Sometimes it just doesn’t seem like we have a fair chance to get anything done. We live in an age where we have an avalanche of entertainment at our fingertips. So when we are tasked to sit down, write that email, fill out that form, eat the frog as it were, we’re just not equipped to do it. It just isn’t a fair fight.
But just as the technology of our smartphones, tablets and laptops has taken distracting and procrastinating to bold new heights, help is at hand.
This post is all about the productivity apps I use to fight back against the dark forces of procrastination and get stuff done!
These productivity apps or browser extensions are really useful and if they can help me out, they can certainly help you!
Forest is a smartphone app that you use to, basically, stop using your phone.
This is a godsend for me as usually, I can’t stop procrastinating on my phone. This is also just great if you want to cut down how much you use your phone in general and just focus on the here and now. Maybe meditate. Or keep an eye on the kids. That sort of thing.
The app is really simple to use, employing a bit of gamification to incentivise you to put your phone down.
You set a timer on the app, during which time a tree grows.
If you move off the app whilst the timer is on and the tree is growing, you kill the tree. Obviously, the aim of the game is to keep your tree alive by ignoring your phone.
As you use the app more and more, successfully letting your trees grow, you build up a forest of phone-free time.
You can set the timer from between five and 120 minutes in five minute increments.
The app costs £1.99 and is worth every penny.
Forest on your computer
If you like the idea of this and would like to be more productive on your computer or laptop then there is also a Chrome extension available and is free.
Instead of blocking the use of your whole computer, Forest will prevent you from visiting certain websites that are in your ‘blacklist‘.
You fill up your blacklist with all the sites you spend too much time procrastinating on when you should be doing something productive, like Facebook, Instagram, etc. It works just like the iOS app, start visiting the websites on your blacklist and your tree will start to die.
If I was to get this productivity app for just one of my devices, I would choose the iPhone version, as it offers many features and just works better. For example, there are issues with the Chrome extension not being able to set the timer below 25 minutes.
Also, you have to sign in to the app on your phone to see your forest, so if you want that capability for your computer, you have to get the iPhone app anyway.
Ferriss talks about Parkinson’s Law, where a task will basically take as long as you give it to. If you give yourself a week to write a report, then that is how long it will take, and if you gave yourself a day to do it, then I’m sure you would manage to do it in a day as well.
At first glance, this may seem a little pointless, but E.ggtimer can be used to speed up whatever task you are doing, by applying a little bit of pressure, because of the time limit you have imposed. If you don’t finish whatever you’re doing in time, then the alarm will go off.
By using E.ggtimer you can limit yourself how long you have to complete a task. By giving yourself increasingly shorter time frames to complete a task, you will find yourself getting the same amount done, but with more time to be getting on with other things.
RescueTime is a Chrome extension that tracks and categorises what websites and applications you spend your time on and will send you a weekly email giving you a breakdown of how long you spent on each site or application and whether it was productive time or not.
You can log in at www.rescuetime.com and check your dashboard for loads of great information to see how productive you have been and maybe find areas for you to be less distracted and more productive.
What’s really great about RescueTime is how easy it is to use. Once you log in, there’s nothing else for you to do. There’s no data entry on your part, RescueTime does all the logging automatically.
I always find it a bit annoying with fitness trackers or food trackers require you to do all the heavy lifting and input all the information manually. If you get bored or forget to key in what you had for lunch or your last trip to the gym, it spoils all the times you have bothered to do so because you can’t compare your progress.
There’s no such issue with RescueTime and it can be really eye-opening to see how much time you spend on Facebook or Netflix!
RescueTime has a goal setting function where you can aim to spend so long on a productive category of a website for, say, at least two hours a day and to limit spending time on unproductive websites to an hour a day.
There is also a premium version, however, I just use the free one and am more than happy with the features available to me, at the moment.
The premium version costs $9 a month (about £7 a month) or $72 annually (about £60 annually) and some of the additional features include;
- Site blocking to prevent you from using unproductive sites of your choosing.
- Alerts that you can link to your goals that pop up and tell you how long you have spent on MS Word or Facebook.
- You can log your offline time, so you can track how much time at work is productive both at and away from your computer.
- You can input some of your daily achievements to focus on your wins for the day.
- There is a range of reports so you can analyse the data and really focus on where and when you have been productive and unproductive. Then see how you can become more effective at work!
