Updated: Apr 13
With recent events concerning COVID-19, many people have found themselves now working from home. This of course can have it’s perks — multiple tea breaks, more time with family & pets and your choice of playlist on Spotify, but when you’re faced with the many distractions this can bring, your task completion and workflow can take a nose dive.
Utilising appropriate apps to help organise your working day can help combat burnout, distraction and lag, keeping you on track to completing those important jobs. Yet with a wide array of software and apps out there, picking the right ones to suit your needs can feel overwhelming. Below are a list of apps I have found to be the most user-friendly and productive for organisation and time management, including tips and tricks to help you remain focused.
Tip: In order to avoid unnecessary time wasting at the start of your day, schedule ahead the night before. It will help motivate you in the morning by having a clear plan set out for the day and relieve stress.
Apps for Task Management
Free version for up to 15 team members
No Time Tracking
Can be limiting
No offline capabilities
Asana’s project management app allows you to manage tasks and projects with deadlines and collaborate with teams to streamline workflows. The free version enables you to add due dates, attach files and write comments with no limit on how many tasks or projects you can create.
The attractive interface provides easy navigation and ability to schedule and organise projects by timelines. The free version is fairly non-limiting and allows you to add up to 15 team members and add file attachments of up to 100mb.
The paid version unlocks automations, private team projects and a timeline view of tasks — essentially a Gantt chart. Asana can be a preferable choice for handling on-going projects such as daily tasks — eg. writing blogs or publishing to social media, and grants integration of additional apps such as Creative Cloud, Gmail and Microsoft Office to name a few.
Free Version is Generous
Web, Android, iOS, Windows 10
Easy to Use Interface
No Time Tracking
With Trello’s project management software, the interface lets you build boards assigned to particular projects with each board offering the option to add various lists made up of cards. Trello makes it easy to drag and drop cards across lists, add media such as photos and documents and set deadlines.
Collaboration is also possible between teammates to distribute tasks among colleagues. The free version is generous with extensive options for creating as many personal boards, cards and lists as desired, however you are limited to creating no more than 10 team boards.
Overall I’m a big advocate of Trello, if like myself you find you have a tendency to overcomplicate things at times, Trello keeps things simple by providing a clean, fluid platform with additional app integrations. The ability to add photos, checklists, reminders and links keeps your workflow efficient whilst offering a platform for personal management, great if you’re a ‘one man’ team.
Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android
Simple, Easy to Use Interface
Categorise & Manage Projects
Paid version required to see completed tasks & set reminders
Todoist makes managing your to do list simple by incorporating a basic structure for prioritising tasks. Project categories enable colour coding for prioritisation of tasks and the main interface displays a 7 day overview of upcoming tasks to assist the tracking of your working week.
The productivity chart displays your progress as well as a paid feature known as your ‘Karma’. Your Karma score helps keep you motivated by enabling you to earn points for reaching your daily and weekly goals. The free version allows up to an additional 5 team members, up to 80 active projects and to add sub-tasks and sub-projects. You can also set recurring due dates for specific tasks.
All in all this app allows for scheduling tasks in an easy to follow, chronological order. Optional email notifications can be enabled to alert you of upcoming tasks and this user-friendly app is also available as a desktop client, so you can choose to have it launch on start-up to begin your day focused on those upcoming tasks.
Windows, MacOS, iOS & Android
Plenty of Integration Features
Categorise & Manage Notebooks
No private encryption
Some User Experience Issues
With the ability to install Microsoft's OneNote as a standalone app, you can enjoy the software at no extra cost for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and the web. You may assume OneNote is a standard note taking app, however don’t be fooled, this pocket rocket piece of software has an extensive range of tools perfect for scheduling and organising your work and personal life.
Various features of OneNote includes adding voice clips, video, annotations and images to notes plus many formatting tools for ultimate organisation, you can also choose to have your notes read out loud, and integration such as OneDrive, Siri and Cortana is also possible allowing you to dictate thoughts to text — handy if you’re brain works quicker than your typing.
If you already have a Microsoft account you can use your email to setup and use OneNote and notes can be uploaded to the online cloud based service OneDrive.
Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android and Web
Plenty of Integration Features
Categorise & Manage Notebooks
Free version can be limited
Only 2 devices without paid version
Evernote has led the way for note taking applications for some time and offers an extensive range of features. The basic free version has become more limited in recent years and only allows uploads of up to 25mb (this can be limiting if you’re looking to attach a number of files to notes), plus notes can only be synced between 2 devices at one time. You are also unable to save data offline to your two devices, therefore notes are inaccessible if no internet connection is available.
With all that said, Evernote is extremely versatile, offering an extensive range of tools for annotating, syncing and searching — including handwritten notes. Notebooks can be created and organised into ‘stacks’ and geotagging, labelling and other note organisational tools can be employed for maximum organisation and usability. Evernote can be used on desktop, mobile and web and is available for iOS, Android and Windows.
Formatting text is also relatively straightforward, including adding checklists, bullets and tables and formatting font and text. Another nifty feature of Evernote is the capability of taking pictures of anything you want to save, Evernote will identify any text in the image to allow search-ability, something which other note taking apps are yet to harness.
