When it comes to working from home, as so many of our learning, distractions are everywhere. Be it your kids, partner, or simply the opportunity to walk out the front door at a moment’s notice, it can be hard to maintain a sense of productivity without proper discipline. Some of us simply may not find the right balance of work time, break time, and off-hours to keep ourselves sane, and at that point, work can start to feel like your entire life. When the office never actually closes, you never leave. We have a few apps we think can help you manage your time better, be more productive, and also help you set reasonable boundaries when working from home.
5217 pushed me through my master’s thesis, and it still helps me maintain concentration on busy days at Android Police. The idea is that you do “deep work” for 52 minutes, followed by a 17-minute break you can use to get coffee, grab some food, go to the bathroom, or for phone calls, emails, and Slack messages. I don’t always manage to stick to the schedule 100%, but it’s great for bringing some structure into your day.
The app is free to use and straightforward, though I can only recommend you head to its settings to tweak a couple of entries: I always activate the automatic Do Not Disturb mode during work cycles and toggle the “Use display to indicate cycle transition” on so I don’t miss my breaks.
If you don’t think the specific 52-17 interval is for you, you can set alternative work and break periods. There are also a lot of people who swear by the Pomodoro technique where you work for 25 minutes and take a break for five, followed by a long 25-minute break after four intervals. An app like Brain Focus might be better suited for this use case than 5217.
Toggl is a simple work hour tracking tool, and I use it to understand how much time I spend on which tasks, like writing, emailing, or researching. That way, I hold myself accountable and prevent myself from just surfing the web. The app also lets you set up your own Pomodoro or 52-17 timer intervals, so it could replace 5217 for you. I personally prefer using both because 5217 activates DND on my phone, and I tend to fill out Toggl after the fact these days.
I’m also testing Google Calendar as a replacement. I try to plan my day ahead by creating blocks of time that I dedicate to certain tasks. Since newsworthy events rarely come in at predictable times, it’s pretty hard to keep up with the schedule and I find myself readjusting it too often. Depending on your job, this system might work much better for you than for me, though.
Toggl is available for the desktop, the web, and Android and iOS, so you can use it across all of your devices. There are paid subscriptions that give you deeper statistical insights and improved calendar management, though all of the basic features are free if you only need it for yourself or a team of up to 5 members.
There are tons of To-Do list apps out there, but I personally enjoy TickTick’s free feature set. It allows me to break up bigger projects into smaller subtasks by adding checklists to individual to-do items. I generally don’t use TickTick for articles, but for bigger tasks that need to get done outside of the day-to-day hustle, so I don’t lose track of them, such as taxes, follow-up emails, or my freelance video projects.
Alternatives include Microsoft To Do, Todoist, and Google Tasks. The latter is integrated with Gmail and Calendar, and might be particularly interesting as a temporary solution since it’s the simplest and most limited tool available, providing you only with the basics.
I don’t think Digital Wellbeing is all that useful for me as I need to check my phone constantly for work-related stuff, but if you don’t happen to write about Android, it might be a valuable tool for helping you stay away from your handset. You can use it to monitor how much time you spend on your phone and set timers that limit access to certain apps. Thanks to a focus mode, it’s possible to keep using your phone for calls, messages, and other manually whitelisted tools that may be vital to your job.
Many Android manufacturers include their own versions of Digital Wellbeing these days, so you can also take advantage of the features even if you don’t have a Pixel phone (Eventually, Google’s own software will be on all Android devices, though). There are also third-party solutions like Action Launcher’s ActionDash that emulate Digital Wellbeing on other devices.
An even simpler solution than Digital Wellbeing is Android’s Do Not Disturb mode. You can usually find it among the quick settings tiles in your notification shade and customize it. For example, you can set it up so you’ll still receive phone calls while messages are blocked from showing up.
Sometimes, concentration is just waning, and your mind is all over the place, especially if you keep checking coronavirus news. Headspace helps me regain focus and makes me calm as it guides me through meditation sessions. You can choose between different durations, so select one that fits your schedule.
Some Headspace courses are available for free, but if you like the app and you feel like you’re getting value out of it, you can also subscribe to Headspace Plus to get a ton more in-depth content. You could also check out Calm as an alternative.
Some music just puts me into work mode, and that’s Lo-Fi Hip Hop beats or film and game scores. I used to rely on Play Music and YouTube Music to enjoy this content, but I’ve noticed that this throws off my personalized mixes — I really want to listen to my work music exclusively while working. That’s why I’ve switched to the Lo-Fi Radio app or the famous ChilledCow Lo-Fi Hip Hop radio YouTube livestream when I don’t want to tax my phone’s battery. I’m bummed that the app doesn’t support Chromecast, though, so my search for the perfect work music tool is still ongoing. Brain.fm looks pretty interesting, too, and bases its approach to focus-improving music on science.
Apart from the tools described here, some general rules help me stay focused. For one, I always try to work from my work desk, so it might help if you set up a temporary dedicated space that’s for work only. That way, you can stay focused. For another, talk to your significant other, family, housemates, or other people you’re sharing your home with and tell them that you’re not available for small talk while working. Constantly interrupting your work to deal with personal chatter will wear you down in no time.