Loductivity Software

Some productivity apps are conducive to critical thinking, which as it turns out affects your productivity. Some are not. But boy are they well marketed!

It seems to me that there are two kinds of productivity applications.

One seems utterly simple upfront but it turns out that this simplicity lets complex arrangements emerge from it.

The other seems a little complicated at first, but with a little orientation, it’s apparent complications eventually reduce to simple output.

Take Microsoft or Google’s to-do apps for instance. For someone who has never used a task manager of this type before, there may be a slight learning curve on how to setup a task with its due dates and labels. Once you learn how, the process becomes mind-numbingly simple, setting up a task becomes almost muscle memory.

The price you pay for this streamlining of activity is loss of cues that aid critical thinking. Unless all your tasks are of the type “remember to empty trashcan” you want some friction in getting your tasks into your system. Something that will slow you down just enough to think about the task you are articulating.

The best kind of friction in this case, is offered by a blank sheet of paper.

Which leads us to the other type of software, the one that seems simple at first glance.

Say Gedit, my favourite text editor. It offers you a blank slate when you start. Too simple you say?

Well, it doesn’t have form elements like a text field for task name, urging you on to complete it and then move on to the due date field. Forms with fields demand to be completed as a whole. They urge you forward with UI driven sense of urgency, and only when you fill out all the fields in the form, is the task created.

With the blank sheet of the text editor there are no runway lights guiding your task articulation. Its just you and the cursor and a blank page. If blank pages terrify you, that’s good. You are in the right frame of mind to articulate a task. That is – not flippantly.

Also consider how the choice of a text editor as a productivity aid allows for complex possibilities in action. I can use the to-do.txt format when i want to see my task syntax highlighted. I’ll also mix in Markdown syntax because the tasks are alongside my notes (the way tasks ought to be) and then interlink the contents of this note with another note somewhere else in my computer, using Zim-wiki’s syntax.

I can annotate, fold, append, cross reference and generally manipulate the text in a .txt file six ways to Sunday and it will still work with me on every device I own.

Apparently simple at first glance, but complex possibilities emerge from it.

Open ended software like the text editor are highly conducive to thinking, because they are plastic, operate in many contexts, are easy to work with and bend to our will.

Specialised software like todo apps have low conductivity, meaning they force you to atomise your task into tiny components. (name/description/date/label/reminder) This disrupts flow and mischaracterizes the nature of tasks, turning the end result into pithy directives to yourself.

I think hurriedly written tasks of this type can cause you anxiety if you look at them a few hours later, when you’re in a different frame of mind. (I think anxiety partly arises from their lack of built-in context, which makes task switching harder.)

Some people collect hundreds of these types of ‘tasks’, in list format and ‘process’ them everyday.

I shudder at that. I couldn’t.

Is it ok to call these types of applications lowductivity apps?