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While it’s great to find the right app (for me Todoist) or system (for me the Heptabase method) leaning too heavily on them can take on a life of its own, especially when it focuses on quantity — ticking as many items off your to-do list as possible – rather than quality — prioritising the tasks that will have the biggest impact on your goals – according to Dan Ariely, a psychology and behavioural economics professor at Duke University.
Take, for example, trying to reach “inbox zero”. When the goal is finishing every day with no emails in your inbox, the incentive is to spend a lot of time checking your email and creating elaborate filing systems. But all this leads to is having a blank screen for an inbox. It doesn’t actually achieve any larger priorities. It may even be a waste of time. People who use folders to organise their emails do not find them any faster than people who just search for their emails, according to a study from IBM researchers.
Use just a couple apps and systems, and don’t stress about staying up to date on every new thing.
At some point, the diminishing returns of optimising our productivity systems turn negative. Quantifying ourselves through the use of apps and systems is stimulating and even addictive, but it can distract us from more cognitively demanding – and fundamentally more satisfying – work.
Instead: Be selective about the apps and systems you use.
Set your priorities offline. Then, use your favourite apps or systems as a way to break down and achieve your priorities. Use just a couple apps and systems, and don’t stress about staying up to date on every new thing. Choose apps based on whether they help you achieve your goals and not because you feel like you should be using the hot new app.