Another App Won’t Solve Your Problems

We’re apt to think that just another app will solve all of our problems. Apple’s “There’s an App for That” campaign sounds all too perfect: we’ve got problems in life, and there’s an app out there that can solve it.

That’s quite the tantalizing solution, but there’s one problem: it won’t work.

Apps are Only Tools

The first thing most of us think about before starting out a new project is “What apps do I need to do this?” If you’re asked to design a glossy flyer, you’ll go figure out how to use InDesign. Surely TextEdit wouldn’t be enough to write the text for it, so you go install Word or Pages. But hey, they’re so cluttered, you’d better go get a focused writing app. And then, you’re going to need a notebook app to keep track of all your thoughts, maybe a mind-mapping app to make all your ideas make sense, and of course TextExpander to speed up your typing. Don’t forget to have Dropbox installed to backup your files, and……

Time’s gone by, and you’ve been busy — and likely blown your app budget for the month — but you haven’t really gotten anything done. You’re just collecting tools.

And tools are great. I can’t imagine writing without iA Writer or Ulysses, or coding without Sublime Text, or finding files without Alfred, or clearing out my inbox without the help of TextExpander. These are all tools that help me get work done, and they’re great. But honestly, you could still get stuff done without a perfectly curated set of tools. It might be a bit less efficient, but it’ll still work.

The important thing is the work, not the tools. You’d be far better off to do the things you need to do with the tools you’re already used to using — so, perhaps, design that flyer in Pages if it doesn’t have to be that professional, or code your next site in the text editor you already use without worrying if other editors are better. Perhaps you’d type faster with TextExpander, but worry about that another day. For now, do the work.

Finding the Best Tools

But then, it’d be silly to not work at your most efficient when there’s app out there that could speed you up. That’s why we’re constantly reviewing and comparing apps, and trying to help you find the best tools to use. There’s a wealth of amazing Mac apps out there that seriously can improve your work and life, and obviously it’d make the most sense for you to use the best app for the purpose.

So let’s assume you have an app that currently works for you. Say, you’re still using Sparrow for email, or gasp Outlook. The cool kids have all moved on, and you’re wondering what the other apps will hold for you. Honestly, they might be great. But in reality, it’ll cost you productivity to move to another app right now. So don’t. If it still works for you, and you’re too busy to test out an app, stick with what works for the second. Then, when you’ve got time to try out a new tool, give it a shot. See if it fits. If so, hurray — you’ve got a nice new tool that works better than the old one. But if it doesn’t work better for you, don’t worry. Perhaps the old tool just fit your needs better. You’re not wrong to still use it.

One thing’s for sure: for almost every common job you’ll do on a computer, there’s no app that’ll magically let you do what you otherwise couldn’t do. If you don’t know the first thing about architecture, a shiny copy of AutoCAD won’t be of any use to you. Blender’s a free download, and yet I still can’t make animations in it without knowing how to make animations. Sublime Text won’t make your website work better without you knowing how to code better. A focused writing app won’t actually help you get words written down.

All apps can do is perhaps speed you up at what you can already do, or make the job a bit nicer and a bit more fun. And that’s great. But they cannot magically help you do something that you otherwise can’t do.

And hey: I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I love apps as I might be able to tell from my writing, and love finding new tools that are fun to use. But no number of apps is going to help me publish a book like I want to. It’s sad, but its true.