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Why most productivity apps don’t work for me

Sep 11, 2022
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Table of Contents

Not only have I tried a lot of habit apps, I’ve also tried a lot of productivity apps:

  • Todoist/JIRA/Zoho Projects/Asana (task management systems)

  • RescueTime/Time Doctor/Timing (time tracking systems)

  • Freedom/Cold Turkey/Centered (distraction blockers)

  • Time blocking in my calendar (e.g.

  • Anti Procrastination training: Virtue Map/Sensa

They fall into several categories:

Task management systems

Necessary but easy to ignore. I often find writing my todos on a piece of paper the night before is a better experience for me as it forces me to connect more deeply with each task. Online systems are helpful for keeping track of long term priorities as it’s annoying to have to re-write tasks every day but I don’t find them that useful day to day.

Time tracking systems

These are helpful for billing and analysis purposes but not very helpful in helping me to actually be productive. I’ll look at my time usage report at the end of the day and be happy/disappointed. It’s a lagging metric that doesn’t really help me change.

Distraction blockers

  • I do find these useful though most of them operate on a block-list philosophy where you have to itemise each website/app that could be distracting. That doesn’t work for me as there’s an infinite array of distractions yet a finite number of apps/websites that I should use.

  • I also find that most of them force me to have a single list of unproductive websites. I do multiple types of work and certain websites are productive for some work styles but not for others.

  • Finally most of them don’t work across all my devices. If I hit focus on my computer, my phone can still be a source of distractions.

Cold Turkey comes the closest to what I want but I find the chrome extension approach a bit annoying (I have 20+ chrome profiles that I use for work so I can log into client accounts) and it doesn’t seem like the cross device approach works.

Time blocking in my calendar

This sounds like a good idea but unless it’s coupled with a distraction blocker, I can’t see it working well for me. I have ADHD and shiny objects call at me. A calendar notification isn’t enough to keep me on task.

Anti procrastination training

Books and apps like Virtue Map and Sensa are semi useful but I find a lot of the advice is quite fluffy and simplistic. It needs to be coupled with other approaches otherwise it’s not helpful for me.

What I built instead

I built an app ( that aims to combine the best aspects of distraction blockers. Focus Bear has an “allow list” philosophy — instead of setting up apps/websites that you want to block, you decide what is productive and it blocks everything else. I can have multiple focus types so that the definition of “productive” can shift depending on the type of work I’m doing.

It works cross platform — if I start a focus block on my computer, distracting apps are blocked on my phone as well.

Distracting websites are blocked automatically

Finally it doesn’t rely on chrome extensions so I can have my 30+ chrome profiles without worrying about loopholes.

I still use task management systems (paper is still my favourite but I also use JIRA and Todoist), consult my calendar, track my time using Timing and read books about productivity but Focus Bear has been the biggest gamechanger for my productivity.

It’s in beta — I’d love your feedback. Here’s the link again:

This blog post was first published in Medium

Sep 11, 2022

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