Productivity Apps and Why They Don’t Work

Productivity Apps

App overload is definitely a thing.

115 Productivity Apps to Maximize Your Time?! Are you kidding me?

There’s a point of diminishing returns when it comes to productivity apps and I’m pretty sure you’d hit it way before you download the 115th one.

Why You Probably Don’t Need 115 Productivity Apps

Here’s my beef with lists like these and other people swearing by certain apps that claim to help you kick your work day into gear: you can’t tell someone how they should manage their work. Not without knowing what type of person they are, how they work best, and what their motivation to do good work is.

If you’re a visual person, like me, you might find the app-less route helpful. Below is a step by step system to which I attribute my relentless craving to get things done.

1. Make today’s list

The first thing to do every morning is write down exactly what you want to accomplish for the day. And I mean the first thing—as in, you just sat down, coffee in hand, and haven’t turned on your computer yet.

The list should include all the items on your calendar (meetings, phone calls, projects due, appointments) as well as the day-to-day tasks for projects in progress.

And yes—write it down. Because there’s just something magical about feeling your progress on paper with pen. This will take less than 5 minutes.

Productivity Apps To Do List

The beauty of a simple list like this is that it forces you to focus on the singular tasks it’ll take to move through your overarching plan for a project. Because often the best way to be productive is not to worry about the whole big project right now, it’s just focusing on what we’re going to do today.

2. Timebox your tasks and put them in order

Next, reference your calendar so you can arrange tasks in the most productive order (based on how much mental energy they’ll use and when each task needs to be done) and give yourself a set amount of time for each task.

That’s called timeboxing, which I love doing because I won’t let myself get distracted and drag my feet on a task that should only take, say, half an hour, or an hour, or just the morning. 1) Setting an order for your tasks and then 2) timeboxing each one is how you’ll set your schedule for the day.

Productivity App Sticky Notes
Using my to-do list and calendar, I set each tasks with a specific time and length

There’s a thing called the planning fallacy, which basically means that we usually plan less time than we need to complete a task. It’s best to be conservative. When in doubt, always overestimate rather than underestimate.

You’ll notice that checking my inbox is a task with a designated time slot. I find it more efficient to schedule inbox time rather than treating it like a chat system that can steal my attention away every few minutes.

3. Complete your tasks (and add the ones that pop up)

Once a task is totally complete, you’ll put a big X on the sticky note. If you don’t finish a certain task before the end of the day, circle it.

Productivity App Completed Taskes
Completed tasks get an X and items that are not done get a circle

If something comes up during the day that you’ll need to work on the very next day, make yourself another sticky note and put it to the side. For instance, today there were tasks that I couldn’t fit —invoicing, blog, and edits. You can try fitting these tasks in between others throughout the day or put them on tomorrow’s list. Another great case for timeboxing conservatively.

Productivity App List for Tomorrow
My list of items that I did not finish today and new tasks that need to be worked on tomorrow

4. Do it all again tomorrow

Don’t forget—all important meetings and appointments go on the calendar as soon as they’re made. So that stuff should be in there first before you start prepping your to-do lists the next day.

So now what? Some stuff is finished, some not. But that’s okay—the next day when I sit down at my desk to do it all again, I’ll work through the same process, taking special note of the sticky notes from yesterday with circles on them first. Whatever is urgent and important will get top priority that day—basically anything I can’t afford to push back another day.

Make It Yours

Since you’re not a robot and only a human with both good days and bad, you’ll undoubtedly be more productive some days than others. For instance, I hit a wall at 3pm every day, battling a lull that makes it impossible to do deep, strategic work.

Knowing this about myself, I try to schedule less mentally taxing tasks like gym time, inbox time, networking meetings, and errands.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Incorporate this knowledge into your system so it’ll be tailor-made to fit you.

Find Your Soul System

The best lesson I’ve learned in my journey through trying out new productivity systems—and finally settling on one—is this: it has to be a system that works for you.

It doesn’t matter if it works well for someone else—to change the way you work, it’s only got to work for you. I suggest trying the sticky note system for one week and seeing what happens.

What about you? What are your favorite productivity methods? Let us know in the comments below.

Categorized as How-To

By Michelle Urban

Michelle Urban is the founder of Marketing 261, a digital agency for startups. With a hands-on, get-it-done attitude, she and her team focus on executing measurable plans to get real results. For over 15 years, she’s built scalable marketing programs for demand creation, lead generation, customer advocacy, and engagement. She’s also a wanna-be writer and weekend windsurfer who occasionally binge-watches Netflix. Ask her about the time she danced with Oprah and Beyoncé on live television.