Productivity Apps Will Never Make You a Productivity Pro

In the past, before technology became a big part of our lives, people used paper-based planners to organize their lives. And in 2021, paper-based journals have become some people’s antidote to the dominance of technology in our lives.

Of course, there are literally thousands of apps that promise to help make you more productive. People ask me all the time how I manage to stay on top of them all.

The answer is, “I don’t.” Not really. I have a peripheral awareness of most of them. And of course I have a trusted group that I use religiously. But I only need a few, and I don’t need to learn about every new one.

This is because it’s not the tools that make me more productive, and it’s not software training that I deliver to my clients to make them more productive.

It’s the process that makes the difference—the collection of habits and behaviors for managing the details of your life that will kick your productivity into high gear. Some people call it a “workflow management process,” but you can also think of it as a “life-flow” management process.

Interestingly, this is a point that organizations often overlook when choosing new productivity tools for their employees. When people try out new tools, they may learn how to use them, but without an effective system for using them, the tools themselves often don’t deliver the desired results. A workflow management process keeps the focus on the most important goals while offering a structure in which to organize and manage the details.

Company leaders, as well as individuals, often ask my advice in choosing productivity software for themselves and their companies. Before recommending anything, I always ask, “How will the software fit into the existing workflow management process?” Perhaps the real problem is that there is no workflow management system in place.

Let’s look at sports to get a better picture. People may take lessons to learn a new sport, say golf or tennis. There are certain tools needed to play these games - namely, golf clubs or a tennis racquet. But these tools are just aids. The goal is to be able to play the game. I don’t play golf, but I understand how to swing a club; I know that I am supposed to hold the grip end and swing the flat end. Knowing this does not make me a good golfer. The right tools are important, but even more important are the skills necessary to play the game well. Once I become a great golfer, probably any set of clubs will do.

In a similar way, productivity is also a combination of skill and the right tools to support those skills. It doesn’t matter which software, apps, or gadgets a company purchases for its employees. Those tools aren’t going to make the employees more productive unless they are also taught a solid methodology with which to use those tools.

Before you get excited about a new productivity app or software for yourself or your organization, first consider the following questions.

  • What are the specific problems you’d like the software to solve?
  • What is being done now? For an individual, ask yourself how you are currently managing your workload. For company leaders, if you think you might need a project management tool for your employees, first evaluate how they are currently tracking their tasks and projects. Also consider how project leaders track their teams’ projects and set timelines. If there doesn’t seem to be a clear workflow management process in place, the software will not provide one. So that’s the first problem to be solved! If there is a process in place, ask, “How will this new tool support the existing process?”
  • If you’re a leader and you have employees who excel in the area where you perceive a problem, examine their process, and ask what they need in a tool before purchasing something they don’t need or want.

I’m so excited about my Empowered Productivity book series from Ignite Reads, because it offers this missing piece. Each book contains one piece of my Empowered Productivity system for workflow management in a way that is quick and easy to read and implement. Attention Management will teach you the foundational concept of Empowered Productivity: how to tame distractions and focus on what’s important. The latest book in the series—From To Do to Done—covers the action management piece, and will teach you how to manage all of your tasks, commitments, and responsibilities more easily and with less stress. Next up is The Happy Inbox, covering communication management and available in November, 2021. By the time you incorporate all of these new skills, you’ll be ready to tackle the future books in the series.

Technology can definitely improve knowledge worker productivity. But when investing in technology tools, whether for yourself or your company, remember that fancy clubs alone won’t turn users into PGA pros.


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- Maura Nevel Thomas, author of From To-Do to Done

June 23, 2021
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