Here's why productivity tools waste your time.


Yesterday's WSJ article, "How Productivity Tools Can Waste Your Time" highlights an uncomfortable fact: the infinitely expanding universe of systems, apps, books, and gizmos doesn't seem to be making people more productive.

An explosion in technology aimed at helping people manage their time and tasks may actually be making it harder.

New productivity products "have skyrocketed in the last couple of years. There is way too much out there to make sense of it all," says Whitson Gordon of Los Angeles, editor in chief of Lifehacker, a website on using technology to be more productive.

Speaking as a guy who has published his own time management book last year (A Factory of One), I can say with confidence -- and some degree of knowledge -- that most people love my ideas, but they struggle to actually implement them. As a result, they wallow in the same quagmire of email overload, metastasizing to-do lists, and behind-schedule projects as those who haven't read my book.

The failure of most people to implement classic time management ideas begs for a root cause analysis. I see two causes. First, there's the failure of self-discipline. As the WSJ article puts it,

Improving your productivity isn't about searching for a better app or finding the right software. "Ultimately it comes down to managing yourself."

If people struggle to diet, or exercise, or quit smoking, why should it be any easier for them to shed their lousy time management habits? The self-discipline required is formidable -- and most people, frankly, don't have it.

Second, and perhaps more important, is our work environment. You can try to establish new, more productive behaviors, but the ugly truth is that you'll get steamrolled by the bureaucratic inertia of your organization. Let's say that you vow, in Julie Morgenstern's words, to "never check email in the morning." (Pretty much every productivity coach recommends that.) Sounds great. But that resolution will last only until your boss chews you out for missing a critical email that she sent at 8:15am. The same holds true for running better meetings, for throwing out old/obsolete files, etc. If your work environment punishes you for productive behavior, you'll go back to the old ways of working.

So, before you download new apps or buy new books, consider whether or not you're disciplined enough to actually implement the ideas, and figure out how to get your company (or at least your boss) to change expectations.

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