I’ve been writing about productivity apps for a long time. Before it was cool, so to speak. I’ve been using dozens and, in time, I grew tired of them, eventually. I only use a handful now, and I seldom change them.
I think, in a way, a productivity app is like a relationship: it has its benefits and costs, but, more importantly, it has a learning curve, an adaptation period. Don’t you think it sucks when you finally learned all the things you want to know about your relationship only to learn you’ll have to start from scratch again? So, just a like a relationship, I want my productivity apps stable and fulfilling.
Here are 5 things I look for in a productivity app.
1. It Solves A Real Problem
There are all sorts of shiny, polished and cool apps out there which aren’t really solving a problem. They are easy to use, they certainly make you feel nice and “productive”, but, once you’re outside of the app space, not much is really solved in your life. When I see “immersive” in the description of a productivity app, my interest in it lowers drastically.
There is this subtle balance between how much time you spend managing your productivity and how much time you save by actually being productive.
2. It’s Thin
By “thin”, I understand that the app doesn’t stand in the way of the problem solving itself. Of course, I can understand there might be a learning curve, and if I’m convinced the benefits of using the app after this period are well worth it, I will gladly take it. But if I have to keep learning, or if the app in itself makes it difficult to work with it, I’m not using it.
Some examples of unnecessary “fat” on a productivity app:
- too many features
- too many UI elements
- trying to solve too many things at once
3. It’s Constantly Maintained
That’s a very important requirement. I’ve witnessed technology periods in which an operating system was at the same version for years. Now, we’re releasing new versions every year, if not often. The speed at which the entire tech ecosystem changes these days means constant updates are a core feature: even if the app itself remains unchanged, it has to be compatible with all the new OS versions that it’s designed to work with.
4. It’s Ubiquitous
We’re interacting with technology on many layers: desktop computers, laptops, phones and, lately, iOT devices. A good productivity app should have some sort of surface in any of these layers. Our unprecedented mobility calls for unprecedented presence. Of course, this presence should not be overwhelming. But I can’t use an app that it’s only on desktop, or only on mobile.
5. Its Results Are Measurable
If I can’t measure, somehow, the progress I make in solving my problem, then the app is nothing but a nice decorative icon on my phone. There must be some metric that can be observed while using that app, something that can improve over time. For instance, the app should tell me how much time I’m saving every day because of it, otherwise there’s hardly any reason for me to use it.
I couldn’t finish this without a blatant shoutout to my own productivity app, ZenTasktic, which does all of the above – for me, at least – at a decent level. And here’s how.
For me, ZenTasktic solves the overdoing problem I have (the “overachiever syndrome”), by breaking down clearly how much stuff I do, how much I assess and how much I decide upon. It’s also relatively thin, although, as its coder, I can always see ways to make it thinner, by mercilessly refactoring its UI. It’s (relatively) constantly maintained, as all I have to do to solve a bug is to fire up XCode and fix it. It’s ubiquitous enough for my needs, as it works on both iOS and macOS, syncing its data transparently. And, of course, the very core of the app is measurability, with its charts and stats and feedback about which specific productivity problem I have, based on my usage patterns.
If you want to give it a try, you can get it for free, for iOS, or macOS, by following the links below.