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Is it possible to have “no apps productivity?” Can you really get things done without using apps?

In today’s fast-paced world, it might seem impossible to get things done without using technology. Just about everyone has the latest app and gadget, right? … some piece of technology that helps them with doing things like finding their favorite recipes, managing their tasks, and staying on top of big projects.

In fact, I’m one of those people.

The Upside to Using Productivity Apps

I love apps. They have helped me to focus on priorities and collaborate with others easily. It’s a love affair that I don’t think will be ending anytime soon.

If you’re like me, you love getting to know apps and figuring out if they can really do what they say they can do. And, it’s not hard to find several that offer tons of helpful features.

No matter the task, there’s likely to be an app that can assist you with getting it done. In fact, you can find one that will help you manage your:

  • Time, calendar, and schedule
  • Contacts
  • E-mail
  • Money
  • Social media
  • Presentations and slidedecks
  • Notes, writing, and blogging
  • Graphics and video creation
  • Travel
  • Project tasks
  • And, so much more!

For example, one popular task management app, Toodledo, let’s you share tasks with others. You can also create sub-tasks. This will come in handy when you’re working on projects that have multiple steps. Sounds like all projects, right? is an app with similar features that boasts location-based reminders as well as an assistant. The Assistant or smart robot (with the help of some humans) will “take care of your tasks so you can spend time on the things that matter.” Two words: time saver.

The Downside to Using Productivity Apps

Unfortunately, for all the good they do, apps can be a bit tricky.

  • Overwhelming selection to choose from. Which app should you choose? There are lots of them that do the same thing. How will you know which one will work for you? Searching and sifting through tons of apps is a rabbit hole you don’t want to go down unless you want to lose a lot of time while ignoring your priorities.
  • Figuring out how it works. Even when you do find the perfect app that works well with your brain and your workflow, there may be so many (super cool) features that it can become confusing, especially if you’re not as comfortable using technology. You might end up spending more time trying to figure out how to use the app instead of being productive — even if you’re someone who likes tech.
  • The developer goes MIA. Sometimes app developers keep your favorite apps up to date and add new, clarified features. This is a mixed bag because you will likely have to learn how to use the new systems and features. And, sometimes those developers go missing in action. As a result, you won’t get any support with an app that you now love and use. This will mean that you’ll have to start over and find a new app. Two words: time suck. I discovered this when my favorite calendar app, Sunrise, went away.

2 Simple Ways to Get Things Done Without Apps

So, how do you keep your productivity high if the technology learning curve is too difficult or time-consuming? And, what if you just don’t get along with apps?

Rather than running after the latest productivity app and forcing yourself to like and understand it, get back to basics. To do that, here are two very simple, “no apps productivity” strategies. Whether used separately or combined in a specific workflow, they can help you stay on top of your tasks and projects.

To Do List No Apps Productivity
I use this spiral-bound notebook by Bloom Daily Planners to write down my to do’s. You can use your favorite notebook or notepad.

1. Use a paper to do list

I’ve used many, many apps that I like, but when life is whirling around me, I reach for my favorite notebook and pen.

There is something cathartic about the act of writing and when I get everything out of my head, I feel calmer and more prepared to manage my day. There’s also no need to worry about my how long the battery on my laptop or smartphone will last.

Another plus is that when you write things down — rather than entering them in an app – you tend to remember them. Check out this Lifehack post for more on that. And, go grab your favorite pen and notepad.

2. Get an accountability partner

Usually, when you announce – out loud – to the people in your life that you’re going to do something (e.g., stop smoking, start a business, learn a foreign language, etc.), they check in with you.

They will also:

Ask how things are going.

Ask you when you’re going to get that project off the ground.

Keep you accountable.

Nudge you if you start slacking.

Support you.

And, when you have to report on a regular basis to a designated accountability partner, you will likely get moving on those really important projects or Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAGs).

Keep in mind that an accountability partner is not going to tell you what you want to hear. Accountability partners don’t coddle. They will, however, ask you hard questions, put a flame to your feet, encourage you do what you say you were going to do, and help push you forward.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve had four accountability partners one of whom I’m working with right now.

Your Homework (yes, you have homework)

To Do List No Apps Productivity |
Get your tasks out of your head and remember to take a break!

Here’s what you need to do now — find a way to incorporate these “no apps productivity” strategies in your usual workflow.

I’ll help you get started with some suggested first steps and timeframes:

  1. Pick a paper-based notebook or pad to write down your to do’s (spend 10 minutes doing this)
    • When using your paper task list, include the date each day
    • Pick a place with you will always keep your notebook
    • Write down your top three priorities for the day only
  2. Brainstorm three people who would make excellent accountability partners (spend up to 20 minutes doing this)
    • Narrow list down to 1 person — write a pro vs. con list (spend up to 30 minutes doing this)
    • Contact the person you’ve selected (spend up to 20 minutes doing this)

Keep in mind that you’ll need to:

  • Set up — and stick to — a regular call schedule with your accountability partner
  • Formalize your goals — write down your short- and long-term goals and steps to attain them
  • Figure out what success (end result) will look like
  • Periodically assess how well your accountability meetings are working and make adjustments as needed

Final Thoughts

So, you might be thinking that apps are just not worth the bother. Please shove those thoughts aside because apps can actually be pretty awesome for you and also skyrocket your team’s productivity across a number of areas.

That said, if you have a tendency to get sucked into figuring out to use apps, you just might want to have someone show you how to use them or simply step away from them for a bit. Then, you can start raising your “no apps productivity” game.

Sound good? What do you think? If you like the idea of no “apps productivity” strategies or actively use them, tell me why in the comments.

Update: This post was published in Jn 2012 and refreshed in July 2017.