6 apps to help boost productivity and avoid procrastination

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The surefire way to get yourself out of dealing with that pile of boring admin, or tackling the teetering washing pile, or finally sorting out the old filing system is by beginning a new piece of work.

Because for most of us, procrastination is all too tempting when starting a new project –  especially when clicking alt-and-tab for a quick check of Twitter / Instagram / LinkedIn is so easy – yet results in a one-hour time-suck where nothing serious gets done.

For the self-employed, or those working from home with lots of distractions, procrastination is even more tempting. But finding ways to boost your productivity will make you more efficient at work and free up more time to have fun (or do the washing or target inbox zero – whatever makes you happy).

So here are six apps for your phone or computer that will help you to beat your procrastination habit – or just block off the temptations for a bit. Good luck!

1. Forest

This is the app for anyone who’s addicted to their phone and can’t stop picking it up. Once you’ve downloaded it and signed up, you plant a seed in Forest, and that seed grows into a tree for as long as you have the app open and your phone is untouched. But if you use your phone for something else – such as picking it up and checking your emails – the tree withers and dies.

The aim is to keep building your forest every day, with each tree representing how long you could stay focused so you want them to grow as tall as possible to show you really do have an attention span. Yes, it’s a game – but in my experience, it works at stopping you pick up the phone. (Available on iPhone and Android, for around £1.50).

2. Procraster

The thinking behind this app is that most of us put off more urgent tasks in preference to less urgent ones, for a few key reasons, which are: the task is too big, you don’t know where to start, you’ve made a mistake, or you think it has to be perfect – and that’s stopping you starting. So Procraster encourages you to open it when you’re putting something off, then click the mindset that best matches your own, before following its prompts and then picking from one of its rewards to help you get back on track. The preset rewards include things like a coffee break or a Facebook binge session, but you can insert your own too.

Procraster then helps you breaks down the task into a 25 minute chunk, and “releases” the reward when you’ve completed it. The app can also link up to your calendar for more motivation. (for iPhone, around £1.50)

3. FocusMe

This is for those of us who need to outsource our willpower to someone who’ll never let us into Instagram in the hour we devoted to work. Not even if you say please really, really nicely.. The app stops you getting distracted or feeding your online addiction by blocking access to any websites and desktop applications that you deem to be time-wasters, in seconds. It has some useful extra features – you can set it, for example, to allow you to access Google Docs or any other specific cloud-based services, or specific websites that you need for work, rather than shut off the Internet completely. But if you visit a site or app that you’ve blocked, FocusMe shuts the page down.

Oh, and it’s impossible to bypass – if you’re committed to a period of blocking, it won’t matter if you restart your computer, you won’t gain access until the time is up! You can even tell FocusMe to protect itself from being uninstalled.. If you know you’ll try that trick on yourself. It costs £2.50 per month, or £30 a year, or £99 for a one-off “forever” fee.

4. AppDetox

Is a similar idea to FocusMe, but phone-specific. It lets you set up set periods of time that you can use certain apps (say, if Crossy Road or Twitter were eating into all your productive working hours, they’d be first on the list), then you can restrict them in various ways, such as at specific times, or for set numbers of launches. (Android, free).

5. Space app

The makers of the Space app reckon “you don’t really want to dump Facebook – you just need space.”

Its ethos is for users to set up goals limiting their usage of time-sapping sites and apps to be more mindful of screen time. It claims to use neuroscience and AI to help kick app addiction, giving users a questionnaire about smartphone habits and then setting targets to cut usage and alerts saying things like “breathe with me” to “short-circuit instant gratification and put you in charge again.” (Free, Android and iPhone)

6. Off the Grid

This for when you’ve tried all the rest and really need to get serious about cutting down on your phone-time. The app totally blocks your phone for a length of time you’ve specified – and if you really want to access your phone after you’ve activated Off the Grid, but before your pre-set session is over, your credit card is instantly charged – the penalty starts at $1 (about 80p) and rises or falls depending on how frequently you access your phone.

Not a big whack, but enough of a financial sting if those sessions start adding up..  The app also sends custom auto-reply messages to let people know you’re Off The Grid when they attempt to contact you. (Android, free).

Lucy Tobin is a senior writer at the Evening Standard, author and blogger.

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