Productivity apps are killing my productivity.

Getting Things DoneGiven my propensity to get distracted, especially by apps and gadgets, I may not represent the norm. However, I find that one of the biggest productivity killers in my life is productivity apps.

I wanted to sit down today and write a post. The flashing GMail logo in my taskbar pulled me off track. It was an email from Producteev. Now, I believe at some point I did a free trial last year of their task management software. Their emails are infrequent enough that I haven’t bothered to setup a filter so they don’t hit my inbox. Long story short, I ended up spending the last 30 minutes looking at their site, and checking out screenshots from the iPhone app. I’m almost positive that those 30 minutes would have been more than enough time to write a short post. Instead, I spent it unproductively analysing my current productivity system. What’s worse, I really liked what I saw, and I’m pretty sure their prices have come down a lot from last year. Now I’m stuck wondering if I should make a switch.

{update: <shame> Yeah, I'm totally trying it out now, but really liking it so far. Maybe a review in the future. </shame>}

Although I’m about to give you a tip, it’s probably one I’ll have to come back and read far more often, in order to keep myself on track.

As David Allen has said many times when asked about GTD, there isn’t any one system you should be using for task management. The important thing is that you pick one, learn it top to bottom, and then stick with it.

Imagine you want to start biking to work. You realized that, after all the red lights, stops to refuel, and parking spot searches, it would actually take you less time to just ride a bike. Great! You’ve just saved yourself time and money. But, instead of taking the direct A->B ride, you stop every 2 minutes to change bikes, shoes, and water bottles…just to see if any of those changes will help improve your time. Sounds kinda dumb when I put it that way, doesn’t it?

It’s the same with your task management systems. There’s a big initial investment of time and focus when you learn a new system. There are new ways to add tasks, new keyboard shortcuts, and a new signup process. Then there’s the process of transferring all of your data from your current system into the newer, shinier one. In the end, you rarely improve things enough to “pay back” that initial investment.

From the start, spend some time researching your options, and allow for growth. Will you need to track your tasks on your smartphone? Will you need to dictate notes while you’re driving? Now choose a system that will work within your set of requirements, and is within your budget. Once you’ve found a good system, stick with it.

If you get distracted by a killer feature on another system, see if there’s a way to add that to your own. Maybe yours doesn’t have an iPhone app, but their mobile site works just as well. You can also see if a 3rd party has developed an add-on or plugin to serve your needs.

In the end, you may not have all the bells and whistles, but you’ll have an efficient system that keeps you focussed on your work, which is why you wanted it in the first place.