Top Picks: Apps to Help You Work Smarter
Published on Oct 2, 2014 by Stephanie Rizzo
In a world where organization can mean the difference between being busy and being stressed out, developers have come up with a host of mobile and desktop applications geared toward aiding productivity. The trouble is, how do you sift through the hundreds of apps out there to find ones that work for you? We asked three Course Directors from the Mobile Development bachelor’s program to share their top picks for productivity apps.
“The most important app of all “ says Victoria McNichol, “Is a calendar. It doesn’t matter which one you use, just use it.” Writing down assignments and due dates as soon as you get them shows an intent to see a project through, and can cut down on procrastination by providing a chronological overview of your to-do list.
Studious is a task manager built specifically for student users. The app features standard calendar and to-do functions, and it also gives you the option of automatically silencing your phone when you enter the classroom. You can also organize assignments and notes by class. Studious’ interface is deliberately simple—you won’t find much room for custom configuration within the app—in an attempt to keep organization from getting too complicated.
Studious is currently only available for Android devices. You can find it for free on Google Play.
If customization is something you require, on the other hand, you might consider using Trello to organize your workflow.
“Trello is a thought and information organizer,” explains Mike Celey. “You can create boards for different topics and, on those boards, create cards with bite-sized chunks of data. You then move those cards around between different boards in order to organize your thoughts or plan the flow of a project or paper.”
The Pomodoro Technique for time management has been around since the late 1980s, but the advent of smartphones and subsequently shorter attention spans has given it a recent boost in popularity. The concept is simple: for every 25 minutes you work, you get a five-minute break. For every four cycles, you get a longer (15-30 minute) break. These short mental respites are designed to increase stamina, enabling you to work more efficiently for longer stretches of time.
Pomodroido is a more classic take on the tomato-shaped analog kitchen timers that gave the Pomodoro Technique its name. It’s free for Android users and is available on Google Play.
“Dropbox has completely changed the way I work,” says Matt Kelland, “I keep all my work in Dropbox so I can access it at any time, from any place, and from any device. I can also share things with people whenever they need it, even if I’m out of the office.”
Dropbox allows you to store and share files via the cloud. The service doesn’t place a limit on how large shared files can be, making it ideal for collaborators who need to transfer large files back and forth. Primarily a subscription service, free accounts come with 2GB of storage space. Beyond that, $10 a month gets you 1TB of storage.
If you need more storage but can’t afford to pay monthly, Google Drive is a good alternative to Dropbox, offering non-subscribers 15 gigabytes of storage. Google also offers pay-per-month plans, with $2 getting you 100GB of storage and $10 getting you 1TB. In addition to offering more free storage and different subscription options, Google Drive’s ability to seamlessly integrate itself into many existing Google services make it an ideal option for students.
The quintessential note-taking app, and for good reason. More than just notes, the Evernote umbrella includes a host of other apps that integrate into the original Evernote system, allowing you to clip text from the web to read later, save photos to notes, and even set reminders to track notes containing time-sensitive content.
“Evernote has apps for every mobile platform as well as your computer and the web,” says Mike. “Your data syncs across all devices so you always have your information with you, no matter which device you have on hand.”
As with Dropbox and Google Drive, Evernote’s ubiquity is a huge draw. Tons of websites and apps have Evernote compatibility built in, and since so many people already use Evernote, sharing content with peers is easy.
If you’ve ever sat down to study while your roommate is practicing the drums in the next room, or tried to work at the nearest coffee shop only to find it’s open mic night, then Cubefree might change your life. This location-based app gets you out of the house and finds the perfect workspace in your area. It ranks public spaces based on wi-fi reliability, number of power outlets, noise level, and parking availability, ensuring that you’re never stuck in less than ideal working conditions. The app also has a social feature that allows users to network with people working around them. It’s free for Apple devices.
This desktop app blocks your access to digital distractions for a set amount of time. You choose what goes on the blacklist (email servers, specific websites, etc.) and set the timer. Once engaged, SelfControl will block access to your time sucks even if you restart your computer or delete the app.
“This app is essential for me in writing research papers or lessons for class,” says Mike. “It allows me to work and not be distracted by that nagging feeling of needing to check Facebook or Gizmodo every five minutes.” SelfControl is available for OS X (10.5 or above).