Having trouble sticking with productivity tools

Hey Gang,

I hope everyone is doing well.

It’s hard not to write a very long post about this, as there’s a lot I’d love to share regarding not being able to choose (and stick with) a tool for a given function.

I struggle VERY deeply, and have for a long while, with settling on apps for both task management and taking/storing notes. It’s been a years-long battle, and I have bounced back and forth between SO many apps for each.

Like I said, I could go very deep into specifics about my own journey, but maybe the best way to kick this off is to give the latest example of my indecision.

I’ve played with DEVONthink in the past, and I very recently decided to pay for a Pro license for document storage. I already had (have) a Google Drive account with plenty of space for storing everything. But I ultimately convinced myself into buying DEVONthink, because:

  • What if Google has some sort of major outage at some point that wipes out some/all of my data?
  • What if privacy/security becomes a bigger concern with cloud-based solutions?
  • What if my account becomes one of those stories where my account gets locked by Google for whatever reason and, poof, I can no longer access my decade+ of stored documentation?
  • Other concerns around cloud storage in general, etc.

But now that I’ve made the DEVONthink purchase, I’m again unsettled. I say to myself:

  • Well, GDrive is very widely used and in many cases is the standard; now I won’t be taking full advantage of something that is easily accessible, gives me plenty of storage space, and there’s nothing really WRONG with it.
  • GDrive is something I often need for collaboration anyway, so am I just adding another unnecessary layer to my toolset? When it comes to my family and my clients, GDrive is something I have to use one way or another, so shouldn’t I just keep it all centralized there?
  • Even if DEVONthink is the right choice for document storage, is it the right choice (for me) for note-taking, or will I have to break off that piece and add another separate app?

The “maybe grass is greener” perspective goes on and on in my head; I can’t seem to break out of this – I guess FOMO? – mindset. And with the release of new notes apps and todo managers, almost daily it seems, the pressure to choose the “right” one for my workflows just feels ever more crushing.

Does anyone else have a really hard time with this? If you’ve been able to find the right system(s) for you and stick with it, do you have any thoughts/suggestions?

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I used to have a hard time with this! Something I found myself thinking is that there is an ideal system out there. Something that’s perfect.

But the truth is there is no perfect productivity tool. The only pursuit worth chasing is building a system that works 80% as good as you ideally imagine. In my mind, anything beyond that is wasted time.

One key to making changes to your productivity system is measured experiments. Don’t just jump to a new tool because it looks cool. Genuinely seek to identify and solve problems. Then, experiment with tools that can potentially solve those issues. If something sticks, awesome! Adopt it. If not, move on!

About your specific issue – whether you use DEVONthink or GDrive – does it matter? Can you use DEVONthink for items that make sense, and GDrive for collaboration? Do you have to have everything in one place?

Or, can you use GDrive to sync your DEVONthink databases? Can you index your files from GDrive in DEVONthink?

There’s a million ways to look at this specific problem, but the broad question I ask is: what’s working for you?

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Justin. Great post!!
Honestly, I’ve been struggling with this as well and find myself overindulging in app tutorials after app reviews jumping from one app to the other without making any progress into anything. Much less get anything substantial done. I also wondered about the rest of the population where they are app agnostic. Many people I talked to arent keen on knowing what the latest app or rush towards it the way I do. They are much more focused on the task at hand and their routines. I sometimes envy that and hoping to jump out of my own obsession with apps and “improvements” and rather just stick to a system and fine tune it. I’ve recently downloaded obsidian and find myself watching more videos about zettelkasten and other note taking tools. I haven’t really even gone in and implement it because I dont feel confident that I even know how to utilize it and how it fits within my current workflows. Anyways I dont mean to ramble on, thanks again for the post. Appreciate the read.

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Thanks for joining the community!

Some questions to ponder in relation to your post:

  1. Are you hitting some specific problems or friction? - If so, what are you looking to solve?
  2. Do you have enough work to do to fill your time? - I’ve been in times in my life where I’m bored and looking for something novel to fill the time. Apps can definitely solve that novelty, to the detriment of other things.
  3. Are you clear on what your most important work is? - When you’re unclear on your top priority, it can be difficult to make appropriate decisions around what you should spend your time on.

All of these situations are okay. Having greater clarity on what your situation is, however, can help you make more informed decisions on how to handle it.

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A common problem, I tend to believe apps fall into categories some (for me) like DEVONthink, 1Password, Drafts and Omnifocus I can not see myself leaving, my “keeper” apps. Others are interchangeable and fun to experiment with.

Relating to Google Drive, sorry but I just do not trust the big G, we tried them for mail with a corporate mail account but went back to Fastmail after nagging doubts over privacy, the same applies to Google Drive, plus as you say they can cut you off at any time.

We use Dropbox, yes I know, some of the same critiques can be applied to them as well, but the datas is all stored locally as well as in the Cloud, and its rock solid, very fast and used by a large percentage of my main clients.

Although I am heavily invested in tech (a web developer by trade) I have pretty much settled on a workflow of core apps which has not changed in quite a while. I look at the new and shiny but realised a while ago all the tech journalists/podcasters only get paid by producing new content and therefore, or at least tell you they do, switch apps at an alarming rate, new and shiny generates clicks, solid advice or nothing to say often does not.

Find out what works for you, invest in learning it and making it work for you then get on with real life, I doubt anyone ever died saying they wished they had spent more time in front of a computer screen.

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Appreciate the reply Justin. The issue is that I do have work and I dont think I’m in a situation where I am “bored” per say. I just fall prey to the dopamine kicks of something novel. I definitely want to stick to a couple and at the moment for my project management and tasks workflow, August’s PPV system is working great for me. Its true that it took me a while to set up but once its up and running, it doesn’t have much friction to keep it going. I was attracted to Obsidian due to the novelty in Knowledge Management. I can still take notes in Notion but find it much better to do it in Obsidian.
I dont want to take away the purpose of your post and discussion which is about DevonThink and Gdrive lol.

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I would definitely recommend taking some time to stew on why the need for novelty hits you so hard. If you can do that, you might figure out what the root issue is so you can start to actively push back against it.

It’s really true that

I struggle with this so much. Just yesterday, I found an attempt I tried with Evernote in 2017. The instructions I left for myself are the same as they are today: review everything that needs reviewed, make decisions on next steps, and use an accountability buddy to make the system stick.

Around that time, I’d been using Dropbox and scrivener for keeping organized, and it has worked for close to 15 years. And then it stopped syncing properly for me. Talked to customer service at both apps, had friends and family go through my system, and it would just keep corrupting. So I’ve spent the past 5 years looking for a new system that I can trust.

I’m on the fence about trying OmniFocus and DevonThink since I’ve sunk so much money into apps and subscriptions that haven’t worked for me.

Oh no! Sorry about that…

Have you checked out Obsidian – it’s not Scrivener, but if a writing-style system helps you, it might work.

I think we productivity “gurus” often over-complicate what productivity really is. Cal Newport states that productivity is simply the process of intentionally choosing what you’re working on right now from all of the things to do.

https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2021/04/20/the-productivity-funnel/

I guess this goes as advice for everyone on this topic – don’t worry about tools; instead, learn the process of whittling down what’s possible to what you’re doing right now. From there you can look to use tools to augment your process.

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