Saturday, January 28, 2012

What's the Real Problem?

My friend Maneesh posted this article about BIG problems and, interestingly enough, it got me thinking about SMALL problems. Well, more like fundamental problems, whether they're big or small...

The problem with startups is that they can’t solve the big problems.

I've been putting together a simple to-do list for a little coding practice and it got me thinking about what it could be used for. While thinking about that, I found countless task list applications (web apps, mobile apps, etc). While they each tend to have a compelling feature and some are more elegant than others, I realized that the PROBLEM isn't about the task list itself. I mean, a piece of paper (or txt file) is more than enough to keep track of things that need to get done. Even the prioritization of those things isn't the problem. Again, you can just add a number in pencil to each item and change it as you please. The problem that I think most people are looking to address by using a to-do list is more around actually GETTING THOSE THINGS DONE. The tasks could be in the most elegant app with the coolest font, but that doesn't change things when there's a lack of motivation or thought process around actually getting those things done. Sure many apps add in functionality around helping to organize those thoughts and prioritize to just the most important things (thereby helping with motivation I suppose), but in the end, if the person writing those tasks down (or typing them up) doesn't actually follow-up, then what purpose does any part of the app serve?

So what's my point?

Well, from my week of looking at task lists, I've found there are great apps out there which are clean, elegant, & simple to use. But they gloss over what most "to-doers" likely need (eg, the problem they're trying to solve). They're not looking to write down their tasks. They're looking to get them done. And continue getting them done.

So maybe less fluff in a task app helps focus on actually getting things done and automated reminders can help with the on-going motivation, but I think that unless a solution actually helps clear the way to getting those things done, it may as well be a simple sheet of paper (or text file) with numbers noting priority. Anything beyond that is fluff and doesn't actually get at the real problem.

In the case of task lists, I think a "Getting things done" philosophy is way more important than any app designed to help you track your tasks. I can attest to this since for several years now, I've followed it religiously and it keeps my inbox to a minimum and my tasks keep getting done. So while many app developers may think of great ideas to make managing tasks a little easier, I don't think they're addressing their users' fundamental task oriented problems unless they push David Allen's GTD philosophy.

Of course there's not much money to be made in just pointing to an existing approach or website. So it's no surprise that developers keep trying to re-build task lists. And in the meantime, people will continue to hunt for the perfect task app to solve their real problem.

I'd love to hear more about your thoughts how apps can focus more on the real problems that people face, thereby solving those problems.

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