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."