Can An iPad App Really Make You More Productive And Inspired?

Unstuck is a new free tool to help you move past a mental roadblock.

Okay, so you’re supposed to be working on something and you know you’re supposed to be working on that something but, for whatever reason, you can’t seem to get going. Surfing the Internet for a while hasn’t helped (hint: it never does) but you’re wondering if maybe there’s a tool to help you get unstuck. Enter: Unstuck, an app for your iPad.

Unstuck is a spin-off from SYPartners, "a company that helps leaders and their teams during times of transformation." The idea is that you can follow a few easy steps to tell the app about your situation and then it’ll give you advice. You start by picking three feelings, filling in some details by multiple choice, and then the app gives you a pile of virtual cards to sort into "so me" and "not me." At the end, it diagnoses your problems and offers tips and an interactive tool (there are 11 in all) to help you move forward.

If you are reading this and thinking "that sounds a lot like an interactive Cosmo quiz," then I have successfully conveyed the experience of using the app. While there is the kernel of an idea here—the concept of diagnosing your mental roadblocks, and offering ways to eliminate them—there’s execution problems that prevent me from giving an endorsement.

I did an experimental run-through using a project that I’ve been procrastinating on for some time. At the end, we descended into an uncanny valley of algorithmic advice. The app determined that I was behaving like a "Tunnel Visionary," compared me to Oprah, Bette Graham, and Rachael Ray, offered me a chance to use their simplistic mind-mapping tool and then (I am not making this up) suggested I spend some time visiting Twistori and rewatching Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of 10. You can’t fault them for taste, but it’s not even a little bit clear to me how these things will solve a procrastination problem.

There is no denying that Unstuck is a very pretty app. The screens are well laid out with a playful mix of sans-serif type and faux handwritten text. It’s also kind of fun to fill out the questions. But this is one planet in a whole bloated galaxy of "creativity tools" that promise easy solutions to hard problems. Think of all the to-do apps, self-help books, writer’s journals, inspiration calendars, life-hacks, tips of the day, and the like. If you are the kind of person to whom Unstuck appeals, you’ve probably made a lot of aspirational acquisitions in this space already. How’s that working out for you?

It’s a carnival of snake-oil sales and distracting baubles, many of which trick you into thinking that you are working on your problem when you are just procrastinating in a more beautifully laid out way. This is not to say that it’s impossible to find tools or techniques that will enhance your productivity, but it is to ask whether the problem you’re facing is due to your tools.

Ultimately, the way to get going on a project where you’re stuck is to attend to it directly. It’s a question of time and attention, and having a discipline to focus on the matter at hand. Maybe running through Unstuck’s exercises will focus your attention long enough to give you some valuable perspective, but I can’t help but think of Merlin Mann’s quip: "Joining a Facebook group about creative productivity is like buying a chair about jogging."

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  • Socialfp

    FitnessPlanner™ is an App for those truly serious about achieving lasting weight loss and better fitness

  • Uncle Jacket

    Watching their video over and over is definitely making me less productive.

  • Constipated.

    Downloaded App. Have to agree with Tim that the app is weak. I was personally compared to a professor that was able to become unstuck when he was given a few months to live because of cancer. Now I can't work on my project because I'm consumed with thoughts of mortality.

    Nice design though, just no meat. 

  • terry68_la

    Tim, I just downloaded the app and I have to say I was pretty impressed. I actually thought I would agree with you as these are such human things that the app is trying to take on. But I found that the experience was helpful for something I'm trying to figure out regarding my job. It had me do this interactive exercise at the end that helped me make a decision (the challenge I had was much more than procrastination, rather simplistic way of looking at things in my opinion). 
    Also, the app is free which is kinda amazing to me given everything that's in it. I suggest people give it a try.  

  • Shaberli

    I do not think  procrastination is a good term. I've been stuck on projects, I walked away from the project, not because of procrastinating. Its because emersing yourself into a problem is not always the best way of going about finding a solution. I'm concerned about the road block, but I don't panic, I know that some time away from the project, your are still thinking. And usually the solution reveals itself due to looking at it at a different angle, and the end solution you come up with is the best possible answer then if you had battle it out. 

  • Ckts

    i think you're assuming that people who get 'stuck' are just procrastinating what they ultimately need to get done. but often times i've been stuck with a mental roadblock, or unsure of how to best proceed and it wasn't procrastination that was holding me back. it was mostly a lack of information and resources.

    i got a chance to play with this app and i think it's really helpful. although it's a technical solution, you can see that there were 'humans' doing the problem solving for the solutions that came across. sure they're not perfect, but they're more helpful than not. and the tools (the ones i tried) are surprisingly insightful.

  • Rick Beaton

    Thanks Tim, a thoughtful review of another tool that offers a technical solution to what is a more complex human problem. Since at least 30% of productivity is lost to human discretionary effort, one would have thought that a more thoughtful, informed approach to the human person is now possible. This space remains crowded with "experts" who have little or no real expertise in the area.

    The Human factor remains the one area of organizational life that lacks substantial investment. It is easier to supply a quick technical fix than address the systemic issues that often lie behind the problems. LifeWork issues can be solved, but perhaps not with apps of this nature.

  • David Belden

    This does seem like another toy consume even more time not doing what needs to be done. I will definitely download and play with it. Then, I will abandon it with so many other fun and useless tools.

    Maybe getting unstuck is better accomplished by joining a MasterMind group of some kind, where you can collaborate and innovate with others. Part of a MasterMind group (Vistage, YPO, etc) is to hold members accountable for action. Isn't that what we are really looking for?

  • Jonathan Miller

    Looks like a pale imitation of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies to me...

  • Riccardo Paterni

    I am going to download the app right away!... it sounds like a fun and productive way to switch mental filters and unconscious roadblocks...

  • Riccardo Paterni

    I am going to download the app right away!... it sounds like a fun and productive way to switch mental filters and unconscious roadblocks...