Overall Evernote is a powerful note taking tool enabling syncing across multiple devices to ensure maximum accessibility. Sharing notes among team members is an advantage and the search function of Evernote proves to be a sophisticated feature. This is my go to note taking software for its quick and easy functionality and what’s more, the interface on Android allows for quick notes to be taken in the drop down menu from the home screen. Additional widgets can also be installed, providing a great mobile experience.
Mobile, Chrome Extension
Easy to Use
No Desktop Client
Google Keep can be accessed on mobile and its simple interface is great for basic note taking, however Keep can be limited for research notes or business use therefore software like Evernote or OneNote may be better suited. It is also worth noting that privacy and security can be an issue, however Google Keep can still be a credible option if you need a basic note taking app that’s 100% free. Additionally, a Chrome web extension allows easy access within the browser for saving of web clippings.
Apps to Help Manage Your Time - The Pomodoro Method
Boost your productivity by employing a technique called The Pomodoro method, first devised by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, this time management method breaks your working day into manageable 25 minute chunks each followed by a 5 minute break. After repeating 4 cycles of these chunks known as Pomodoro’s, a longer 20-30 minute break is taken, these cycles are repeated until you have completed your working day. The basis of this method is to maintain peak concentration levels by working in ‘spurts’, therefore sustaining a higher level of motivation.
Due to the low commitment of only 25 minutes dedicated to one process, tackling those monotonous tasks feels less intimidating. The short intervals prompts you to move about allowing circulation of blood flow around the body, rather than sitting for extended periods of time.
Work for 25 minutes
Take a 5 minute break
Work for another 25 minutes
After 4 cycles take a 20 - 30 minute break
Repeat until the end of your work day
Of course, it all comes down to personal preference but here are some suggested apps for time management in conjunction with the Pomodoro Technique;
Easy to Use
Pro version required to sync across devices
iOS devices only
Be Focused is a time management app perfect to use alongside the Pomodoro method. As a basic, standalone program, Be Focused provides a simple interface with little distraction.
A report for monthly, weekly and yearly completed intervals gives you the ability to track your progress, reports are available to download as CSV files for your records or to add to invoicing. To achieve syncing across multiple devices, the paid pro version is required.
Web, Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android
Pro version required to sync across devices
If you’re looking for a Pomodoro timer a little more advanced, PomoDone lets you integrate other task management systems you already have in place with ease, up to 2 of which can be added with the free version. Integrations include Trello, ToDoist, Asana, Evernote and more. You can also set a daily goal for the amount of hours you wish to complete and track your overall progress.
There are many customisation options depending on your preferred working habits and the interface is fairly easy to navigate. You can download your time data as a CSV file and receive your reports via email daily, weekly and monthly.
Another handy feature PomoDone includes is the Chrome extension which blocks your chosen websites if you’re susceptible to being distracted by email or social media.
Apps for Meditation
Meditating once in the morning before the start of the day has proven benefits to help relieve stress & anxiety, boost productivity and maintain focus throughout the day, as well as lowering blood pressure.
A study conducted among 1295 patients who suffered with high levels of anxiety, recorded a substantial reduction of anxiety in individuals engaging meditation as treatment. With practice, you can train your mind to regain focus from the dreaded over-worrying and over-thinking. YouTube can be a viable source to guided meditations with a variety of videos available, or if preferred you can download mobile apps specifically for mindfulness and meditation that are available through the Apple iOS or Google Play store.
Attractive animations & tutorials
Payment required after free trial
Free version is very limited
Headspace has been a popular choice for mindfulness and meditation apps for a long time and it’s easy to see why. Aiding with general mental heath, calmness and focus, Headspace is great for beginners with sessions starting from 3, 5 and 10 minutes. Headspace introduces you to guided meditation by easing you in with short sessions designed to train your mind to stay present and feel at ease with your thoughts.
A subscription is required to unlock hundreds more advanced sessions, ranging from sleep to stress, anxiety, grief, productivity, relationships, self-esteem, sleep, compassion, personal growth and many more. You can also choose to opt in to mini-sessions offering one minute breathing exercises. Furthermore, the sessions are super easy to follow guided by a softly spoken, soothing narration.
Upfront yearly cost
Limited free features
This little app of calm is great for guiding your focus with meditations, short stories and bedtime meditative routines. A select few audio stories are included in the free version, narrated by a few well known celebrities such as Stephen Fry and includes welcoming sessions of ‘7 Days of Calm’ & ‘7 Days of Sleep’ daily meditations. More of these sessions are available upon a paid subscription which currently stands at £37.99 a year as an upfront cost — equating to just £3.16 a month. The app also includes a meditation session for kids, handy if you need to distract them whilst you get some work done!
Manage your time efficiently by employing some of these apps in your workflow and ditch that procrastination. Take frequent breaks and avoid staring at a screen for too long, and above all, be kind to yourself and give yourself a break if you find yourself struggling to keep momentum, you've been thrown into unfamiliar territory so it's only normal to feel slightly disorientated!
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