Did you know that we spend over four hours a day in apps? While we can thank the pandemic for this surge, which skyrocketed by up to 80% in selected markets between Q1 2019 and Q1 2021, we’ve become extremely reliant on applications — especially when it comes to productivity. Can you imagine life without WhatsApp, YouTube, Uber, Netflix, or Google Maps?
Yeah. That would be a challenge. But, we also depend on apps to make us productive. For starters, they can help you manage your time, calendar, and schedule. Moreover, we use apps to keep track of daily tasks, to-do lists, and collaborate with others on big projects.
As if that weren’t enough, we benefit from communication apps that can help us maintain our focus. And, we lean on these tools to generate and share content, track our progress, and make that upcoming travel trip a breeze.
In short, productivity apps just rock. Without them, life would be chaotic and ineffective.
Why productivity apps are problematic.
Despite these benefits, there’s also a dark side to productivity apps.
- There is an overabundance of choices. How do you decide which app to use? After all, the majority of them do everything the same. But which is most likely to fit your unique needs? You don’t want to spend a lot of time searching and sifting through hundreds of applications — unless you want to ignore your priorities, waste time, and get overwhelmed.
- Learning how apps work takes time. It may still be confusing if you are not as comfortable using technology, even when you find the perfect app that fits your brain and workflow. Although you may be attracted to technology, you may end up spending more time learning how to use it as opposed to getting things done.
- Sometimes the developer disappears. You will find that app developers often update your favorite apps with new features and improvements. Using the new systems and features will likely require a learning curve. Occasionally, some developers will leave without a trace. Because of this, an app that you use regularly won’t get further support. As a result, you’ll need to download a new replacement app.
Apps lead to information overload.
“Our lives and work are increasingly digital,” Almuth McDowall, professor of organizational psychology at Birkbeck, University of London, told the BBC. “But it’s a complex world, and there is an information overload.”
“Good apps, well used, can help us to negotiate this,” McDowall states. “But there is still a question of whether we’re really interested in becoming more productive, or simply ‘doing more to seem effective’.”
There is definitely evidence to suggest that employees are overloaded with software. A study conducted in 2018 found that the average operational support worker switched between 35 different applications 1,100 times during the course of their shift. Despite the availability of these apps and tools, productivity has declined in most highly industrialized countries, while burnout has risen.
“Evidence shows that working hours and the time that we spend in online meetings is increasing, so it may be that we are working harder, not smarter,” suggests McDowall. “Why are we not getting better at managing the quality of our output?”
The good news? It’s still possible to boost your productivity without apps.
Don’t follow a “normal” schedule.
Traditionally, we assume there’s a ‘normal’ schedule we should follow. And, that would be the traditional 9 to 5.
However, each of us has our own prime time where we are the most productive and alert. As such, it’s counterproductive to follow arbitrary and antiquated rules. For example, proclaiming “I should finish my daily writing before 9 am, or else I won’t get to it.” Or, “It’s already past 7 pm, so it’s time to call it a day.”
The problem here is that following a “normal” schedule not only goes against your circadian rhythms, it also interrupts your state of flow. As a consequence, it will take you longer to complete tasks with diminishing returns.
Is there another option? Consider blocks, instead of hours.
When you work in timed, focused sprints, you do more than just minimize distractions. You will create a new unit of measurement and rhythm to follow. As a result, this will help you set clear boundaries without losing your flexibility, while also tracking your progress effectively.
Work in layers, not silos.
“Our days tend to be a blend of different projects, software, and conversations,” writes content marketer Jimmy Daly. “These layers make up our work, but we don’t often extract as much value from them as we could.”
For example, we tend to do research in silos, but we can do it as a layer. Throughout the workday, you can pick up useful tidbits as you jump between projects and talk to coworkers, he says. You’ll find that you have more ideas when you need them when your mind is a dragnet for good ones.
For writers, this is especially useful. Keep your eyes open for interesting articles, ideas, graphics, and quotes. “Save them, tag, categorize them,” Daly advises. “Even the ones that seem entirely unrelated to your current work can be useful in the future.”
Your taste develops as you collect ideas. Having this database also provides you with a wealth of inspiration, since it’s regularly updated.
Evaluate and reduce your to-do list.
It can be really helpful to organize your mind and tasks you have to accomplish at work with to-do lists. Having too much on your plate, however, can also lead to stress and feeling overwhelmed.
The most likely reason is that you have added too many items to your to-do list and that you can’t possibly complete them all in a day. If you overpack your day, you might believe you will be more productive and finish everything in time. But believing that you’re going to finish everything can be a costly mistake.
You can reduce stress, work smarter, and maximize your productivity by accepting that you won’t get everything done. After all, you are but one person with a limited workload. To rectify this, clear a few things off your list. Your brain will automatically choose the task that has the lowest priority if you force yourself to do it once a day.
The second reason for limiting your daily to-dos, even if it’s only by one — is because of task debt. Task debt occurs when you never cross-off items and they sit on your list for a long time — whether it’s a paper list or online board.
You should consider reducing and prioritizing your to-do list if you constantly find yourself overwhelmed by it. After your mind has been cleansed, it will be easier for your brain to determine what tasks to prioritize.
Give yourself a break to increase productivity.
There’s no need to feel guilty if you check your messages, the news, or social media notifications every now and then — or even if you check them a lot. The benefits of giving yourself a break have been known for a while — but, sometimes we all need this reminder.
As a matter of fact, scientists have found that you’ve been increasing your focus when taking these brief mental breaks.
Research has shown that well-timed breaks spent on non-related activities improve performance. The reason? The brain will switch off after prolonged exposure to the same stimulus, such as staring at spreadsheets all day.
In order to avoid becoming overburdened, you need to maintain a balance between these two activities. So don’t wait too long before taking a break to stretch or go for a walk.
Best of all? You don’t need an app for this. An hourglass or old-fashioned kitchen timer will suffice if you want to implement something like the Pomodoro Technique.
Build your energy for productivity.
Just like PB&J, energy and productivity go hand in hand. After all, the less energy you have, the less you will be able to accomplish. And, you can gain energy through the following app-free practices.
- Get the best sleep ever by following a sleep schedule based on your circadian rhythms. Also, avoid blue light at least an hour before bed. And, keep your bedroom cool, dark, and silent.
- Improve your diet. Suggestions would be having carbohydrate-rich breakfast foods, lean meats, and plenty of fruits and veggies. And, drink lots of water.
- Close open-loops, like making that dentist appointment or trip to the post office.
- Get outside and bask in the sun.
- Go for a daily gratitude walk.
- Spend more time with positive and supportive people.
- Say “no” to time-wasters.
- Keep your workspace clean and organized.
Train yourself to innovate.
Finally, thinking about innovation may not be top of mind. But, innovation encourages continuous growth and improvement, while keeping you relevant. It can also assist you in developing resourcefulness and overcome your fear of failure.
And, you can also train yourself to innovate sans applications. Examples would be reading actual books and reciting back what you read. You could change up your routine or seek out experiences that put your talents to good use. And, while brushing your teeth, you should use your non-dominant hand to utilize your left and right brain.