I am an organized person. I have to be. Writing is a job with deadlines and I have the working memory of an elderly goldfish. Gone are the days when I could store a whole week’s worth of events, deadlines, and schedules in my head. Now all those things have to be tangible somewhere.
The problem is that there isn’t a single app that can meet most of my needs. By my count, there are at least 10 productivity apps I use every day to function – and they’re all worthless.
There is Air table for work projects so my editors can see what I’m working on – just one of the project management apps I’ve used in my career. There has also been Base camp, Asana, Trello, and in one case a rickety Excel sheet that is maintained with sweat and tears. They all do the same thing: they provide a 360-degree view of a team’s projects, completion status, and deadlines. And yet none have ever been enough to be the sole means of keeping an editorial calendar each of the publications I’ve ever worked for. There are all the time additional Google Docs, spreadsheets and Slack channels. I end up spending a good hour every day replicating the same workflows and information in different formats.
Most project management software also lacks an elegant built-in daily to-do list. These are bananas. No project is ever completed in one step. When I write a story, there’s testing and research, then there’s photography and art, then there’s the actual writing, followed by a multi-step editing and publishing process. Airtable, Asana, Trello – they’re fine for showing everyone my progress, but this isn’t it everything I am responsible for. There are dozens of subtasks, emails, and calendar events that Airtable can’t handle. That’s not going to work for my goldfish brain. So in the end I need a to-do app.
That led me down a rabbit hole to try several of the thousands of to-do apps out there. But no matter which ones I’ve tried, they have, at most, 75 percent of the features I need or want – and that’s how I ended up with not one, not two, not three, but four tasks apps.
There is Focus To Do for work and personal errands. It’s a mishmash of a Pomodoro timer and to-do list — which has been vital in shaking off my pandemic-induced brain fog. Then there is Todoist. While I love Focus To-Do, the one thing it doesn’t do is let me make lists that are not time-based or integrate with my email app. That’s why I still use Todoist to bridge the gaps in Focus To-Do and Airtable.
You know what’s worse? Neither of these apps are useful for inventory management, nor for managing my review units and my pantry. They are also useless in maintaining databases. That’s why I use Concept, an app I have an intense love-hate relationship with. While Notion is highly customizable and comes with a ton of ready-to-use templates, it has a giant learning curve. I spend four spending hours building multiple databases to keep track of my bylines, resources, product inventory, running logs, test logs, and meal planning. It works pretty well, but it’s also a total time to maintain because god knows I don’t have the willpower to figure out how to automate this thing.
A few months ago I was so fed up with everything that I ended up buying an old-fashioned planner. Unlike using countless apps, I was able to keep track of all this information in one reference book. But the problem with analog notebooks is that the information contained in them cannot be easily shared with people or employees. So again, finally I added yet another productivity tool to my arsenal.
A unique productivity tool that works for everyone is a unicorn – beautiful, perfect and completely fictional
This is just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t even dabbled in calendar apps, note-taking apps, video conferencing apps, transcription apps, or communication apps like Slack. (By the way, every time someone creates a new Slack or Discord channel, a part of my soul dies.) But the story is the same. I end up trying a bunch of different apps looking for the one that can do it all, only to settle for the one I hate the least that does 75-85 percent of what I need it to do.
I know there is no perfect solution. A unique productivity tool that works for everyone is a unicorn – beautiful, perfect and completely fictional. Yet there must be some kind of middle ground between an unattainable fantasy and the current landscape. I’d happily settle for two, maybe three apps. Honestly, less than 10 is all I ask.
Until then, my phone and laptop will be a cluttered mess of productivity apps that only do half their job.