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5 minutes to better time-management skills

Tired, stressed or demotivated? There’s an app for all of the above: here are 9 of the best time-management and productivity apps.

With so many apps on the market claiming to make the impossible possible – doing more in less time – how are you to choose which to-do list creator, time tracker or virtual assistant to run with?

We’ve investigated a range of different apps to bring you the best for achieving your specific goals. But first a word of warning from Melissa Gregg, a principal engineer at Intel and the author of forthcoming book Counterproductive: “Time management apps are very good at managing time if you already decide you want to spend X amount of time on something. But it’s still up to the human to prioritise the task – to make sure the thing you choose to do is really the most important thing to do right now.”

 

Struggling to understand where your time goes?

You need: RescueTime

Identifying your ‘time thieves’ is the first step to understanding why you never seem to finish a work day with a complete to-do list. Is the ten minutes you spend occasionally dipping into Facebook actually more like an hour? Is the volume of emails you send and receive a bigger drain on your productivity than you’d care to admit? RescueTime helps you understand your daily habits so that you can make better choices and be more productive. It runs discreetly in the background of your computer and monitors your activity to present back an overview of how your desk time is being spent.

The Lite version also allows you to set specific daily goals (e.g. spend less than an hour on inbox management, or devote at least half the day to writing a report) and be alerted when you’ve either achieved the goal or are approaching the capacity of time allotted to browsing certain websites or on particular tasks. It will appeal to the competitive-natured – included in the daily dashboard is a productivity score calculated based on how well you’ve stuck to your goals.

The paid-for Premium version eliminates the need for willpower by giving you the option to temporarily block the time-draining sites and apps that are preventing you from smashing your goals (if you don’t want to pay, download an additional website blocker app like SelfControl, which allows you to block a set list of websites or even categories of websites (social, news, sport etc.) for a specified amount of time; the block can’t be overridden, even by deleting the app).

Alexis Ohanian, the Founder of social content sharing website Reddit is a big fan: “You'll discover things about yourself that will make you wonder how you ever got any work done without RescueTime.”

More great time tracking apps include: ATracker (similar to RescueTime but the minimalist design and beautiful pie charts will appeal to the more visual) and Toggl (the flexibility and filtering functionality on reporting is useful if your role bills by the hour or you’ve a strict time allocation for a specific project).

 

Trying to motivate yourself or your teams to get things done?

You need: iDoneThis

There’s little quite as satisfying as a to-do list full of ticks. This app is essentially a digital way of not only acknowledging what you’ve achieved every day, but also sharing that information with your teammates or even your entire department or company. It works by asking you to spend a minute or two at the end of each working day by inputting all that you’ve managed to get done since clocking on (the idea is that if you know the email is coming, you prioritise the tasks that hold most meaning for the business). It then compiles a report of your entire team’s contributions and distributes to everyone involved, allowing them to chip in with comments and congratulations as relevant. Every day’s achievements are archived, giving team leaders a fantastic opportunity to bring a weary team together to reflect on just how much has been achieved since embarking on a lengthy project – it’s being used by teams at Twitter, Uber and Foursquare.

The app is paid for when used by teams, but is free for individuals. Though you won’t benefit from the collaborative elements, knowing that you’ll need to answer to the daily request for progress might inspire you on, and being able to look back over all you’ve achieved is a great self-motivator.

 

Suffering from 'email overload'?

You need: Streak

Originally built as a customer relationship management tool allowing you to track your emails open rates and interactivity levels, this Chrome extension integrates with your Gmail inbox to bring you a whole raft of features which are useful if inbox management is starting to feel like an oxymoron.

One is the either-you-love-it-or-you-hate-it email tracker that allows you to see when and where your emails have been read (handy for group distribution messages it’s essential everyone reads, and saving you the trouble of having to chase up with a ‘have you seen my email?’ phone call).

Others include the ability to create and send ‘snippets’ – message templates for those regular ‘please find attached’ or ‘its time to send me your update’ emails you find yourself sending over and over again; and a timed email functionality, allowing you to leave items in draft mode to be sent at pre-defined dates and times.

The latter is useful if you need to send a team reminder when you’re at a conference or want to prepare emails that will have more impact if they’re sent at times when you’ll be out of inbox action.

With multiple projects on the go, the inbox sorter allowing you to group emails by content rather than by date or sender is a useful tool. It’s also possible to share project-specific inboxes with your team, meaning that everyone has access to communications on a particular topic.

Streak is currently only available as an add-on to Gmail, but there’s an Outlook version in the making.

 

Lack of willpower?

Streaks (not to be confused with Streak, above!)

If a lack of willpower is blighting your ability to stick to goals both personal and professional, this super simple app might be the final shove you need to stick to those you-know-it’s-going-to-be-good-for-you tasks. Simply set six goals (e.g. walk 5,000 steps, take a half hour lunch break away from desk, catch up over coffee with extended network connections, watch a TED talk and work through an everywoman Network workbook).

Then set the frequency and regularity with which you aim to carry out each task, and tap the app to tell it you’ve just had that coffee or completed that workbook. The aim is to maintain a continuous ‘streak’; the motivating factor that your streak resets to zero if you skip your daily lunchtime stroll, weekly TED talk or monthly workbook commitment.

 

Trying to juggle multiple notebooks, read-later lists and inspiration scrapbooks?

Evernote

This browser and smartphone-based app is essentially an online note-taker where you can store to-do lists, meeting notes and project details, sorting them into easy-to-access notebooks. But it also has some handy lesser-known features which may be attractive to the time-pushed or forgetful. The Safari ‘clipper’ extension places the Evernote logo on your web browser, which, when tapped sends a copy of the text of the web page to whichever of your Evernote notebooks you specify – perfect if you haven’t time to read a lengthy article you’ve just found, or you discover some reading material that could inspire a future project.

The browser version of Evernote can synchronise with the mobile version, meaning that the quick shopping list you tap into your browser over your lunch break will automatically appear on your phone to be accessed at the supermarket, and the articles your colleagues share on a busy day are available for your reading pleasure during your commute. The Premium (paid for version) allows you to share notes for collaboration with your teammates, friends or other half.

Another great web clipper: OneNote Clipper 2.0 allows you to best organise your online scrapbook by clipping just the paragraphs, images or sections of a web page that will be most useful to you later – cutting out the adverts, irrelevant bits and eliminating the need to later hunt out the really useful information (you’ll need to have OneNote installed on your computer or phone or both for the clipper to work but both are free and accessible on all desktops and phone types).

 

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