2021 was the year of too many productivity tools, and it’s likely that 2022 will also be that year. Finding the right tool for calendar-ing or note-taking is always a trial-and-error process. But it’s grown even more complicated with hybrid work and an ever-evolving company tech stack.
Sometimes deciphering what an app even does is difficult. As “Keep Productive” host Francesco D’Alessio said, productivity tools are like “bloody transformers.” Dropbox wants to do async videos like Loom, Figma and Miro want to be meeting tools, Slack wants to do, well, everything. Productivity apps keep shapeshifting in an attempt to solve all of your workplace problems. But an overly complex tool belt can actually create more problems.
Protocol wants to help you sort through the noise. Below, I’ve laid out some of the productivity trends to look out for as well as some apps to try out in the new year.
The way we talk to each other completely transformed during the pandemic. Video chatting became a must, as did messaging hubs like Slack or Microsoft Teams. Now, people are starting to reject instant messaging as the gold standard of workplace communication. Some companies have abandoned live meetings and chat in favor of tools that allow them to record and schedule messages.
“There’s a lot of communication that doesn’t need to be completely synchronous,” said Jeetu Patel, who runs security and collaboration at Cisco. “You can just send me a 10-minute recording that I can listen to at 2x speed and get back to you. That’s something I can do at my own leisure.” Cisco, which already holds videoconferencing tool Webex, is investing in async video through Vidcast.
The push for async falls under a greater theme of us wanting to lead less chaotic lives. We think a lot about how we want to spend our time, and we’ve realized it’s not in constant meetings. Async seems like one of the manifestations of demands for more flexible work, along with the four-day workweek. “I think the no-meeting apps will continue to just grow and grow,” D’Alessio said.
More flexible meetings
Speaking of a revolt against endless meetings: Scores of new companies are trying to make our meetings more productive. Grids of boxes on a screen aren’t going to cut it in a world of constant distraction.
One challenge is bridging the gap between in-person and remote workers, which companies like Zoom and Webex are trying to tackle. Another challenge is compiling a meeting’s essential information and giving it to those who were absent. No one watches a 45-minute Zoom recording straight through. With new video-chatting tool Headroom, the live transcript and shared notes are front and center during meetings. When you click on blocks of text from the transcript, they immediately copy into your notes. After a meeting, participants are emailed the shared notes, a video playback, a searchable transcript and a graph showing how much everyone spoke.
“I believe asynchronous is important, but even more important is the ability to have the continuum between synchronous and asynchronous and choose where you want to be,” said co-founder and former Google executive Julian Green.
Transcription service Otter.ai is also built for meeting playback, particularly through its partnership with Zoom, which it deepened with a live transcript assistant in May. CEO Sam Liang said Otter captures what you missed if, for example, you get an urgent Slack message or arrive a few minutes late to a meeting. “This is a new way for people to work, enabling people to be more productive and multitask better,” said Liang.
All-in-one productivity systems
An oversaturated productivity-app market means integrations, integrations and more integrations. Slack integrates with Zoom, which integrates with Monday.com, which integrates with Excel and on and on. Anne-Laure Le Cunff, founder of the productivity group Ness Labs, said many users are interested in integrated systems, fatigued by having to switch tools every few minutes. Tool fatigue is hard to combat because, as Le Cunff pointed out, productivity-obsessed people tend to be afflicted by the “shiny tools syndrome.”
“We sometimes end up with this Frankenstein productivity system that is really complex and paradoxically becomes counterproductive,” Le Cunff said. “Try [to] streamline your system and stick to one or two tools that are providing most of the productivity support.”
D’Alessio thinks in 2022 we’ll see a shift away from to-do list apps toward comprehensive, all-in-one systems. “There’s this new, hybrid, to-do list application that almost makes you think a bit more clearly,” he said. He referenced tools like Akiflow that merge your calendar and tasks together. D’Alessio also sees the calendar as becoming the heart of the productivity system after years of calendar chaos. “I think a lot of people like their work to be in their calendar because it’s the most associated with time as you can get,” D’Alessio said. He listed startups like Cron, Magical and Daybridge.
Some of the all-in-one tools might be expensive, but he thinks people will be willing to invest in them if it means a calmer work life: especially for tools, like email organizer Superhuman, that use AI to automate work for you. “It’s not for everyone, but I feel like it’s almost a long time coming,” D’Alessio said. “I thought this would have happened already, like a premium sector.”
The boundary between productivity tools and creativity tools has started to dissolve in recent years, according to Le Cunff. “Instead of just being productivity tools, they’re becoming integrated thinking tools,” she said. She listed note-taking tools like Notion and Roam that encourage users to decide how best to display their thoughts. “Tools used to be quite rigid, and you had to adapt yourself to them,” Le Cunff said. “Now, tools are adapting to your needs.”
Chris Dancy, known as the “most connected person” or “mindful cyborg” due to the 700 devices that monitor his life, firmly believes in the power of creating your own productivity system. Your system has to reflect your own values, so he’s a fan of tools that let him choose his own adventure. He uses Miro to map out his goals and values, and Airtable to catalog them. Miro is his heart and Airtable is his brain, he said. He likes them because they “[force] you to define what's important right up front. Very few tools allow you to have a belief system. Most productivity tools give you the belief system.”
Dancy said when he shows people his productivity setup, some people will ask if they can mimic the values he’s built his system around. The question always baffles him: He wants to respond, “How about you have your values?” But he understands that people need help finding out what’s important to them, and how to organize those values digitally. “To me, productivity in its best form is therapy,” Dancy said.