Are your productivity apps helping or hindering your productivity?

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I am involved in a number of Online productivity groups and enjoy reading them for insights and ideas. There is one theme though that dismays me. That is the theme of new apps.

Every day there seems to be a whole slew of new productivity apps promising to improve your productivity, allow you to get more done and be stress-free. They come in all sorts of colours, designs and of course have all these new cool features that use the latest technology. All you have to do is type in your tasks, put in your events and add all your notes, research and files and you’ll become a productivity genius, or so they promise.

None of these cool new features, colours, gestures and filing options has anything to do with whether you will be more productive or not. Your productivity is directly related to the work you do, (your output) not how what you need to do next is presented to you.

I’ve frequently talked and written about the dangers of app switching. This is where you are constantly changing your productivity apps to the latest and brightest new toy. Doing this involves moving all your to-dos, notes and files over to a new app or set of apps. Moving everything over requires a lot of unnecessary time and then there is the time lost for tweaking, rearranging and learning the new app so you can actually use it. My conservative estimate is that it takes around forty-plus hours to get a new app up and running to the same efficiency as the app you were using before. That’s a ridiculous amount of lost, unproductive time to change an app. Just imagine the amount of real work you could get done in those forty hours.

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The question is how much time are you spending doing work that matters and how much time are you spending inside your productivity apps? The whole point of being productive is in the amount of quality work your produce. If you spend half your morning inside your to-do list manager trying to decide what you should be doing, rearranging things and deciding how you want that shown to you, then your system and apps don’t work. That time should be spent doing, not playing, rearranging and deciding. You are buying your dream house and spending all your time cleaning, decorating and repairing instead of living in it.

A good productivity app should be able to tell you what you need to do next when you need to know what to do next. The rest of the time it should be acting only as a collection tool. A place to dump your ideas, commitments and tasks. At the end of the day, when you have spent all your creative energy, you process what you have collected and turn off. You shouldn’t be spending more than thirty minutes a day inside your productivity apps.

David Allen, the father of Getting Things Done, says all you need is a place to keep your lists of things to do, a place to store your files and a calendar. If something absolutely needs doing on a particular day, it goes on your calendar. You don’t need anything more than that. This philosophy should be at the core of whatever productivity tool or system you use. If the tools you are using require a lot of maintenance, then your system fails. You are spending far too much time twiddling and not enough time doing.

The goal is to have a network of tools that support your work, that helps you to do more of the important work, and to filter out the unnecessary work. If the tools you use need a lot of time to maintain, you are not working at your most productive and in effect your tools are causing you to be unproductive. It’s a bit like buying a new Ferrari and not having time to drive it because you spend all your time checking tyre pressures, deciding what brand of oil to put in it, washing and cleaning and trying to decide what things to put in its tiny boot.

So before you hit reset and start all over again with the latest and greatest tools. Ask yourself what the time cost is going to be. Is this new app you are considering really going to speed up the work you do so much you can afford to spend forty-plus hours moving everything over and tweaking the settings? If not, then spend some of those forty hours making your current app work better. The most productive people on the planet do not spend time switching apps. They know what works for them, they know what is important and they focus on getting the important things done. They do not waste time searching for a better app. They focus on getting the work done. That should be your goal tool. Just drive the Ferrari!

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