The app trap

FullSizeRender-4I have had my shiny new iPhone for about 6 months now. Previously, I was operating with an early 2011 version, which I think was actually the old version then, and it had very little ability to deal with most apps. At some point, even the built-in map app stopped updating with traffic. I checked email and could use it as a phone, and could see a few websites (many crashed it) and that’s about it.

My new phone takes much better pictures. It gets traffic info, and all that good stuff. I can read the newspapers I wish to read online without trouble. I downloaded Uber, and have used that in Nashville and Philly. I was tempted to tiptoe into the world of more apps, including productivity apps, but eventually I slowed myself.

Why? As I thought about it, I realized that apps might affect how I spend my time, particularly my not-working time. Even apps that promise to help with productivity make my phone more interesting. If my phone is more interesting, I spend more time on it — perhaps on the productivity apps, but also checking email and social media and all that, just because they are there. I call this the “app trap.” Any time gained through apps is quite likely to be lost in spending more potential work or leisure time in chopped up bits of screen gazing. I don’t think the cause of time management is well-served by spending more time on my phone.

So I have generally stopped downloading stuff. What apps make the cut of being worth risking the app trap for you?

In other news: Over at Fast Company, I have a post up about people with multi-year streaks of doing something daily. This includes my father’s 39-year Hebrew reading habit. This was a fun post to write. I may write another post here about streaks soon.

Photo: The old iPhone.


15 thoughts on “The app trap

  1. I have installed a few apps that make my life a bit smoother – uber, spotify, fb messenger (but not FB), grocery delivery, and work email and calendar. I only have automatic notification for texts because that’s usually my husband texting with something timely (“Are you still for picking up [kid] or do you need to stay late?”).

    To keep it all in check, I use QualityTime (which automatically sends me a short update on the previous day’s usage – # of unlocks and minutes on the phone).

    1. @June – I probably should try tracking unlocks. Although that may fall into the categories of things that would horrify me (perhaps that means I really should use it!)

  2. Useful apps for me: meditation app, YNAB, amazon, Eat24 (order food for delivery), my bank’s app, spotify.
    Most time-wasting app: Instagram! But I really enjoy it, so . . .

    Re: the streaks, I think there are certain people who LOVE the idea of streaks — myself included – and many people who wouldn’t find it enticing at all. A polarizing concept 🙂

    1. @SHU – I agree on the streak thing. My father did not find sticking with the reading hard. I’m not sure I could do a streak of anything – I would feel more trapped by the concept and I like taking days off “to renew” or some such. But given that I have eaten every day for probably something like 37 years straight, perhaps it’s a matter of finding something I really really love.

      And on apps – definitely ones like a bank app would be time saving – using that instead of going in to the bank or calling would be huge!

  3. Similar to others: uber, bank app for depositing checks, mint & YNAB for tracking spending, Calm (meditation app), CVS app to refill rx when needed, Paprika for syncing grocery lists with husband in case either of us stop by the store, and of course calendar, weather & maps. oh and overdrive for connecting to library system to get ebooks. I do have FB messenger but not FB anymore. I use Feedly for reading blogs but that is more time-wasting than saving!

  4. I tend to get apps that function more as tools for me. Nike Running, a tuner for viola, a tuner for ukulele, an app that helps me keep track of my knitting projects, WeatherPuppy (a cute photo of a puppy with the weather forecast), Pandora, and Wunderlist (to-do list app). I also use the alarm, timer, and stopwatch functions that come with the phone quite a bit. Along with the camera, calculator, flashlight, notes, and reminders/to-do list that came with the phone. I have the Kindle app as well but that’s more if I’m stuck somewhere and don’t have a book with me.

    I do love Instagram and a little bit of time on Facebook, but I limit myself to once a day and set a timer on the phone. I do use my phone quite a bit but don’t feel that I’m mindlessly spending lots of time on social media–it usually helps accomplish some other goal. Listening to podcasts has made me take my dog for more walks, Couch to 5k helped me get back into running, Pandora and iTunes keep my energy up while cooking and cleaning, etc.

  5. Apps that are worth it (to me): Amazon (shopping), My Fitness Pal (tracking calories), Kindle (can read while waiting in line), Cozi (family calendar), Calm (meditation), 7 (exercise), and Ted Talks.

  6. I have TONS of apps (literally hundreds into 1000+) — yet I use only a handful on any “regular” basis.

    Week Calendar* and Calendars5. (Week Calendar allows templates, and it’s very quick entry; it also allows icons. Calendars5 has a nice clean layout and handles alarms better, so Week Calendar to enter and Calendars5 for alarms.)

    GasBuddy: find cheap gas nearby (and/or at favorite locations)

    Bible Study App by Olive Tree and Bible app by YouVersion: Multiple translations* of the Bible as well as Commentaries*, etc.

    Modern Essentials*: Essential oil reference app (I try using essential oils vs. conventional drugs)

    MindNode*: mind mapping app (for those book/topic ideas while out and about)

    2Do* and Due*: productivity apps (2Do allows structured lists, tagging, etc.; Due is more for those “can’t forget and remind me until I do them” tasks. I can get very focused on my current task and will otherwise miss certain deadlines/activities)

    Scout: navigation

    Mvelopes* and bank apps: money management and mobile deposit (the bomb!)

    Keeper*: many systems, many passwords, one app to rule them all

    ATracker PRO*: amazing time tracker

    TimeStamps: tracking in/out punches

    Dark Sky and Wunderground: weather apps (great for checking weather before walking/exercising outdoors)

    PaceDJ: access to my entire library and picks songs that are +/- a few bpm of the pace I want to walk/exercise

    A couple games: Word Streak, Ruzzle for word games, Sudoku for numbers, Flow Free for puzzles

    And last, but not least: Appsgonefree and AppZapp Pro. Despite the fact that I have tons of apps, I have paid for very few of them. Those above with the * are some of the VERY FEW that I’ve paid money for. The rest have been free courtesy of notifications from these apps. I especially like AppZapp Pro as it allows me to search for/flag apps to watch for a price point I’m willing to pay (all non-essentials, which is the vast majority of them, that price point is FREE.)

    I have other apps that I use for occasional reference, or something like Scannable for creating PDFs from pictures I take with my phone (amazing app, really!), but my phone usage is pretty disciplined: I’m on it for a specific reason/purpose, and once that’s done, I’m off of it. Although I have many apps (including social media) that could be very distracting/time consuming, I’m not tempted to check them any time I’m on the phone.

    But I imagine I’m probably in the minority there.

  7. FB, MapMyWalk (and FitBit, they sync), weather, and my seasonal guilty pleasure is YellowBrick Racing for tracking sailing events, like the Race to Mackinac! Keeps me busy for a few days, then done.

  8. I read this post, picked up my phone, and deleted the FB app. I feel liberated! (and i didn’t realise how many times a day i went onto the FB app until it wasn’t there any more).

    Thanks Laura!

  9. I have Duolingo so I can use commuting time (on the one day week I spend commuting by train) for my daily language practice. Having read the comments above I’m going to look at Paprika, Wunderlist and (above all) WeatherPuppy and hope it covers the UK!

  10. I have to be discerning about apps because I don’t have a ton of space on my phone. I usually install timesuck apps on my iPad, which I use only at home, and keep my iPhone fairly functional. If I could get rid of one app it would be the dreaded Facebook as that one IS on my phone and it is an attractive nuisance. But if I deleted it, I would worry about feeling disconnected from my social group.

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