How Can You Choose the Best Apps?

Are you choosing the best apps or just wasting time?

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #172


Roxie writes in: "I've downloaded so many apps that I am overwhelmed by them all! I am a sucker for those 'lite' and free apps. How can I streamline choosing apps?"

How Can You Choose the Best Apps?

I was hard at work when I heard Bernice holler. "I brought cupcakes for everyone!! Come and get them!" "As soon as I'm done with this email," I called out. Five minutes later, I arrived at the conference room. Nothing was left of the cupcakes except a few crumbs and a bit of icing Bernice was happily licking from her fingers.

Bernice told me she knows from her extensive diet experience that sugar and fat make things taste very delicious, but also very bad for us. However, she also knows that people have a limited amount of willpower each day.

So as Bernice said, “It would be foolish to waste my limited, precious willpower resisting a cupcake. I hope I've set a good example for you."

Apps are the buttercream-frosted cupcakes of our minds. We can't resist them. They're instant gratification combined with the promise of a glorious future. We know that we should resist browsing app stores for hours... but we do anyway. While eating cupcakes with buttercream frosting.

Why Big App Stores Make Us Waste Time

App stores love to flaunt their size. "We have 800,000 apps." They say that like it's a good thing. More apps mean more choice. That is a bad thing. More choice means more stress and more paralysis. There are dozens of studies that show this, all neatly summarized in the book The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. Besides, we don't need 800,000 apps.

The original Palm Pilot had four apps: an address book, a to-do list, a memo pad, and a calendar. Exactly the four applications you need to be productive. It was pure productivity.

An 800,000-app store means we have to burn up our precious, irreplaceable life energy evaluating 799,996 apps before finding the four that actually make us productive. (My zombie minions are shaking their heads sadly. They say we don't understand how valuable that precious life energy is.) The time you spend browsing apps comes right out of the productivity time the app saves.

How to Choose Better Apps

The first rule of selecting apps is to know what you need. Don't browse the app store. If you see a colorful icon and are tempted to click on it to find out more, say to yourself, "This is my life I'm wasting." Oh, look! Angry Birds! "This is my life I'm wasting." Wow! An app that can help me figure out what color my groceries are! "This is my life I'm wasting." Got it? Start with your needs: a memo pad app, and go from there.

How to Decide Which Apps You Need

The time you spend browsing apps comes right out of the time you save.

Grab a piece of paper and list your needs on paper. Use paper because if you do this online you'll get distracted. What do you need the app to do? Especially if you're buying for a mobile device, consider these needs, which are easy to overlook:

  • Do you need to be able to back up the app's data?

  • Do you need to be able to sync the app with your desktop or another device to access the data?

  • Do you need to be able to import/export the app's data, or transfer it to other apps?

  • Do you need the app to be compatible with multiple platforms? (e.g. if you don't want to be locked into iPhone/Android)

How to Know If You Really Need an App

Before you go any further, it's time for some deep naval gazing. Get out your Shamanic journeying drums, journey to the lower world, and ask your power animals, "Do I really need this app? Will I use it?" If they shriek and scream and threaten to tear you limb from limb, that means no.

If you don't have power animals, then just ask yourself. If you don't immediately and passionately answer Yes, that also means no.

You'll probably say, "I won't know until I evaluate them." Wrong answer. Even if you don't know the specific app you're going to buy, you should know roughly whether it's filling a real need or is just an impulse buy.

If you believe you do need it, ask how you're accomplishing the task now and whether the app will really help. "Right now, I'm using a 3x5 pad to write my memos in pencil. Having an app would help because I could save memos and use them for reference later." That's a good enough reason to continue your search.

Make Time Your Friend

Before you start browsing, set a time limit. You'll find a gazillion apps for any need you have. Evaluating them all would take forever. Set a total time limit for how long you'll play with apps before making your choice. A time limit means you won't have time to try every app. Too bad. You'll have a life instead. You'll spend at most an hour trying two dozen memo pad apps to find which has the prettiest background. Oh, boy! A picture of a daisy! Once your app store time limit is up, you can get up, go outside, and see a real daisy.

Will there be other apps that are better? Yes. But that's not the question. The question is whether you have something that's good enough to meet your needs. Choose an app and settle on it. If you think you want to look for a better one, the same rules still apply: review your needs on paper, consider alternative solutions, be honest about whether you need it, and set a time limit.

Be Real About Apps

Once you have an app, put a note in your calendar to revisit it in a month. If you haven't worked it into your workflow by then, delete it. We have enough cluttering our lives without needing to add virtual clutter as well.

Enjoy your apps, but do so consciously and deliberately.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!


Phone Apps image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.