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overcoming procrastinationTime management is something that almost all of us are striving for. For the longest time I’ve struggled with it, and in some aspects I still do. One of my many methods in “overcoming” my lack of time management was to use task management applications: Remember The Milk 8 Easy Ways To Manage Tasks With Remember The Milk 8 Easy Ways To Manage Tasks With Remember The Milk Read More , Producteev, Toodledo How To Customise Toodledo To Productively Get Things Done In Your Day How To Customise Toodledo To Productively Get Things Done In Your Day Read More , Todoist Todoist - Simple but Powerful Task Management App Todoist - Simple but Powerful Task Management App Read More , Wunderlist Wunderlist Syncs Your To-Do Lists Across Windows PC and Mac Wunderlist Syncs Your To-Do Lists Across Windows PC and Mac Read More … I’ve tried them all.

I began to realize the problem didn’t lie in the task management app itself, but more within the device I was using to access the app – my computer. Perhaps if apps functioned like sticky notes all over your computer screen, we’d be more productive with them. But then again, that too can be counterproductive. In my own experience, if you’re addicted to the computer like I am, task management apps can only worsen the problem.

Don’t Fool Yourself

Let’s get the most obvious out of the way first. We all convince ourselves of things. For me, it was that I was being productive when I wasn’t. I was using task managers to store all that I had to do, but there were a couple problems with my approach. First, I felt that they were going to make me more productive. If you’ve found yourself thinking this, then you’re in the same boat I was. The only thing that can make you more productive is you. You. Not some app in your web browser or smartphone.

Next is about consistency. This is another thing that task management apps can’t do – they can’t make you use them. They can make it easier to use them, and some do a great job at this, but they can’t force you to use the application or website and make you work on stuff. This gets back to you being productive, not the app. The app can assist in your productivity if you have the right things in order, but if you’re searching for ways to cure your procrastination, task management apps may only add on to it.

Productivity Versus “Customizitivity”

overcoming procrastination

“…Task management apps may only add on to it.” Those same words that ended the last section are exact words that represent this second lesson the most. And perhaps the previous part of not fooling yourself and this section overlap some, but there are some differences. To get right down to it, I often found myself procrastinating within my various task management applications. How could I do this with my work right in front of me? Well, it’s similar to doodling on that to-do list containing your day’s work to get done.

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As you already know, “customizitivity” [pronounced customize-it-iv-it-y] is a completely made-up word, derived from my vocabulary and inspired by “productivity” (or at least how it sounds). I’ve found it quite evident in my own experiences with task management apps though. Customizitivity is basically when you spend more time adding tasks, and tagging, sorting and labeling them than actually completing them and getting things accomplished. Another feature of customizitivity is that your task management app looks great and it appears like you have a great system, but your actual output level is another story.

stop procrastination

A similar practice to this (which can also be done on typical pen-and-paper to-do lists) is adding things just to cross them off. These are often small, insignificant tasks that you will really don’t need to “manage” and may even take more time to add them to the app than to actually do them.

Only Truly Beneficial While On The Go (With A Smartphone)

stop procrastination

One of the biggest problems that stood in the way of task management apps actually helping me, was my lack of a smartphone. Where most of these apps are very helpful on the go, I couldn’t take advantage of that feature because of my lack of an intelligent cellular device. Perhaps my look on task management apps would be a little different if I had one. I know when I do get one, I undoubtedly will try them and see how much of a difference they make. I can imagine the convenience of being able to type your shopping list on your laptop and then access it in the store. Or instead of writing down all of your errands and risk losing the paper, already have them in your phone and be able to access them throughout the day.

But this get’s back to my point. If you don’t have a smartphone (and still a lot of people don’t), task management apps are even more counterproductive than if you did.

Less Helpful For Non-Computer Tasks

If you’re sitting at your computer trying to “manage” tasks which can’t be done at a computer, you’re just prolonging your procrastination. Yet, somehow you’ve convinced yourself into thinking that you’re working on it. Sound familiar? It does to me. I’ve often practiced customizitivity with tasks that really don’t need to be done on my computer, yet I try to have my computer right beside me while doing them so that I can cross them off or “refer” to them on the task management app. This only aids in the distraction because I’ll likely (unless I’m super disciplined, which I’m not) have other tabs and programs open too: Facebook, TweetDeck, Gmail (oh, which is worse than any task management app as there are productive and non-productive topics intermingled which all require your immediate attention.).

Bottom line, if you do use task management software, perhaps you should try not including your non-computer related tasks to get away from it for a while. Plus, escaping technology is always good for your mind Take A Break From the Internet - You’ll Thank Yourself Later [Opinion] Take A Break From the Internet - You’ll Thank Yourself Later [Opinion] Oh, the Internet. One of the most world-changing inventions of the past century, perhaps even in all of human history. Never before has everything been so available in so little effort for so low a... Read More .

Internet Is (Almost) Always Required

stop procrastination

All computer programs can aid in distraction if you aren’t focused, but the Internet is a nightmare for getting things done. This to me is another reason why task management apps are harmful to productivity, because you’re at the direct source of distraction (for most apps, although some function fine without the Internet). It’s like putting your cubical right smack dab in the middle of a busy intersection and then thinking you’ll get your work done. Obviously that is illogical – it wouldn’t work. There would be commotion, dangers, let alone the wind blowing your papers every where. Need I go on? I thought so… so why do we dismiss the Internet? Well, it certainly requires a form of discipline and that’s not the task management apps fault. But sometimes, I’ve justified not turning off my Wi-Fi because I’m using a task management app. This isn’t always the case, but it can play a role. Then, before I know it, I’m off on some website I have no idea how I got to.

