Two of the most common questions I get asked are “How good is random app?” and “is it worth switching if I want to use it for random purpose?”.
I often do a double-take because the person asking intends to use the app for a completely unrelated purpose.
This is unfortunately more common than most people think.
Perhaps it has something to do with how apps are marketed nowadays, but there is a lot of confusion around selecting the right tool for the right purpose, when it comes to apps and productivity.
We don’t really see this confusion elsewhere — in the kitchen you would never use a chef’s knife to stir things or a wooden spoon to dice vegetables.
So why do people try to do the same things with their apps?
Why People Don’t Use the Right Tool for the Right Purpose
The main reason people don’t use the right tool for the right purpose is because they don’t understand how knowledge work actually works.
In knowledge work, you may have:
- Graphics, including diagramming, photo editing and vector graphics.
- And more.
Not surprisingly, there are apps that correspond to each of these.
We should really be trying to use an app for its intended purpose, and not try to wrestle to “make it work” for something else.
For example, Bear is great for notes and information… but it isn’t really designed for writing.
Ulysses is great for writing… but it isn’t designed for storing information.
Sublime Text is great for coding and text notes… but not much else.
Now some people may think, “but I can install so-and-so plugin and…” but now we are getting complex. We are trying to make an application work for a purpose that it was not created for.
And yes, you technically can use these apps for “off label” purposes, but it isn’t usually effective or efficient, and you will struggle with workarounds and add-ons.
I see this frequently with task management and project management apps where people have complex custom scripts written to do something that the app was not designed for.
Not only is that not using the app for its intended purposes, that is creating a fragile system that is liable to break under pressure.
It is much better to use the right app, for the right purpose.
Controversy: All-in-One Apps
You’ve likely seen a number of all-in-one apps floating around online.
I like to think of these apps as blursed — both blessed and cursed.
On the one hand, simplicity (and cost savings) are good.
On the other hand, most of the functionality within these apps is limited to “the basics”.
For example, a proper task management app will let you organise your tasks into projects and have tasks be repeatable.
Good luck trying to get that to work in Notion or Evernote without workarounds.
If you go from a single-purpose app that was built for a specific purpose to an all-in-one app, you’ll discover these limitations quite quickly.
Now if for some reason you don’t mind the limitations and you can make the all-in-one app work for your workflow, that’s great. There’s a certain elegance and simplicity to having everything in one place.
But if we are truly aiming for productive flow, there are always going to be structural limitations to all-in-one apps.1Like developer focus on certain features over others.
Right Tool, Right Purpose in Productivity
If we take our idea of using the right tool for the right purpose and extend it to the broader realm of productive flow, we see that it still applies.
If you have a problem with motivation, you don’t use a time tracking system to solve that. You need a motivation system.
While many of the blocks of the time management stack can assist with a range of productivity problems, often there is one specific system that helps with a given problem.
For focus, you need a focus and distractions system.
What To Do Next
Use the right tool (or app) for the right purpose.
Want to know what some of these tools are?
- Like developer focus on certain features over others.