A Productivity Detox?

After listening to great advice from Mike, Stephen and David over the past few years (among others in the space), I find myself being very knowledgeable on productivity apps and systems.

It occurred to me the other day though — I sometimes wonder if I’m using the apps & systems I’m using because they work the best for me, or if I use them because they’re the prevailing apps recommended by the communities I follow. I mean, if there’s an app out there that David or Mike really loves then it’s got to be good — that’s a given I think. But maybe they’re not right for me.

I feel like I’m in a good place productivity-wise, but I do hit some pain points each week where I can’t find something, or I can’t get something to work as I’d expect and I end up feeling overwhelmed with my setup. I guess the best way I can describe this would be — my system works for me and feels great 85% of the time, but 15% of the time I feel like I may have overcomplicated things or paid for things I don’t ACTUALLY need.

This led me to wondering about adopting something like Cal Newport’s digital detox, but maybe taking things one step further. I would start by removing all apps off my phone (where possible). Then, whenever an actual, real life need presented itself, I would solve the problem with a stock app. Have something I need to write down? Apple Notes. Need to write this post? Apple notes. Booking an event? Stock calendar. You get the idea.

My thinking is after doing this for 30 days, I could look back and say “you know what? I actually don’t need the power of Obsidian and back linking because I only ever write grocery lists and a few notes for work, but for that I could use Apple Notes or Reminders etc.

This isn’t without certain complications. For example, the stock podcast app is not an option, nor is Reminders for my tasks since we use Windows at work, though I suppose if I was truly going to do this a pen and paper would suffice.

My thought is to strip all the complexities away. They’ve been in place so long I may not always be aware where they’re slowing me down and where a simple, stock app may work instead.

I may give this a go…if I do, I’ll post back letting you know how it goes. Could I live in a world with fewer complexities and subscription fees? Maybe.


CGP Grey has talked about this on the Cortex podcast. More than once he’s dismantled and rebuilt his task management system. IIRC when he’s done this he goes all the way back to pencil and paper for a while during the process (index cards, lots and lots of index cards).


That’s along the lines of what I’m thinking, only I’d take it even one step further. Since I work from home, I could remove all apps, save for maybe 1Password. I wouldn’t be stranded and could easily get what I need via my laptop or other device.

Then, as I find myself needing an app, I could spend a moment to say “do I REALLY” need all this power, or could I just download Notes instead, or the stock calendar over Fantastical……or stock weather over Carrot.

The lines between what we can’t live without vs what we think we can’t are not as clear as we think (my hypothesis). Maybe 30 days on the other side of the fence running only stock, need this to function apps, would bring about a new perspective.

Absolutely. I’ve been through a lot of productivity apps over the last year, since discovering Zettelkasten and various forums. I’ve wasted a lot of time (and some money), but in fairness it was fun… so maybe not such a waste.

Right now I’ve shifted my note taking and journaling to Apple Notes… it is a pretty powerful bit of software. I like to handwrite some notes (on iPad) and type others, and occasionally scan documents. It works well for all of them, and tagging is effective alongside simple folders. I keep having to resist going back to Obsidian, Logseq or something new…. But actually I realise the functionality is good enough and often better for what I need.

I use the stock apps for PDF annotation, Reminders for tasks and the built in calendar. They’re not 100% perfect, but neither were the apps I was using before.

I still use Word/Zotero for academic stuff and Ulysses for writing, although I’m tempted to give Pages a proper go for non-academic work. I don’t like the Apple podcast app. I do use some utility apps, like Hook on the Mac to allow linking and Eaglefiler for my archived documents/articles.

See also

I tend to ask myself “what do I really enjoy using?” instead of “what do I really need?”

To quote Annie Dillard:

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.
What we are doing this hour or that one is what we are doing.


I have absolutely fallen into that mindset. But, I’m slowly climbing out of it.

The siren call of the shiny, new and promoted apps is slowly losing its seductive power. For example, I was “afraid” that listening to the MPU’s podcast with Nick Milo would send me back experimenting with Obsidian. It didn’t even entice me. After too many changes in my workflows and apps (due in part to the point you have made), my current workflow and app selection is working well. I’ve come to realize that I was being too heavily influenced by “influencers” who are far nerdier (in a good way) than I ever intend to be. :slightly_smiling_face: Things are more consistent, I’m learning to master the keyboard shortcuts for fewer apps and I have fewer to update and I have very few subscriptions. I’m getting my work done, which is all that is necessary.


