The problems I found with digital productivity

Apps are all the rage aren’t they. We all want to get more done, so we search for productivity tools and systems like our computers, tablets and phones can use. Paper seems so obsolete in comparison.

I have tried over many years to find a system that works for me. To organise my life, stay focused and get things done. I have looked at many apps and systems, Wunderlist, GTD, Evernote, Google Keep, Trello and more.

Almost all have failed and here’s why.

To many To-do Buckets

Today we know that the avalanche of information at our fingertips has become the obstacle to getting work done. But I also see it another way. The number of places where we keep the information, the tasks has also shot up. What I call, ‘todo bucket-itis’.

Think of all the places where you have lists of tasks waiting to be done, or information to be processed.

Here’s just a handful of mine

  • Emails to respond to
  • Youtube watch later
  • Book on by Book reader (Kobo)
  • Podcast feeds
  • Bookmark on browser
  • Facebook updates

The number of to-do buckets has skyrocketed as the amount and type of content has risen.

No wonder old school mobile phones are making a comeback. It’s an attempt to simplify life by having simple tools. A phone that is just a phone.


‘Organising has become the new procrastination’

With readily available information, there is the temptation to tinker and organise this information constantly. TO constantly to t get the perfect system, tool and app. In a quest to avoid doing the work we need to do.

This is one of my flaws. Constantly trying to make the system better, and avoid doing the actual work (Part of this problem is due to the next item, Many Apps).

All this organization has left us bereft of relaxation and play. Mindless activity where you do something because you feel like it. Organisation can suck the fun out of doing things if you constantly feel the pressure to be efficient.

The complexity of our lives is now mirrored in our pockets. The phones and tablets we carry with us. We have a tool, the smart phone that is in a sense too complex. It’s always there, so we overload our phones with so much information and so many tools that many of them become forgotten, unused.

Technology has not solved the problem but instead made getting important work a lot hard er to work on. We seemed too focused on the benefits and ignore it’s problems. We have been sold a lie and believed it to be true. The idea that we can use these apps and technology to organise ourselves has fed upon one of our weaknesses. Our need for control, and order.

These tools have given us the illusion that the messiness of our existence can be cleaned up if we just use the technology available. Organising ourselves into perfect efficiency, and rapid success. ‘Sterilising’ life of the chaos, the uncertainty. Like the law of the instrument. Or ‘Maslow’s hammer’. ‘if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail’.

We think that because we have the phones, these apps that the problems we face are ‘app problems’. But it’s the phones, the apps themselves that are stopping us from being more productive.

Our problem is again, and often seems to be, insanely idealistic ideas about how life works, how organised we can ever be. In a recent post Cal Newport points the Difference between workflow and productivity. Productivity is all about efficiency and the end result. Workflow is about maximizing the focus for deep work, the best process.

It’s why how I work now is different than before. Minimising the number of apps I use regularly, minimise the use of the ones I do, and focus on what I want to learn instead of just mindlessly surfing for content. I’m more careful of consuming content because it will be one more thing to organise, tabulate, or take action on. I work to organise my notes and information, but I remember it’s not about organising but creating and sharing it with others that matters.


As part of my Minimalism drive, I’ve looked towards making space on my hard drives and reducing the size of my PC. My computers have long been large because I was a gamer. I needed a big rig. But in 2016, I gave up on gaming and wanted to downsize, and for several years, I worked hard to move to smaller computers.

All this downsizing has only been possible because I looked at digital minimalism. I checked what files I needed and deleted a lot that was unnecessary or I would never use. With fewer files, smaller storage is possible, and a smaller computer. The amount of space created has been significant over a terabyte.

I have since written to a larger desktop because I wanted a larger screen, but the lesson I learned during that exercise has stayed with me. Minimalism is changing our environment so the work we want and need to do becomes easier. Downsizing my PC is a way to get more focus, more writing, and less distraction.

Having a smaller PC, or even a laptop is part of being a Minimalist in my book. Because one type of overconsumption is saving too much information on our devices, so-called Cyberhoarding.

What good are all these files if I never use them? Photos I never get to see, notes I never read. They take up space, a sort of digital clutter. Do I need such large storage? It’s similar to the lists I mention above, too much, to overwhelmed.

In the spirit of minimalism reducing the number of files I have and the size of my computer makes sense and give me more of the freedom I desire.

If you feel the same way as myself then let me know in the comments. Better still follow along with me and get away form these apps and find yourself a paper based system for your reminders, task lists etc.

Image Credit: alphaspirit / 123RF Stock Photo

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