It’s Time to Wake up from Your Team Collaboration Software NightmareAidan HornsbyLast Updated: June 5, 2018
According to a recent survey, most knowledge workers today toggle between apps up to 10 times an hour and spend more than an hour of their day switching between tools. Another survey found that workers think they spend too much time checking apps and struggle to find old files scattered across multiple apps.
Yet another study found that most knowledge workers today have to move between two or more apps to relay critical information at work—clogging information channels, breaking audit trails and leaving workflows in a state of disarray.
A majority of workers today find navigating between workplace apps more annoying than doing household chores, paying bills, and trying to lose weight. People are sick of app overload, and they’re looking for a way out.
We’ve been writing about the challenge of focus in the modern workplace for a while now. And the project management tool we make, Flow, is designed to help people focus on real work. But the reality is that no single app can help you focus or fix your entire workflow. This is, after all, the kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place! (“Just one more app!”)
In fact, the very opposite might be true. It might be that the “solution” to your distraction problems is fewer solutions.
There is no single solution to app overload in the modern workplace, but here are a few places to start:
Put constraints on your work
One of the biggest enemies of focus at work is choice. When we’re sitting at a computer connected to the internet and loaded with tools, there are a million different things we could be doing at any given point in time. Sometimes the only way to stay focused in a situation like that is to limit our choices.
One tool that is particularly good for this is Shift: a workspace app designed to help you focus by limiting your choices.
The way that Shift works is simple: it gives you access only to the apps you’ve decided are absolutely necessary to your work, and no more. It lives outside of your internet browser and helps you avoid the hassle of constantly logging in and out of apps, decreasing distractions and saving a significant amount of time throughout the day.
“Shift was designed to help people experiencing the feeling of app—and information—overload each day,” says Nadia Tatlow, General Manager at Shift.
“Our goal is to help declutter your digital workspace and give you easy access to the apps that matter most to your productivity and workflow.”
Tatlow says Shift is popular among entrepreneurs, consultants, marketers, and project managers, and for good reason: it offers easy access to all of the most popular task management and productivity tools like Slack, Hangouts, Flow, Dropbox etc.
If you’re thinking of giving Flow a spin, and are seeking more focus in your day to day app chaos, we’d recommend pairing it with Shift. It will declutter your workflow, keep your app “stack” streamlined, and help you focus on real work.
The first step to any good cleanup job—your living room, your garage, or your ‘app pile’ at work—is to get rid of everything you absolutely don’t need.
“But when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”
― Marie Kondō, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
If you’re using two different cloud services for file sharing, two different social medial dashboards, and three different chat clients to communicate with your coworkers, ask yourself honestly whether you really need all of those apps, and be ruthless when the answer is not an emphatic “yes.” Try to limit yourself to one of each “type” of app, and aim to get by with the fewest number possible.
Of course, this can get tricky if your workplace is a rat’s nest of apps and every one of your teammates has their own preferred method of communication (this problem is much more common that you would think.)
If things are so chaotic at work that they’re preventing you from cleaning house, now might be a good time to bring up the problem of “app overload” with management.
It’s very possible that they might simply have never thought about the problem seriously before. And make no mistake: app overload is a serious workplace problem. If most of the critical day-to-day communication at your company is split haphazardly across two or more communication channels, it’s a serious problem that deserves immediate attention from management.
Keep what you like
Let’s say you’re in a management position at a small company and several employees have approached you about app overload at work. And let’s say you’re ready to take the problem seriously. What do you do?
As tempting as it might be to completely overhaul everything and start from scratch, when you’re dealing with multiple people’s workflows, it’s important to proceed with caution.
“We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.”
― Marie Kondō
Instead of just focusing on what to get rid of, think first about what’s actually working. Talk to your team members and make sure that you aren’t making the problem worse. Keep the conversation positive and focus it on keeping and improving the things that everyone likes, rather than getting rid of things people don’t like.
Keep in mind too that any major workflow overhaul is going to have winners and losers. Be aware of the sacrifices your employees are making. If someone gives up their favourite tool so that the whole team can communicate more efficiently, remember it.
Just a few years ago, it felt like apps might soon have an answer to all of our communication, project management and organizational problems. Why spend so much time staying neat and organized at work, the thinking went, when we could just rely on advance search functions to help us find what we need?
“Putting emails in folders is a waste of time, says IBM study,” read one headline from 2012.
“Are folders and filing systems worth fifteen to twenty-five minutes a day of contemplative classification and sort for serious managers?” wrote MIT’s Michael Schrage around the same time.
If, like most people today, you spend more than fifteen to twenty-five minutes a day searching for old files spread across multiple apps, the answer is unequivocally: yes!
As it turns out, there is no app today that is advanced enough to completely organize all of your work for you. Apps can help, but the basic work of sorting and arranging all of your work in a way that makes sense to you is still ultimately up to you.
Instead of spreading all of your important files across a dozen apps and hoping that their search functions will find those files for you in the future, take some time and organize your files yourself. Save important files to a dedicated Dropbox/Drive/your company’s central file storage of choice, and come up with a file system that is intuitive to you.
Instead of seeing apps as the solution to your organization problems, see them as a complement.
Instead of seeing apps as the solution to your organization problems, see them as a complement.
Realize the costs of “just one more app”
Cleaning house can be a great way to shrink your “app pile.” But it’s a pointless exercise if you don’t take steps to keep it small.
In a world where millions of app makers are constantly working on and marketing shiny new tools, the temptation to add “just one more app” can be enormous. One good way to steel yourself against this is to consider the true cost of adding one more app to your workflow.
As you add more apps, and as critical information and conversations get duplicated and scattered over a larger number of tools, the extra work you do negotiating all of those apps essentially begins to amount to a “tax” on your work.
We usually don’t realize the full costs of this tax until it’s too late—until we miss an important notification, lose an important file, or forget to hand in an important deliverable, for example.
The next time you’re ready to download an app designed to “boost your productivity,” consider this “tax” and whether the app is truly worth it.
Choose one project management language
Cutting down on app bloat and staying disciplined is crucial to tackling app overload. But we won’t ever be able to tackle the problem fully unless we address its root cause: namely, the lack of one centralized communication + project tool for the entire workplace.
We’re incredibly proud of the project management tool we’ve built over here at Flow, and we’ve seen firsthand how it helps teams bring all of their work together in one place and focus. If you haven’t already, we’d love for you to take it for a spin.
But choosing a single workplace tool is only half the battle. Getting everyone at your workplace to use Flow, or any other project management tool, is just as important, and just as difficult. Getting buy-in from an entire team requires skill, tact, and a little bit of luck, and it might not necessarily work on the first try.
Whatever you do, it’s important not to get discouraged. If you’re serious about tackling app overload, you need to get serious about bringing all of your team members together in one place.
We’re incredibly proud of the project management tool we’ve built over here at Flow, and we’ve seen firsthand how it helps teams bring all of their work together in one place and focus. We just released a new version of Flow—one that makes it easier than ever to bring your conversations, files and teams together in one place. If you haven’t already, we’d love for you to take it for a spin.
Worried that this is just another case of ‘one more app?’ Try pairing Flow with Shift to keep your workflow neat and tidy. You can also use the coupon ‘Flow30,’ to upgrade to Shift Advanced, giving you access to all of the best of Shift (including apps, extensions, cross-account unified search, and more), and helping you vanquish app overload once and for all.
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