Top 5 Online Apps That Ruin Your Productivity

By Leo Babauta

They’re fun, they’re cool, they’re all the rage. Online applications that help us communicate in so many new ways, that help us socialize and network and make a million and one friends. And some have argued, and many believe, that these applications make us more productive.

But in reality, they don’t, and I’ll tell you why. While communication tools can be used effectively to make us more productive, and communicate more efficiently, many of these apps are addictive, and the noise-to-signal ratio is very high. For all the chatter going on, there is very little useful information. To get use out of these apps, we must sift through a lot of wasted time and energy and activity.

The solution? Turn them off. Only use them at predetermined times, for a fixed purpose. Or banish them altogether — the usual communication tools of email and phone work just fine for most purposes.

Without further ado, here are the Top 5 Online Apps That Ruin Your Productivity:

  1. Twitter. Everyone seems to be talking about Twitter. They’re in love with it, or they hate it. I feel neither attitude toward it, but instead analyze the possible uses for it. Unfortunately, for all the time that people spend on Twitter, I don’t believe the possible uses for it are worth the effort. Some suggestions, like looking for the latest deals from certain companies or getting updates on software or other things like that, sound fairly useful but for all the stuff you have to sift through to get that info, it’s definitely not worth it. A deal that saves you a few bucks isn’t worth hours of your time monitoring Twitter to get the deal. That’s not the most productive use of your time. Especially if you’re getting a deal on something you didn’t really need in the first place. End result? You’ve wasted lots of time in order to watch somebody’s advertisements.
  2. IM. This isn’t as new or hip as Twitter, and in effect is similar in terms of communication modes. It’s also a great waste of time in most cases. Chatting with 5-10 people at a time is not efficient communication. Now, if you’re using IM with one person for a specific, productive purpose, it can be very effective. Doing an interview or discussing a business proposal over IM, for example, is better than email. But most of the time, people just use IM to socialize, and that’s not the best use of your time. Being instantly available to people is a distraction, and puts you at the mercy of their whims, instead of allowing you to allocate your time to best use.
  3. Email notification. I’m not knocking email — it’s my favorite way of communicating except with close friends — but having instant notification of every email is unproductive. It interrupts your work so that you can answer someone else’s request. Sure, there are times when you’re waiting for an important email and you just have to know when it comes right away. But most of the time you don’t need to know this instant. You can check your email twice a day, say, or 3-4 times, or at the top of every hour if you must. You don’t need it on all the time. If it’s always on, again, you are at the mercy of the demands of others, instead of controlling your work day yourself.
  4. Blog reader. I’m also a fan of blog feeds — I read well over 100 posts a day. But I realized a little while ago that I was checking my Google Reader too many times throughout the day. It was a waste of my time. If you do this as well, you need to kick this addiction. First, set a certain time when you read your feeds each day, and only check it during that time. Second, weed out your subscriptions so that you only have those feeds that give you value each day.
  5. Social bookmarking sites like Digg. Again, I love these sites — Digg, Netscape, Reddit, Stumbleupon, Delicious. They’re great stuff, and can be very useful in finding news and blogs you didn’t know about. But if you’re spending a lot of time on these sites, reading all the stories that come in (and there are thousands a day!), voting for your favorites, adding and talking with friends on the site, and becoming an active member of the community — well, most likely you’re waisting a lot of productive time. Being a part of one of these communities can be a lot of fun, and that in itself can have value. But in the end, you are helping make someone else’s site better, and not working on your own goals. That’s the bottom line. That’s why you should also limit your time spent on these sites — use them in ways that help you, but don’t overuse them.