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How to stay productive—7 useful apps to help you stay focused and motivated

Working from home or just want to maintain your daily motivation? Here are the best 7 apps to help you stay productive.

8 min read

Productivity. It can sound easy enough to achieve in theory, but even those of us who are compulsive list-makers know that it only takes one small distraction to throw you off course from a carefully planned day.

Whether you’re adjusting to working from home or looking to maintain your daily motivation, staying productive will help you to remain on track to achieve your goals, be efficient with your time, alleviate stress and boost your mood.

Here are our 7 best-recommended apps to help get you in the flow and stay productive:

1. Stay off your phone and plant a tree: Forest: Stay Focused

There’s no doubt that time is our most precious and valuable asset—once it’s gone, you can never get it back. And yet with constant app notifications and entertaining social media feeds, it can be hard to resist the temptation to check your smartphone every few minutes. But what if you could do good for the world by staying off your phone and being productive?

Forest: Stay Focused is a fun app that turns productivity into a feel-good game with real-life ecological consequences. Whenever you want to focus, you plant a virtual seed and set a timer for your task, during which time your seed will grow into a tree. However, if you can’t resist the urge to use your phone and exit the app while the timer is running, the tree will die.

With each successful tree that is grown in your virtual forest, you also earn coins in the app that can be saved up to plant a real tree in Africa, thanks to the app’s partnership with Trees for the Future. To date, Forest app users have planted over 703,000 trees with the non-profit organization.

Still need an extra kick of motivation? With the ‘Plant Together’ feature, you can hold friends, family and colleagues accountable by planting a tree together. If one person uses their phone, everybody will lose their tree. How’s that for not letting the team down?

Forest: Stay Focused app is available for iOS, Android and Google Chrome.

2. Shut off distractions: StayFocusd

So you’ve managed to stop looking at your phone and are beginning to work on your laptop when you notice an interesting headline. An hour later, you’re now an expert in the world’s affairs, but still haven’t achieved any productive work.

To combat distracting content online (and let’s face it, to stop yourself from finding a clever workaround to not looking at your phone), the Google Chrome extension StayFocusd helps you to stay focused on the work you should be doing by restricting the amount of time you can spend on selected websites. Once your allocated amount of time has been used up, the sites you’ve blocked will be inaccessible for the rest of the day.

StayFocusd is highly customizable, so you can set auto-blocks on entire websites or just subdomains. You can even personalize auto-blocking to only occur during set hours, such as only your weekday work hours.

StayFocusd web extension is available for Google Chrome.

Hot tip: Create a separate Google Chrome profile

Did you know? If you’re using Google Chrome, you can go a step further and easily separate work from personal life by creating a separate Google Chrome profile with its own dedicated browser (here’s a handy how-to guide).

By personalizing your ‘work' profile with relevant bookmarks, extensions and plug-ins—yes, that means no more shortcut bookmarks to Facebook or YouTube!—your new browser will be optimized to help you stay productive and create a clear distinction between work and personal life.

3. Tune in: Noisli

To best optimize your work environment for productivity, you can’t forget about background noise. Loud noises and sudden spikes in noise can steal your attention, break your focus and increase your stress levels. Add in the fact that it takes about 25 minutes to fully focus again after each interruption, and you can begin to see why working in certain environments seems to drain you of your energy.

With Noisli, you can maintain uninterrupted focus and block out distracting noises with a library of 28 high-quality sounds that can be played individually or combined to create a ‘Favorites’ stash of background noises that help you get in the zone. For busy bees, Noisli also comes pre-loaded with its own set of curated productivity playlists so that you can get started right away. With the additional built-in timer and distraction-free text editor, it’s easy to break your day into smaller and more efficient time blocks to stay productive.

Noisli is available for web, iOS, Android and Google Chrome.

4. Visualize projects: Trello

One of the most popular productivity apps on the market, Trello is an intuitive and easy-to-use project management app that can keep you organized with a handy visual of your project and its complete workflow.

