Why Most Productivity Apps are Secretly Failing You at Work

Since the early 2000s, productivity apps have grown in popularity. But we’re not necessarily more productive than we were before. Here are some reasons why.
Matthew Ritchie
September 23, 2022
9 minute read

Get more things done in less time.

That’s what today’s productivity apps promise to their users. And there are a lot of them, with 7.1 billion productivity apps downloaded by Americans alone in 2020.

The desire to organize and manage our time better isn’t a new phenomenon—Leonardo Da Vinci was using to-do lists to remember what he needed to get done as far back as 1490.

But since the early 2000s, time-saving innovations—like digital to-do lists, project management tools, cloud storage systems, and meeting scheduling tools—have grown in popularity, helping us do everything from streamlining daily tasks to sharing information with others. 

Despite their prominence, productivity continues to decline in most industrialized nations while burnout is increasing.

There are many reasons why. But here are two that are often less explored: we’re using too many apps, and the tools designed to help us sometimes do the opposite.

Here are five reasons why productivity apps may be secretly failing you:

1. There are too many of them, and they inadvertently spread information everywhere

Picture the common workplace. There are computers. There are people. And those people make up teams trying to work together.

Software often plays the role of the middleman (especially now that so many of us work remotely), facilitating everything from complex tasks to simple interactions. As a result, the average workplace now has more apps than they know what to do with.

A 2021 report from Okta found that the average business uses 88 apps (an increase of 16 business applications from their previous survey in 2016). Meanwhile, Asana found that the average U.S. knowledge worker uses 9-10 apps daily.

The types of apps you use could vary depending on your role. But in a 2021 report with Cornel University’s Ellis Idea Lab, Qatalog discovered that the “maze of tools”—from messaging apps and cloud storage systems to project management software—that people use on a daily basis is a major time-suck, with the average person spending 59 minutes (or roughly five hours a week) looking for information.

And that has a few unintended consequences, namely…

2. They force us to annoy one another

The larger an organization, the more information is dispersed across various apps and departments. And when that information is hard to find, we often rely on Slack and Zoom to touch base with co-workers in the hopes of clarifying directives or finding what we’re looking for, which eats up a huge chunk of our time and mental energy.

According to Qatalog, that’s because 57% of people are unsure what apps other departments are using, don’t know what others are working on (62%), and have to ask at least two co-workers an average of five times a day to find information.

On the flip side, in an attempt to clarify what’s being worked on and where information is located, 53% of people admit to making updates on the status of tasks or where to find things even when they’re not sure it’s entirely necessary.

That’s a lot of noise.

3. Productivity apps unintentionally promote context switching

Reaching a flow state is essential to getting stuff done and being healthy, happy, and creative. But there’s no greater productivity torpedo than switching between apps.

When we can’t find what we’re looking for or figure out what needs to get done, we often find ourselves jumping between apps looking for clarity before inevitably (as mentioned above) bothering someone else for help.

Again, Qatalog has some eye-opening stats on the subject. They state that 43% of people report spending too much time switching between online tools and, once they’re sidetracked, taking nine and a half minutes on average to return to an optimal workflow, derailing their focus.

4. They don’t easily adapt to most team’s workflows

As Wired points out, most productivity apps—and to-do list apps, in particular—are opinionated: how you tackle your tasks is inefficient, and they have the solution.

But according to personal productivity expert Maura Thomas, having the right productivity tool is only half the battle.

In a Harvard Business Review article, she details how most companies roll out new software hoping to improve efficiency with only technical training on how to use it—making employees proficient in how to use the software but not necessarily more productive.

According to Thomas, that’s because—whether it’s as a company or on a personal level—there’s not enough focus on learning the proper workflow.

“[We] go in search of the latest and greatest app or the fancy new software, hoping it will be the magic bullet to solve [our] time management challenges,” she writes. “My clients tell me they install the program, test it out for a day or two, but then never open it again. I know this isn’t because the tool is bad. It’s simply because they didn’t have the framework of a workflow methodology.”

Each organization and individual is different. Recognizing that can help you make the most out of a productivity app while ensuring it’s beneficial and adaptable enough to suit your (or your team’s) needs.

5. They don’t always free your mind to think clearly

Most apps that let you create to-do lists or manage daily tasks don’t go far enough. They help you list out what needs to get done, but not how to get there. And that can harm our mental well-being and ability to think clearly.

In Wired, contributing editor Clive Thompson details the Zeigarnik effect: a “quirk of the human mind” that explains why when a task goes unfinished, we can’t stop thinking about it.

