We are spoiled for choice when it comes to productivity apps that promise to change our lives and make us more productive. Each new app attempts to disrupt the field with new features, new ways to input our stuff and then spew it out in another cool way with lots of different colours, font sizes and swipes.
The difficulty this throws up is with that choice — which is a good thing — comes with it the temptation to experiment and play — which is a bad thing. Experimenting and playing takes time. Time, that for most of us, we cannot afford to use in this way.
How many apps do you really need?
This got me thinking. How many apps do we need to be productive? My definition of personal productivity is getting the work that matters done in the most efficient and effective way. So how does having more apps help this? More apps mean more time looking at apps and lists of things to do. That’s not doing the work. If you have to check your calendar to see if you have time to work on the projects Trello is telling you need to work on and then to open Notion 2 to see how all this fits into the bigger picture of your life before finally opening Google Docs to start writing the report you are supposed to be working on. That’s not being very productive. That’s being very inefficient and unproductive.
App switching is one of the most inefficient and ineffective things you can do.
I sometimes joke with my colleagues and friends when they tell me they have found a new app that promises to improve their productivity. If they have time to be switching apps then they are obviously not very busy. I don’t know where they find the time to switch. The truth is I have never come across anyone who has switched a productivity app and then become a lot more productive. I have often found the reverse to be true though. I’ve seen many people switch apps and become much less productive because they spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get a particular feature to work that worked perfectly well in the app they were using before they switched.
So, to help see if you have too many apps, here are a few indicators to look for:
- If you are checking a task off in more than one place — that’s too many to-do list apps.
- If you have to look in more than one place to see where you need to be and when — that’s too many calendar apps.
- If you can’t remember where you put a note — that’s too many notes apps.
- If you can’t remember where you started writing your report — that’s too many writing apps.
You only need one to-do list manager, one calendar and one notes app. If you are using more than that, you have too many apps and they will be causing a drag on your productivity, effectiveness and your efficiency.
One app for one type of work.
If you write reports, essays, articles and other written documents in more than one app, then you should ask yourself if you really need so many writing apps. I use two writing apps. Each has a specific use. Short and long-form writing is done in Ulysses and my books are written in Scrivener. Ulysses’s export options allow me to send any written document out in any form I want. That would be MS Word, Apple Pages, Google Docs, PDF or even email if I chose. So there really is no reason to use any other writing app. This means if I want to do some writing, if it not writing my book, then whatever it is I want to write will be in Ulysses. Easy to find and no decisions to make about where I will write the document.
The same goes for creating presentations. I use Keynote for all my presentations and even if a client sends me a PowerPoint file to check, I can check it in Keynote, make any corrections and export it as a PowerPoint file. I have no need to spend time learning two apps. I only need to learn how to use Keynote and as I have been using it since 2004, there’s not much left for me to learn.
What is productivity all about?
Productivity is not about the apps you are using. Productivity is about the work you are doing. If you have too many apps, or the apps you do use are slow and inefficient either because they are too complex or you haven’t learnt how to use them properly, then you are not going to be as productive as you can be. You are not going to be remembered by the apps you use, but rather by the content you produce. That’s what people remember about you. The most incredibly productive people alive don’t use any apps, they use a simple pen and paper to collect their notes, ideas and to-dos. Sir Richard Branson, Cheryl Sandberg and Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) collect everything into notebooks. We don’t need sophisticated apps to manage our work. We just need to do the work. That is what productivity is about — the work. It is not about the apps.
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