Based on a Japanese method called Kanban, Trello allows users to create a ‘board’ for a project which contains all of the tasks (called ‘cards’) that need to be completed to finish the project. All the ‘cards’ are then organized by ‘lists’, which indicate each stage that a task must go through to be finished. An easy example of ‘lists’ could be: To do – Doing – Done.

With Trello, you can easily track your project’s progress and stay productive as you systematically tackle each task. It’s also highly collaborative, flexible in its usage and comes pre-integrated with a plethora of other apps, so you can easily work with others or combine it with another app that you already use. If you feel daunted by a large project, it’s the perfect way to visualize the process and break it down into a list of achievable tasks.

Discover the many creative uses of Trello with their free template library here.

Trello is available for web, MacOS, Windows, iOS and Android.

5. Organize daily life: Todoist

While Trello is great for visualizing and working through larger projects, it’s probably unlikely that you’ll spend every morning creating a new Trello board for the day. For those of us on the go with busy lives, Todoist is the feature-packed to-do list app that will allow you to begin each day with confidence, knowing that everything is accounted for.

Todoist allows you to free your mind from all the little reminders that pop up throughout the day, thanks to its smart functions such as the Quick Add Task. Todoist is able to detect and process natural language in voice commands or text, such as “Call Mom every Sunday at 10”. With this simple but effective feature, you’ll save precious time, effort and mental space as Todoist automates your command into the task “Call Mom” and sets a recurring due date for 10am every Sunday.

In addition, Todoist provides immense customization with the ability to set priority levels and organize each task under broader ‘project’ categories such as ‘Personal’, ‘Work’, ‘Fitness’ or even ‘Vacation Planning’. You can also delegate tasks to others so that you won’t have to go at it alone. With automated syncing across all devices and the option to view your tasks for the day or the upcoming week, Todoist is the perfect sidekick to stay productive every day and finally banish the panic of potentially forgetting an important deadline or task.

Todoist is available for web, MacOS, Windows, iOS, Android, Android Wear and Apple Watch.

6. Breathe: Headspace

While all of the world’s productivity apps can help optimize the way you work, it’s a well-known fact that you can’t pour from an empty cup. If your mind is frazzled or you’re feeling scattered, anxious and stressed, a simple 5 to 10 minute meditation could be all that it takes to declutter your mind and help regain productivity by returning you to a place of focus and calm. And if you’re a premium N26 You or Metal customer, you can enjoy 3-months-free of the app right now! Check out more information on how to benefit right here.

Providing gentle and easy-to-follow guided meditation courses that combine breathing and mindfulness exercises, Headspace trains your mind to be present in the current moment—and in turn, you’ll be able to curb distractions better and remain focused on the task at hand. And that’s not all—other proven long-term benefits of regular meditation include reduced stress, improved concentration, more happiness, less irritability, better sleep, more compassion, improved communication, and even effective weight loss.

Headspace is also currently offering an extra section in the app, called ‘Weathering the storm.’ In these uncertain times, the free meditations, sleep, and movement exercises may be just what you need to regain your inner peace and stay productive.

Headspace is available for web, iOS and Android.

7. Build lasting habits: HabitBull

Making plans and setting goals is easy enough, but unless you have a wealth of unlimited self-motivation, following through with your goals is where many people face challenges. Although the 21-day rule to develop a new habit has been hotly debated, the common underlying message has always been the same: consistency is key.

Thanks to the highly visual HabitBull app, it's easy to build positive new habits and actually keep them up. Backed by behavioral science and the famous ‘Don’t Break the Chain’ method, Habitbull becomes more impactful every day as you consistently mark your daily progress, and visualize your ongoing streak of success.

With its intuitive set-up, habit tracking calendars, visualized success graphs, built-in reminders, a daily comments section, motivational quotes and a supportive community who interact in the app’s discussion forums, HabitBull keeps you on track to gain new positive habits. As you continue to build upon your streak of successes, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment that motivates you to keep going and stick with it, once and for all. To get the most out of the app, remember to set S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

HabitBull is available for iOS and Android.

Whether you’re searching for ways to stay focused, optimize your workflow or create a positive and effective working environment, these 7 apps will surely keep you motivated to stay productive every day. Remember, consistency is key. Good luck and keep up the great work!

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