I've Reached App Overload -- How Do These Guys Use So Many Apps?

I’m a long-time listener and fan of both David and Stephen, so if this post starts to sound negative or combative that certainly isn’t my intention. I’m a fellow productivity nerd, app nerd, and like a lot of you I suspect, always looking for more efficient apps and systems to organize my life.

I’ve been noticing that David in particular – more so lately – mentions a LOT of apps, and it’s not just in passing or in a “you may find this useful” kind of way. It seems like he uses about 400 apps and at times – go easy on me – it seems like he over-complicates things a lot. In the latest episode he talks about his love of Devonthink and how it’s search is magical, but then a second later he talked about how he tracks his client in Apple Notes…until recently – now it’s Obsidian. I haven’t finished the episode yet, but if Devonthink is really good, why not track client data in there? It’s encrypted too if I’m not mistaken.

Then they went on talking about Craft and Roam etc, and again, not in a “you might try this” kind of way. It’s more “I use” or “I hope to use in the future” kind of manner.

I completely understand it’s not feasible to have one tool do everything, but man – seems like he “over apps” stuff at every turn. Does the guy pay $12k a year in subscription fees?

Anyway, I’ve been trying to simplify my digital life as of late. It’s still a work in progress. I just realized recently that listening to this show and people like Ali Abdaal on YouTube – they offer great advice but we need to me mindful as listeners not to get caught up in new tools and apps. There does come a point where you just overwhelm yourself.

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Great questions & look forward to people’s responses

Well, David and Steven and many of their guests are in the business of making coin from using and recommending software. If they only used Pages, Reminders, and Mail they probably would have fewer listeners.

Just a guess.

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Your personal mix of apps on your devices is like a recipe, everyone has their own mix that they like, but certain parts are similar across the board. I’ve found that the best apps come from dedicated indie developers. I think what David and the rest do is test out lots and lots of different apps, but they don’t necessarily keep all of them running.

I appreciate what they do because every now and then I learn about something new, or some way to use an existing app in a new way. Just as there is an endless number of recipes for cake, there’s a (nearly) endless mix of apps you can use to get your work done. It just depends on your personal preferences.

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I don’t want to speak for David or Stephen but, my perception of the hopping around apps is that David in particular is currently open to tearing down his current process and trying the latest crop of applications to see how they fit. I imagine it’s a short term thing and as Craft, Obsidian, etc. mature he’ll find the one that works best and stop trying everything.

It’s a cycle I think a lot of us automators and power users fall prey to. But it’s fun :slight_smile:

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@AppleGuy I agree with the comments from others, especially the unique role that David and Stephen occupy as tech podcasters. That said, I have been deliberate about minimizing the number of apps I use. No fewer than needed and no more than needed. Hence, my workflow, with DT being at the center.

That said, it has been a journey of trial and error but I genuinely believe I have a relatively stable workflow going forward with minimal need to add or change apps or processes unless something happens to one of my core applications.

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David and Stephen are in a unique situation that allows them to mix business and personal pursuits. At one time part of my job was to evaluate software. So I understand the appeal of searching for the best products available, especially when you enjoy the work and a business is paying the tab.

As an individual I believe there comes a time when I need to make a decision and stick with it. At least until there are significant reasons to change.

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I agree with the angle that they’re in the biz, so they get to and want to trial more apps than the average Joe.

I realize the latest episode is called “Workflows” so they kind of just did this, but an overview of how they decide which apps to use for which scenarios, would be interesting.

In the moments of my life where I overdo it with apps, I’ll find myself searching entirely the wrong service =) So I’ll spend 5 mins searching for “Project X” in Trello and then realize I put it all in Todoist.

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When I was in college I once had a rather eccentric roommate named Cheryl. She’s over the top messy but I did like her and we got along fine. We drew invisible boundaries.

One morning Cheryl was making considerable racket. Since it was 4:30:am, I rolled over and made a futile attempt to get back to sleep.

Then it hit.

Usually excitable, she yelled “Katie! Katie! Katie! You have to get up now and clean! Now!”

