The internet is inundated with articles that have titles like “The Best Productivity Tools of the Year” and “Productivity Apps That Will Make Your Life Easier.”
Dozens if not hundreds of apps claim to help people focus, manage their time, and stick to healthy habits. The productivity app market is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 13.8% from 2022 to 2030.
If you’re not careful, the search for productivity apps can become a distraction in itself. You’re in danger of going from tool to tool thinking that all you have to do is find the right one to end your productivity problems for good.
Trust me, it doesn’t work like that. And failing to stick to any tool for long means it’s unlikely to fix your problem. Plus, studies show using too many apps impedes productivity.
In your search for the right productivity apps, you have to know what problem you’re solving.
Use it first to diagnose the problem, then search for the solution.
…managing your negative internal triggers
Internal triggers are negative thoughts and feelings that pop up when we try to focus on a specific task. And because all human behavior is driven by a desire to escape discomfort, these internal triggers tend to drive us to seek relief in distraction unless we deal with them appropriately.
If you find that your mind wanders when you try to focus because you’re feeling bored, lonely, stressed, or anxious, that’s an internal trigger problem.
Only by understanding the discomfort driving us to distraction on can we begin to find better ways to deal with negative urges. Look for tools that help you to explore your internal triggers and find their root cause.
Surfing the Urge: An audio-based exercise from the University of Washington that helps an individual develop the practice of dealing with cravings or urges to behave in a certain way.
…struggling to make time for traction
Traction is the opposite of distraction. It is an action that moves us toward what we want.
But if you seem less able to do what you say you will, you need a better way to manage your time.
Any tool that enables you to create a timeboxed calendar!
Timeboxing is an almost magical productivity hack: When you schedule time for each task you want to accomplish in your calendar, you can recognize any action that is not what you planned to do in a given moment for what it is: a distraction.
My free schedule maker template created in Google Sheets.
Clockwise: A calendar optimization tool for teams. Full disclosure: I’m a shareholder
Sunsama: A great timeboxing tool for busy professionals.
SavvyCal: A meeting scheduling tool that removes the awkward power dynamics of sharing your calendar.
…getting distracted by external triggers
External triggers are interruptions, whether from the people around you or the buzzes, beeps, dings and distractions caused by your devices. Today, much of our struggle with distraction is a struggle with external triggers. When your day is peppered with disruptions, you aren’t able to focus.
Tools that help you turn off and hack back external triggers.
SaneBox: Software that analyzes your email habits to determine future email importance and auto-filter those emails so that only the most important get the attention they deserve. It also comes with the SaneBlackHole feature that ensures you never see emails from a particular address ever again.
Pocket: A delightful app where you can easily save articles and videos to read or listen to later either at your desk or on the go via their mobile app.
…sticking to your tasks.
Sometimes we need a motivation boost to accomplish what we say we want to. It’s essential to do the work to master internal triggers, make time for traction, and hack back external triggers. But after all that, you might still fail to stay on course.
Tools that resemble precommitment pacts, which are highly effective at keeping us on the path toward traction. While removing external triggers helps keep distractions out, pacts are a proven way of reining ourselves in, ensuring we do what we say we’ll do.
stickK: An accountability and goal-setting community that lets you create a goal, put money down on that goal, and define what happens to that money (e.g., you lose it) if you don’t reach your goal.
Time Guard: A cool iOS app that empowers you to choose which apps to block for set periods to help you focus, remove distractions, and protect your time.
Forest: A simple app to remind you that you’ve committed to not touching your phone for a set period of time.
For more tools and techniques, check out these suggestions for more Indistractable resources.
Remember—your search for productivity apps is not about finding the one “best” tool, but rather the right tool for the job.
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- Free Schedule Maker: Use My Google Sheet Template
- Habit Tracker Template — Use My (Printable) Google Sheet
- Timeboxing: Why It Works and How to Get Started in 2023
- The New York Times Uses the Very Dark Patterns it Derides
- What is the Opposite of “Distraction?” The Single Word that Will Change Your Life This Year
- Hyperbolic Discounting: Why You Make Terrible Life Choices
- Happiness Hack: This One Ritual Made Me Much Happier