In the past year or so of pitching Kitten Stuff Done to friends and family perhaps the biggest question has been, “why didn’t you make an app?” As though making an app is easy! Or, getting noticed among the 2-4 million apps already on the stores is an easy task. No, I developed Kittens while reporting on technology, and I’ve used about every productivity app and tool there is (a later post will dive into my actual workflow and how it has evolved). You see, I believe that humans require something physical, something they can touch, so they remain connected to the importance of that thing. There’s research that agrees with me.
First, as Doctor Who fans may have noticed from the picture on this post, there’s the importance of human touch. Before we can speak, touch is embedded in our psyche as vital. Babies are comforted by it, and even as adults we find comfort in something as simple as the squeeze of a hand. As this article in Psychology Today explains, “If touch is a language, we instinctively know how to use it.” Of course, the first thing we do when we meet someone new? Shake their hand! It establishes rapport, and some would say tells us a lot about that person and our relationship with them. Not only is there a psychological aspect to humans touching each other, but our sense of touch is highly developed, and humans can detect things as small as 13 nanometers with their fingers alone. Our brains are wired for touch, and our memories solidify our experiences with every touch.
So what’s all this got to do with being productive? As kids, we’re allowed to work with paints and sculpt with our hands. This sensory play is crucial to our development. Now, considering our development, our advanced sensory capabilities, and the power of touch itself, consider that something you can feel with your fingers will have a deeper impact than something you’re seeing with just your eyes. And no, swiping around on a piece of glass doesn’t really count. This is why therapists use art that uses all the senses: “Sensory objects can be used with art making which releases meaning,” says the Lewy Body Resource Center. More to our point, the psychology of a to do list provides a benefit when you cross items off that list.
If you’re looking for brain hacks, there’s none better than getting a shot of dopamine when you start crossing things off that list, is there? I even know people who, while at the grocery store, will write down items as they pick them up just to cross them off immediately. It’s a powerful motivator! This article about CEO “to do list hacks” confirms many of my assumptions: Having a physical list is important, and setting time limits is key. The psychology of touch, and of tactile input, is revelatory. Another FastCompany article explains how writing aids memory, and how having a physical thing aids your brain in multiple ways. Each day I write down the top three things I must accomplish that day, and I make sure I get them done.
Kitten Stuff Done is a physical deck of cards because I believe having this tactile memory aid is crucial to our success. Each day you have so much to do! It can be overwhelming. By picking out the things you must do, and building your deck from a set of things that could be done, you’re taking control of your time. Being realistic — as you only have 24 hours in every day — is not something most of us try to do. Instead, we hope we can cram in 30 hours of work every day! This leads to burnout. Kittens helps here, too, by giving you a time limit on every task.
The practical effect is that you’re able to control your time, your mind, and your list of stuff to do. The deck even helps with decision fatigue! If you’re ever stuck on what to do next, you can either pull the next card or just pull a random card. Maybe you pulled “snack time” and your brain gets a break. Or maybe you pulled “Planning Time” and you can focus on what comes next in that big project you’re working on.
Yeah, I use apps. I use a LOT of apps. But every day I appreciate being able to write stuff down, cross things off a list, and use my KSD deck to make sure I’m making progress on everything that’s on my plate. It feels good to “discard” each task. I think you will find this is mentally rewarding. Maybe we’ll make an app some day, but for now the psychological benefits of having a “thing” you can hold in your hand is too important to ignore.