Omnifocus. Todoist. Google Tasks. Things. AnyDo. Asana. I’m a sucker for productivity apps — and judging from the 1.2 million-strong r/productivity community on Reddit, I’m far from alone. Chances are, if you have a smartphone, you’ll have used (or attempted to) some variation of the above as well.
Digital productivity apps are great, aren’t they? They promise to transform you into some super-efficient being who moves smoothly from timeboxed task to timeboxed task, making the most of your time and granting you laser-sharp focus. They’re marketed as the ultimate tool to help you master your life and run your day.
… Until one day, you wake up and find that they’re running you instead.
There’s a reason paper planning and bullet journaling became so popular in recent years — the same reason #slowliving has become a thing, and someone is charging USD 98 for a bit of wood and paper marketed as an analog productivity tool.
Turns out, too much productivity—especially when enabled by technology—burns us out. It doesn’t help when you have notification reminders, automatic task rollover, and open calendar scheduling — features that were designed for convenience, but now chafe on an overtired mind. With potential AI features like suggesting tasks based on your current health readout, the feeling of suffocation can get even worse.
It’s about time the productivity industry took a step back from time management and looked at mental well-being. So far, only one productivity app I’ve tried has that aspect: Sunsama. (Nope, this isn’t a plug for them, and we’re not earning anything from the link. But we’d be happy to. Hit us up, Sunsama!) The app has a refreshing take on productivity, focusing on limiting your work for the day rather than cramming as much as possible into your time.
It does this via a few features: setting your work hours, establishing an overall daily work limit, and then giving you a warning when you try to put in an unrealistic number of tasks for the day that can’t fit into your designated hours. Mine flashes a yellow box: “Warning: Overcommitted. Move task to another day?” It’s a relief to have someone remind me that I’m putting too much pressure on myself.
But you don’t really need an app to do so. It’s more a mindset shift and a daily habit we need to practice. For some, it’s moving away from digital systems and back to paper — sticky notes, a bullet journal, anything that doesn’t have a hundred notifications and an accompanying “alert” sound. For others, it might be setting boundaries with themselves and their colleagues by having a separate work device or disabling open calendar scheduling.
After all, the whole point of productivity isn’t actually about efficiency or time management. It’s about taking back control of our lives. And by keeping that higher goal in mind, we can ensure we remain the masters of our systems, not the other way around.
All opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and do not represent the views of KrASIA. Got a comment or feedback? Send it in to [email protected]