Conclusion

Perhaps I’m in this alone and no one will be able to relate to this article, but even so, I want it to be a warning to keep you from falling into this trap. I’m not blaming task management software. I’ve actually gotten to know the folks behind Producteev and think it is a wonderful application, but even with it, I’ve found myself falling into this trend. The trend is excusing procrastination, decreasing productivity and thinking I’m doing fine because I’m using one of the apps. I’ve also found that if you are busy enough and give yourself mental deadlines or block out spots in a schedule, your need for a task manager decreases. All of our workflows are different and some depend on task management apps to get everything done and stay organized. I can relate to that and there has been times where they were very beneficial. But my argument is, don’t rely on them and if you find yourself not really needing to add tasks, don’t make yourself do it just to use the application.

A final thought is that task management applications can be beneficial, if you have the right things in place.

Have you had a good or poor experience with task management apps? I’m not asking about specific ones, but just your overall experience with them in general. Do you have a different outlook on overcoming procrastination that you feel I’m missing in this article? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Image Credit: Monitor Covered In Sticky Notes via Shutterstock
Image Credit: Post It Note With Procrastinating Message via Shutterstock
Image Credit: Smartphone With Check Mark via Shutterstock
Image Credit: Internet Laptop via Shutterstock

  1. grldsndrs
    March 24, 2015 at 7:37 am

    3 years later, I wonder if you still feel the same way? My take on task management software is that they don't really address the reasons why we procrastinate.

    Difficult - the task seems hard to do; we naturally tend to avoid difficult things in favor of those which seem easy to us.

    Time-consuming - the task will take large blocks of time, and large blocks of time are unavailable until the weekend.

    Fears - everyone will know how you screwed up.

    etc

    I would like to see software that mitigates these mind states. Nearly all of the applications out there are poor duplications of the task managing capabilities in MS Outlook, so I don't bother with the vast majority. I still keep an eye out for those utilizing machine intelligence and location awareness. I think these really have potential to impact some of the underlying causes of procrastination.

  2. Douglas
    January 1, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Amazing article. It's a reminder that I'm responsibly for my productivity, not a to-do app. That reminds me of a simple productivity system that tells you to do the 3 most important things for the day and when you've done that you can give yourself permission to do whatever you want. I think it's a good method because you'll accomplish the things that require the most attention and effort - tasks which we tend to procrastinate. Thank you for the great insight !!

  3. marfa
    September 6, 2012 at 7:23 am

    Of course task management tools help a lot, but why not to use them when the project is very hard and complicated. It should not be used when you want to go shopping and create a shopping list. I use my tool Comindware task manager only at work when I am piled under the tasks.

  4. Aron Ray
    September 4, 2012 at 10:39 am

    In the use of systems management tasks no problem, on the contrary task management software applications increase the productivity of my work and groupware, for example, it makes http://www.teamwox.com, and does not need it smart enough to have an Internet

  5. Rich Mc.
    September 1, 2012 at 2:48 am

    None of the apps out to help me be better prepared or productive when going somewhere have helped I still end up forgetting things and eventually listen t me wife and just pull out the pen and paper and make my lists.....

  6. Michael Luchini
    August 31, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    I find that procrastination is more of a individuals work flow and personal productivity engine. People that procrastinate, do so for a reason. We procrastinate because the "rush" or "stress" of the impending deadline is what spurs action. Ask any true procrastinator (not just someone who is lazy) and they will tell you all the same thing, attempting to get something done too far ahead of time is just plain impossible. There is no creativity flow, motivation or any real work of value that gets produced when that deadline is not pushing up their sense of urgency..

    When it comes to productivity apps and tools, best to look at them from a different prospective. They are not going to "cure" someones procrastination, no more than you could "cure" someones personality. What they will do, and do well for procrastinators is, form a more organized prioritized and complete picture of what DOES need to get done RIGHT NOW. Because we leave things to the last minute, the propensity for things to be forgotten, overlooked and late is what you need to fight, not necessarily your "procrastination"

    -M

    • Tina
      September 1, 2012 at 2:05 am

      Love your take on the subject, Michael. And I'm certainly driven by deadlines myself. :) Although occasionally, I get things done ahead of time. It's rare, though.

  7. GrrGrrr
    August 30, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    i'm in the same boat as u r. what i found required is self-discipline.

  8. Paul
    August 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    I've fallen into the same traps you describe, Aaron. In addition, I do have a smart phone and have added and deleted a lot of productivity apps. What works for me is pen and paper - Franklin Covey style. Curiously enough through a MakeUseOf article from several years ago, I discovered diyplanner.com. You can find some nice pen and paper planner templates that are way cheaper than store-bought. I actually modified one I found on diyplanner in Excel to make it work for me.

    I set aside one hour each Friday to deal with my task list and planning. During the one hour I map out the next week and type in tasks for each day, appointments, meetings, etc. I build in some flex time for unplanned things that come up. I type or hand-write all these into my template, which also has space to add tasks that come up through the week. I print it out and keep it on my desk as a guide for the week, but I don't invest/waste time messing with the list - I simply check off what I get done, write notes for next week, or add tasks that come up along the way. I spend the hour on Friday to rearrange the list, clean it up and get my next week planned.

    The programs, apps and online time managers just take time to learn and on top of that you end up sidetracking yourself playing with the program. The paper and pen list gives me a break from the electronic world for a bit and doesn't aid in tying me to it even more. Plus, having something written down psychologically seems to me to be more of a commitment than seeing it on a screen.

    As Vampie C. said, this is one tool I've stuck to that actually boots my productivity.

  9. Vampie C.
    August 30, 2012 at 6:32 am

    The problem is that when you can't force yourself to use such a tool consequently, you can try any tool you want, it won't make you work better.

    But once you stick to one tool and use it on your PC/laptop and mobile phone, it can boost your productivity.
    Even if it was just to not forget the shopping you need to do.

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