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“No Apps Productivity” – How to Get Things Done Without Using Technology

Is it possible to have “no apps productivity?” Can you really get things done without using apps?

In today’s fast-paced world, it might seem impossible to get things done without using technology. Just about everyone has the latest app and gadget, right? … some piece of technology that helps them with doing things like finding their favorite recipes, managing their tasks, and staying on top of big projects.

In fact, I’m one of those people.

The Upside to Using Productivity Apps

I love apps. They have helped me to focus on priorities and collaborate with others easily. It’s a love affair that I don’t think will be ending anytime soon.

If you’re like me, you love getting to know apps and figuring out if they can really do what they say they can do. And, it’s not hard to find several that offer tons of helpful features.

No matter the task, there’s likely to be an app that can assist you with getting it done. In fact, you can fine one that will help you manage your:

  • Time, calendar, and schedule
  • Contacts
  • E-mail
  • Money
  • Social media
  • Presentations and slidedecks
  • Notes, writing, and blogging
  • Graphics and video creation
  • Travel
  • Project tasks
  • And, so much more!

For example, one popular task management app, Toodledo, let’s you share tasks with others. You can also create sub-tasks. This will come in handy when you’re working on projects that have multiple steps. Sounds like all projects, right? is an app with similar features that boasts location-based reminders as well as an assistant. The Assistant or smart robot (with the help of some humans) will “take care of your tasks so you can spend time on the things that matter.” Two words: time saver.

Here’s the Assistant in action …

The Downside to Using Productivity Apps

Unfortunately, for all the good they do, apps can be a bit tricky.

    • Overwhelming selection to choose from. Which app should you choose? There are lots of them that do the same thing. How will you know which one will work for you? Searching and sifting through tons of apps is a rabbit hole you don’t want to go down unless you want to lose a lot of time while ignoring your priorities.
    • Figuring out how it works takes time. Even when you do find the perfect app that works well with your brain and your workflow, there may be so many (super cool) features that it can become confusing, especially if you’re not as comfortable using technology. You might end up spending more time trying to figure out how to use the app instead of being productive — even if you’re someone who likes tech.
    • The developer sometimes goes MIA. Sometimes app developers keep your favorite apps up to date and add new, clarified features. This is a mixed bag because you will likely have to learn how to use the new systems and features. And, sometimes those developers go missing in action. As a result, you won’t get any support with an app that you now love and use. This will mean that you’ll have to start over and find a new app. Two words: time suck. I discovered this when my favorite calendar app, Sunrise, went away.

You don't need apps to get stuff done. Use these 'no apps productivity' strategies instead: #productivity #productvitytips Share on X

2 Simple Ways to Get Things Done Without Apps

So, how do you keep your productivity high if the technology learning curve is too difficult or time-consuming? And, what if you just don’t get along with apps?

Rather than running after the latest productivity app and forcing yourself to like and understand it, get back to basics. To do that, here are two very simple, “no apps productivity” strategies. Whether used separately or combined in a specific workflow, they can help you stay on top of your tasks and projects.

1. Use a paper to-do list

To Do List No Apps Productivity
I use this spiral-bound notebook (affiliate link) by Bloom Daily Planners to write down my to do’s. You can use your favorite notebook or notepad.

I’ve used many, many apps that I like, but when life is whirling around me, I reach for my favorite notebook and pen.

There is something cathartic about the act of writing and when I get everything out of my head, I feel calmer and more prepared to manage my day. There’s also no need to worry about my how long the battery on my laptop or smartphone will last.

Another plus is that when you write things down — rather than entering them in an app – you tend to remember them. Check out this Lifehack post for more on that. And, go grab your favorite pen and notepad.

2. Get an accountability partner

Usually, when you announce – out loud – to your friends, colleagues, business partners, and team members that you’re going to do something (e.g., stop smoking, create a new business offering, learn a foreign language, launch a podcast, etc.), they check in with you.

They will also:

  • Want details about when you’re going to start
  • Ask for your launch date
  • Keep you accountable
  • Nudge you if you start slacking
  • Support you

And, when you have to report on a regular basis to a designated accountability partner, you will likely get moving on those really important projects or Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAGs). That’s probably because when someone makes time in their day to support your efforts, you will likely feel compelled to take action.

An accountability partner is not going to tell you what you want to hear and an effective partner won’t coddle you. They will, however, ask you hard questions, put a flame to your feet, encourage you to do what you say you were going to do, and help push you forward.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve had five accountability partners one of whom I’m working with right now. I’m an accountability partner to my clients as well.

Don't force yourself to like the latest productivity app. Instead, get back to basics: #productivity #productivitytips Share on X

Your Homework (yes, you have homework)

To Do List No Apps Productivity |
Get your tasks out of your head and remember to take breaks.

