This article first appeared on my Medium blog
Over the last week I have seen a lot of posts from people bemoaning the problems they have with third party apps. These are often related to note taking apps, todo list managers, calendars and email programs. I too have looked at many of the third party apps out there and felt the same kind of frustration. Often the frustration is the app in question does not support one function or another, others are complaints about bugs or broken promises from the developer.
Many of the built in apps that come with your device are surprisingly robust and feature rich. One example is Apple’s Mail app. The app is built in all Apple’s devices and talks across the system with almost all the other functionality with that device. For example, if I want to send a file to a colleague, it is as easy as pulling up the share sheet, selecting mail and pressing send. Another is iMessages, particularly with the update to iMessage in the last IOS release. This app does almost everything any other messaging app can do. If most of your friends and colleagues are also on IOS, it really makes no sense using a third party app. All these built in apps are financially free, they are generally bug free and they work straight out of the box, particularly if you have an iCloud or Google account.
Unfortunately, many third party apps come with a cost. That cost is either financial in the form of a one off purchase or a subscription. Or it is a time cost because you need to create an account and set it up for it to work on your device. Then you often find a feature you relied on before, does not exist on your new, third party app. This can be disheartening once you find you relied a lot on that particular feature (as I did recently with Newton Mailand AirMail with Apple’s Automation function)
If you are a productive person, you will likely have a fully functioning calendar, an easy to access note taking app and a todo list manager. Microsoft, Google and Apple all have these apps and it would be remiss of you not to give them a try before you go out and spend your hard earned money on a third party app. I am an Apple user. All my devices run on Apple OS. The calendar is excellent, the note taking app is top notch and the reminders todo list manager is very robust, taking care of my family’s grocery list via it’s sharing function. All these apps work well together, in fact they were created to work together.
Two areas I have farmed out to third party apps are my todo list manager and my note taking app. But, these were farmed out before the built in apps were updated to their present levels. If I were starting over now, I would certainly be using Apple Notes as my note taking app and as the folks over at Getting Things Done have produced an excellent manual on setting up GTD using Reminders it is likely I would be using Reminders as my GTD app.
I think part of the problem with us wanting to buy the latest and greatest third party app is we are looking for an app to actually do our work for us. That is not going to happen in the near future, and perhaps not in the distant future either. We will always need to do the work. We will always need to decide if we want to have a coffee with that person or not. Our app might be able to suggest a date and time, but it is still going to be us who decides whether or not we want to actually do that meeting. The same applies to our todo list manager. We might ambitiously have fifty tasks on our list for today, but if we wake up with a stinking hangover and the start of the latest flu bug, we are not going to get those fifty tasks done and our todo list manager is not going to know you have a hangover and flu.
This also is true with email apps. No email app is going to write the email for you. You still have to do that. Of course some of these apps will allow you to postpone sending the email, or allow you to ’snooze’ the email (the most pointless feature ever, in my humble opinion) but at its core an email app needs to allow you to read and send email. All email apps do that, including the built in apps, and the built in apps are free!
So my advice for anyone setting out on the road to productivity is to use the built in apps on your device first. Try them out, create your system around them and then, if you find you need additional features, have a look around for something different.
Being productive and on top of your work and life doesn’t have to be expensive. Most people do not need all these third party apps. The built in apps in most cases work just as well as any other app, and in many cases better. I do accept for power users, a third party app may give additional functionality and that is fine. But before you start spending your money, give the built in apps a try first. You just might be surprised what they can do for you.