How many apps do you need to be highly productive and efficient? Here’s the number.
Make sure you have enough tools to manage the following categories of your personal productivity setup.
5 Categories of tools for your Personal Productivity System.
- Task Management (including Projects and Goals Management)
- Time Management (events to attend, meetings, time allocated for various activities in your life)
- Notes Management / Ideas, PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) / Minutes / Journaling (including physical notes).
- Files Management (including physical resources), Document management.
- Communication — Email Management, People/Contacts Management, Chats, Social Media, etc.
Every tool out there in the world of personal productivity space falls under these 5 categories. Do not confuse the areas of life like finance, family, and work with this.
If you have an app that can manage your tasks and time (task manager and calendar) then it’s an added advantage. If an app can do all of the above 5, then you need to be very careful on choosing it. I wrote about this in my recent article Maslow’s hammer — The all-in-one tool. Using one (like Notion) for everything limits your approaches and reduces your quality of work.
How many apps or tools do you need to use for optimal performance?
Minimalism is better, but optimal-ism is even better. You need different tools to handle different jobs. Even though you don’t want to, admit you need it, if you want to function optimally. That is, do more with less energy. In short to be efficient.
Because at the end of the day, these categories are interconnected and interwoven to complete one task. That is to make personal productivity effective and easy.
How to reduce the number of tools you use?
So do not count the number of tools you use. Count the time and energy needed to complete a task (that you frequently do) with and without the particular tool. Based on this evaluation choose to eliminate your tool or keep it with the tool bag.
There are two different sets of tool bags.
One bag contains the tools in the above 5 categories which you use multiple times in a day. Let’s call these ‘primary productivity tools’.
The other contains, “secondary tools”. The workflow tools do their job to support the process. These tools have significance and add up more value to the product. For example, a PDF editor, a screenshot annotator, an image resize, or a compressor. These tools are used infrequently. In some types of jobs, it plays a big role and is used frequently. But within the personal productivity frame, it is not the case.
Limit the number of primary tools. There’s no limit to your secondary workflow tools.
Is using too many tools a drag to your productivity speed?
Yes and no. It depends on the nature and workflow. If your workflow needs it, you need it, don’t deny it just because you don’t want to.
If your workflow doesn’t need it, it doesn’t. Do inject forcefully just because you love the app for its look and features.
Choose the tool by its function. Some tools are cool and fun to use. But they contribute little to your overall productivity.
A tool should not require more time to tweak it than to actually use it. Consider the ratio 1:100. Tweak it once, and use it 100 times. Then this is the tool that deserves to be in your tool bag.
If you spend more energy and time configuring and tweaking a tool than using it in the actual play, then this is the tool you need to throw away. Or in some cases, the tool must be used in the wrong way or for the wrong purpose.
Make sure your tools work together and work for one purpose.
As long as you can transmit data from one app to another tool (either manually or through automation) in a smooth way, then it is a suitable candidate for your toolset. For example, I can see my calendar events in my task manager. My notes app works with the calendar app. If I copy some content from my Notes app and paste them into the mail, it should be formatted properly. Likewise, there are numerous use cases. But you have to worry only about the use case which you are going to frequently use.
Even though you’re going to work in one app at a time, in reality, you’ll be switching between these often. So make sure the switching is easy and distinct.
Another caveat of using multiple tools is, a different version of data exists in different apps. To avoid this use one app (it may be your task manager, calendar, or your notes app) use one app in the above category as your “Source of Truth”. Read What is your SSOT (Single Source of Truth) app?
I like integrations. I kind of allergic to automation in my personal productivity system. Automations are good. I use them too. But it should replace my manual work (chores), not my intellectual work. I don’t want things that are important to happen on my back. This philosophy of mine is strict only to my “personal” productivity system.
I too use automation like my reading highlights (from web and read-it-later apps) sent to ReadWise. I like my posts delivered to Twitter followers at the right time. At the same time, I hate auto-schedulers that schedule time for my tasks in the task list.
As long as you don’t miss anything happening within your system, automation is cool. Automation is for us, for the system. It should not dictate what you should do (next).
Compromising the features
There’s no ‘perfect’ system. Once you create an ‘ideal’ system or app, the measuring point of ‘ideal’ moves two steps ahead. Practically, it is impossible to create or set up an ideal system.
If anyone is saying (especially on YouTube) that they have a super-perfect system, then they are lying. You can make it look perfect, but it can be never used perfectly.
Choose your compromise with logic. Not with emotions and influences. If you want to use an app that is very unpopular but does the job, then it is good to go with it rather than using a popular app that does it in a less optimal way.
Process defines the outcome.
Look for the beauty in what is created. Do not beatify your process unless you’re a YouTuber.
The process should be fun to use. After all, you’re going to use it every day. The process itself should be joyful. I agree, some apps’ design aesthetics are super cool to use. Make sure it does the job and doesn’t requires you to compromise a lot in your system to use that one app.
If you’re using an app, it shouldn’t feel that you’re using it. It should work with your natural flow (at the lease after a month’s use).
Focus on the product, the output. No one looks at how ugly the process is if the product is a masterpiece. I am not advocating using an ugly-looking process. I am just saying don’t worry about how your process looks in others’ eyes.
Keeping the process clean and making it look beautiful are two different things. Chefs don’t use fancy knives. They use an old knife (which may not look colorful) for the finesse of the cut and they do it in a very clean way.
Process defines the outcome. The product should define the process too. If your (cool) tools are not helping to beautiful and functional products, then using them or having them in your toolset is rather unnecessary.
So, how many apps?
I don’t have a number, because I don’t know what you expect from your productivity system.
Create a system that takes care of your day-to-day work. Make it your second nature, so you can focus on achieving your goals by using the system.
Adding too many apps to your primary tool bag will be counter-productive.
By the way, I like to mention that I’ve created a tool repo which is basically a note-to-self database of apps and my opinion on it. Check it out if you’re interested. If you haven’t subscribed to Snippetter, then do it now. It is free now.