Every once in awhile an article pops up about productivity apps. The competition between websites is on for who will expose the best productivity apps on the market. Most apps are recycled oldies that ruled the markets for years and few are newbies that compete on becoming the next rising productivity star. The influx of productivity apps made me think about productivity as a concept. There seems to be an inherent belief in our western culture that “more is better,” even though ‘more’ is not always suitable for the product.
While sifting through the numerous lists of the best productivity apps, or productivity apps for entrepreneurs, I noticed that none of them ever tried to define the elements that make up a “good” productivity app. So in order to get to the bottom of things, I think we should start from the beginning: what does “productivity” actually mean?
According to this definition, productivity is all about efficiency. Being productive means supplying as little input as possible for as much output as possible.
From this definition it seems like productivity is all about efficiency. Being productive means to supply as little input as possible and get as much output as possible. So the question is all about how can we put less in and get more out, right? By that rational a productivity app should assist us in accomplishing whatever task is at hand in the most quick, cost effective, simple and easy way possible or in short: in the most efficient way possible.
But wait, isn’t quick, cost effective, easy & simple all the same thing? “Quick” clearly deals with time but so as all other three: doing something that is easy or simple for us, saves us time, just as with stuff that is cost effective - because after all time is money and money equals time.
So by now you must be thinking: theories are all nice and dandy but how can I use this knowledge to improve my own app? Let’s go over a few elements that characterize some of the most popular productivity apps:
1. ENHANCE ABILITIES
As humans we are limited in our abilities and capacities. A good productivity app should support us where we are most likely to fail.
Example 1: tedious work. Humans are not very good at doing repetitive work. An app that helps us automate the repetitive things we do day-in-day-out and leaves us more time to do more important stuff we are good at, will help us be more efficient.
Don’t procrastinate - automate! IF lets you automate your actions by taking out tedious work. If you post a picture on Instagram, it can be automatically stored to dropbox, or your phone can automatically tweet every time you add a song to your Spotify playlist.
Example 2: limited memory. As humans, our memory is limited. It’s not always the case that we forget stuff, but we forget where we stored it in our brains - we simply don’t have a very efficient indexing system (ask any memory guru).
Machines are masters at storing and retrieving information in a very efficient way. An app that will remember lots of tiny details and help us find stuff quickly and easily, will help us be more efficient. Wunderlist helps you remember your ideas and to-do lists, freeing up your working memory for other tasks.
Key takeaway: find things people aren’t good at and make your app support exactly those things.
2. Instant gratification or gain
“Everyone needs a motive”, is the first rule of thumb for good detectives. In everyday life it’s no different: people do things only if they have a good reason for it. Take Yelp: it instantly helps you find high quality services, shops and restaurants you would otherwise be oblivious to.
Key takeaway: If your app helps one instantly accomplish a task or solve a problem, it will certainly win the audience’s hearts.
3. Thoughts into bits
People and machines operate differently so a good productivity app should be an effective interface between human thoughts and digital bits. Google Docs helps you easily transfer your thoughts into written digital documents.
Key takeaway: apps serve as an interface between man and machine - make this interface as simple and intuitive as possible and the users will come running.
4. Get more done
The basic rule of productivity: get more done in less time. MailBox is a completely redesigned inbox app that makes email light, fast, and mobile-friendly. It’s UI is intuitive with handy features.
Key takeaway: in the world of productivity, faster is always better.
A productivity app should have “EASY” written all over it. Such app should feel natural and be easy, comfortable and intuitive to use. Google’s Keep, used for keeping notes, is very easy to use from the first moment - no manuals are needed to understand its intuitive UI and simple features.
“EASY” is one of the first commandments of a great app. Why? If the (complex) features of an app stand between your users and completing the task at hand, it does the opposite of making them productive.
Key takeaway: working on your productivity app? - keep things as simple as possible, your users will thank you for that by downloading and using your app.
6. Solve a specific task
There is only so much stuff an app can be good at. Instead of being a Jack of all trades, master of none, a productivity app that concentrates on solving one specific problem and working hard to perfect its solution, can expect to become popular among users.
Tangram is a mobile browser that allows you to not only start, but complete complex information tasks on your smartphone in minutes.
Key takeaway: spend some time on thinking what you’re helping your users solve. Once you have that, you will understand your user’s motivation for using your app. Work hard on keeping your app focused on solving that same problem your users have.
7. Anticipate human behavior
As much as we hate to admit it, we are all rather predictable creatures. We take the same route to work, we shop for the same stuff in the supermarket, we call the same people every day...
A productivity app should correctly anticipate human behavior based on previous experience in order to make app usage easier and more efficient.
Omni Swipe is a mobile launcher that cleverly anticipates and organizes your apps based upon importance and your past usage behavior.
Key takeaway: look for people’s usage patterns - they will let you predict people’s behavior and help you better serve your app’s purpose.
8. Easy to find
The amount of information we have to deal with every day is huge and if we trust the forecasts, it’s only going to increase.
Evernote lets you create notes and documents which you can later search through easily. The premium version lets you search inside Office documents and other attachments.
Key takeaway: if your app involves data, let your users access their data quickly and easily to keep them as productive as possible.
9. Minimal but meaningful
Pinpointing the essential parts of a product helps it be better fit to the task it was designed to accomplished. On the other hand investing in features that are nonessential, takes time and resources from the more important features.
Think about a Formula-1 racing car. The car itself costs millions but it is very spartan: the cockpit is cramped, the seat is tiny and only a small amount of gauges exist, from which the most important ones are right in front of the driver’s eyes. Every element in the car is there for one reason - to help the team win the race. Anything that’s not directly related to that will not be included in the car.
Key takeaway: Less is more! Try to think as minimalistic as possible (but not more than that) because anything you add might just come between your users and their productivity.
10. Turn to the lowest common denominator
A productivity app should be simple to understand and operate. The simpler it is, the less frustration users face when using your app. The less they are frustrated, the more users you will have that actually want to use your app.
Try to avoid complex UI controllers only because they are sleek and cool. Create intuitive stuff and use what people already know - no one will bother reading any instructions’ manual so as Seth Godin put it: “Don’t make me think”.
We all like things to simply work, to be easy and fluffy and sweet. So adapt your app to the human, and not vice versa - we all find it hard to change our habits. This is why a productivity app, aiming at boosting up our productivity, should adapt itself to our behavior and limitations.
Key takeaway: try to avoid frustrating your users. Make your productivity app as simple as using a hammer.
11. Speed up communication
The Internet not only improved communication between people, in the process it sped up the transfer of knowledge, commodities, money, opinions, emotions and much more.
Improving communication between people helps people become more productive. Slack keeps a team’s communication in one place, it’s instantly searchable and available wherever you go.
Key takeaway: create communication channels for your audience to use and search.
Let me summarize the above: productivity is all about getting more X done while using less Y and apps, if carefully put together, can assist us accomplish that.
We went together through the 11 things that we at WhereDat believe great productivity apps are made of, but feel free to add any of your own in the comments area below.
I didn’t mention WhereDat anywhere in this article but when developing WhereDat we always try to keep in mind the 11 properties mentioned above. Just in case you got so far in reading this ridiculously long article, here is shameless plug: feel free to download WhereDat using the button below!