Many of us who have gone through the grind of the office cubicle lifestyle know what it's like to spend countless hours sitting behind a desk. And while working hard is commendable, many of us opt for quality over quantity – are you using your time wisely? Or are you logging hours without much to show for it?
Luckily, technology has put at our disposal a range of tools and apps to make our working lives a little bit easier. To stop you suffering from information overload or downloading one too many programmes, we've put together a curated list of the top applications you can use to take control of your time.
Planning Your Project
Managing your time effectively isn't just about tracking tasks. In order to get the most bang for your buck for the time you spend behind that desk, you need to plan your project. The following tools will help you do just that.
If you could only download a single app to help drive your productivity forward, Evernote is a worthy contender. It's one of the most popular productivity tools around, which allows you to organize your ideas, notes, and much more. It syncs across a variety of devices, allows you to embed voice notes, text, and images, and is overall just a great way to keep your life organized.
Evernote also plays nice with other apps such as Remember the Milk, giving you a platform on which to build your newfound efficient lifestyle. Not to mention, most of these features are free.
This is perhaps the most popular mind mapping tool out there, with millions of downloads to date. What makes it so popular is its sheer simplicity coupled with just the right functionality you need to get the job done. Brainstorm your ideas and organize your projects with just a few clicks.
There's a free version available that allows you to use all of the diagram functionality, but if you want the additional features – such as exporting to PDF or Word and using the creative toolboxes – you'll need to pay $99 for XMind Pro.
Task and To-do Lists
Once you have a good grasp of what your project entails, it's time to set up your tasks and to-do lists. The following apps can take your ideas and split them into individual items you can tick off as you go.
Remember the Milk
The aptly named Remember the Milk app is essentially an advanced to-do list manager. If you're the type of person who needs help organising tasks, this app is definitely worth considering. It's free, lightweight, and has all the features you need to manage your day effectively.
What really sets Remember the Milk apart from other to-do list apps we've seen is the fact that it syncs with other tools, such as Evernote. If you create a reminder on Evernote, it's automatically added to Remember the Milk. You can also attach notes to your to-dos, just in case you need a little extra info. Once your list has been set up, you'll get reminders on pretty much any platform of your choice. RTM works with text messages, instant messenger, Skype, a range of smartphones, as well as email and a desktop application.
If you find Remember the Milk just a little too bloated, Any.Do may suit you instead. It's a basic to-do list app that's easy to use and includes just basic functionality, which is exactly what makes it so popular. Many people actually combine RTM and Any.Do, with the latter being used for quick and dirty tasks that aren't worth adding to the main list.
The company has also recently released its Cal application, which is an advanced calendar solution that works alongside Any.Do to make sure you get things done when you need to. With the company geared to add Mail and Memo as well, Any.Do may end up being your go-to option as a complete life organizer.
This advanced task manager makes it easy to organize your to-do list and get things done with a no-frills attitude. It stores everything you do on the cloud so that you're always able to track what you have to tick off your list, even if you're on the move. You can enter notes quickly with handy keyboard shortcuts, just for those moments when you only have a few seconds.
Things is an award-winning application and its second iteration has reached near perfection. Once you get into the habit of actually using it as your go-to app for getting things done, you won't look back.
Wunderlist has grown from a simple to-do list organizer to a full solution that helps keep your life in sync. It lets you capture new ideas as they come to you, create tasks according to projects (whether work-related or otherwise), and much more. It's essentially an advanced version of something like Any.Do.
Wunderlist is slightly different to other task managers in that it puts a lot of emphasis on collaboration. You can share your lists with friends and colleagues, manage projects in groups, and share ideas through conversations. The emphasis is on constant availability, cross-platform functionality, and being social about your tasks. If you work with others, Wunderlist 2 may be right up your alley.
If your to-do lists are taking too long to complete or if you need to bill your clients per hour, time tracking tools are essential. Get a grasp of where your time goes with any one of the following applications.
Rescue Time is more than just a basic time tracking tool. It's an all-inclusive app that gives you complete control of your activities, including detailed logs to give you an overview of your achievements, a collection of reminders and alerts, as well as a handy website blocker for distractions such as Facebook or Twitter. When you first start using it, you'll get a shock when you see just how much time you've been wasting.
The app is split into two versions: RescueTime Lite is free and only has a few basic features, while RescueTime Premium offers quite a bit more. If you're just looking to track time spent on websites and apps, a goal list, and weekly email summary, Lite is all you need.
Toggl prides itself on providing ‘insanely simple time tracking' – and that's exactly what it does. This nifty little app is geared towards managing your time effectively with a no-frills approach. It's simple and effective, doing what it says on the tin without the bloat you get with other applications.
This application works great if you need to bill clients for exact time worked on a job, or if you're meticulously tracking time spent on branches of a project. It syncs between all of your devices, works both offline and online, and you get detailed reports should you need them.
This app is based on the tried and tested Pomodoro technique, where work sessions are split in 25-minute blocks that are followed by short breaks. It allows you to keep up your productivity levels throughout the day in a manageable manner.
The following apps and tools don't fall into any of the main categories, yet are incredibly valuable when it comes to managing your time and using it effectively.
This app is more than just a basic music player. The company labels itself as a ‘neuroscience based web tool'. According to their research, their custom-built playlists can help crank up your attention span by 400%. It's been shown to be effective in 2 out of 3 people, helping lawyers, students, writers, coders and other professionals focus on their to-do lists.
The difference between Focus@Will and services such as Spotify, for example, is the fact that the music used only engages your non-focus attention. In other words, you can enjoy the tracks being played without having to actively listen. The free version gives you 60-minute sessions of each different channel. The Pro account gives you access to the entire library that can be used across multiple devices.
Sometimes, the best apps are plain and simple and Pocket falls into that category. It allows you to save articles and videos for later viewing, which doesn't sound too complicated but actually makes life much easier and more convenient. Pocket stops you from getting distracted or losing an interesting piece of content.
It works offline so you can catch up while on your daily commute. Whether you're trying to save something from your browser, Twitter, or your email, Pocket can handle pretty much any format.
Finally, Don't Overdo It!
Making use of your time effectively isn't all about micromanaging your task list and downloading as many tools as you can find. Pick 2 or 3 apps that combine to give you exactly what you need. Don't overload your devices with a bloat of tools that you'll never end up using or ones that just complicate things further.
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