Are Productivity Apps Necessary?

Recently I’ve gotten interested in time management techniques and apps, and I’ve gotten to review a few Pomodoro Technique apps and even had an interview with the developer of one of them. If you’re easily distracted and have a tendency to procrastinate, there’s nothing better than a little pull on the ears to keep you on track and away from distractions, and those tools are great for that.

But what about when those tools become more distracting and harder to use than they are helpful? Having all those great features and animations can actually slow you down, as I have found. So the question is, are these tools actually necessary, and to what extent? Let’s explore a few of the ins and outs of the problem.

The Apps



I recently started using a productivity app called Alfred, which is pretty much a launcher app with some deep customization through personalized workflows. It took me a good couple hours to get the hang of it and set it up to fit my needs. Once I got it working, I thought to myself, “is it really going to save me that much time, that I justified spending a good amount of time just to get it working?”. That’s the thing with productivity apps. Alfred might be worth it, but there are a bunch of them out there that might not suit you.

Just a few weeks ago Kyle Kinkade, developer of Pomodorable (now known as Eggscellent), made a point on how a piece of paper and a pencil are about as useful as any productivity app. That’s certainly true, but there’s also some convenience to working with everything in one place (your computer), and the ease that it provides. So, how can we tell if an app is really necessary?

Know Your Tools



Knowing when and how to use productivity apps is the most important thing. I’m writing this while my Eggscellent timer ticks away in my menu bar, but this is the first time I’ve used it in a few days. I already know the app well and I know what to expect from it. I can fire it up and get working with it in just a few seconds, and I know that it can help me be more focused on what I do.

If it takes you more time to setup your timer or your task lists than it does to actually get working, then you ought to do some changes. Sometimes, a minimalist approach, where features get sacrificed to make room for a cleaner, easier interface, is completely necessary. Otherwise, you’d be better off with a paper and a pencil.

Work Wisely

Pomodoro Technique

Pomodoro Technique

I’ve used Pomodoro Technique-related apps for a while now, and I’ve come to resent the technique a little bit: if I used it for every single task I come across, my day would be pretty boring, although I’d probably get a lot of things done. I’m now able to tell which tasks might require me adhering to a productivity technique to get them done.

There’s work that I enjoy, and then there’s other work where I need to keep focused because it’s easy to lose interest in it. There are also days when I have dozens of tasks to accomplish, and in those moments it would probably be easier to procrastinate or put the work off, but now I know those are the situations when I need a productivity app to get me through the day, like I’m doing right now.

Identify the circumstances where using a productivity technique or app is appropriate, and where it’ll actually be helpful instead of distracting, is crucial.

Less is Better

Paper and pencil

Sometimes, that’s all you need

A productivity app won’t automatically make your work prolific; in fact, it many cases it might slow you down if you don’t use it wisely. After all, having the coolest to-do app out there or the best time-managing app isn’t going to do a lot for you if you aren’t using them appropriately. Fantastic animations and great features that create a sense of reward might get you interested at first, but it’s very easy for them to become more of a burden once you start getting some traction with your tools.

Choose your tools wisely and work with them astutely. And share some of your opinions on the topic below. Do you use any productivity apps routinely? How do you know when they’re becoming more of a burden than they are helpful? How do you choose which ones to start using? Let us know!


Add Yours
  • Getting the right workflow takes time and I do agree that some productivity apps create more distraction with your current workflow. But sometimes you really need some of it to help you lessen the time in order to get things done.

    Adding a productivity app to your workflow needs to be invisible, it needs to be ingraine in your system in just a few minutes. Right now, most of my productivity apps is working greatly for me.

    I’m a designer so some of my productivity apps is tailored for my needs. Here are the apps that are now part of my workflow:

    1Password – fast sign up and login

    TextExpander – great for expanding snippets, codes. Since I’m a designer I’m not a fast typist so works great for me.

    Omnifocus – all my projects and task is right here and help me focus on my daily/weekly task

    Fantastical – handles all my schedules, meetings and deadlines

    Pixa – great for collecting design assets

    DevRocket and Webzap – help me come up with design faster when needed

    Screenfloat – so I don’t need to keep switching windows just to check out reference or revisions from client

    Yoink – easy drag and drop of items/objects

    Alfred – fast relaunching of apps and folders. the keyboard is faster than using my wacom or mouse to open apps or navigating folders

    I tried out so many apps for my workflow. Some of them are now collecting dust in my Application folder. If the app provides more distraction then it is not the right app for you. Finding the time to find the right tool will greatly help you in the future. Just don’t keep adding things or changing things just because an app looks beautiful to look at.

    • Thanks for the Screenfloat reference. Was looking for it last week and couldn’t find it (had seen it before but I never imagined too google for “float”).

  • Great post. I think along similar lines every time I see a new article like “5 Great new to-do apps!”. You can’t make a blanket situation on this because everyone works differently. Having said that, the obsession with getting the latest to-do app seems, well, counter productive…

  • The productivity term is little inaccurate. What does it mean – productivity app? Seems like every app except games should go directly to this category. So.. Yes, Jorge, there’s some problems with apps. Some people may find them too complex for doint “productivity”. Or just try to calculate something on “classic” calculator, and then try Numi, and you’ll see the difference. Both have some problems ? Sure, every peice of software has.