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App review: 4 Awesome Apps for Productivity and Focus

20 May 2021 Developer News
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On December 30th, 2020, Forbes put out a piece asking, “Could 2021 Be The Year Remote Working Becomes The New Normal?” The jury might still be out, but for many of us the answer is yes – remote working and studying in 2021 is very close to the new normal. Even after the planet re-opens post-plague, most experts agree that habits, once fundamentally altered, rarely return to the “old ways.” Like online shopping, online working is something we’ve grown accustomed to; and it’s likely to stick. This means being productive – without oversight – is now a fundamental work skill. Thankfully, to use the advertising cliché, “There’s an app for that.” –Actually quite a few apps. Here we present four awesome ones that you should install and learn to use as fast as possible. Your job could literally be on the line – to the person who’s better at being productive online.

Google Calendar: This commonly used app has a lot more functions than most users are aware of and can be the first step in getting organized. It doesn’t have to be Google; Apple and others have good calendars, too. But Google Calendar syncs with all operating systems and is just… great. The latest version features the ability to add video conferencing to calendar events, “smart” suggestions that save you time, and a variety of ways to view your time – switch between day, week, and month. Events gleaned from your Gmail are added to your calendar automatically and “tasks” can be seen alongside events. As noted, Google Calendar works with every OS, and is even integrated with Apple Health should you wish to track a workout or mark a “goal,” which – when configured – can be done automatically. Perhaps the only big “con” is privacy. Google needs to track virtually everything if the awesome calendar functions are to be used to their full extent. If you want to check out an alternative that’s getting some great traction of late, see the app named simply “Calendar,” which allows people to “book” meeting times during your listed availability hours.

2 BlockSite: Tired of wasting half your day checking social media, giggling at inane YouTube videos, or being tempted by “adult content”? Block them! BlockSite is a cross-browser website/URL and app blocker with a mission of helping you learn how to prioritize tasks, manage your time and reduce distractions. Available across devices, the app syncs up between your desktop and mobile giving you control over your schedule. The app also lets you see how much time you've saved by having, say, Facebook, blocked during working hours. It gives you data on the website categories you visit most, which can then help you further refine what sites you need to block during what times. The choice of what to block and when to block it is up to you – and many users report a feeling of liberation knowing that if they feel the urge to “stray” when they should be doing something of value, up pops a cute message: “Sorry! Nice try! Now get back to work!” These messages are customizable. There are also plenty of scheduling features as well as the famous “timer” for working in bursts and then taking a break. Blocking takes willpower out of the equation… which is exactly what many of us need.  

Kanban: Allegedly something that grew out of a Toyota quality control measure first used 60 years ago, the Kanban website explains itself thus: “Every project has tasks. Then every task includes its own micro-tasks—the nitty-gritty details that help your goals move forward. It's like each task is a project of its own, begging for its own project management system … For that, Kanban focuses on status instead of due dates. Each task moves through standardized project stages so teams can track what's in-progress at a glance and identify show-stopping bottlenecks.” Featuring a series of vertical columns: “to-do,” “do today,” “in progress,” and “done,” these “task cards” can be edited and changed, enabling you to break down your workload into manageable chunks. And, like BlockSite and so many others, Kanban has a “Pomodoro feature,” that all-too-famous egg timer thing that’s actually quite effective. Click on the column or “card” you want to work on, then click “timer.” Or use the stopwatch function to track how long it took you to do something (a good feature for freelancers who need to decide how much to bill or quote clients for various jobs.)

Pocket: How many times are you on the train (or in the bathroom) scrolling through a news site when you notice an article that would be great as a reference for something you need to write, or that has info you’ll likely need at a later date? Sure, you can email it to yourself, but with Pocket (available also for phones) you easily save that web page for later. All you have to do is save the URL, put it into a category – if you wish – and the app is your new feed…a far more productive feed than even a curated news site like Flipboard, as these are topics you genuinely need or want to read, use for later. A final plus: it’s free.

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