Why Productivity Apps Don’t Work

A woman sitting on the ground next to a purse uses a smartphone

Are your productivity apps getting you anywhere, or just keeping you busy? 

Productivity apps can be helpful in making you feel organized, but when it comes down to their impact, it’s easy to feel like they don’t always meet your expectations.

If you feel a little numb to it all, there’s a reason. Technology is so ingrained in everyday life (and has been for a while), that it has become fairly easy to hit ignore or look right past a deadline reminder that’s pinned to your lock screen.

Here are a few reasons why apps might not be the right fit for you – or at least not the only solution – and some strategies that work better.

Define productivity

In many ways, productivity is unique to each person. What works for you might not work for others, and vice versa.

Some people need more assistance with organization, others need a push with prioritizing or meeting deadlines. And even from person to person, each day or week, can look different. We all define productivity differently all the time. 

That’s what makes productivity apps hard. They’re created to be a one-size-fits-all model. You might start off using an app that really works and fits to your needs. But a new project, client, or team could totally throw it out of whack, even making the technology obsolete. Apps are created to work the same all of the time, and our lives rarely fit that mold. 

In these instances, it’s a good idea to re-examine your needs instead of trying to fit a square peg through a round hole. Perhaps an app works for some parts of your productivity needs, like setting deadline reminders or to-do lists, but you might need to lean on a different kind of tool for bigger goals and plans.

A tried and tested physical tool, like a daily goal planner, might be the reinforcement you need to keep yourself on track, especially when you can mold it to fit your life.

The power of handwritten notes

There’s a reason why psychologists say you should handwrite your notes instead of typing them: You remember and retain more and understand concepts better.

Typing can lead to more distractions and you’re not really processing the information you’re recording. The computer document ends up being this sort of black hole. There’s content there, but did you really process anything?

Turning to a physical page can help you turn off autopilot. This seemingly simple switch makes a big difference and helps you commit those notes to memory. 

You can apply the same sort of logic to productivity apps. It's easy to type something into an app, but did that reminder or note really stick with you? Will you be able to remember and apply that information later on when you need it?

We are able to work through our priorities more effectively when using a planner or notepad because we’re forced to think more critically. Instead of entering a note, meeting, or task into an app without thinking about what that means for the day, a planner forces you to see the bigger context.

Out of sight, out of mind

Feeling engaged is an important part of finding the right productivity formula. We’ve gotten to the point where a push notification doesn’t have the same kind of urgency it used to. We get notifications about everything these days, so a notification from a productivity app might not even stand out. 

On the other hand, prioritizing our to-do list in a planner forces us to look at a calendar, double-check deadlines, and make sure the schedule we're creating actually makes sense/

“For some people, writing makes them feel more engaged with the subject matter which, if this is the case, may be more helpful to their mental health because they are more able to think about and process the material they feel more engaged with and will learn or remember,” Gail Saltz, MD, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill-Cornell Medical College, tells The Zoe Report.

There might be certain aspects of productivity apps that keep you engaged, and it’s important to incorporate the things that actually work! But if you’re finding that you tend to trail off usage in the middle of the day or week, or tasks or deadlines start falling through the cracks, you may want to rethink how effective your productivity app actually is. 

The solution? Find balance

Wherever you’re at in your productivity journey, you’ll probably find that you need a mix of technology and old fashioned methods. Apps can be a great way to sort out a messy calendar or inbox, but you’ll have to find a system that’s flexible enough to adapt to your changing life.

Apps can only do as much as they’re designed to, which is why they often fall short. But with a combination of tools, you’re able to create the ultimate productivity process. Apps, after all, can be a great supplement.

Just like most things in life, you’ll have to decide what balance looks like for you. With so much of our lives online, it’s impossible to only rely on pen-and-paper, but you might discover that incorporating physical planning tools into your life does help keep you on track and feel less scattered. 

Written by Kara Mason.

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