An emergent new class of tools is focusing on the individual and changing how knowledge workers interact with software.
There are rare events in human history that we all experience for the first time together, all at once. This pandemic is one of those events.
For knowledge workers, that means our traditional work environment, in an office, was suddenly turned upside down. Instead, we all began working from home, becoming ever more reliant on tools and software, when a simple tap on the shoulder of your colleague was no longer possible.
For the most part, all the tools at our disposal were built for an office-first world. But in the 19 months since our new reality took over, a crop of startups are addressing the information overload created by going remote.
Here are the five new trends in productivity software that were born out of this black swan event.
Focus on the individual
For the most part, our current stack of tools is optimized for collaboration and teams: project managers, chat tools like Slack, email. These platforms are the digital equivalent of open-office floor plans, aimed at increasing interaction at the expense of individual focus and deep work.
The tools emerging are focusing instead on the individual, helping them make better sense of all the noise. They are the digital equivalent of a private office, where you can go and get heads-down work done.
A general trend more broadly in software, but especially in the productivity space, is reducing friction for users. Keyboard shortcuts making actions in the tool instantly accessible from anywhere. Always present menu bars and extensions to keep you on track and remind you of what happens next. Speed and performance of the app itself. These are all critical features that put productivity tools at the heart of every interaction throughout the user’s workday.
What and when
For too long, what you have to do has been divorced from when you are going to do it. Task managers and calendars were separate tools, and people would often manually transpose their to-dos to their calendars.
In a world where colleagues or Calendly can book meetings for you without you even realizing it, being able to carve out time to get deep work done is especially critical.
Modern productivity tools are bringing the what together with the when — embedding tasks within calendars to help you plan better and block time for getting big projects done.
Everything in one place
For these tools to work, they need to be a single source of truth for users and to bring all tasks, communications and information into a single view.
That’s why integrations with project managers, email, Slack and other collaboration tools are critical. It’s about taking the outputs of team collaboration and bringing into where the individual user gets their best work done.
Have an opinion
Finally, all these tools have an opinion about how users should use them. They go beyond simple software and instead are aiming to change users’ behavior and routines to buy into a new productivity philosophy.
The key players tackling these trends include Taskable (disclaimer: I am one of the cofounders), Sunsama and Akiflow. All take different approaches to how they deliver the key principles outlined above to their users. Some, like Akiflow, are very much based around the calendar. In contrast, some like Sunsama have more team functionality, and Taskable focuses on deep integrations and two-way syncing with your existing tools.
What these products have in common is their focus on the individual user. They integrate with the project management tools teams use to coordinate and plan and bring all the tasks and communications for the user into a single workspace. Aggregation allows the user to see everything they need to get done in one place and plan out their day, week, or even month. Whereas most productivity tools are centered around teams getting things done, these new tools are focused on optimizing for the individual.
For example, in our product (Taskable), users have an inbox where tasks, Slack messages, and emails sync to Taskable. Each morning, users review their inboxes and plan out which day to work on those new tasks. They can even add tasks to their calendar to timeblock. This single view of all their priorities gives the user better tools to plan their time and stay focused on what matters, rather than searching across several different platforms.
There are also specific tools diving more deeply into each one of the key principles outlined above.
For example, reducing friction is the MO behind Command-E and Raycast. Both are command centers for all your cloud tools and documents, letting you search for things and even create tasks in your integrated tools.
Clockwise is going deep on the calendar, helping users better manage and track their time, and carve out enough focus time.
The market for these products is enormous–there are more than 1 billion knowledge workers globally. And the problem is big — more than 20% of our time at work is spent looking for the information we need to get work done.
But every human and every organization is different. There will likely never be a one-size-fits-all solution to this productivity problem. It will be exciting how the space shakes out, and which, and how many, of these key players, emerge victorious.