“When we face all that undone stuff—emails to write, calls to return, people to contact, friends to check in on, memos to draft, children to help—it’s like being a waiter serving a hundred tables at once,” he writes. “If you’ve found yourself in bed at 2 am with your brain screaming at you about that thing you didn’t do, that’s a Zeigarnik moment.”

According to Thompson, all creators of to-do apps understand in some way that this is a key challenge their products face.

But, to steal a phrase from productivity expert David Allen, to truly “get things done,” you need to plan, edit, and refine how you’ll accomplish your goals. And basic task management tools like Google Keep don’t necessarily facilitate that.

“It can take hours,” Thompson writes, “but once you’ve done that hard work, you can plow through the tasks, one after another, with the metronomicity of a Chrysler line robot.”

And while no one wants to feel like a robot at work, you must admit: they sure are productive.

For more productivity insights and advice, visit the Bloks blog.

Whether you’re a sales superstar, in-demand consultant, busy recruiter, or someone who simply needs to schedule a lot of meetings, one thing’s for sure—you’ve probably booked a lot of them over the past two years.

Hybrid work has forced the majority of our meetings online, and while we appreciate being able to wear sweatpants during normal work hours, the time-consuming ballet that is sharing your availability, finding a time to meet, and adding it to your calendar isn’t quite as enjoyable. 

Speaking with everyone from solopreneurs to seasoned professionals, it seems like a lot of people find meeting scheduling software either costly, impersonal, or just plain boring. And Calendly and other alternatives don’t always cut it.

We hear you. 

Everyone is different, and so is how they work. Making good first impressions is important, and you shouldn’t have to pay a premium for them or basic customizations and integrations with your meeting booking system.

Nook Calendar’s meeting proposal feature is already used by tons of high-performing teams for selecting and proposing meeting times outside of their organization. 

Now, we’re making things even easier by letting you build personal pages with shareable calendar-booking links, right in Nook Calendar. Add them to your LinkedIn profile, email signature, website, or messages when finding a time to meet.

We think it’s the best meeting scheduling software out there, and we’re excited for you to give it a try, so let’s get started.

Here’s How to Set Up a Personal Booking Page in Nook Calendar

First off, if you’re new to Nook Calendar—hello! (If you’re already a Nook user, you can skip ahead.)

You’re going to start by syncing your calendar—either from Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook—and entering your work email address.

Once you approve any necessary permissions, you’ll set up your People Bar. Search for any connections and add the people you interact with the most when scheduling meetings.

From there, you can add any additional calendars you want to see (add your personal one, if you like, to further prevent any overlaps when scheduling meetings), integrate with Zoom (so you can launch calls straight from your calendar), and choose your preferred display setting—select Match OS, Light Mode, or Dark Mode.

Launch Nook Calendar, and you’re ready to set up your online meeting scheduler.

Now, the fun begins

You’re going to start by claiming your unique URL for sharing your meeting availability page. 

Your first name appears by default, but really, it can be anything. We recommend using your full name (e.g., /john-smith).

(You can always change your URL in the future, as long as it’s still available.)

From there, you want to complete your profile. 

Your profile pic is automatically pulled in from your Microsoft or GCal account.

But you can add your name, job title, welcome message, and links to social media profiles or professional website, so guests know a bit more about you when booking a meeting. 

Then, you can start setting your weekly availability.

Nook Calendar defaults to traditional time blocks—9–12 a.m. and 1–5 p.m. These are the hours someone can book a meeting from your personal page. Adjust them based on your availability. 

Your timezone is automatically set to your local time, but you can change it if you primarily work with people in a different timezone and it’s better to visualize that when setting your availability.

Choose which calendar you want to accept meetings in—it can only be booked in one, but Nook Calendar will automatically reference your availability in other calendars you’ve synced to prevent double-bookings when someone schedules a meeting.

Now, it’s time to set up some paramaters. 

You can set up your preferred meeting duration in either 15, 30, 45-minute or one-hour increments (or a custom time).

You can also add buffer time to give yourself a break between meetings, or set a lead time of up to 24 hours, so no one can book any last-minute meetings.

And you’re all set! You can preview what the page will look like, then share it with contacts or add it to your LinkedIn profile (we suggest adding it as a secondary URL), email signature, and anywhere else you do business.

Once someone books time in your calendar, you’ll receive an email and get a notification in the Pulse.

If you ever need to make any changes, you can access your personal meeting page in the bottom of the Magic Panel and make any adjustments—either to your weekly availability or personal information.

You can also remove your availability by simply creating events in Nook Calendar and marking them as Busy to block off time and prevent any bookings.

Nook Calendar’s new personal pages for sharing meeting availability are available on Web, iOS, and Android. 
If you have any questions or thoughts, we’d love to hear them. Hit us up in our Slack Community or contact us through Support.