Productivity software has given us a lot of help. Living in the digital age creates unparalleled opportunities for creativity but also a never-ending cycle of distractions. It is now easier than ever to publish a book, build a website, and create video content. Increased demands on time with the ability to accomplish any goal have created an increased desire for maximum productivity. Need to manage a project? There’s an app for that. Need to track the hours you spend on individual tasks? There’s an app for that. Need to make a list, a calendar, or a world map, or simply jot down a note? There’s an app for that. In fact, there are thousands of products to choose from. While these can all be helpful tools, the promises of perfect productivity sometimes underdeliver. Moreover, end up creating additional time strain.
Ultimately, the goal of productivity is to free up more time to do more things. However, it’s important to realize there is no one-size-fits-all solution. What works for a co-worker or friend may not work for you. While many productivity software tools can be useful, they shouldn’t be used just because they are there. Let’s dive into the flipside of productivity software and why these apps may actually be limiting instead of liberating.
Productivity software and apps take time to update
A majority of productivity apps need data to function, and more often than not, the user needs to supply it. Additionally, since most apps have limited workflow automation, they require monitoring and updating as you go along. For example, using a fancy checklist or notetaking app may feel productive. But if it takes more than 30 minutes of your time to operate, the app is likely costing you. It is not saving at all. Spending more time on organizing than actually doing the project you organize is wasting time. This is essentially a diminished return on your time investment. In addition, another hurdle to completing a project or series of tasks. If the thought of updating and tracking yet another app seems daunting, then just skip it! Repurpose that time and use it to further your project.
Pro Tip: Limit the time you spend organizing your day and just dive in! If you need to, take less than five minutes to create a roadmap, then make it happen.
There is no “just right” option resulting in a matrix of applications
Just like with clothing, exercise, and nutrition, there is no one-size-fits-all option to increase productivity. This is why there are thousands upon thousands of productivity apps available on the market. With so many options, it is not uncommon to end up with multiple apps to manage different areas. It causes you to jump in and out of platforms regularly. Further, keeping up with a long list of productivity tools creates more work and increases the chance for something to slip through the cracks. Instead of chasing the perfect app or program, look at your work style and start establishing a streamlined process that works for you.
Pro Tip: If you are using more than 10 different productivity apps daily, they may not be working for you. Pay attention to whether they are adding to or diminishing your productivity and then delete what isn’t working.
Inbox zero is an unrealistic and time-wasting goal
Email and instant communication are fantastic tools engrained in the social fabric. They create a never-ending cycle. Experiencing inbox and information overload is a common occurrence, and everyone has a stream of messages to sort and reply to. Answering email is one of those tasks that may feel productive, but it often gets in the way of actually doing work.
Picture this: You sit down at your desk, ready and maybe even excited dive into the day’s work. Then you get started by checking and responding to email. Before you know it, it’s lunchtime, and your inbox may be cleared, but no other work has happened. This creates a problematic situation because email can be an integral workflow step. If that is the case for you, triage your inbox in the morning. Take about 15 minutes to scan for any critical, day-changing messages, act immediately, and save the rest for the after-lunch slump. The takeaway here is to focus on choosing the right task, not the obvious task. Figure out what is essential and ignore the rest.
Pro Tip: Instead of deleting all that junk mail, unsubscribe. Chances are that the extra email is bogging down your inbox and adding unnecessary distractions to your day.
Helpful chat apps can quickly turn into distractions
Some productivity software and apps are unavoidable and can actually be useful for working together with a team. Gmail’s G-chat feature and Slack are great communication tools but can quickly become a distraction and basically create a constant meeting environment that lasts all day long. Regardless of how fantastic a tool is, if it’s overused or not used productively, it drags down productivity. While it may be nice to get a quick answer from a co-worker or classmate on a project, those conversations can quickly spiral into weekend plans or who is getting a cake for that birthday party on Friday. Furthermore, having face-to-face conversations with colleagues is an excellent way to practice and grow verbal communication skills. What may take an hour-long conversation back and forth on an instant message program may only be a fifteen-minute in-person or phone conversation.
Pro Tip: If you need to focus, consider shutting down the chat apps to avoid interruptions. As questions come up, make a note and follow up with that person later instead of seeking immediate answers.
The benefits of tactile vs. digital creativity
For a lot of people, nothing beats the simplicity of pen and paper. If you learn best by doing and working out problems visually on paper, then there may not actually be an app for that. Of course, some activities benefit from productivity software, such as accounting and bookkeeping. Thank goodness we don’t have to do that by hand anymore. But when it comes to being creative, digital is not always the answer. Studies have even shown that putting pen to paper actually helps you remember more details and keeps you focused. Tactile activities like writing, drawing, or even doodling help you analyze information differently and thus boost creativity.
Pro Tip: Consider keeping a bullet journal instead of using a digital productivity tool. Bullet journals allow for both creativity and organization.
Monthly subscription fees
There are a lot of free resources when it comes to productivity tools. However, some options require monthly or yearly subscriptions. If you use a service regularly, it may be worth the investment, but more often than not, this setup leaves you paying for services you don’t actually use. Take a critical lens to subscription-based apps before committing to payment. Otherwise, you risk not only wasting time on a product but also your money.
Pro Tip: Investigate how many productivity software you pay for on a monthly or yearly basis. Does the value of the app match the subscription cost? If not, time to unsubscribe.
The power of single-tasking
Productivity promising apps are alluring because they claim to create more time to do more things. In an age of constant communication, distraction, and content begging for attention and engagement, the prospect of “more time” is very enticing. But scattering attention between multiple apps, websites, and software makes it difficult to engage deeply on a topic. Multitasking was once the hallmark of productivity for decades. However, studies have repeatedly shown that the brain cannot actually multitask effectively. Trying to focus on too many things at once has a negative impact on performance. So, slow down, create mental space, and enjoy the process of creating something. Sometimes it may feel like banging your head against a wall, but then that beautiful, creative flow kicks in. That’s when the magic happens! It’s nearly impossible to put creativity on a timetable, as tempting as it is to try.
Pro tip: Try focusing on one task at a time all day. Applying mindfulness practices to your work can help you feel less stressed and more grounded and actually get more done.
Ultimately, time is a non-renewable resource. A day is still only 24 hours long, regardless of how many productivity apps you use. While it may be tempting to attempt to find the perfect productivity solution, there is really no substitute for hard work. It is important to figure out how to best utilize your time and energy, which takes trial and error. Though there be few that may help, using productivity software and apps do not make you more productive. In the end, it comes down to just doing the work.