How Many Productivity Apps is Too Many?

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Productivity apps like Evernote, Trello, and IFTTT are amazing creations. Without them, we’d be managing big projects over email, taking notes in Microsoft Word, and doing a ton more data entry work.

The problem is, we live in a world where there are thousands of choices. There’s countless different to-do list apps that each do slightly different things, and countless ways to save a receipt or clip a screenshot.

With a mind-boggling amount of new recommendations coming in from places like Reddit and Product Hunt, you’ve probably found yourself stuck between two (or 50) similar apps at some point. It’s all well and good to stock up on productivity tools.

It’s fine, right?!

…Right up until the point where you realize you’re wasting time switching between them, checking notifications, configuring and re-re-re-configuring.

There was once a time where I was using 3 to-do lists, 2 note-taking apps, and managing multiple calendars. I couldn’t tell whether I was actually evaluating each of them, or whether I’d just fallen into an extremely inefficient habit.

The thing is, I couldn’t tell how bad it really was until I did some research:

“[When you’re interrupted] it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”

The study also found that when you’re interrupted regularly as part of your workflow, you also have “higher levels of stress, frustration, mental effort, feeling of time pressure and mental workload”.

So, when you’re managing your lists in Todoist, and your… other lists in Trello, switching between apps can kill your momentum for over 20 minutes. Depending on the number of times you break your focus every day, you could be losing hours.

What’s the solution?

In part, the solution is to settle down with a set stack of apps. The other (tougher) part is to cut apps out entirely and set up automations.

Here are my recommendations:

Use only one app for organization

Lots of productivity apps have the same features dressed up in different ways. For example, Trello and Asana both have checklists, tasks, comments, assignments, and file uploads.

If you’re using Trello to manage your day-to-day projects but setting checklists up in a totally different app — don’t. Stop yourself losing momentum switching between apps and just get into the habit of setting up checklists in Trello, not elsewhere.

The same goes for Evernote, OneNote, or even Quip — if you find yourself flicking over to another app just to do one task like recording a link or quote, think about how you can do the same thing with the core set of tools you already use.

Filter it down to one core set of tools

Depending on exactly what your job is, you’ll probably only need one tool from each of category:

• Task / project management app: Solid project management solutions like Trello and Basecamp usually include the core functions you’ll need to manage tasks, like due dates, checklist, notifications.

• Note-taking / clipping app: The big apps here are things like Evernote and OneNote, but in my experience Evernote is better used as a quick screenshot tool than as a notebook. For pure note-taking, resource-saving and quoting, I use Bear.

• Document / process management app: Businesses have all kinds of documentation associated. Processes, contracts, invoices, etc. These kinds of things need to be centralized, accessible, and stored in the same place. There’s no point in using the ‘search’ function if some of your documents are shoved in some other app.

• Calendar: It’s likely you’ll be using Google Apps at work, and will have your calendar linked up to Google Calendar from the start so you can sync up your team. That doesn’t mean you have to use GCal, though. On the web, it can be quite awkward. Whichever calendar you choose, remember that GCal events can be fed through to any calendar, and just use what suits you best.

Not an exhaustive list, but certainly something to think about when considering which productivity apps to cut from your stack.

Automate as much as possible

Less than a year ago, I didn’t automate anything. I thought that it was done through Command Prompt and could only be accomplished by elite Russian hackers and the head IT team at Ubuntu.

As it turns out, in the past couple of years there’s been major developments in the field. It’s no longer something you get as part of insanely priced suites for only the most enterprise-y of enterprises.

Now, you can use tools like Zapier and IFTTT to automate laborious tasks.

Personally, I use Zapier to do things like run stand-up meeting checklists from Slack, fill our Buffer queue from Airtable, and create/assign Trello cards for me.

Whenever you transfer data between apps (and it takes more than 5 minutes or needs doing more than twice), you’re wasting time if you’re not automating or systemizing it.

While IFTTT is a simpler, mobile-based solution aimed at the consumer market, Zapier is full automation platform with over 700 supported apps and the capability to save businesses thousands of hours.

Here’s a few examples:

Whether you do it on a huge scale or just automate 10 minutes of busywork each week, it’s definitely worth it over time.

The short answer?

The short answer to how many productivity apps you need is: 5 or 6 at most.

That’s one calendar, one task manager/project manager/to-do list, one document management system, and something to automate it all!

So… are you using too many productivity apps?

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Benjamin Brandall
Benjamin Brandall
Head of Content Marketing at |

Benjamin Brandall is the head of content marketing at Process Street, where he writes on startups, SaaS, and workflows. Benjamin appears on TechCrunchThe Next Web and Fast Company. In his spare time, he runs obscure entertainment blog Secret Cave.

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