Smart usage: Two productivity application trends to get you thinking

In recent years more and more people have been succumbing to smart-device procrastination. eMarketer found that on average US mobile users now spend as many as 4 hours on their phones every day, with other studies substantiating their findings. Alarming? Maybe a little. A host of productivity applications have set their sights on this emergent mobile culture. Developers such as ShaoKan Pi have enjoyed success not only seeking to curtail usage, but to harness it to encourage self-improvement. These kinds of productivity app are nothing new: to-do lists, notepads, and synced calendars have been in circulation since the App and Play stores’ inception, as have social media platforms and games for people to while away the hours, but this latest generation ups the stakes in terms of both design and functionality. As people are increasingly killing time scrolling through news feeds or tapping their way to glory on *insert the name of this week’s fad app*, tools that encourage certain behavioural patterns or stop people overusing their devices are the natural progression of productivity solutions.

Going Cold Turkey


So-called ‘digital addiction’ has become a recognised phenomenon. Many users of smart devices find themselves habitually checking and re-checking Instagram, Twitter, Clash of Clans, Boom Beach – the list goes on. Enter the likes of Forest and Detox. The irony of an app that condemns digital usage seemingly lost on their developers, these are nonetheless commendable tools created to help people break compulsive cycles. You give them free reign to manage your usage and they regulate undesirable habits. Forest boasts the most aesthetic design of these procrastination busters. Planting a tree limits device usage until a timer runs out, giving up before this point causes the budding plant to wither and die. They’ve also taken a leaf from Ecosia’s book and started planting trees based on user interaction – 164,531 so far. Services like Detox enforce a stricter cold turkey approach: once you set a timer you are commited and unable to resume regular use. You’ll be hallucinating babies crawling along the ceiling in no time!

Life’s a (video) game

Another notable trend is the emergence of apps that quantify the merits of daily tasks and equate them to experience points, creating real-world role playing game character sheets for users. The likes of LifeRPG, Habitica, and Do it Now allow the user to assign tasks that serve as metaphorical ‘quests’ for which they acquire experience and even gold that can be exchanged for a reward. The experience yielded is often governed by parameters such as difficulty and is attributed to various skills. Learning Spanish? You’ll be building towards that skill with each related task completed and buffing your intelligence stat to boot. Using the format of classic RPG’s to encourage someone to floss is a truly twenty-first century phenomenon, and a whimsical spin on the usual self-improvement app format.


Whether you’re desperate to cut down on how much you use your smartphone, or keen to push yourself to become the seasoned linguist / coder / pastry chef you were always destined to become, there are a plethora of options on offer. Both camps offer productivity solutions that effectively streamline your digital experience. It’s well worth scrutinising the ways in which you consume content, and  if you find that your usage patterns leave something to be desired then why not do something about it?

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