A Second Quantum Leap In Productivity

Back when paper became plentiful, I imagine there was–pocket by pocket–a giant leap in productivity for humankind, unleashed by getting thoughts out of the head and onto paper.

Today, technology brings us to the brink of another revolution.

This revolution promises to breathe life into undead, soulless, paper-imitating electronic lists, and all but eliminate procrastination, overwhelm, and drudgery.

This revolution is birthing a third generation of task management apps called Catalists.

Yesterday’s To-do Lists Are Failing Us

Why must you fight urges to binge-watch Netflix or doom scroll Facebook, TikTok or Instagram?

And why does your to-do app hold no such appeal?

Why is it, on the best of days is your to-do list an electronic filing cabinet in lingerie, and on the worst of days something you avoid like--ahem--the plague?

Today's non-Catalist to-do apps drain your willpower, do little for procrastination, and do no more for flow than if you'd written your tasks on a napkin.

In fact, sometimes the napkin is the better choice.

Catalists Hack Your Brain Like Facebook and Netflix

In pursuit of profit, Facebook, Netflix, TikTok and a slew of other hyper-scale companies have hacked, experimented and engineered their way to an incredibly engaging experience; machines that monetize your attention at any cost.

Catalists use the dirty tricks that Facebook, Netflix and TikTok have perfected, BUT instead of robbing your life of will and substance, they make your life more worth living.

Catalists Burn Down Your List With FIRES

Any to-do list is, fundamentally, a collection of “cues” that can trigger action.

Catalists turn those cues into FIRES by making them:

  • Fulfilling to complete
  • In your face
  • Relevant to the extreme
  • Effortless
  • Seductive to start

How Today’s Catalists Start FIRES

Fulfilling to complete

When you complete a task, it should feel incredible; this will make doing the right work addicting.

Some apps like List Zero and Slash show celebrations that give you a slot-machine-style shot of dopamine.

In your face

Catalists make the important feel urgent, and thus severely limit your reactivity.

Monofocus, Slash, and List Zero use a floating reminder to always keep your top task top of mind.

Relevant to the extreme

Catalists like List Zero and Monofocus allow you to hide all but the most relevant top tasks.

Their approaches save your willpower, so it can be used to get the tasks themselves done.

Serene uses website and app blockers to block distractions while you work on a task–another useful way to keep your mind focused on the relevant.


Tasks that are not broken down into tiny and clear pieces tend to get put off. David Allen, creator of GTD has made us aware of the importance of a well-defined next action.

List Zero makes it incredibly easy to choose a Next Action and stack it on top of a parent action; this makes the task more clearly defined, and thus easier to get started and easier to gain momentum.

Intuitive keyboard shortcuts are another element that makes many Catalists more… catalytic.

Seductive to start

Many Catalists have a “play” mode. Hit play, and your focus music starts.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll crave getting to work to hear your focus music, and soon develop a Pavlovian response to starting your tasks.

Today's Hottest Catalists

1. List Zero - The newest kid on the block; this premium offering features a native macOS app that features procrastination-busting task stacks, a “focus mode” a Spotify integration for focus music, and much more. Under active development and founded by the author of this article.

2. Serene - Built by VentureHarbor, Serene, is a macOS app that helps you plan, block apps and websites, and and analyze your performance. It integrates with several non-Catalist to-do apps.

3. Slash - Slash is “a tiny helper that keeps you organized and focused”. It encourages you to plan, zone in with focus mode, and celebrate with their signature animated gifs.

Other excellent Catalists:

Monofocus, llama life 

Stoke The FIRES Of Today’s Catalists

Unlike Facebook, Netflix, and TikTok, Catalists must, by definition, fight fair.

They can’t do whatever it takes to get you to stay. They must use your attention to help you do meaningful work.

That means they have a limited arsenal of patterns from which to draw. And this space still has yet to solve several open problems.

Please share this article to help Catalists get the attention they need to grow in strength, and empower a new generation of makers.