Working from home sounds great, in theory, but it’s all too easy to get distracted. Here’s how to use apps to stay on top of your work.
You get to wear your pajamas all day, work on the couch, and eat whatever you want. But as millions of people found when they were suddenly thrust into working from home during the pandemic, it also has plenty of downsides. For one thing, staying motivated while working from home can be extremely difficult.
The problem is there’s so much temptation around you at home: that book you’ve been wanting to finish, that show you want to binge, sleeping in, not to mention the couch you’re working from is also a nice spot for a nap. It’s also surprisingly tough to feel on top of your game without coworkers to brainstorm with.
Basically, working from home requires a lot more discipline than you might think. Sometimes, you have to actively make yourself feel inspired enough to work. Fortunately, there are a few apps that can help you focus while working from home.
Organize Your Tasks
Task organizers help you figure out what you should do next. They can also ensure you won’t forget anything you need to do in the future.
Use the following apps to create to-do lists and make your workflow more organized.
Todoist is essentially a virtual to-do list. Why should you download an app instead of just writing things down? Well, unlike a notepad, you can access Todoist on any device. This means you can check your list no matter where you are.
You can also set deadlines and create detailed tasks with subtasks for optimal organization. Tasks can be organized into sections, and you can prioritize them via highlighting.
Working with others? You can easily share tasks, comment on each other’s work, and get notifications.
Oh, and don’t forget that satisfying feeling of crossing a completed task off your list—you can do that on Todoist, as well!
Another nice perk is checking your productivity. This useful tool allows you to keep a closer eye on what you’re really getting done during each day. You can also set daily goals and track what you’ve completed. Todoist Karma is a helpful motivational feature. It awards you points for completing tasks and maintaining your personal streaks, which only makes you want to perform better.
You can use the free version of Todoist, or get the premium version for $3 per month.
Trello is a user-friendly way to create, organize, and prioritize your to-do lists, as well as manage long-term projects. It’s also ideal if you work with a team and need to keep track of what everyone is doing.
On Trello, you use boards to create lists. After you create a board, you can make as many lists as you want within that board. Each task on the list is called a card. When you click a card, you can add lots of details, including due dates, comments, and more.
It’s also really easy to delete or move cards from one list to another if you need to reorganize them. If you’re collaborating with others, the layout is very clear and organized.
You can also sync Trello on all of your devices; however, we prefer the desktop version. The drag-anywhere function of the cards really shines on a nice, big monitor.
And the best part? Trello is free!
Zapier is an automation tool that does small, repetitive tasks for you to keep you more organized. You can link all your favorite apps so you don’t have to switch between them to perform basics tasks.
For example, Zapier can post an update about your new blog post to all your social media accounts, so you don’t have to! It can also take over data entry for you or automatically upload email attachments for remote access.
If you’re unsure where to start, look through Zapier’s library of pre-built automation workflows (called zaps) to figure out how to sync and use your favorite apps. You can also build your own automations if you want. This is a great way to focus on the big stuff you need to do instead of wasting time performing mindless tasks.
Zapier has a Free Forever plan, as well as a few premium tiers that offer a bit more.
Reading pointless emails can be an exhausting, and distracting, part of your day. Spark can help you streamline your inbox so it’s less overwhelming.
Spark prioritizes your email by bubbling important messages from real people at the top of your inbox. You can then batch archive the rest. It also only notifies you about emails from people you know, so you won’t get a notification about every message—just those you really need to know about.
You can also schedule emails to be sent at specific times and set up reminders so you won’t forget to follow up on anything. There are even pre-written quick replies you can click to reduce the time you spend typing the same thing over and over.
The app also offers an intelligent search engine you’ll find easy to use, as well as the option to snooze emails when needed. There’s also a messaging feature you can use to discuss specific emails with others or share drafts.
The free version of Spark should be fine for most, but there’s a premium plan, as well.
Track Your Time
Keeping track of how you spend your time can actually help you learn to be more productive. How can you tighten your schedule if you don’t know where you’re losing time? These apps can help you figure that out and change it.
Toggl is a time-tracking app that gives you an idea of how much time you’re spending on specific tasks. It was actually designed to help freelancers figure out how much to bill for their time so they could get paid properly.
A one-click timer easily starts tracking your tasks. There are even some features that will remind you if you aren’t tracking your time, just in case you forget. Toggl also detects idle time if you forgot to stop the timer, so you can figure out what to do with that time later. You can also get reports on how productive you’ve been.
