Why Rotating Task Managers Regularly Can Make You More Productive

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

I find myself switching between different task management apps all the time, and I would bet that most people reading this article are in the same boat. We try one app, fall in love with it, and then inevitably get pulled to something else in a few months. It’s a cycle that feels unhealthy, but maybe it’s not all that bad.

I’m currently using Remember the Milk for my task management on iOS, macOS, Android, and Windows. I’ve been using it since around Christmas and I’ve been mostly happy with it that whole time. Recently I’ve gotten the urge to try something else, specifically Things. Not because Remember the Milk has gotten worse or anything, but because I’ve gotten a little too “comfortable” with Remember the Milk. I can hear you saying, “that’s a good, though,” already, but trust me, it’s not.

For me, a task manager works best when I feel like it’s applying some pressure on me. In an odd way, I somewhat anthropomorphize my task manager and treat it like someone trying to nudge me to do what I said I was going to do. Not in a way that annoys me or anything, but in a way that makes me feel a little guilty if I don’t follow through on what I said I would do.

After a few months with any task manager, those nudges don’t impact me as much. I start to feel okay with the number in the red badge on my home screen climb slowly. I start to think that the app isn’t really serious about me doing XYZ, and “I’ll get to it later.” In a world full of notifications, it starts to feel like just another anonymous face in the crowd.

But then a new app comes along and steals my eye. It doesn’t even have to be a new app, it just has to be something different from what I’m using now. I’m eyeing Things right now, but I’ve used Things as my task manager at least 3 separate times in the past. OmniFocus is my perennial tasks app, and I’ve gone back to it more often than anything else. When OmniFocus 3 comes out later this year, I’m sure I’ll start using it again. One way or another, some app makes me watch to switch, and I do.

This comes with a few benefits:

  1. Moving from one task manager to another is very manual, so it makes me look at everything I have in my current app and filter out things that I simply don’t need anymore. Maybe they’re things I don’t need to be reminded of anymore or they’re things I will never do and don’t want to see them anymore. Either way, I get only the things I’m actually going to do in the new app.
  2. The new app likely has one or two specific features that I feel will solve a problem I have with my current app. This gives me an instant win when it comes to productivity by clearing an existing roadblock.
  3. I want to feel like the new app is working, so I notice notifications more and follow up more often to make sure I’m keeping up. I don’t want to let this new app down!

There of course are downsides to switching apps, but the downsides are small enough that they don’t make much of a problem for me. If your task manager is more full than mine or if you collaborate with others, then you may very well feel differently.

Maybe it would be better if I was just always productive and didn’t need a kick in the butt to get going, but right now this is an effective way to give my productivity a little kickstart every once in a while.