“Cheryl, it’s not even 5 o’clock in the morning! I’m trying to sleep. Can you keep the noise down?”

“Get up! Get up and help me clean! Now!”

Then I got up. I don’t like to be woken up as it’s hard to return to sleep. I was not a happy camper.

“That heap in the closet is all yours, Cheryl! Your stuff is everywhere! And it’s not going anywhere. Do it later! I can help you later!”
~~
You are simplifying your apps and that’s terrific. But, frankly, I doubt David was privy to that information, right? What does one have to do with the other? What he does is not contingent upon your goals.

Part of his career is evaluating various apps. Needs and wants evolve.

I prefer being flexible. I’m considerably more creative when I am.

As a teacher, there were some lessons I did every year because the kids enjoyed them. But I also devised new ones every year.

David has indicated, as I understand it, that a few newer apps are going to revolutionize the way information is handled. (Unfortunately, I cannot afford them.) At any rate, that’s a pretty strong statement AND it’s exciting.

Now imagine if he just stuck to DT– he’d stagnate to some extent.

Instead he’s out there learning new apps but not abandoning the ones he’s grown to rely upon. And he’ll explain succinctly why and how etc.

Trying out various apps can be exciting and a rather amusing hobby. I Ihave a wide array but I’m fairly good at finding where I put the information I need. I have 298 on my iPhone!

Also couldn’t employing VPN encrypt ALL of one’s information on a given device not just relative to a certain app?

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It’s pretty easy to end up with a long app list if you do a lot of different tasks and have one or more small tools for each one to help with that. Keeping them straight happens through the repetition and practice that are in abundant supply in week after week of lawyering, writing and podcasting. The time saved from them frees up overhead to do more, which leads to more specialized tool use, so a virtuous cycle is also in play.

I’m with David in that I always want to be better and/or more efficient. And based on that, I enjoy the feedback I get from he and Stephen about apps. Sometimes I try them and sometimes I don’t. I believe for each of us it depends on how we work.

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And not a bad one imho. Long gone are the days when bloggers and podcasters where just enthousiasts and hobbyists.

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From my perspective, listening to them is a way of refreshing, and source of insight. Like how I used to watch PewDiePie playing Amnesia and other games, or Lew of Unbox Therapy unboxing expensive stuff.

Some of the products they use/play/buy are too expensive or too advanced for me, so to avoid FOMO (fear of missing out) I’d just experience it through others. Some of the products are the one I want, and there’s a chance that I won’t know about it except knowing it from them.

This is a bit like listening to friend telling stories of new stuff they experienced.
Add to that, David and Stephen—also Rosemary, Federico, and others— are one of the “friends” that deliver the stories in a pleasant way.

As others have said, part of what David and Stephen do as tech bloggers and podcast hosts is test out software and, well, blog and podcast about them. I think that’s called content creation… I find that kind of information very useful and exposes me to apps I would otherwise not know about.

On my particular use situation with my iMac for example, I try to use the built-in apps as much as possible, as long as they work well for my needs. I try to keep third party apps to a minimum and avoid duplication, just to keep things from getting out of control. Turns out that most of my third party apps are actually utilities that help me do my work (OneSwitch, OneDrive, MS Office Suite, MS Remote Desktop, Popclip, Copied, Shortcut Bar, Magnet, PCalc, etc.)

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I also want to chime in and say that everyone should do what works for them.

Just because someone else uses a bunch of different apps doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for everyone to do the same! If it works for someone to have different types of notes in different apps, great! And if not, don’t worry about it.

Each person has a unique brain and circumstances, so explore and find what works well (and what doesn’t).

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I’d add to Justin’s comment that even when you choose an app, don’t feel compelled to like and use every feature it has. I’ve used DEVONthink on Mac for a very long time, but I have never liked its internal editing features. I get it, that the developer is not going to invest to bring their editors up to par with the best in the market – because editing is not the main point of the app, I assume. So, DEVONthink works seamlessly with any document-oriented editor on macOS (not so much on iOS), and that’s what I do. For me, that’s the best of both worlds and the synergy is worth more than the individual parts. Sometimes – not always – it is the compounded value of using multiple apps in together that matters.

