Some people argue that a PhD is simply a test of perseverance and time management. I personally disagree with that statement, there is a lot more to getting your doctorate, but it cannot be argued that time management is not important. Understanding how you work, when you work best and how to manage your time are really vital in navigating and enjoying any type of study or busy lifestyle.
For some, myself included, this grappling with time management can be helped by using technology and ‘apps’. As I’ve mentioned I’ve recently moved onto a new way of organising my time, away from technology. But there are still definitely elements of my life and study that are managed via a few apps on my phone. In this post I share some that I use, and some that I have used in the past. Let me know if you have any apps that you love to utilise and help you boost your productivity.
Trello – free but upgradable
I was recently introduced to this app by a colleague. You can download it as an app but there is also a really good interface that can be accessed online from a laptop or desktop. The great thing about this app is that you create ‘boards’ for certain areas of life or tasks, and then you can break down each task (which as we know I am a massive fan of!). You can use this platform individually or you can also invite others to your boards. So maybe you are organising a conference or other event and you need the team to be kept up to date? Or maybe you just need to keep track of how your thesis chapters are coming along. You can write to do’s, assign others to tasks, attach files, upload photos and videos, comment on items and work offline – your boards are automatically synced when you next connect.
Free Time 2 – £1.99
This is my kind of calendar app. Not one that tells you everything you need to do, but one that tells you when you have nothing to do. The app automatically searches your calendar and identifies where and when you have free time. This is really helpful if you are looking to book a meeting, but also in terms of self-care. Sometimes I get carried away with my calendar, and lots of meetings, tasks, deadlines or events all fall within a similar time. This app allows me to check in and see how my free time is looking. I know how much free time I need in a week to just chill and by checking in I can see where I’m at and make a committment to either not take anything else on that week, or to move some things around where I can. It works with your existing calendar and you can also share your availability with others (if you want to).
Wunderlist – free but upgradable
This app is a fantastic option if you are a multiple list maker! You can make lists and organise them according to what they are related to. So for example, you can have a personal list and a PhD list, and then have sub lists within those. You can add reminders and deadlines. Again, like Trello you can add subtasks to keep things broken down and manageable and you can also invite others to access your lists, which is great to manage group work or tasks. As a result, you can see tasks that have been assigned to you and notifications keep you on track with things. This is a fantastic organisation tool for anything from grocery shopping, budgeting, exercise, PhD tasks, travel and even remembering birthdays!
Capture/note taking apps
Google keep – free
If you have a google account, you can use this app – known as a ‘capture app’, it allows you to do exactly that. Capture anything that you want or need to remember. You can keep notes, make lists, add photos, organise notes via labels and colours, search your content and also share your thoughts or plans with others. One of the best features with this is the voice recording, you can save your recording as an audio, or it can be automatically transcribed. Arguably, you’ll need to proof read whatever gets transcribed, but overall this app is super helpful when you have lots of ideas and need to try to keep track of them. I find it’s been useful when I have been developing a study for my PhD or I am thinking about a chapter and having things pop into my mind at random times, but I don’t want to forget them.
Captio – £1.99
This is also what is considered a ‘capture app’ – but in a very different way. Those of us who write notes to ourselves, email ourselves ideas or leave ourselves voice messages will most likely make good use of this app. You simply open it up, type what you need to type and then hit send. Where does it get sent? Directly to your email inbox. I find this really useful if I am struggling to switch off at the end of the day and my mind is full of everything I need to do tomorrow. I simply type everything into this app, hit send and I know when I get to the office the next morning and check my email – everything I needed to remember will be there. When you aren’t connected to the internet, the email is stored and automatically sent when you are.
Pocket – free but upgradable
In a similar way to google keep, this app allows you to save things quickly and easily, but focusses less on your own ideas and tasks and more on articles or videos that you come across and want to look at later. Obviously, if you are on YouTube or subscribed to certain news websites you can favourite articles or videos and come back to them at another time. But Pocket allows you to do this across all your platforms (safari, your computer, email, Facebook, twitter and more), and also across all your devices, as it will automatically sync when you are connected. You can also get personalised recommendations based on what you have saved previously to the app, add tags to search for specific content and listen to articles using the text to speech feature. This is really handy for all those articles you need to keep up to date on for your research. You can listen to them whilst driving, walking between meetings or commuting on the bus! And you can share what you’ve saved with others – great if you are part of a team or you spot an article that might be useful for a colleague.
Evernote – free but upgradable
This app is perhaps one of the more known ones for organisation and management. It’s a good all-rounder – allowing you to take notes, create to-do lists and capture things that you have online and want to remember. This app syncs across all your devices which is super handy if you are using your phone, iPad/tablet or laptop to work. You’ll have access to everything wherever you are. You can search notes, check off tasks, take notes in text, sketches, photos, audio, video and web clippings. Like many apps, you can also invite others or share your notes in a really easy way.
Writeroom – free but only for Mac Users
I haven’t used this software as I don’t have a Mac, but I have heard really good things. Writeroom allows users to write without distractions. It is a full screen writing environment, that keeps everything streamlined and reduces the clutter you might get from other word processors. Ultimately, you focus on your writing and nothing else! There is no option for putting images or tables into your work, this software is literally for getting words down on the page. There are a number of use submitted themes which enable you to create the perfect writing space. It’s like sitting down to a fresh new notebook each time!
Zen writer – free 15 day trial, only for windows
Very much like writeroom, but for those of us without a Mac using a windows operating system who want a minimalistic text editor. This software is marketed as a meditative writing tool. You can change the wallpapers to something that suits your eye and there is also the option of playing relaxing music if you’d like some background ambience. Effective for writing with minimal distraction.
Way of life – free but upgradable
This app is available on IOS and android and allows you to track habits, eventually making them your ‘way of life’. You can have up to three habits on the free version and unlimited habits on the paid ad-free version. You can state whether the habit is good for you or bad for you. The app then helps you develop a ‘chain’ of habits. So for example, walking 10,000 steps is good for you, so each time you say that you did it, that day turns green and you aim to keep a chain going. If however, smoking is bad for you, if you say that you did it, your day will turn red, breaking any chain that you previously had from not doing it. I initially downloaded this as a self-care app and still use it now occasionally when things get a bit crazy and it’s hard to keep track of things like vitamins, getting to bed early and eating well.
Momentuum – free up upgradable
This app is very similar to way of life, it allows you to track habits, routines, goals and rituals, with the aim of creating the ‘perfect daily routine’. Unlike way of life, you can set notifications and reminders when you need a nudge, and the app badge allows you to see how many habits you have left for that day. You can set your targets based on days or weeks. Like way of life, the free version gives you three habits, upgrading allows you to have unlimited habits.
Do Nothing for 2 Minutes – free
This is technically not an app, but a website that allows you to do exactly what it says in the name, nothing, for two whole minutes. A beautiful background and the noise of waves accompanies a two minute timer, allowing you to have some time out. Whilst this might seem pretty straightforward, and something that you don’t need a whole website for, there is another nifty feature. You cannot move your mouse, or move from the webpage without restarting the timer. You really do have to do nothing!
I hope that some of these apps are helpful. It can be very easy to get caught up in all the productivity apps out there, and end up spending more time completing them or using them than actually doing what it is you need to be doing. We’ve all spent ages developing a plan or to do list to the point of perfection and then realising that we haven’t actually done any of it, or is that just me?
I know there are hundreds of different apps out there, and on the app store there is a whole category dedicated to productivity apps, so I know this is only a very small selection. I’d love to hear what apps you use and find helpful (or not!) in the comments or via my contact page.
Until next time 🙂