Alright. I’m giving this a serious go. I’ll report back with my findings. So far I’m keeping some apps that I truly to deem “must have”.

  • 1Password
  • Castro for Podcasts
  • Todoist (I use this app everyday and know it like the back of my hand)

From my phone I’ve removed: Fantastical, Carrot, Obsidian, Spark email and have gone back to stock apps at the moment. Phone is essentially back to a new install. We’ll see where I end up.


I’m totally with you here @beck - life is too short to use crappy apps (as anyone employed in a big corporation will know all too well, but then there are no alteratives :slight_smile: )

The Marie Kondo approach of “does this bring me joy” is a good one.


Quick update. I lasted all of 20 mins without Fantastical. :laughing:

I have some shared events and time slots booked at work so people don’t book me into meetings, but I don’t want to see these so I hide them from my calendar. Can’t do that in stock app. Also, having to click each individual day to see its events is so tedious in the stock app.


The point isn’t to avoid subs or apps for financial reasons.

It’s more — if I’ve been a contractor for 15 years and I start to feel like I’m buying way too many unnecessary tools or lugging too much equipment to every job site, I may want to start a job next week with just the toolbox I used in trade school to see if there are areas where I can pair things back a bit.


OT a bit here. May be we should start another thread on podcast app. I hear many people like/hate overcast. Castro is now mentioned as the must have app for @AppleGuy . I personally like Pocketcast, but I now feel that the basic podcast app from iPhone is alright :laughing:

I created a poll. Very keen to know the results

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Ooh, I have thoughts….

Fun exercise. Dialing your review times to the right length and frequency can take a load off of your system/tools, reducing the brittleness.

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After getting burned by the demise of an app called Bento (FileMaker) many, many years ago that I’d been using to journal, I’ve stuck to the include macOS productivity apps as much as possible. An exception to that would be Lightroom, but that’s about it. I know there are apps out there have really cool features, but how much time do I want to invest in them if they’re not going to be around for the long haul? Still figuring that out.

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Interesting thread, thanks for sharing/asking. I’m having an enforced reset. I fell off the bandwagon due to an extended period of firefighting in Q1. It’s given me a good point to re-group, re-read GTD and restart using OmniFocus again.

I’ve realised I tried and failed at the One App life; OmniFocus for everything doesn’t work for me. The contextual computing concept is more aligned with how my brain works. So I’m mid refactor:

  • Changing OmniFocus to current projects and things with actions or benefit from being in OF (e.g. actions I need to track and can due/defer).
  • Removing things without actions or stored in OF. They keep OF too full and ‘busy’, which made managing the day-to-day harder and things like reviews daunting
  • Building a high-level Project Map in OmniGraffle (inspired by @MacSparky)
  • Preserving notes and ideas in a mix of Evernote and Notes.
  • Using App links to keep everything easy to access and in the right place, minimising duplication
  • Being more transparent with Team Tasks and sharing them via Trello boards for our remote teams. Rather than drip-feeding from OF to Trello at strategic points to support current and future development

Fingers crossed. I like the Marie Kondo quote above. OF used to bring me joy, it not was an early warning sign my setup was no longer working. I was dreading opening OF and putting off reviews. Once my reviews slide, the rest follows.


The point we all need to realize is that we are all wired differently. That’s actually the reason I started asking guests on the show after the first year. I realized that we needed more points of view than just me and Katie.

I also think a good rule of thumb with any class of apps is, “as complex as you need, but no more than that.”

Hopefully we can keep bringing you all new and interesting options.


I use Hook to capture links to specific notes in Apple Notes. I do not think it can be done with the free Hook version. I guess it could be done with AppleScript.

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That’s misleading from my post, sorry. I don’t have a way to do that.

I (taking MacSparky’s point that we all have differing needs/systems/ideas and one of the main reasons I loved Focused is it makes me think and opens my mind to new ideas):

  • use Notes to store quick access general notes and ideas I am chewing over.
  • use Evernote for more mature ideas/things I am not chewing over and all ref material. That provides ace App links
  • also have a todo in OF as part of my refactoring project to explore https://hookproductivity.com/. Which featured on Focused and seems like a great way to contextually link even more.

Ah, I missed your post! Thanks for sharing. I hoped that was the case but have not looked into Hook fully, yet. That will be mega.