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Nuke & Pave
Reset the phone to factory settings and start as a new iPhone.
Connect your iCloud account and only download the Apps you need as miss them.

This is a good question and I’m going to navigate around the question about why David uses so many apps. The heart of the question is how to streamline your app usage. I went though something like this about five years ago. I streamlined and deleted apps mercilessly, and the process has been well worth it. So, much so (candidly) that my need to listen to tech/productivity podcasts and youtube videos reached a nadir. That alone has saved me a bunch of time.

Here is the process that i used. I made a list of every single app that I had on my system. I did not do this by hand. On my Mac, I ran a directory listing of my apps directory and sent it to a file. Then I imported the data into OmniOutliner, but you could do it in a spreadsheet. I made columns to categorize the apps by how I used them: communication; writing; database; development; utilities; etc.

Separately, I made a categorized list of all the things that I do for work, for fun, hobbies, etc. Then I listed the apps that I used for those things.

Finally, I considered how I could consolidate my activities into fewer core apps. Then, I just started getting rid of the excess.

It’s been great. The biggest problem that I solved for myself was the additional effort to decide what tool to use for a given project when I had ten that would do it. Drafts is cool, but I was also using text files, apple notes, Scrivener, and Zotero. I ditched Drafts and have never looked back, and I changed how I use Apple Notes and Zotero so there is a clear dividing line. Almost all my other notes, projects, and reference information go in the appropriate specialized databases for those domains/interest areas/project types: music related stuff in Music; cooking related things in Paprika; content creation materials in Scrivener and then whatever output apps I have to use to support it; all my ministry/theological materials get processed and stored in Logos, and all my work as a trial lawyer goes into very specific tools, too.

The system I developed also helped me analyze new apps. “DevonThink,” my mind would shout at me, “Get it! Everybody loves it!” I did try it, but I don’t need it. Why do I need to buy one file system to layer on top of my existing file system? But it indexes! So does the file system that I use and I can find everything that I’m looking for fast. [This is no criticism of DevonThink. It’s just about my analysis as to why I didn’t need it.] I was able to do this because I know how I use the machines in my life, how I access and work with the information that I collect and develop, and my own likes and dislikes.

This is worked so well that now I review my software tools list annually to see if anything needs to be added or removed.

This is a wordy comment, but I just wanted to give you details to see what i did in the chance it might help you in your effort to cure yourself from app overload. What I did was a lot of work, but it was fun, and it has paid huge dividends.

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I think that between AppleGuy and iPersuade they make a good point. You get efficient by using a few tools and getting to be really good with them. The opposite happens when you flit around from app to app, constantly exporting your data, importing it again to the new one, trying to figure out how to use it for a couple of weeks until the new favour of the month appears. Or you end up with half a dozen note-taking apps that essentially all do the same thing, and spend too much time trying to find something you swore you put in a note somewhere. Or waste time trying to decide which app to put something into. Same with task managers.

Currently its all about bouncing around between Obsidian, Craft, Roam Research, Notion etc., and suddenly if you can’t have backlinks between notes, then how can you possibly do anything useful?

The reality is that there is no single app that is perfect for everyone and every job, and there’s a lot to be said for getting really good with a few rather than scratching the surface of many. That’s how you improve your efficiency.

I think the move to subscription-based apps in general is positive in that it’s forcing people to make choices and rationalise down the number of apps they have that broadly do similar things. I know I have. For example I’ve got rid of Bear and Ulysses subscriptions, don’t bother any more with Apple Notes, and only use Craft for taking notes and writing.

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So you developed an executed a complicated system, involving an indy app, to simplify your app usage–a process that no doubt took weeks to refine, and days to execute?

I am NOT making fun of you here–far from it. I am right there with you. You and I are of the same tribe. Indeed, I’m looking to find an EVEN MORE COMPLICATED PROCESS to simplify my workflows.

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