Here’s what you need to do now — find a way to incorporate these “no apps productivity” strategies in your usual workflow.

I’ll help you get started with some suggested first steps and timeframes:

  1. Pick a paper-based notebook or pad to write down your to do’s (spend 10 minutes doing this)
    • When using your paper task list, include the date each day
    • Pick a place with you will always keep your notebook
    • Write down only your top three priorities for the day
  2. Brainstorm three people who would make excellent accountability partners (spend up to 20 minutes doing this)
    • Narrow list down to 1 person — write a pro vs. con list (spend up to 30 minutes doing this)
    • Contact the person you’ve selected (spend up to 20 minutes doing this)

Keep in mind that you’ll need to:

  • Set up — and stick to — a regular call schedule with your accountability partner
  • Formalize your goals — write down your short- and long-term goals and steps to attain them
  • Figure out what success (end result) will look like
  • Periodically assess how well your accountability meetings are working and make adjustments as needed
  • Reward

Final Thoughts

So, you might be thinking that apps are just not worth the bother. Please shove those thoughts aside because apps can actually be pretty awesome for you and also skyrocket your team’s productivity across a number of areas.

That said, if you have a tendency to get sucked into figuring out to use apps, you just might want to have someone show you how to use them or simply step away from them for a bit. Then, you can start raising your “no apps productivity” game.

Sound good? What do you think? If you like the idea of no “apps productivity” strategies or actively use them, tell me why in the comments.

Update: This post was published in June 2012 and refreshed in July 2017. And again in July 2020.

Hey there, I’m Deb. I’m a Digital Productivity Coach and Consultant, Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker, and lover of all things tech. I’m also addicted to apps and love helping small business owners leverage technology so they can be more productive.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Sometimes there is just no substitute for good old paper and pen and a trusty accountability partner! Both invite transparency and honesty with yourself about what you can truly achieve and how you may be getting in your own way.

    Great post!

    1. Glad you like the post, Kathy. The trust has to be high with your AP in order to be transparent and honest. And, you, my friend, are quite trustworthy! =)

      Any other “no apps productivity” strategies you’d add to the list?

  2. I love technology and use it all the time, but I don’t use it for everything. I still use a paper planner and “to do” system. Somehow, having a few aspects of life which don’t require wifi feels comforting. I don’t always have good cell service or a strong wifi connection, so I like having my all-important planning tool up and running at all times. Interestingly, my daughter texted me this morning to say she woke to suddenly have no access to wifi at the school where she is spending the summer (she’s working in a lab.) I’m sure it is some glitch, but it reminds me that you can still be productive, even without a computer or phone. The best system is the one you TRUST and USE.

  3. I use the NO APP method everyday. I am one of those people who struggle with technology, i have one app, and that is enough for me, and don’t use it everyday. Using what works for you as an indiviual is key to productivity. Great post.

    1. Isn’t it awesome when you find what works for you, Jill? You don’t have to use the latest app because everyone else is. The key is finding what works with your brain and productivity systems. Curious though … what’s the one app that you do use?

  4. I have to admit that I was surprised to see your post’s title being that you are such an avid technology user and pro. I appreciate that you offered up alternatives and explanations for when to seek out that perfect app and when to instead go “old school.” And what’s even more fascinatiing is how many of us (including you) use a combination of technology and more basic techniques to manage our vast pool of to dos, tasks, schedules and more. I’ve adapted my processes to rely pretty heavily on technology. The key has always been establishing systems that you have confidence in. But I do love paper too. At this point, I’m pretty comfortable using the two types of tools in an integrated way.

    1. Hi Linda – I knew I’d surprise a few folks with this post. =) As much as I love technology, I know that it won’t work for some peeps. Everything isn’t one size fits all, right? As for paper, I haven’t met a post-it note I didn’t love! 😉

  5. One more way to be productive without apps is to drink a cup of coffee, take a 30 minute nap, wake up totally refreshed and dig in. You just might be surprised.

    1. Hi Ochoa – I have heard that having coffee *before* a short nap can help us have more energy which could translate into big productivity boost. I haven’t tried it myself … yet. =) Have you?

  6. This title caught my eye. I couldn’t believe that Deb Lee, the tech guru, was talking about alternatives to apps! But what you suggest are very good tactics. I tend to only write things down if it’s more convenient than adding it to Todoist, but I’ve had an accountability partner for several years and highly recommend it to anyone. When an app reminds you to do a task, you can snooze it, or defer it, or even delete it, but your accountability partner won’t let you off that easily!

    1. I knew a few people might be surprised by that title. 😉 And, you are so right, Janet — accountability partners (good ones) hold your feet to the fire!

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