Here’s why productivity apps can make you unproductive.
So, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be the type of person to be hopping from app to app. From Notion to Obsidian. From Todoist to Ticktick. All in the pursuit of better features, more flexibility, and that extra 5% of productivity.
Something that I’ve noticed is that my productivity goes down each time I hop from app to app, which is why these days I try avoiding switching apps, but why does our productivity take a bit of a hit?
The answer lies in systems. Or more specifically, your productivity system.
See, behind every productive person is a system — one that is able to carry thoughts and ideas, and one that can be a person’s ‘second brain’.
This means that what’s more important rather than the specific apps you have, are the systems that you have in place which use the apps. And when I say ‘system’, it doesn’t have to be software-based at all if you wish — people do have effective systems that work for them with pen or paper.
For example, my current system is one where I keep track of my active tasks in Notion, have a daily to-do list in Todoist, and I do a ‘brain-dump’ of sorts in Roam Research, the hot new item in the note-taking world.
This is a system that works for my workflow, but it may not work for you — perhaps a different configuration of software and task managers would fit your workflow.
Now, what happens when you do switch apps/systems?
Let’s take a look at a hypothetical, one that many of us tech/productivity nerds have been in before. The hot new app of the month has come out, and everyone is talking about it. So of course, you switch. What for? Well, that extra 5% of productivity, of course.
First things first, you’ve got to import every single thing from your previous app over to your new app. For most apps like Notion, Obsidian or Roam Research, they are only effective if you can have all of your notes on them.
So there’s the trouble of migrating (what could be) years of work over to a different app. What if the new app doesn’t support the format of your old notes? What if the new app doesn’t have an inbuilt migration system? And many more troubles arise, with the worst point being if you have to manually copy and paste your old data.
By this point, you’ve spent an hour or more (depending on how much you have to transfer) and now you’re fully set up!
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Yeah… it is — until your system begins to fall into chaos.
Thomas Frank (productivity guru) likes to call it entropy, but what he’s describing is something that all productivity systems are prone to. This is when you’ve got tasks that were never completed, notes that weren’t put into the correct places, files that were not organised, and many more. What this leads to is your system becoming more and more inefficient over time, thus negating any “productivity enhancements” you might have gotten from a new app.
So, how do we solve these issues? It’s not by downloading a shiny new app, but rather settling on a system, sticking to it, and most importantly, conducting maintenance on it. Thomas Frank recommends allocating one day a week (I normally do one day a month) to do maintenance and housekeeping on your system. This is the time in which you might take care of unfinished tasks, organise notes into where they belong, and more. Conducting this housekeeping is how you ensure that your system continues to operate at peak functionality.
The Bottom Line
Those who work on pen and paper can be just as productive as those who use a suite of digital tools — what truly matters is the system that you use to get things done. Conducting housekeeping and ensuring that you don’t move from app to app too frequently will help you establish a system that works for you.
Of course, experimentation with different tools is perfectly fine, but if your current system works for you — well, as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.