How the Productivity apps market is making us less productive

A couple of months back, I spent an awful lot of time looking for the perfect productivity app to organize my notes, tasks, goals, etc.

Everything I read on Twitter and came across on podcasts and blogs strongly suggested that I need a productivity app to organize my life.

I tried multiple apps and poured through numerous tutorials on how to use tool ‘x’ to be more productive.

But to my surprise, things started becoming more chaotic after I started the quest. When I looked back, I realized it was because I was often tempted by the new productivity tools, and I spent too much time migrating data and learning to get the best out of those tools to be more productive. In the process, I’ve actually become less productive.

The Productivity Buzz

‘Productivity’ and ‘organizing your life on tool ‘x” have become the buzzwords this year.

You open up any social media platform, you’ll see an endless stream of tools, cheatsheets, guides, frameworks, routines, templates, courses to make you more productive or to help you get the best out of tools x, y, and z.

I’ve come across a record number of productivity and note-taking apps this year aiming to solve all our life’s problems and make our lives better.

But, the problem is, even though each tool is designed to help us become more productive, the productivity apps market as a whole is keeping us on our toes and is often tempting us to switch between productivity apps. This eventually makes us spend more time trying out the latest productivity apps.

The reason for such behavior is a result of the marketing framework used by the productivity apps to attract users.

The four step community marketing framework

Every productivity app I’ve seen in recent times is following the same four-step framework to market their app.

  • Creating Excitement — They create excitement and a sense of exclusivity by teasing how the product works (especially by teasing that one feature that excites people). At this point, they announce the launch of a closed beta and ask interested people to join the waitlist. This slowly builds an audience on the product’s community and on Twitter.
  • Private Beta — The second step is sending beta invites to a few hundred users and engaging them along the way. The early adopters get excited and talk about how the tool is better than ‘w’. This brings more following and more people eager to check out the product.
  • Building a community/marketplace — Seeing the number of people using/waiting to use the product, the app makers open up a community where some of the early adopters develop plugins, courses, cheatsheets, and videos to help others get the maximum out of the product. Some are free and others are sold for a small fee ($20-$50 one-time fees). At this point, people on social media talk about how the feature is a blessing in disguise and if they were to use this tool a couple of years back, they would’ve won a Nobel prize for Chemistry or Biology. This is a point where you could come across Tweets like “I can’t imagine my life without tool x” or tweets like “I am able to remember 50% more than before. I feel like a superhuman”. At this point, everyone who is interested in improving their productivity would be tempted to see what the product is all about and cry out on social media for beta invites. (I am no exception)
  • Open to the public — The app is open to the public with an importer tool that allows users to migrate all the data from their existing productivity tools. Interested people migrate all their data and move into the new tool.

A couple of months into using the tool, another product comes along the way and they use a similar strategy to make the users move from tool ‘x’ to tool ‘y’.

Recently I’ve seen a lot of such cases where people moved between Roam, Obsidian, and RemNote within a short span of time.

Productivity app market = Stock Market

The communities that are built around the productivity app market is similar to stock market communities. Stock market communities often witness excitement around a hot stock that won’t last long. Everyone would go crazy about the stock and after a point, the noise subsides and people will start talking about the next hot stock in the market.

The same thing is happening to the productivity app market. There is seasonal excitement around a product and everyone is excited to hear about it, debate about it, and share their success stories. But, when another product comes in, people often tell stories like “it is great, but I wish it had that one feature” stories followed by “This new tool is a gamechanger” stories.

But, many have failed to realize that in the process of becoming more productive, they’re moving between multiple tools, and in the process, they’re spending too much time setting it up, migrating the data, and consuming loads of tutorials and hacks. If you quantify all this, in the quest for a perfect productivity app, an average user is spending more time on learning to be productive than actually being productive.

This was not the case in the past.

If you learned Microsoft Excel you can be productive through your entire career. All it takes is one course or spending a couple of weeks to master the tool. But, today there is a new tool coming up every month and even if you’re evaluating the tool, you’ll have to spend several hours learning the basics, populating the data, etc.

I personally went on this spiral a few months back. I’ve jumped between too many apps before settling for plaintext markdown files. (I will write about that on another blog post).

Productivity is freeform

Being productive is just you against time. Everything else is secondary.

In productivity, all that matters is how much work you’re able to get done, how efficiently you were able to switch context, and how fast you can recollect snippets from previous meetings. We were doing all this before computers. So, it is not necessary that you need some sort of an expensive productivity tool to become a productivity master. You can use a sticky note, a physical journal, or even a notepad file to stay on top of your everyday tasks.

Instead of becoming proficient at using a tool, try to become proficient at the one thing you want to be good at. I’m not against using productivity tools. Choose a productivity tool that is easy to learn and simple to use. If you’re planning to comb through a ton of course material, ask yourself if you really want to go through the pain of learning them all. If you’re going down that path, make yourself a promise that you won’t switch apps for the next couple of years.

Understand that no tool is perfect. So, migrating between tools is not always the solution.

And, the most important thing of all is your productivity tool should align with your way of working and it shouldn’t be the other way around. I recently came across a beautiful article about a developer who developed all his productivity tools from scratch to suit his way of working.

I’m not asking you to go to that extent. But, I hope you get my point.

I know it can be really tempting, but choosing one productivity tool and sticking with it will actually make you more productive and achieve great things in life.

Originally published at on October 7, 2020.

Writer. Marketer. Optimist. A little lazy, and loves automating stuff. Dreams to workout someday. But, sits idle every day.

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