There are also integrations that will put a Toggl Button in your favorite apps so you can spend less time navigating between them.
Toggl has several different plans, starting from $9 per month, per person.
You know when you’re working and trying to get into the zone, but things just keep distracting you? Maybe it’s emails or text messages constantly popping up, or maybe it’s your kids running around screaming. You might not be able to do much about the kids, but Daywise can help you with the tech notifications.
Daywise neatly organizes all your notifications in one spot, making it easier for you to work without interruptions. When you’re ready to check them, you’ll see what looks like an email inbox. The app can even analyze everything and categorize it for you.
You can also choose the times of day you want to receive notifications, which can help you manage your time. If there are notifications you can’t (or don’t want to) miss, there’s a VIP list you can add people to, so you won’t miss any notifications from them.
You’ll also get reports on how much time you spend on your phone and away from it, as well as which apps interrupt you the most.
Daywise is available for Android devices, and you can download it for free on Google Play.
RescueTime is another time-tracking app meant to help you focus and figure out exactly which distractions you need to eliminate to be more productive. It automatically (you don’t have to turn on anything) tracks the time you spend on apps, websites, and even specific documents. You’ll also get detailed reports on exactly how you’re spending your time so you can see where you’re wasting it.
You’ll be prompted to automatically add Offline Time when you’ve been away from the computer so you can get a really accurate picture of how you’ve spent your day.
It also has a FocusTime feature, which will block distracting websites and apps when you know you really need to focus. You can use this feature to set daily limits on these apps and sites, or schedule focused time on your calendar.
RescueTime is $72 per year.
Stay Calm and Focused
You’re not going to get any work done if you’re stressed out, distracted, and void of any motivation. Aside from organizing tasks and tracking your time, you also need to be in the right mindset to really sit down and focus. These apps will help you do just that!
Headspace is a meditation app, so you’re not going to use it while you’re working. Still, a short meditation at the start or end of your workday can make you feel less stressed or anxious, so you can focus on work with a clear head.
This app makes meditation easy and attainable, and there are so many different options. Whether you prefer longer meditations or 10-minute sessions, you’ll find them here. And you can listen whenever you want—whether it’s as soon as you wake up or during your lunch break.
We especially love the Sleepcasts, which really do help you fall asleep even when you’re anxious. Headspace will help you practice mindfulness and leave you feeling more motivated when you start using it regularly.
Plus, if you know anyone who’s unemployed, Headspace is offering free memberships to those who’ve lost their jobs due to the pandemic, so pass it on!
Serene is meant to minimize distractions and help you stay as focused as possible. It has plenty of features that will make your workday a more pleasant experience.
Every morning, Serene prompts you to define one goal for that day, and then break your day down into sessions. This is meant to help you prioritize the goals that matter most so you can really focus on them instead of getting distracted by the little things.
Once you enter a Serene session for the day, it can block distracting apps and websites, silence your phone, control Philips Hue lights, update your Slack status, and more (you can customize all of these). Basically, it just makes your life a bit easier.
The app also offers focus enhancers, such as music, countdown timers, and prompts for regular breaks, all of which have been proven to help people get their work done.
The Serene app is available on macOS for $4 per month.
You know what else is extremely distracting? A browser with like 15 tabs or windows open. You might only be using a few of them, while the rest just sit there, distracting and tempting you to click them.
Hocus Focus is meant to help with that. The app clears away “window clutter” as you work. It hides any applications you aren’t using so you won’t be distracted by them. Basically, it’s out of sight, out of mind.
You can adjust the settings so Hocus Focus hides things after a certain amount of time or disables them entirely. While the app doesn’t have a ton of flashy features, it doesn’t need them—its main function is helpful enough!
Hocus Focus is free to download on Macs.
Focus Keeper Pomodoro Timer
The Pomodoro Technique encourages you to focus on your work and take breaks so you can do exactly that. It works this way: you get four 25-minute work sessions with five-minute breaks in between. After the fourth work session, you get a 25-minute break.
Focus Keeper helps you keep track of all this, and it’s incredibly easy to use. Just set a timer for 25 minutes, work until it rings, and then take a break. The app also allows you to customize your focus sessions, goals, colors, and sounds. You can also track your productivity with insightful charts.
Some additional features include setting daily goals, customizing how many work sessions you want to complete before taking a longer break, and customizing the length of your breaks and work sessions. There are also push notification reminders to use the app in case you forget.
Focus Keeper is free to download.