priorities have gone back to paper lists! Bottom line: Outlook's Tasks feature sucks! For almost everyone, it becomes a black hole of guilt, cluttered with things you "intended" to do. Other systems may be better, but don't use them just because they're digital. "Digital" doesn't automatically equate to "higher productivity".

Thing is, a paper list is faster to write, easier to prioritise, you get the tactile tick, cross or line-through when you've completed, and it's easy to note down any new tasks that crop up through the day.

Also, you'll remember the items on the list better if you use a pen than a keyboard; the physical action gives a higher degree of connectivity between your brain and your list. I don't fully understand the science behind it, but brain specialists and researchers I've questioned all agree on this point.


I've also been fascinated to discuss diaries with other productivity specialists around the world. Many, including me, have tried electronic diaries but reverted to paper.

Sure, the electronic diary in your smartphone is convenient and portable. But, it's far faster to write an appointment in a paper diary than to open a computer or diary section of your smartphone.

If you're using a physical diary that shows you a weekly or monthly view you've got an instant snapshot of your commitments.

Yes, I know you can do that also on a computer screen, but if you're on the move a lot and rely on your smartphone calendar app, you can't easily see enough detail to get a good sense of your future commitments.

Many a time I've sat waiting with pencil in hand and the week, month or year planner open while my friends or clients who rely on their phone diaries spend a minute or so flicking between screens to find a suitable gap.

The big benefit of an electronic diary is for those in organisations where others constantly need to know where they are.

Be selective with your technology choices

At a quick glance, many "productivity" applications appear useful. Good ones can literally cut your time in half.

However, beware of complexity. If a process is already working well, consider your ROI.

Are you going to get a significant return on the investment of time to master it? Does it really speed up your work? Choose the level of technology you need, not what others say you need. Their requirements may be very different from yours.

The simple tried and true systems, some of them paper-based, may be all you need to keep track.

- Robyn Pearce (known as the Time Queen) runs an international time management and productivity business, based in New Zealand. If you'd like a conference speaker, time management training for your firm, or to receive your free report 'How To Master Time In Only 90 Seconds' and ongoing time tips, check out www.gettingagrip.com