I’ve been asked numerous time over the last few months in passing or by email to mention any tools I use in my journey to become a better person and better professional. So finally, I’ve put together a list of 6 tools/apps that have stood the test of time for me and have improved me.
As you will see from my list, these are simple tools. Nothing sophisticated or fancy is going on at all and really it shouldn’t. I have tried sophisticated tools but then I ended up working around them and that became stressful, inefficient and pointless. A tool shouldn’t impose on me or enslave me, it should seamlessly make life easier for me and support me in doing the things I need to do. I’ve eliminated a lot of tools over the years, but the ones below are tried and tested and I’ve categorised them to give you an idea of how they are helpful to me.
1. Evernote: This is a great tool I use to write and voice record ideas, concepts I have for work or mentoring. I think of it like having a pen and writing pad but it’s easy to reuse later and syncs up with my desktop nicely. What’s so great about this is that I don’t worry about forgetting important thoughts and ideas, I quickly write/speak them often on the move/during commuting, tag them and forget about them. Then in the future I revisit them when its more convenient.
The biggest complaint my wife has of me is that I don’t shut off, I always work. That’s not good. It has had bad effects on my health so I have been trying to remedy that over the last 2 years. In fact one of my favourite books, ‘The power of full engagement’ discusses the fact that shutting off/distressing is crucial to success. Here’s a couple of ways/tools I’m doing this:
2. Games: I used to play a lot of games when I was younger (Streetfighter 2!) but over the years I’ve reduced distractions to a minimum. Recently, I listened to a great podcast with game design researcher Jane McGonigal who did a lot of research to suggest that playing games within reason can be a great way to relax distress and shut down. So recently I got back in to this, I downloaded some easy chilled out puzzle games (Monument valley/Cut the Rope/Osmos etc) on my phone and 3 to 4 times a week, I’ll play them for 20 mins on my train journey back and I get a nice bout of amnesia from the challenges and stresses of the day.
3. F.lux – This is simply an app and what it does is it removes the ‘blue’ frequency of light from my screens (phone and laptop) after dark. So your screen has a sunset colour which you get used to. Why is that a big deal? Well, I read an amazing book by sleep health expert Shawn Stevenson where he discusses the need to remove blue light at night otherwise melatonin production ceases. Melatonin is the hormone that allows us to get good sleep, so we want to eliminate blue light after dark. I usually work on a screen till late which is not good but I try and mitigate blue light production with this and I definitely feel more refreshed in the mornings since using this tool. Download it for free on your phones/computers.
Personal Development Tools
4.Kindle/Audible: I am a voracious reader and this is the app that easily helps me buy and read the books I want. I’ve recently started getting Audible books, I love listening to books/podcasts as it can be easier on my morning commute or when driving.
Revenue Generating Tools
The last two tools are ones I call revenue generating tools because my strong skills with them have been big factors in my promotions and earnings. Now even though I maintain tools should support your success not be front and centre, the exception is these two (especially the last one):
5. PowerPoint: In most organisations, this is the de facto tool to communicate ideas, strategy and discussion. The more senior I’ve become, the more time I spend in PowerPoint. I’ve developed more presentations than I care to remember. Some presentations were pitches of how major problems could be solved. They turned into more lucrative projects for me. One of the other great ways I use PowerPoint is to ‘connect’ it with Excel and use advanced VBA programming to make slide decks of progress updates automatically in seconds rather than minutes or hours. It’s one of the skills that really helped me in winning roles over £100K .
6. Excel! What a shock! Where to begin? First of all I do all of my own personal tracking such as finances, nutrition and other random stuff in Excel. When it has come to work, well what can I say; I have used Excel to build P & L statements, Built reports that were so good they went to the CEOs of Tier 1 Global Banks and Managed large Projects and Planning.
I created a process that automatically gathered data from over 250 stakeholders in a business on a high pressure project that needed frequent updates. Most importantly, I’ve built so many tools that have saved me time, time I then used to build relationships with influencers, solve company problems, learn new skills (which eventually lead to a much more lucrative career in project management) and ultimately build a rock solid reputation and career. These skills didn’t come over night, they took me many years, especially to bridge Excel skills with their real world usefulness.
So, if you think of Excel as nothing more than a ‘number crunching spreadsheet’ then you are missing a big trick. If you sign up at below, I’ll send you a report which goes in to more depth on the Excel Skills you should be pursuing as a professional and how to go about translating your Excel skills into more career progression