The Obsession with Productivity Apps: Thoughts on changing your tools

Are you thinking of trying another new productivity app? Technology reviewer Francesco D’Alessio’s shares his take on what to consider when assessing whether you need a change or not.

In 2015, Flurry published that productivity applications on the App Store had increased by a whooping 125% from the previous year. Many people are discovering productivity apps for the first time, and productivity apps are becoming a bigger focus thanks to a push towards better work-life balance and professional development. I want to address the issues associated with our “productivity app obsession” in this article, and offer a few actionable suggestions on.

An obsession with productivity apps is a common occurrence amongst those who work online and use their smartphones throughout their day. It’s easy to identify the productivity-app obsessed among us – they’re the ones with the “productivity” folder on their smartphones, with 20+ different apps that they are using or have trialled to help them manage their time. Every few weeks they download a new one, hoping it will be the magic bullet to their productivity problems. But most of them are still looking for the perfect app. Why can’t they find one app, or a few, that they’re happy with?

This is a topic very close to my heart. In 2014 I started a YouTube channel all about productivity applications and how to use them in the most effective way. After spending a lot of time reviewing applications in the productivity space I was thoroughly intrigued at how they could be used to improve the lives of individuals. This has been the focus of my channel ever since, sharing popular apps and keeping people informed about new features within them.

I see a lot of people spending a substantial amounts of time searching for new productivity applications. This doesn’t necessarily hurt, because finding the right application is important, but sometimes spending a lot of time on the process of planning can damage the process of doing. Now I am guilty of doing this: my youtube channel is a partial contradiction in itself, as I’m spending my free time reviewing productivity applications… but I do believe there is an “obsession with productivity apps” and it’s something that needs to be addressed.

On my channel I always recommend that productivity seekers stick to having three core applications to assist your productivity to help you resolve the following core issues: tasks, information and calendar/events.

Let’s say you found one application that resolved all three of these. Great! Or you find two that contribute to achieving all three issues, that is fine too. The problem I’m seeing  is individuals using 5+ or even 10+ to do list applications or note-taking services at the same time. Sometimes this works, and kudos if you have this all set-up and you are happy, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthy process to go through.

I called this article “productivity apps obsession” and the people I describe above undoubtedly fall into this category. Productivity apps themselves can become overwhelming.

A few years ago I was studying in college and I remember my love for a few productivity applications that helped me improve my studies and my extra curricular activities. As you can imagine, as a 16 – 17 year old, I was very satisfied using my productivity apps because they helped me manage my time and grow my CV, but I know now that having too many tools around can take away from the “doing process”. Especially when it comes to personal productivity, it’s always worth noting that people have been using paper notebooks, pens and other offline items for many hundreds of years and they didn’t have to continually change this process (although I’m sure they renewed their notebooks once in awhile).  

My suggested remedy for anyone thinking they may have a “productivity app obsession” is to keep looking for good productivity applications. I suggest to make sure they understand and are aware that 80% of their issues are solved with their current application. I normally review my productivity app situation every month, and discuss with myself about how well my system is running but if I have no major issues with the tools I’ll internally improve the process instead of getting a new application.

You may be saying, “Francesco, sometimes it’s easy to move to a new application – for example with OneNote you can use a migration tool that allows you to easily move to OneNote from Evernote”. This would be a good argument, however you will have to review this as you go on.  My suggestion is that some services are not fully integrated so it’s important to remember each time you move productivity apps you risk losing data, which might be extremely valuable to you or your small team,dependent on the situation.

On your next adventure in finding a new productivity application I recommend asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I really need this application?
  • How will it directly benefit my work day today?
  • What is the difference between this and the apps I currently use?

If you hesitate on any of these questions it may be that you need some more time to think about the benefits of moving apps, or you should wait for a bigger update to the new service that you are looking to use that will then warrant the effort it takes to change.

I’d recommend looking for apps that combine a number of facets of productivity, for example task management and storing notes. Although these are often harder to come across, if you’re comfortable with the integrated experience, they can provide a lot of value. For personal productivity, there are few apps that can incorporate a calendar, tasks and information storage and retrieval successfully. ScribblePost is a productivity app that I would highly recommend as a way to combine your services. For those looking for security in one place, look no further.

I spend my time reviewing these applications in great detail and speak to around for 20-25 people every week about their experiences using productivity apps via email or through Twitter. This post is designed to help you think outside the box when looking for a new application so you are aware that you need to consider the overall picture and not necessarily the tools you were using.

Sometimes searching for and spending time on organising a new productivity application is a contradiction in itself, but sometimes it is an investment that will allow you to scale your work. It is for you to consider your decisions towards choosing a new productivity application.

If you’re interested in discovering a few great productivity applications or you are looking to advance your usage of your existing applications, feel free to follow me on YouTube and also drop me a email about your thoughts on the above or whether you have any concerns about your productivity system or apps I will happily reply.

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  • Great article! I’m a little obsessed with productivity apps, but only because I like to discover new things to try, it’s a little passion of mine. I always try to keep my winning trio (tasks, calendar, reference) in a row on my iPhone screen, I currently use Asana, Google Calendar and Evernote. I’m also a big fan of Trello, Wunderlist, OneNote, Keep and more, but they’re used for particular projects, while the previous ones are those that keep me sane and help me organizing all the aspects of my life.