The Pro and Cons of Using Productivity Tools

The Problem

As I sat down to draft the first version of this blog post, my phone and my smartwatch (which I generally leave on airplane mode while I work to avoid distractions) have already gone off three times. The first time was a gentle reminder telling me to stand up because I had been sitting for over 50 minutes. The second was another gentle reminder telling me to breathe and relax. The third was another reminder letting me know that I didn't use the running app yet today. Yes, it's become a problem. I thought that by putting my phone on airplane mode, I would be able to escape from this constant stream of notifications.  Little that I knew, my main distraction is not texts and emails. It's my very own productivity tools.

Before I continue with this blog post, I want to make one thing clear. I am a big believer that technology has changed our society for the better. I am the living proof that you can go from working a 9-to-5 job to living the life of your dreams in less than three years. Technology has democratized learning, and it broke the barriers to entry to so many business models. I own two brands and a successful import-export business, but I don't own any land or labour. I can do all my work from the comfort of my own home (or hotel). I don't have to worry about leasing machinery, buying trucks or delivering my own products. Everything is done for me via remote staff, third party apps and other automation tools. In a nutshell, I owe everything I have to the technology advancements of the past fifteen years. Now that I made this clear though let's talk about its dark side.

When I started working on my online business, I soon realized how many moving parts I needed to juggle. Sure, working remotely is great, but that doesn't mean that I don't work on a tight schedule. Just like anyone else, I too get overwhelmed at times. Some days I take long walks in silence. Some days I meditate. Other times I put on a funny TV show and let my mind relax that way.

In the past few years, though, I decided to outsource the majority of my day-to-day decisions to my technology as well. I guess I didn't want to rely on my spotty willpower to determine when to run, meditate, go to bed etc.

The Result

Initially, I felt liberated. I sat down to do my work, and conveniently, my phone will tell me when it was time to take a break. At the end of my break, the phone would go off again, signalling that it was time to get back to work. I felt like I had my own life coach. I wanted this type of feedback in my life for years. I kept on telling myself that, because of my lack of discipline, I needed an external motivator. 

While I still believe that these tools can be helpful, I also know that they can slow me down quite a bit. 

I had fallen for an easy way out. Instead of working on my shortcomings, I had decided to patch them up with a few apps in the hopes of never having to worry about them again. Life is not that easy, though. There are no shortcuts to building character, and that's for sure. My phone can remind me to go for a run, but it won't make me want to run. It can tell me to take a break, but it can't force me to concentrate. 

All the tools that I use are a great addition to one's productivity toolbox, but they are just supplements. If you don't have the right mindset and motivation, you won't be able to stick to your goals in the long run. These tools can help you build a strong character, but they are not a replacement for it.

If you are thinking about using them, or you currently are, I am not asking you to stop. I am merely inviting you to take a close look at yourself. Are you using these tools as a substitute for personal growth? Are you relying on them to do the heavy lifting for you? If the answer is yes, take a step back and work on yourself first. You can keep yourself accountable; you can stick to a plan even when you don't have a phone reminder to do so. Sure, it's not going to be easy at the beginning, but once you get used to it, nothing will be out of reach. Your most complex responsibilities will be just another task to tackle; your hardest choices, another opportunity to strengthen your character.

See? When you build your personality from within, you can use external tools to support you, but you are the one in control. You can decide when you need them, and you can quickly stop using them when you want to.

If you remain at their mercy, though, you will be enslaved by their continuous notifications. Every time you will try to focus on the task at hand, your productivity tools will interrupt you, and they will turn you into a pavlovian dog, triggering you with every notification. Their sleek interfaces and appealing messages will seem harmless at the beginning. But if you follow them blindly, you will find yourself in a game you never intended to play. 

Use these apps deliberately and consciously. There is nothing wrong with a bit of support and feedback. We all need it to get better. Whether it is a friend, a family member, or an app on your phone, it doesn't really matter, but you probably wouldn't let your friend wake you up in the middle of the night to tell you to burn another 30 calories (that's what happens to several people that wear their smartwatches in bed.) Be true to yourself, and If you notice that technology is slowing you down or taking over your life, down despair. You can learn how to be productive on your own.

Deniero Bartolini