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by Almar Klein | published 13-08-2023 | last edited 13-08-2023

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Doing one thing and doing it right

In the world of productivity, an abundance of tools exists, each catering to various workflows with the aim of enhancing efficiency. People tend to create their unique workflows and select tools to support those workflows. App developers often get requests to incorporate additional tools into their apps. However, with few exceptions, apps that attempt to provide multiple tools often fall short in doing each one really well. I've come to believe that productivity apps should strive to excel in one thing, while allowing integration mechanisms to enhance the broader workflow.

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Productivity apps with multiple tools

Tracking time is part of a range of organisational tools that are often part of a larger workflow, encompassing email, calendar, todo lists, note taking, a service for music that helps you focus, or a project board for planning. The self-employed also require invoicing and bookkeeping ... The list seems endless.

Integrating multiple tools within a single app can be advantageous. Many apps offering one of these tools often include features from others. For example, there are time trackers that also do invoicing, book keeping software that also does time tracking, email apps that have note-taking abilities, note-taking apps that incorporate task management, and platforms like Trello that strive to be a Swiss Army knife of functionality.

Indeed, there are synergies that work well. It can be beneficial for specific user groups to have a multi-tool app. The classic example is combining email with a calendar. And I like my bookkeeping software to also produce and send my invoices. But personal preferences play a significant role here.

Tailoring Your Workflow

In my view, individuals develop their own workflows to maximize effectiveness. Over time, these workflows evolve and become uniquely tailored to each person. People select tools that align with their workflow, and as that workflow adapts, so too does the tooling.

Interestingly, the tools you use also influence your workflow. They may bring limitations that you must work around, or they may empower you by unlocking new methods to enhance your effectiveness.

As my own workflow has evolved, I've switched tools occasionally and become more precise in my tool requirements. For instance, I absolutely love LogSeq, but find its todo feature rather awkward for general task management :)

Side note: It's crucial to keep your objectives in mind as you develop your workflow. I prefer the term "effectiveness" over "productivity." If a tool reduces stress during work, improves work-life balance, or simply brings more joy to your work, these outcomes can be more significant than mere productivity gains!

Developer risks of adding secondary tools

When an app introduces a new tool, it sometimes seamlessly extend its functionality, and it can even become hard to imagine the app without this feature. In other cases, such a secondary tool feels incomplete, out of place, or targeted at a specific niche of users. The addition of a new feature requires ongoing development and maintenance, from fixing bugs to implementing user-requested improvements. Over time, this can shift the app's primary focus and user experience.

From the developer's perspective, this introduces risks: adding a secondary tool to an app can 1) introduce complexity and clutter; 2) consume valuable developer resources;; 3) alter the core identity of the app. App developers must carefully weigh these factors before deciding to incorporate a new feature. A middle-ground can sometimes be achieved by keeping the new tool simple and focused (and be strict about it).

When I started working on TimeTagger, I initially envisioned a multi-tool productivity app encompassing idea generation, note-taking, scheduling, and time tracking. The goal was to provide a comprehensive solution from concept to execution. However, I soon realised that implementing these tools involved countless design decisions, making it unlikely that this set of tools would perfectly match the needs of a specific user.

Excelling at one thing ... is tough

This perspective has led me to believe that productivity apps are most effective when they specialise in one thing. They should embrace a unique approach (e.g. tags and the timeline in TimeTagger) and strive to excel from there. Developers should avoid feature creep, and only incorporate features that enhance the core essence of the app.

However, this approach can be at odds with idea that as a developer you should listen to the users, because it means sometimes saying "no" to user requests. Developers have a delicate responsibility to meet users' needs while simultaneously preserving the app's identity, ensuring it remains simple, intuitive, and maintainable.

Balancing these aspects can indeed be challenging. One technique I've found invaluable is asking the right questions. A user might request a specific feature, but by delving deeper and understanding the underlying core needs, it's often possible to address those needs in a manner that aligns better with the app's purpose. And if the answer still must be no, there's the opportunity to provide valuable recommendations for alternative apps that might better suit their requirements.


In the bigger picture, the idea is that users can combine a set of specialised tools that best fit their needs. The primary challenge of such a modular approach is how information flows seamlessly between these tools. While manual data input suffices in some cases, it's highly beneficial when tools can communicate with one another.

Therefore I am a proponent of standards that enable apps to exchange information and work harmoniously. Examples are CalDAV for sharing calendar information, and the banking APIs that allow bookkeeping software to process business transactions automatically. I believe that protocols like these facilitate better collaboration among apps, ultimately leading to smoother workflows for users.

TimeTagger does not make use of any API's (yet), but this idea has driven the flexible import / output tools, and the possibility to export to a predefined csv format to enable processing the time-tracking data with other applications.


Given the abundance of partially overlapping tools in the realm of productivity apps, it's tempting for developers to expand their app to user requests. Nevertheless, adhering to the core essence of the app tends to be better in the long term.