I would say Evernote is probably my favourite productivity tool because it just seems to offer exactly what I want from it wherever I am. In short, it means I can get on with my work whenever I want to.
Evernote is a great place to capture all of your notes, clippings and knowledge in your life.
I use it on my phone when I want to make a few notes and get some thoughts down before I forget, knowing that it will sync with my account. Later on, I will able to type up those notes on my laptop later.
Evernote just has a series of really cool features that help you capture information and make it easily searchable. A bit like Sherlock Holmes’ ‘mind palace’ in the BBC TV series, where Holmes uses a memory technique to easily recall all sorts of fragments of information in his head.
On the face of it, Evernote can seem like a Dropbox or another cloud storage service but it’s much more powerful than that. Yes, it’s a great way to store images and documents, but Evernote also offers a great platform to get your head down and get on with your work.
Evernote has a feature called ‘Web clipping’ that I use as a free Chrome extension. Web clipping allows you to bookmark, screenshot or save a web page to your Evernote account. I find this really useful for articles and websites that I find really useful or interesting and would like to call upon at a later date.
You can set up reminders for your to-do list. I know you can get reminders from other apps, but it makes life much easier to have it part of Evernote that offers so much more.
I think there are so many more suited tasks for you to think about than remembering to pick up your dry cleaning or when you have to pick up your mum from the airport. It’s such a waste of your brain power when you can use a phone or a computer to do the remembering for you!
One feature I think is really worth mentioning is the scanning feature for your smartphone, which allows you to take a photo/scan of, say, your handwritten notes and then Evernote reads the handwriting and, when saved, is searchable as well. Although I wouldn’t expect miracles if your handwriting isn’t the best!
So how much does it cost? I think there may be a free version, but I happily pay the $34.99 annually (about £30 annually) and I wouldn’t recommend shelling out for too many paid apps as the costs will soon add up. I just get so much use out if it, the cost is certainly justified.
If This Then That (IFTTT)
This is more a tool for automation and linking up different apps you use, cutting out the amount of, often repetitive, work you have to do. This leaves you with more time to focus on work you provide real value for. Which you probably find is more rewarding and more interesting.
I have used it in the past to automate posting on my social media accounts, but there is an endless range of what you can use IFTTT for.
So, how does it work?
You search for ‘applets’ (used to be called ‘recipes’) that you want to automate a process for you. The applets will carry out an action once a trigger has happened.
An example of this is an applet that will automatically upload your Instagram posts to a Facebook photo album. Here, you making a post on Instagram, the service, is the trigger. Then the IFTTT applet carries out the action of uploading the post to a Facebook album.
Like I said, there are applets for all manner of different things. I know of people who are tech friendly, using applets to automate their homes. Here is an applet that feeds your fish at a certain time!
Here’s one that will get you out of an awkward date by getting a machine to call you up so you can use as an excuse to leave abruptly! I am by no means condoning this sort of behaviour, just showing what IFTTT can do!
These applets have been designed by other IFTTT users and you can also create your own if you can’t find the one you want. You can customise the applets that you use as well.
Here is an applet I use, where when I pin to a certain Pinterest board and then put that pin in a queue for my Tumblr blog.
What’s fantastic about IFTTT is that it doesn’t cost a thing and the applets can be very powerful. I would say that you should test out the applets to see they work just as you would expect before you get the hammock out and have a nice nap.
Sometimes the applets don’t do what you were expecting or don’t work at all and it can be quite frustrating. When they do work its’s great!
What I’m just getting at, is that you have to be aware that they can take a bit of setting up but are usually maintenance free after that.
How to make an applet?
First, you need to sign up at IFTTT.com and enter some of your information to create a login.
Then you need to select the service you would like to use as the trigger. The service, in this case, is Evernote, the app that you want your applet to trigger from.
Now you choose the trigger, in this case, a tagging a note with a specific tag in Evernote.
Next, you need to decide what to do with this trigger. I have decided to send an email whenever I tag a note in Evernote with a specific tag.
I have just thought of this example really quickly. It would mean you could use Evernote for your deep thinking and then automatically send an email to your own email account, a colleague’s or a friend’s about something you are working together on.
Just have a look around IFTTT around for some inspiration. I’m sure you’ll come up with loads of great ideas to automate some of your processes and get some time back for yourself to do something worthwhile.