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When I sit down to work on a blog post, one of the first things I do is log off of Facebook and email. This is because every time I stop to check a notification, I will undoubtedly fall into the procrastination wormhole that leads me meandering across the Internet and reading things that have nothing to do with my original blog post. According to this Wall Street Journal article, “It takes more than 25 minutes, on average, to resume a task after being interrupted.” Even worse, “It takes an additional 15 minutes to regain the same intense focus or ‘flow’ as before the interruption.” That’s forty entire minutes. And that doesn’t even take into consideration multiple interruptions.

Of course, interruptions are an unavoidable part of daily life. But we can limit them! And we can also find ways to make ourselves more organized and more productive so we will have a little more time left over once we finally find our way out of that wormhole. Today, I’ve put together a list of five of my favorite apps that help me work smarter and faster. All of these are absolutely free and some you can download right onto your computer.

1. Evernote

Evernote_iOS_logoEvernote is my go-to app for creating quick to-do lists, jotting down notes, and writing up blog post ideas. It even lets you take audio notes! Even though I’ve been using Evernote for quite some time now, I still feel like there are so many features I haven’t yet made full use of.

For example, with the Evernote Web Clipper extension, you can clip articles from across the web and save them into Evernote for quick reference while working on projects. This is really helpful when you’re quoting and referencing lots of different articles for an essay or blog post. Additionally, you can share and discuss notes with other Evernote users right inside the Evernote interface. And best of all Evernote instantly syncs across any computer or smartphone you use.

Get it here.

2. Marinara Timer

In the late 1980s, an Italian college student named Francesco Cirillo discovered the incredible productivity benefits of a 25-minute tomato-shaped kitchen timer, and the pomodoro technique was born. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. Here’s how the technique works:

  1. Decide on a task to be completed.
  2. Set the timer to 25 minutes.
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings.
  4. Take a short break (3-5 minutes).
  5. Every four “pomodori” take a longer break (15–30 minutes) until the task is completed.

My favorite web-based pomodoro app is the free Marinara Timer. Hit “start pomodoro” and the timer begins counting down right away a 25-minute time block followed by pre-programmed breaks. I like how it flows from one time slot to the next automatically as it prevents me from procrastinating. Every time you start a session, a dedicated URL is generated. Remember to copy and save this in the unfortunate case that you accidentally close the website and want to get back to your session.

The app also has a handy timer history that records the exact times when you start and finish working, when you pause the timer, and when you take breaks. This is a really helpful way to keep track of your hours and see how long projects take you, especially for when you are scheduling similar projects in the future.

Along with the pomodoro functionality, Marinara also has another version that allows you to customize the length of time periods to suit your individual needs. Additionally, timers can be shared allowing them to be viewable across multiple computers so an entire team can maintain the same schedule.

Overall, it’s one of the best apps out there if you’re a fan of the pomodoro technique like me! Check it out here.

3. HabitRPG

I discovered HabitRPG only several weeks ago, but it’s already transformed my daily to-do list. HabitRPG describes itself as “a free habit building and productivity app that treats your real life like a game.”

Up until I stumbled across HabitRPG, I was using Evernote to create my daily to-do lists. Evernote has a cool little checklist feature where you can check off items when you complete them. But that’s it. No rewards for completing items on your list. No way to categorize items according to certain days. Enter HabitRPG. In HabitRPG, you can elegantly organize your schedule according to three different columns: habits, dailies, and to-dos.

HabitRPG_gameplay_screenshot_as_of_December_2013

A version of the HabitRPG interface. Source: Wikipedia

With to-dos, you can enter the due date which will show up in red as you near the deadline. Your dailies are tasks that you complete every week or every day. So for example, I could put down “one hour of writing.” I can even customize that task if I want it to only show up on five or six days a week. The habits column is for whatever bad habits you are trying to avoid or for the good habits you are trying to do subconsciously every day.

Here’s the incredibly cool thing about HabitRPG. Aside from being such an efficient to-do list app, it has the added feature of being a game. When you sign up, you are given a little character that you can customize. As you complete your dailies and to-dos, you earn gold that you can use to buy weapons and armor for your character along with other rewards. You can even invite your friends to join HabitRPG with you, quest together, and keep each other accountable to complete tasks. If you miss completing your tasks, you will lose health.

For those of us who struggle with procrastination, HabitRPG is a great way to gameify your mundane to-do lists, turning them into something fun and giving you a little extra motivation to follow through on your goals. Check it out here.

4. TheBrain

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 1.58.37 PMTheBrain is a wonderful app to use when you are working on a research paper, brainstorming for a creative project, or just organizing a wide range of information in your daily life. A mind mapping and personal knowledge base software, TheBrain is designed to help you organize information the way you think. The website explains, “There’s a lot of connections in your head, but unfortunately sometimes they don’t last. With TheBrain, your digital Brain captures all that intelligence for playback just when you need it.”

TheBrain is hard to describe in words so watch the short video below to see what it looks like in action:

TheBrain is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, as well as IOS and Android devices. Get it here.

5. Google Docs

google_docs_logoI usually use Microsoft Word for my writing projects but Google Docs is a must for collaborative writing and for storing documents online in order to access them later from any computer.

With Microsoft Word, you always have to make sure you hit save in order to back up your documents. Sometimes if Word crashes, it will store a backup copy of the document but it may not be the last version you were working on. With Google Docs, however, documents are backed up in Google Drive so there is no fear of losing the first draft of your college thesis. You can also enable offline editing so you can work right in your browser without an Internet connection.

What I really love about Google Docs is the ability to share a document with others so you can all work on the same document and see everyone’s contributions at the same time. I’ve used Google Docs with study groups to create a study guide that everyone can edit and add to in real time. I’ve also used it with group projects and have also found it very helpful when helping someone edit his or her work. They can see me making comments as I type them.

Start using Google Docs here.

Do you use any of the tools on this list? Are there any you would add? Leave a comment below and be sure to share the post with a friend who is also looking to supercharge his or her productivity!

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