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Why Your To Do Apps Keep Failing You

Today’s world is obsessed with being productive and disciplined. Ironically, this approach is preventing you from actually getting things done.

In history, so many people have achieved so much more than you ever will, all without using any of the apps that you “can’t live without”. Our reliance on technology has imprinted a notion inside our heads that the tools we use are, in itself, the solution.

An app is just a tool. Sure, the right tool can improve your work quite a bit. But most of us never get to that level where the quality of the tool actually makes a difference.

To do apps are the worst offenders in this regard.

The Problem With To Do Apps

A to do list has one simple purpose: to help you dump things you need to do outside your brain, so you can have more capacity for solving problems than holding ideas. That’s it. That’s the whole purpose.

But if you see an app that does only that, you’d think it was a bad app.

Instead, you will look for the app that offers the most features. Fancy workflows, automations, and integrations. Tags, categories, voice control, and cross-platform availability. Without these things, it’s not even worth your time.

Once you get the app, you’re confused. How does it work? How can you maximize the features it offers? So you hop on YouTube and browse tutorials, tips-and-tricks, and workspace setups. Then you start setting up the app according to your needs, creating lists, writing tasks, adding fancy icons, and colors.

All this time, you didn’t do a single productive thing. And it’s been, what, hours? Days?

Or maybe you go another route. You write down every little thing you need to do in a day, like “Wake up”, “Make coffee”, “Take out the trash”, and “Cook lunch”. Instead of putting in work, you’re clicking away in your app, completing a bunch of things that make you seem productive.

But are you really productive? Or are you just focusing on unimportant things?

How to Actually Stay Productive

Getting things done is dirty work. It’s unpleasant. No matter how many fancy labels you put on a task, the core remains the same. If that task is “Write 1000 lines of code” or “Put together a new shelf”, at some point, you have to close the app, roll up your sleeves, and get to work.

This is what productivity actually is—doing things.

Productivity is not setting up the perfect system. It’s not organizing your to do list. It’s not planning your week or organizing tasks by energy level. The only thing that determines your productivity is how many important things you get done in a day, week, or a month.

I bet you that even if you didn’t have an app, you’d somehow remember to wake up, drink coffee, and feed yourself. I even bet that if your trash gets full and starts stinking up your apartment, you’d remember to take it out without an app reminding you of it.

If you’re spending more time glued to the screen than actually getting things done, maybe you should change your approach.

Look, if you’re somebody like Elon Musk, who has to simultaneously run multiple companies, you can get a pass on having a complex, interconnected system. But even then, you don’t need it. People have built cities, cured diseases, and made scientific breakthroughs before computers, phones, or apps even existed.

Sure, apps give us a lot of flexibility. But they are designed to keep us engaged.

Stephen King once proclaimed that an “idea book” is the fastest way to immortalize bad ideas. Good ideas are the ones you keep coming back to. Most ideas you have should never even make it on your to do list. Your time should be spent on few, most important tasks.

My to do list used to have hundreds of tasks, split into a dozen categories. It was a nightmare. Even when I was making progress, I felt overwhelmed. No matter how many tasks I crossed off, there were hundreds more waiting for me.

So I started from a blank slate. I opened up a blank page, and decided to write—from memory—everything I needed to do.

I wrote down seven tasks. Seven.

I genuinely couldn’t remember more. Only then did I consult my older list and pick out a few more important tasks I did simply forget. The final result was a list of around twenty tasks.

Look, I’m not hating on any of these apps.

I use them myself. I work in IT. I’m a nerd for this stuff. Most of the time, the developers are doing amazing work to provide better tools for us. But if you’re spending more time tinkering with the tool, instead of using it as intended, it’s not the app’s fault.

Imagine somebody came to your house to fix something, and then spent four hours messing around with their hammer, adjusting the grip, and cleaning it up. You’d think they were crazy.

Use the hammer, dammit, and bang some stuff!

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