I have written before about the summer being my busiest time. The majority of my work is with schools, and because the summer break is the perfect time for professional development, it’s only logical it is during this time that the calendar is filled with opportunities to meet new people. For me, this engagement serves as a barometer of what skills people already have and where the areas for growth seem to be. This information is especially true in the area of technology.

What follows are my observations. At the end of the post, I give you an opportunity to tell me about your own experience.

The Calendar
For anyone who is even moderately busy, the calendar is a centerpiece of productivity. I am always interested in the “paper versus digital” ratio in the audience when it comes to how people keep up with where they need to be. The first time I presented at the National Association of Elementary School Principals national conference, I asked for a show of hands of how many people had a cell phone with them at that moment. Most every hand went up. When I asked how many also had a cell phone 10 years ago, most every hand went down.

Returning to the cell phone each audience member had, I asked how many had a phone which When I asked for a show of hands of whose device would also receive email, about half that many hands remained in the air. When I asked how many people kept their calendars on that device, the show of hands looked much like the show of hands for how many had a cell phone 10 years before.

I posed to following thought to the audience: “I wonder if 10 years from now, the increase in the number of people keeping their calendars and to-dos lists on their cell phones will parallel the increase in the number of people carrying a cell phone we saw in the last 10 years.” Six years later, we are well on our way in the area of the calendar.

In any given audience, roughly half are keeping their calendars digitally. As we dig deeper, techniques such as sharing calendars and embedding calendars in blogs or websites are still rare. (For a good example of this capability being used well, go to RLYoung.blogspot.com and scroll to the bottom of the page.For those who use Outlook, most people are still unaware that one can take an email and turn it into a calendar event by simply dragging that email and dropping it on the “Calendar” button. Few who use a Google Calendar are aware that the same technique works by clicking the “More” tab and choosing “Create Event.”

The Digital To-Do List

While half the hands go up when asked about keeping a digital calendar, only a smattering of hands remain when asked if the to-do list also resides on mobile devices. When asked what software they use, the answers generally fall into two camps. Some say they simply put all of their to-dos on their calendar, assigning arbitrary dates and times to tasks that are truly not date-specific.

Others use a note app. iPhone users will be familiar with the app which resembles a little yellow legal pad. “I make my list there,” they reply. While that approach might work with a grocery list, it falls far short for people who have some tasks to execute now and others that will be executed months in the future.

A very small percentage, in an average audience, are using a dedicated to-do app synced across all of their devices. Leading players in the field are Remember The Milk (which is my favorite), Asana,Todoist, and Omnifocus (for Mac), and Todoist. All of these services allow dates to be assigned to tasks, so they re-surface when you want to see them. The ability to have a task repeat is critical. The ability to have your email “talk to” your to-do list is a significant time-saver. Good dedicated to-do lists have these.

Dropbox and Evernote
Generally, slightly more than half have a Dropbox account, but most lack a good strategy of what to keep there versus what to keep somewhere else. Also in the minority of those who use the ability in Dropbox to share files.

In any given audience, Evernote users trail Dropbox users by about half, even though both extreme productivity boosters in today’s digital world. Of those who do have an Evernote account, the typical comment is, “I have an account, but I don’t know how to use it.”

I would like to hear from you. Please take a few moments to answer the following questions about your own experience. 

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