There are more productivity apps out there than ever -- but that might not be a good thing. Software intended to create effective productivity habits or free up your time can be a valuable part of any worker's tool set, but those same apps can actually make you less productive when they're not used correctly.

From calendar management platforms to collaboration tools, productivity technology needs to be optimized to get the best results. Simply reading the instructions or doing the tutorial is rarely enough -- you need to make your technology work with every existing aspect of your life. 

It's no surprise that, given the ubiquity of productivity tech and the lack of guidance on how to use it, people are making mistakes. It's not always easy to tell exactly how much a certain piece of software can really improve your productivity (if it all).

While there's no catch-all solution for finding the right productivity tech, there are some key guidelines you can follow to (ironically) avoid wasting your own time. Some mistakes to watch out for when working with productivity tech are:

1. Expecting a one-stop shop

It sounds perfect: One software suite can maximize your productivity across all parts of your life every single day. Unfortunately, no such software exists -- if it did, all other productivity tech would be out of business.

Despite the obvious impossibility of this, plenty of users still approach productivity tech with this attitude. Expecting one application to solve all of your productivity issues is bound to lead to disappointment and increase your frustration more than your productivity. Instead, isolate specific aspects of your life you'd like to be more productive with. Maybe you'd like to edit your writing more quickly or make billing easier; look for software that helps with those tasks specifically. 

2. Investing in app overload

Though it's important to find the right amount of technology for meeting your productivity needs, be careful not to take it too far. It can be tempting to go after every possible app in an attempt to maximize your productivity in all aspects of your life, but the result is often the opposite.

Trying to maintain too much tech leads to a lot of drag -- time spent managing tech that's supposed to be saving you time. To prevent this from happening, focus on the few aspects of your life which have the most potential for improvement and tackle those areas before moving on to others. Focusing in on just a few applications at a time prevents things from getting too out of hand. Being overwhelmed can lead to you dropping your productivity tech altogether -- clearly not the point.

3. Keeping it to yourself

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and this goes for productivity as well. Maximizing your own personal productivity is great, but it can be difficult to really get ahead without some of the people around you adopting some of the same habits

Think about the productivity tech you use that's not singularly focused, such as smart calendars or project management software. If you and your co-workers all had access to each other's schedules, setting up meetings would be a breeze. Sharing your calendar with your spouse, business partners or important colleagues -- like your attorney or accountant -- can also make your life easier. If you find an app that really works for you, share it with others in your life -- it can make you more productive in the end.

4. Getting advice -- and not taking it

Analytics-focused tools have become an integral part of productivity tech in recent years. It can be very helpful to know how your time is being spent if you're looking to spend it more wisely. Unfortunately, most apps simply give you the data about how your time is spent, and it's up to you to put those numbers into action.

Every now and then, take a look at your analytics numbers with some intentionality. Review your schedule, and weigh the time spent doing certain things against how you benefit from them. Productivity tech is a waste if it doesn't have a practical impact on how you live your life, so make sure to put some of the info you receive into practice.

5. Not making it personal

The internet is filled with lists of the best productivity apps, the best ways to boost your productivity, the best ways to multitask yourself into oblivion. As helpful as resources like these can be, they're written by people who have no familiarity with you, your needs or your personal schedule. 

Before you go looking for your next bit of productivity software, take stock of what you need. Imagine your ideal productivity apps: What features do they have? How much do they cost? What does their design look like? Keep these qualities in mind, and try to find products that closely match what you're looking for. The best productivity app is always going to be the one that fulfills your needs.

The tech landscape is flooded with all kinds of products claiming to increase productivity, but not all of them will truly work for you. To avoid wasting precious time, search for products that do what you need them to.

Published on: Sep 1, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.