Updated 28 December 2016
I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.
With all the emails, constant social media updates, and news updates available at our fingertips today, it’s no wonder we get distracted so easily. Not to mention “shiny new object syndrome” that has us looking for the latest and greatest items via Google, or checking out some new course that our peers and colleagues have splurged out on. Suddenly, a quick search for something online becomes a vortex of lost time and productivity. Ten minutes turns into two hours, and before you know your coffee is cold, it’s break time, and you’ve achieved stuff all.
I’ve spent some time hunting down apps to combat the vortex, and help you win back your time and increase your productivity. I’ve taken my favourite apps and explored alternative options. There are hundreds, or even thousands of productivity apps out there, but you could waste days looking at them all, so I have kept the numbers small.
Whether you are easily distracted and need some help getting your act together, or you need to block your kids from certain websites so they get their homework completed, there are some fantastic blocking apps out there.
You can set these apps up to permanently block certain websites, or you can set them up to block them during certain times. For instance, if you work from home, and you need to keep off Facebook between 9 a.m.- 12 p.m., and 1 p.m.-5 p.m. during your work days, you can use these apps to block your access.
You can add an extension to your browser, or you can download a desktop app.
Google Chrome extension
Cold Turkey – The free version of Cold Turkey enables you to set up blocking for three days at a time. You can set up multiple blocking groups, set a timer and block websites.
Cold Turkey also has a premium, paid version for $US14.99. The premium version will enable you to block desktop apps – handy for keeping family members off excessive gaming, setup unlimited blocking, and also scheduling. At the time of writing, this price also entitles you to a copy of Forcedraft Pro (Forcedraft is mentioned further down).
The Pomodoro technique is a great technique for anyone that can only focus for short periods of time, and is widely popular. Designed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, the idea is that frequent breaks help maintain mental agility. You commit to a 25 minute work period, and then have a five minute break. Then you repeat this three more times. After the fourth 25 minute work block, you take a “long” break of 10 minutes.
Obviously, if you only have a short task to complete, or you only have 15 minutes to fill before a meeting, then the Pomodoro Technique won’t work for you. But for longer tasks you need to focus on, it can give you a goal to aim for.
To make it easy, a number of sites have been created to track the time, and alert you when the time period is up. My favourite is Tomatoes.
If you want to set your work periods different, you might want to consider Moosti. Moosti is based on the concept of the Pomodoro technique, but enables you to set your work periods for 10-60 minutes of time, short breaks for 3-5 minutes and your long breaks 10-30 mins of time. This allows more flexibility, and is good for those shorter tasks. It is available in the browser, or you can add it as a Chrome extension.
If you don’t know how much time you are wasting during the day, and you need to get a better handle on it, you can track your activities with free apps. These are also good if you need a free way to track time you spend working on client work.
Toggl is simple to use. There are also mobile apps so you can track time on the go. This one is ideal if you need to track time spent on client work. You can organise your time with projects or tags, and good reporting is included in the free account. Toggl is already designed for basic project management and teamwork in its own right, but integrates with your 92 of your favourite apps, such as Asana, Basecamp, Trello, and even enables you to track time spent on client emails in Gmail. Need integration with something that isn’t in their list? They integrate with Zapier to increase your options. If you want more features in your reporting (such as project time estimates), and the option to mark whether or not your time tracking is billable or non-billable, there are paid upgrades starting at $US10/month/user.
Tracking Time is available for the Chrome browser—using the app launcher on your desktop, for OS X and iOS, and Android. Tracking Time has a free option for teams up to 3 people that includes integrations, project management and timesheet reports. Paid options start at $US4.99/month/user, which allows custom reports, addition of notes to time entries, project duplication, and deadline syncing with your calendar. This one is ideal for team collaboration and project management, and you can also add your to-do list for time tracking, and even go so far as adding client information.
Time Doctor starts off with a fully featured 30 day trial, so you can see if you need all of their paid features. After that, if you don’t choose a plan, you are placed on their free, limited feature plan, which enables you to access their desktop app, but not their web dashboard with all of the reporting and statistics. For $US5/month (solo user) you have access to extensive reporting, ability to have screenshot monitoring to verify time logged for clients, 27 integrations (including Trello, Asana, Slack Basecamp, Github, Quickbooks, just to name a few!), client login so they can track the work, and even a popup that can tell you when you’re wasting time on unproductive activities.
Do you need to get a chapter of your book written? Or do you need to sit down and really just type your blog post without other distractions? Forcedraft is your answer.
Forcedraft is a simple, no-frills text writer that allows you to set up a minimum amount of time, or minimum number of words that must be completed before you can exit that app. It then blocks your access to everything else on your computer until you complete your goal. Once your goal is complete you can move on to your next task, or open it in another word editor for styling. There are no editing capabilities, so you can’t fluff around with formatting as an excuse to procrastinate, and it saves every 20 seconds so you don’t have to worry about losing your work.
Since you can’t access anything else on your computer while using Forcedraft, you need to make sure that any notes you need are accessible offline, or on another system.
Even better, it runs on a standalone .exe file, which is smaller than 1MB. So you could you can put it on a Flash Drive and use it on any computer you happen to be using.
I will admit, I used this to complete the content for some of my website, and it was because of Forcedraft that I finally completed my About page.
If you can’t stand the thought of losing that much control, you can also just set it up to run until you tell Forcedraft you’re finished.
With that in mind, if you do need more control, you can also try ZenPen. ZenPen is a simple website with limited editing features (bold, italics, quote and hyperlinking). On the site you just delete the text off the page and start working. You can save your work when you’re finished. To make it full screen, tap F11 in your browser. When you want to exit full screen mode again, tap F11 again. There is also an icon to expand the browser to full screen. You can set a target word count so you can track your progress.
A peer-reviewed study by the University of Chicago revealed that a moderate level of ambient noise (70dB), can actually boost creative cognition.
From a personal standpoint, I can tell you that this does actually work. If for no reason other than to drown out background noise that IS distracting.
Coffitivity is one of the most popular websites out there, offers three ambient sounds, with the option to go premium for three more. It is also has Android and iOS apps. This is generally my port of call when I want ambient noise.
Noisli has a more comprehensive choice of sounds that you can choose from at your leisure, using one, or combining more than one for your ideal sound. You can also click on the “Random”, “Productivity” or “Relax” buttons for preset sounds. Noisli also has an app for iOS.