Dear Lifehacker, Every week it seems like there's a new email, calendar or to-do app out and I can't keep up. How can I find the right one for me in a sea of hundreds of options? Sincerely, To-Don't Care
Dear TDC, We totally understand your pain. A quick glance at the productivity section of any app store reveals thousands of options for various email, to-do, calendar, notes and workflow apps. Cutting through the cruft isn't easy, but the real trick is knowing when to stop looking for the perfect app and just be happy with what you have. Here's why so many apps exist, and what you can do to prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed by it all.
Dozens of Productivity Tips, Tricks and Methods Exist, and the Apps Follow Suit
More often than not, productivity apps are at least loosely based on a productivity method. Lots of productivity methods exist and many of us are remixing the best ideas into our own systems. So, to handle all of these different methods of getting things done, we have hundreds of apps that do similar things in slightly different ways.
Take email for example. Earlier this year, Mailbox came up with a system that used gestures and a simple interface to get you to inbox zero. The problem was that the app only worked with Gmail, and its simplicity was a problem for a lot of people. So, it's no surprise that shortly after we'd see similar apps, including Mail Pilot and Boxer that try to accomplish the same goals as Mailbox, but with slightly different approaches.
For pretty much every productivity idea out there, an app exists that embodies that idea. It's not a bad thing, because, as we've learned before, there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all productivity method, but the problem is that we end up being inundated with app options. Many of them are so well made that we want to check them out, even if they don't actually solve a problem we have.
Why the Internet Loves to Talk About All These Apps
The internet is already an easily excitable machine, but when it comes to hyping, overhyping and singing the praises of a well-designed app, it's especially easy to go a little overboard. For the most part, all of us, from writers to designers to users, are all looking for the right app that will make our lives easier. When something comes along that might do that — and especially if it comes in a nicely designed package — it's really easy to overpronounce the usefulness of it all.
The idea of getting excited about a productivity app might seem silly, but we've seen it time and time again. Years ago, apps like AutoHotKey, Simplenote or TextExpander completely changed the way we do things. Within the last year, apps like Clear and Mailbox answer the increasing desire to keep things simple and easy to use. Just yesterday, the notes management app Vesper garnered attention even though it's "yet another notes app" because it was built by an all-star team and manages to look fantastic while doing something several other apps already do.
The internet gets excited about this stuff, because no matter what platform we're talking about there's still room for improvement. Whether that's automating routine tasks, providing a more intuitive user interface, or simplifying things to the point that anyone can use them, we clearly desire productivity tools that work better than what we have. When something new comes along that fills that void, even if it's only a partial filling, it's easy to get excited.
Again, as was mentioned above, it's also about finding what works for you. Clear isn't great for people who need lots of options, but a vast majority of users out there just needs a simple to-do list Mailbox isn't really useful for people who don't care about inbox zero, but it's an excellent tool for getting there if you do. Each of these apps offers something to someone, and that alone is worth talking about.
From our point of view, if we can see a use for an app, or if it does something differently, it's worth mentioning. But that doesn't mean you have to go out and try every new thing that hits the digital shelves. For every app we do talk about, thousands exist that we don't ever mention.
We Still Suck At Being Productive on Smartphones
Despite the fact that many of us have been using smartphone apps for over five years, the actual experience of getting things done on a smartphone hasn't improved all that much. Heck, smartphones might actually hurt us more than help.
So, a lot of mobile apps out there are still trying to fix this problem. Email is still broken for a lot of people. It's hard to manage, it's impossible to keep up with, and it's a pain to use. For whatever reason, desktop mail clients have all but given up on fixing this issue, while the mobile market has exploded with mail apps to the point where it feels like we're at a mobile email bubble. The same goes for everything else in the productivity suite. Calendars are trying to be smarter. Contact management apps want to integrate all parts of your life automatically. Notes apps are syncing across multiple services. They're all trying to make life simpler, and many of them succeed at this, but there's still a lot of room for improvement.
This isn't as much of a problem with desktop software. It's pretty rare that the internet gets excited about a desktop productivity app, because they're all doing what we want them to for the most part. That's not to say it doesn't happen. Every once in a while something comes along that blows us all away, but it seems more rare than mobile apps, at least for the time being. Mobile is new, it's shiny, and it's still broken. So when something comes along that might fix that it's hard to ignore.
How Do You Pick an App?
Here's the hard truth: an app alone isn't going to make you more productive. So, stop relying on the app. It's not about the app you use, it's how you use it. Find one that works and stick with it. These things are a dime a dozen, and I can almost guarantee you'll find something that works for you specifically.
If you need a good starting place, our own App Directory is a good place to begin the search for the perfect app. Our daily App Deals are also a great place to discover new or noteworthy apps that have been discounted. Once you find an app that works for you, stick with it. While it's a good idea to continue paying attention to new stuff to see if something fits your needs a little better, don't feel like you have to try every single app out there just because it's new. Some aren't going to work for you, and that's fine. Use what works for you, and get things done.
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