I have one single productivity app on my iPhone that I open regularly: the note-taking app Drafts. Other than that, I don't use my phone for anything that resembles productivity — I don't organise email, I don't manage to-dos, and I don't even check the calendar. This all has me thinking: are phones actually good productivity tools?
Photo by Robert Nelson
First things first: I'm far less mobile than I used to be. I'm not running around town as much as I once did, I don't have 25 meetings to keep track of in a week, and I certainly don't need to check my email on the weekends. That's not the case for everyone, but I imagine I’m not the only one using my phone this sparingly.
In some ways, the purpose of mobile productivity is a bit lost on me, but that doesn't mean I don't want it to work. I use Drafts because it's a Swiss army knife of an app that integrates directly with desktop apps. With Drafts I can efficiently add a note to Dropbox or schedule an event on my calendar without having to deal directly with calendars or Dropbox. Those are pretty much the only two productive things I do on my phone.
It boils down to efficiency. Productivity is all about efficiency, and mobile apps, no matter how well designed they are, rarely feel more efficient than a desktop or paper equivalent. Sure, I can spend a few minutes here and there getting my inbox to zero while I'm waiting for a friend, but will I actually do that? Probably not. Clicking through on my computer is way faster, and I'd rather spend that free time not looking at a screen at all.
The same can be said for just about anything that takes longer than five minutes. I'm not going to write on an iPhone. I'll grab my laptop or tablet for that. I'm not going to reply to emails that require more than a sentence or two unless it's urgent. It's certainly possible to kill time on your phone productively, but it's just not as efficient as other options.
Part of this is also the stigma of using a phone in the company of others. We're tied to our devices, and pulling out your phone all the time becomes an annoying behaviour no matter how technologically inclined your friends are. After reading Clay Johnson's post on why notifications are evil, I've had them turned off for over a year and haven't looked back. With that, I've slowly lost the urge to check my phone, and subsequently feel as weird using it around people as I did with the first generation iPhone.
None of this is to say that I don't appreciate a smartphone for what it is. I still take pictures all the time, I listen to podcasts, dink around on Twitter, and look up oddball questions in the browser. But none of those things are actually productive. Of course, we're all a little different, and my use-case certainly isn't the only one, so we'd love to hear it: is your phone a solid productivity tool?