As I pondered the theme of my blog for this week, ideas about the benefits of decluttering (both physically and electronically) started to swim about, perhaps because I’ve just moved offices, with all the opportunities for chucking stuff out that this presents. Alas, my lovely colleague Lucy has also just moved, and she got there first. Curses.
Actually, I can’t feel too sore about that, as Lucy’s the person who finally convinced me of the brilliance of Google Keep as a to do list tracker. It’s early days, but I’ve already managed to get rid of all the post-its that used to litter the bottom of my PC, and I’ve cut down to one small paper notebook (as opposed to the three or four A4 ones that I used to have lying about). I also recently bought a cheap bluetooth keyboard for my mobile, meaning I can easily take notes etc in meetings, even when my laptop is languishing in my desk drawer. If I use a Google product, it obviously syncs up, which makes it hard to beat for easy productivity.
However, it turns out that no matter how many positive tools you have to help you to be more productive, sometimes you (okay, I) might need something a bit more hardcore. I’m always going to find writing my blog posts a struggle, and there is literally always something I can find to distract myself, when what I really need to do is suck it up and write.
This, for me, is where productivity apps really come into their own. When I talk to researchers about time management, one of the biggest time sinks that they identify is “the internet” in general and “social media” specifically. Luckily, this is entirely unique to researchers and I have no idea what they mean.
But, you know, because I care about our researchers, and definitely not because I need this stuff, I’ve been trialling a few, and I’ve found some of them to be really useful, so I thought I’d share them with you. They range from basic internet gatekeepers to fully functional frameworks to help you think about your goals and priorities. I hope you find some of them useful.
It can be hard to know what apps will be most helpful for you in the productivity-stakes, if you don’t know your time sinks. RescueTime is a Chrome extension that helps you monitor your web activity, allowing you to analyse where you spend most of your web time and the impact of your activity on your work. The extension lets you generate stats about your productivity and the number of hours spent on various categories of websites. It can be a real eye-opener to see how much time you spend on even totally legit, work-related sites.
Once armed with knowledge about your own habits and patterns, you can consider what might apps might work best for you.
StayFocusd, Freedom & WasteNoTime
StayFocusd was my first foray into tech solves for time-wasting, and I still use it now. It’s a browser extension for Chrome that allows you to set a limit for how much time you spend on various websites, or to take the “nuclear option” of blocking everything not on an allowed list of sites that you’ve set up.
Obviously, if you’re that way inclined, you can open a different browser, but I’ve found it really helpful.
Freedom, the paid-for version of StayFocusd, allows you to block websites and apps across all your devices (irrespective of browser), and is particularly suited to Apple products. I’ve not used this one, but a few of my Apple-scented friends really rate it.
WasteNoTime is very similar to StayFocusd, but is available for the Safari browser too, and is arguably a bit more customisable than StayFocusd. For many of these apps, it comes down to pure personal preference.
Flipd for Android or IOS
This has been hands-down my best find, so far. Well, my partner’s best find, and I nicked the idea from him. Relationships are about sharing, after all. Flipd encourages you to take timed breaks from your smartphone. You can set a schedule to cover your working day, a sleep schedule or just choose a certain amount of time. In the free version, the app pops up to tell you that you’re not supposed to be messing about on your phone during the time that you’ve selected but, ultimately, you can just ignore it. It serves as a handy as a reminder, but relies exclusively on your willpower. In the paid for version (which works out at a couple of quid a month) you can, essentially, turn your smartphone back into a dumb phone. You can lock down everything apart from a few basic functions, such as calls, texts, notes, maps and, weirdly, Google hangouts.
If you have a tendency to unconsciously reach for your phone in the middle of tedious data-crunching or report-writing, the ability to lock yourself out is amazing! You can also lock yourself out of it overnight, using the “sleep” function; if you’re one of the one in three people that admits to checking their phone during the night, this could be the app for you.
I’m going to start by confessing that I’ve only just started using this and, so far, I’m simultaneously intimidated and impressed. My Effectiveness is inspired by The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, and is less of a to-do list/productivity tracker, and more of a framework to help you identify your goals and priorities, and to support you in working towards them.
It’s a powerful app, and encourages you to really think about your roles (professional and personal), goals and how to overcome any blocks to progress. However, if you’re currently stuck at the stage of needing prods to stop yourself actively wasting time, this might be an app to keep in mind for when you’ve got that first bit under control. Its potential seems huge, though, and I’m certainly going to stick with it for now.
As you can see, these are not reviews as much as overviews. Also, since there are thousands out there, if you have any that work for you, that I’ve not mentioned, please do let me know. For, ahem, research.
It’s probably also worth saying that I’m, of course, getting paid precisely £0.00 to talk about these products and, indeed, for the slightly nauseating fangirling over Google, which is why I can say that there are also plenty of Google products that make my eye twitch with frustration (I’m looking at you, Sheets)!
Of course, none of these are magic fixes; if you’re absolutely determined to avoid something, you’ll find a way (in a future blog, I’m going to look a bit more closely at why we procrastinate and explore ways to tackle it). But if, like me – I mean, not me. I mean, other people -, you sometimes need an extra prod to get on with stuff, some of these could be the prod you need.
If you use any of them already, or start using them, let me know; I’d love to know how they work for you.
Get rid of distractions – Harvard medical School (link to article about improving memory and focus)
Weapons of mass distraction – The Financial Review (link also contains some further tips to beat digital distraction)