It’s 9:45pm and I have to get this article done.
I’m embarrassed–I recently hired an assistant to help me manage tasks and get my work done. One of her major tasks is to remind me to write.
For the last three days, she’s been texting me, asking me how close I was to having my Monday article finished. Yet now, at 9:45pm on Sunday night, I’m finally sitting down to write it…and only because if I don’t finish on time, I’ll have to pay her $50.
But, hey, whatever works I guess.
I’ve always argued that strategy is far more important tactics, and that the plan is far more important that the tools. Downloading an app is like taking a drug–we love it because we love quick fixes, but really, it’s not the solution. What would really fix the problem is to create a system that forces you to succeed.
But hey, sometimes tools are useful. There are a few specific tools that I love to use, that I highly recommend. Let’s check them out.
RescueTime is one of my favorite apps for one reason: it doesn’t make me do anything. It simply sits in the background and measures your productivity.
RescueTime measures every minute you’re on the computer, and it knows how much time you spend in each application, and on each website. So, for example, over the last week, I was 17% productive, spending 8 hours, 2 minutes each day online. (Holy shit, that is really bad).
The service measures what sites and applications you’re using and ranks them from -2 (Very Distracting) to +2 (Very Productive). It’s mostly automatic, generating data from thousands of other users, so you don’t have to tell it that Facebook is already a distracting beast–it just knows.
RescueTime also includes a pretty cool service called FocusTime, that blocks Very Distracting(-2) sites for a set period of time. This only functions when you sign up for the paid plan, though. (Recommended! I have it.)
You can sign up for RescueTime here. The basic version is free, the upgraded version is $9/mo, or $72/year (which comes out to $6/mo).
*Note: the link to RescueTime is an affiliate link, but I don’t get paid for the free version.
2) Freedom and Self Control
The OSX app Freedom is a really amazing app, with a very simple concept.
It turns off your Internet for a period of time. It can’t be cancelled, so once you flip the switch, your Internet is blocked for however long you set it for. This app was an integral part of my Morning Routine. Check it out in the video below:
If you need to get something done, trigger up Freedom. Sure, your Internet will be off…but how much do you REALLY need to use the Internet for your task? Freedom is free for 10 uses, but then costs money.
Another app, similar to Freedom, is Self Control. This app lets you choose domains you want to blacklist. Then, you set a timer, and for X amount of minutes you cannot access that website, no matter what. Self Control is free.
I’m using WriteRoom right now to write this article!
I like it because I don’t notice any Facebook messages, or notifications. It’s just me, and the words on the page. Not bad.
4) NudgeMail / Boomerang
Nudgemail is an awesome system for getting your email inbox down to zero.
Have you ever had an email that you want to come back to? You’d rather defer it than act on it right away, but you don’t want it to clutter up your inbox.
NudgeMail allows you to defer the email. Imagine, for example, you want to postpone an email until February 1. Simply forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org and archive the email, and it will disappear. On February 1, you’ll get an email reminder from NudgeMail, with the text of what you wrote.
Another use case: when I’m sending someone an email but I want to make sure that they take action, I’ll often BCC ‘email@example.com’ and the email will come back to me in 3 days.
You don’t even need an account! Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll get your first reminder in a half hour.
Another, better service is Boomerang. Boomerang is a Gmail extension that does the same work as NudgeMail, but it’s more integrated into Gmail (for example, the returned message will be in the same thread). However, it is a bit pricey: $15/month for Google Apps users, $5/month for Gmail.com domains.
5) Menubar Countdown for Pomodoro Timer
The Pomodoro Technique is a brilliant system for pumping out work. Basically, the idea is you do a task for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break. Then, 25 minutes of work, then a 5 minute break.
Simple, but effective. Just focused work for 25 minutes at a time. You can read more about it on Wikipedia.
I got an app to help me focus for 15 minutes at a time. It’s called Menubar Countdown, and it’s only for the Mac. If you know a Windows Countdown app, please tell me in the comments.
Basically, I decide on a task, set the Countdown for 15 minutes, and let it rip.
(Note: one reader, Sebastian Bortz, emailed me a countdown app he developed for Windows Pomodoros. Check it out and let me know what you think: Clearmind Timer)
Remember, it’s not about the technology, it’s about the strategy. Think about why you’re not productive, and try to set up a system that helps you succeed.
But, tools can be an important part of that system. Here they all are again:
Please let me know in the comments about which of these tools you are going to download and how you think it will help!