Re-starting a Personal Productivity System – Which Tools?

This is part three of a multipart series about how I got back to having a system in place to help me remember what I need to get done, even in retirement. Many of the productivity ideas that I write about throughout this series can apply to anyone.

Part 1 – Did You Forget, or is it Information Overload?

Part 2 – It’s All About Having A Purpose

What tools will I use in my personal productivity system?

My Hardware

My hardware setup is rather Apple-centric: 

  • 2021 M1 MacBook Air
  • 2017 – iPad Pro w/keyboard 
  • 2022 iPhone 12 SE

and drumroll please…

2011 – Lenovo Thinkpad 230 X/T. It is a laptop that has all the ports and a great keyboard. Plus, it has a feature that I find important, I can flip a switch and the Internet disappears.

Figuring Out What Works

I went down quite a few rabbit holes looking at different philosophies about Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) and being productive. What I found out was not as much had changed as I thought would be the case. Yes, the tools and terminology are a bit different. Yet many of these new ideas have their roots in David Allen’s Getting Things Done or Steven Covey’s 7 Habits, both systems that I have used before.

All the reading that I did helped me clarify what I was looking for and what tools might be the best fit for how I do things. I found Tiago Forte’s ideas about “Building a Second Brain” were interesting and  helpful in this search. David Perell, August Bradley, Ryan Holiday, Ali Abdul, Lawrence Yao, among others, also helped influence the direction I finally took.

It came down to figuring out a work-flow that will work for me long-term and not be something that I needed to keep tinkering with. I wanted tools that I could setup, use to get things done, not need to tinker with them all the time, and most importantly not be forgetting things.

Over the past couple of months I have tried numerous apps…errr software packages to figure out what worked for me. Trying new tools, figuring out how to use them, and seeing how they would fit into my world, is the kind of stuff I enjoy doing.

I also learned that there are so many more productivity-based tools, task managers, project management tools, calendars, Email clients, etc., to choose from. I had choices beyond the big three of Apple, Google, or Microsoft, which made my choices even more difficult, but much more interesting.


I tried several options and it came down to preferring Apple’s Mail app. Yes, I know that isn’t the first choice of many out there, but it works for me. I also wanted an email address to go with my new site, so I created a paid Google Workspace to get one. I made the new email my primary address, forwarded all the others to it, and push any incoming email to Apple Mail. If I am on my Windows machine, I open up my new Google email account in a browser and work from there. A little convoluted, but now that it is set up, it is working nicely.

Browser – I prefer Safari’s interface, but I keep switching between Safari and Chrome as my default browser. It depends on which apps I am using at the time. Some work better with Chrome’s browser extensions and you have to use it to have full off-line capability for Google Workspace apps. I have used Firefox, Brave, Opera, Edge, and so many others, but I am attempting to keep the choices simple this time.


Google Calendar seems to be the app that the productivity apps that I looked at are able to connect to. Which is okay, but I still like Apple Calendar on my desktop and iPad. I set my primary Google Calendar as the default calendar in Apple Calendar deleted most of the rest to avoid any confusion, and much like my email choice, I have the best of both worlds.

Office suite (Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation)

This one was easy for me. For the past 10 or so years, my preference has been to use what is now called Google Workspace. I find it intuitive and it works for me.

Note-taking app, with an integrated task manager

There were too many possibilities, and they all had strengths and weaknesses. Figuring out which one worked best for me, took the longest to find. Finally, I had to say enough is enough and pick one that worked good enough and hope that it worked the way I thought it was going to.

As a result, I decided to turn my quest to find my note-taking app into a separate post. There are so many great apps out there vying for attention in this particular niche that a quick paragraph isn’t going to cut it.

Looking Back

It has taken a couple of months to figure how to improve my productivity in retirement work-flow. Instead of my usual rush in, break things and not get where I need to be, because I headed down too many rabbit holes that distracted me, I took my time, thought things out for a change.

Looking back I have made choices based on what I need and what works for me. Each tool, has an identified purpose, fit into my work-flow now and hopefully in the future. Yes, it is rather Apple and Google centric, but they are the tools that work for me and that is what matters.
I also was able to do something that I considered to be important. Being able use this same work-flow across multiple tech silos and hardware. If for some reason I need to go in a different direction with my hardware or even most of the apps, it would only take a few tweaks, to get going again. 
It is the process that I created that was important, the hardware and apps can be swapped out if necessary.

However, there is one category of apps that doesn’t hold true. A note-taking app is something that you need to be able to grow with and that needs to be kept current in today’s exponential growth and improvements to this category of apps. That is why I decided to do another post focusing on the ones that I thought about using.

Which note-taking app would I use?

That is the next installment of this series. It is also the one where I had more than my share of frustrations, headaches, and wondering what was going to work for me. I found what I was looking for, but it was a struggle and took me outside my comfort zone to find it. At times I still wonder is it the right one.

Stay tuned for part 4

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