Time tracking and management. Scheduling calls and meetings. Writing. Nutrition and exercise. Keeping up with current affairs. Mindfulness. For practically every want, need or problem—real or imagined—there’s a corresponding app. It was Newton who said “For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” It’s the same for apps.
Fortunately, I don’t use many of them—I don’t have much of a frankenstack. That’s partly because I haven’t been forced by circumstance to evolve sophisticated mechanisms to handle insane levels of correspondence, manage great torrents of information and noise, build and maintain strategic relationships, and things like that.
But my app-lite existence is also deliberate. See, I think that dependency equals vulnerability, that every point of reliance is a point of weakness sometime in the future. So I don’t want my commons to be tied up with Evernote or OneDrive. I don’t want my productivity to be determined by my ability to access Omnifocus. I don’t want my training and sleeping habits to be bundled up with a Fitbit.
Instead, I try to aim for the (unattainable) gold standard of environment-free productivity; no matter the external circumstances, or the tools available, I want to still be able to produce at roughly the same caliber and speed. An extension of this idea outside the realm of productivity results in the search for a minimal-dependency life. A determination to rely on the smallest possible amount of things for critical functions.
Another way to think of it is using the concepts of weight and criticality. Imagine a sequence of three concentric circles. In the centre-most circle are critical functions, in the second ring are essential functions, and in the outer ring are tertiary, non-essential functions. Now, for every function that relies on something other than itself—e.g. time management dependent upon a calendar and a scheduling tool—assign a weight which is equivalent to the extent of its dependency. The aim is for your critical and essential functions to be as lightweight as possible.
Why? Well. In times of stress and chaos, a dependency becomes a weakness. So if you can eliminate dependency in peacetime, when it comes to war, when chaos is upon you, you will be less disrupted and will suffer less of a jolt in your ability to keep doing what you do to the highest possible standards.
Sure, it’s not easy to resist the allure of the perfect app, and doing so definitely has some cost in time, energy, money, productivity and opportunity. But that’s a price that’s worth eating if it enables you to survive, nay, to thrive, when others begin to flounder.