A Great Illustration of Toxic Productivity

“Toxic Productivity” is a real thing. It is the result of rapid development of new applications and then the social media-fueled community that grows around the new application. Often these communities become infiltrated with “creatives” who seek to capitalize on the buzz around a new app.

I recently saw a post that underscored this crazy cycle. Here is a brief summary:

  • “my discovery of Roam Research” Life changing. But now …
  • “I’ve done a lot of thinking over the past few weeks…”
  • “I think I need to face the fact that the tide is shifting in the TfT/PKM landscape, and as far as I can tell it’s flowing away from Roam Research.”
  • “this pains me”
  • “But after a week with Tana, I think I may be migrating the majority of my work to Tana.”
  • “News about an exciting new course”

And so the cycle continues.

There are some key takeaways from this illustration:

  • Nothing has changed vis-à-vis Roam Research. It still functions essentially the same as it did two years ago when everyone was so hot to trot about the “amazing new, life-changing app.” Everyone was running as fast as they could to move everything in their life to Roam Research and the fear of missing out (FOMO) was palatable.

  • What has changed? “The tide is shifting in the TfT/PKM landscape.” That’s it. The public enthusiasm surrounding Roam diminished and all of a sudden it was not the cool new kid on the block. There have been countless “Why I’m Leaving Roam Research” articles and videos on the web. In fact, you can find “Why I’m Leaving ______________” articles on almost every application. I’m not a Roam user (I did try it, but stuck with Evernote), but from what I can tell, if it was life-changing two years ago, it still should be. In fact, if anything, it has probably improved in the last two years.

  • There’s a cool new kid on the block. In this case, it is an app called Tana. Six months ago Tana was unknown. In fact, it is still in beta. Yet, without a second thought, and after only a week of tinkering, this person decided to move their critical notes into the app. (Did I mention Tana is in beta and was not even on the radar six months ago?)

  • But wait, there’s more! Yes, there are “courses” starting to appear teaching you how to use all of the fantastic new life-changing features of Tana, and for only $99 you can get an early invite to the private beta for Tana. FOMO.

Bottom line: stop it. Stop falling for these toxic distractions that are an endless cycle of wasted time and wasted money.


100% bang on.

Notion was cool. Then Roam was cool. Now it’s Obsidian, but wait - here comes Tana.

But where there are people willing to pay for courses and systems I guess there will always be people jumping into this early to become the “experts”.

I want to know what all these folks are taking notes on. They cover systems and ideas, but they rarely if ever tell you what’s in their systems. Far as I can tell, most of these setups are make work projects.


I agree with you in general about note-taking software. Indeed one of my pet peeves is people posting about what is the “correct” way to take notes. That strongly suggests to me these are among the people who are taking notes for their own sake but don’t have a specific use case; if they did have a valid use case, they would build a system around that, not around what GroupThink on the internet thinks is the “right” way to take notes.

That said - I do have a very specific use for PKM, which is the management of both my library of articles/sources and my to-do list/task management for a professional practice.

And while I am very early into Tana and just starting to explore it, what impresses me most about Tana being distinctly different than other offerings is the degree to which it is user-configurable. Among other features its system of “Supertags” results in a cross between Note-taking, Task Management/To-Do List, and Database which I have not seen elsewhere.

I am just experimenting for now and have not made a decision to go full-speed with Tana. Even if turn out not to be the “one” for me, I have no doubt its customizable features will appeal to others. That said, it does have a notable learning curve especially if you want to benefit from its most powerful features; so I suspect it is likely to be a niche power-user offering and not a mass-appeal application.

… unless you want to try out new apps and see what they have to offer, trial them for a while and see if they’re a good fit for you.


While I have learned a great deal about how to use specific apps., and find comparisons of those apps helpful, I’ve significantly cut down on the productivity orientated YouTube videos, podcasts and websites I frequent. Most of the “productivity gurus” tend to be “creatives” who are essentially self-employed. Few seem to work within large complex organizations. Accordingly, they seldom contend with the complexities of competing priorities, multilayered accountabilities, and limited control of their time and schedules. With genuine due respect to them, they don’t operate within the “real” world of most professionals. This tends to make their advice simplistic. I want to emphasize that I’m not suggesting their advice has no value. It can be valuable but I’ve come to recognize the limitations of their experience and advice.


I think that calling Tana out in the Subject is misleading. This isn’t a Tana problem, rather “buyer beware” on people promising transformation by changing applications.


Now I’m going to check out Tana. I think I’ve learned precisely the wrong lesson from this thread.




Yes, you are correct. Not my intention to cast shade on Tana. I’ve changed the title. The real focus is on the toxic environment that can surround the productivity space.


I also feel like it ironically reflects rather badly on the apps people are hyping up… as someone who never touched Roam, dived into Obsidian, and has stuck with it for years now, I think it’s a great tool, and one I selected independent from the “buzz” - but I think often times the hype leads to people disregarding certain tools, as all sorts of misinformed ideas and opinions get thrown around by people who have only touched it due to the hype.

Similar circular reasoning can be found in online blogs and articles about how to make money by writing online.

A large percent of these bloggers have the same niche - their blog itself is about how to make money from a blog.


I can tell you what some of mine are on :wink:
Sheep, hay, genetics, Python programming, database design, writing ideas, SQLite Queries, book notes, guardian dogs, recipes, my journal, and more


I think you’re reacting negatively to seeing people thrive in a different area of the adoption curve than you do. There are analogies to this debate in every product category.


Whitewater rafting. Apartments I was looking at for my recent move. Potential employers during a job search.


I was more referring to the “gurus” on YouTube. But it’s good to hear real stories.

Mine are on self development, things I’m working on in my life, roles (thanks David and Focused), weekly review, notes for work etc


Ironically, there’s nothing actually productive about constantly chasing (or purporting to chase*) the “perfect” or “best” app. That time spent learning, configuring, migrating is time not spent being productive.

  • As noted elsewhere, some of this stuff is imply fuel for selling training or Youtube views.

As for PKM and the tools to use - one has to decide whether the operative word is “Personal” or “Knowledge”. If it’s the former, recognise that the tool and methods have to be personal to you and invest the time and effort in building a method. If it’s the latter, pick one tool (as many have said), and just get on with it.

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Then you’re the kind of person who should be making YouTube videos, not them! Anything you would put out would be far more useful to me (an early/mid-career engineer and second-time grad student) than their content.

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Meh… it’s a hobby, a fun distraction at times. Sometimes you find something great and stick with it for years (like Day One and OmniFocus for me), sometimes it’s not a good fit and you had fun checking out the new app. Seems to me if you aren’t interested then maybe don’t worry about it?

I personally haven’t found anything persuasive about Notion, Craft, or Obsidian, but I don’t mind anyone else enjoying checking them all out.

Really, what else are we all here for other than to share and learn about ways to use our machines in ways that make us happy?



For (some crazy amount) you can get a course to teach you how to use the software that will cost you $100 for an invite to - software that the developer has said that you basically shouldn’t even be using yet. :slight_smile:

This reminds me of a line from Merlin Mann a ways back. Don’t remember it exactly, but some productivity software was touting that it had an option for “low” or “very low” priority, and Merlin’s remark was something along the lines of:

“That’s great! I’ve always wanted a robust way to taxonomize the things I shouldn’t be doing”.


On an individual level, I agree 100%. Do whatever you want, and have fun with it. :slight_smile: But I think OP’s issue is regarding when productivity bloggers try to steer other people toward the “new hotness”, without taking the time to (or maybe even being able to) articulate any clear use case that justifies the switch.