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Mobile apps: If you don’t use them, lose them

James Cooper is a strategist on the Content and Community team at Social Media Group (SMG). Follow @jamescooper

Consumers Say No to Mobile Apps That Grab Too Much Data” reads the title of a NY Times blog post about a recent study by the Pew Research Center. The study looks at privacy and data management on mobile devices, finding that half of adult American smartphone users claim to be reluctant to install apps on their phones if they feel they demand too much personal information.

The report got me thinking — not only do some apps demand too much personal information, they can also be a drain on time, energy and resources.

I started to feel this way when I found myself becoming increasingly irritated by frequent demands to update the lengthy list of apps I had frivolously installed on my Android phone.  I realized that I hadn’t used many of them more than once or twice. So I said to myself, “Self, it’s time to take stock of all these apps and scrap those I rarely use.”

I began sifting through the deep, dark recesses of my phone. At first, I found it somewhat challenging to decide whether or not to remove the apps I encountered. I couldn’t help but think that I just might need them at some point. But the process soon became easier as I refined my selection criteria to a couple of simple questions to ask about each app:

  1. How much did I pay for it?
  2. When did I last use it?

If an app was free (or had cost no more than $2 or $3) to download and I couldn’t remember when I’d used it last, I deleted it. Plain and simple.

I found the app purging process to be quite liberating and it reinforced some ideas I read in Greg McKeown’s recent article, titled “The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”, in the Harvard Business Review. Specifically, I’m referring to Phases 3 and 4 of what McKeown calls “the clarity paradox”:

  1. When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts (Phase 3).
  2. Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place (Phase 4).

McKeown’s article primarily addresses individual and organizational success at a higher level. His philosophy of not taking opportunities simply because they exist can be applied to a more micro scale, such as in the case of the apps we collect on our mobile devices.

I like McKeown’s use of our wardrobes as an example to illustrate the clarity paradox: “Think of what happens to our closets when we use the broad criteria: ‘Is there a chance that I will wear this someday in the future?’ The closet becomes cluttered with clothes we rarely wear. If we ask, ‘Do I absolutely love this?’ then we will be able to eliminate the clutter and have space for something better….”

The same applies to our mobile devices — if we’re too “broad” in our collection of apps, our phones become cluttered just like our closets.

But the advantage a mobile app has over a garment is that an app is usually just a 30 second download away from you being able to use it again. Good luck downloading a shirt, a pair of pants or even a bikini in 30 seconds (unless, of course, you have a 3D printer like these designers).

In closing, I think we can all benefit from a “disciplined pursuit” of fewer unused and unneeded mobile apps.

What are your thoughts? Have you purged apps lately?