A huge trend in the productivity community these days is finding the best apps, tools, and extensions.
Having tried out most of them, I can safely say that I spit on most of them in disgust; they’re more unproductive than helpful. It’s counter-intuitive but they take up more time than they are worth and the extra results are minimal. I have noticed that most billionaires and top achievers do not use any fancy tools. Some do not even use email.
I am definitely in the minority on this. Most of the crowd believe these tools are everything. Yet it’s funny to see them running around like chickens with their heads cut off with all these “tools” and still not that successful.
Most people are always looking for a magic solution. They are not willing to put in hard work. Having said that, there are some good productivity tools out there and there are some highly useful timeless time management fundamentals.
Although I have thrown away 95% of the productivity software and apps I have tested, there are some that do past the test. Here they are:
1. AdBlock Plus
This free browser extension has saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of time. It blocks all the ads on YouTube videos and websites. I have watched tens of thousands of videos over the years, so do the math.
There are many similar browser extensions. I just choose the one that has the most reviews and highest average rating. They are all more or less the same.
This browser extension is a task tracker. It logs every website you go to on the Internet and how long you stay there for. It tallies this up and gives you your stats for different periods, like the day, month, or all your time. There are plenty of other extensions like this, each with their own features, graphics, and custom settings.
I have used many that all work similarly. I do not think this extension is any better than the others so choose whichever one you like best. The main benefit of apps like these is the ability to quickly see exactly how you spent your time and identify big time wasters.
It may seem like you only spent 5 minutes on social media, but the numbers do not lie. Sometimes, I am surprised by how much time I spend on there (up to 2 hours).
Some people are scared of using this because they do not want to see how much time they waste. If you are fine with knowing that you waste a lot of time and do not care to change it, by all means.
But for an ambitious person like you, it is time to suck it up and see mathematically how you are doing. It does not have to be torture cutting out unproductive periods; you can slowly replace them with productive, fun activities.
The default new tab for browsers shows distracting and tempting previously visited sites. Momentum creates a beautiful scenic picture from its library of premium photos. It greets you by first name and then asks you for your #1 focus for the day. You type it in and it displays it there for the rest of the day (until you check it off and complete it).
This reminds me to stay on track and prevents me from getting distracted.
The concept is simple:
You set a time and click the button. It shows a graphic of a seed growing into a tree, which finishes when the timer finishes. While the tree is growing, it blocks certain sites you specify so you cannot get on them (I choose social media sites).
This uses the concept of “gamification.” This is when you make a task fun by turning it into a game.
I set the time for 25 minutes because I want it to follow the Pomodoro Technique, a well-known productivity process where you focus on one task for 25 minutes and then take a five minute forced break – then repeat. After four 25-minute sessions, you get a long break (at least 25 minutes).
There are plenty of apps like Forest but they simply block sites and there is no animation to make it fun. One thing I do not like about Forest is that it is a freemium model. There are many other tree animations, but it requires you to spend real money to use them. I do not want to spend money on this so I will just use the free tree animation (which gets boring after awhile).
Another drawback is that it is easy to disable blocked sites if you are tempted. You just click the Settings and delete the site you block.
Also, when you go to a site, it says the site is blocked but it leaves a gray see-through background that allows you to still see the site, which tempts you. And when the timer goes off, the site is free to view. This leads to you just waiting for the timer to end and spending tons of time on unproductive sites.
5. Block Site
This free chrome extension somewhat solves the problems of Forest. It straight up blocks a site forever. It also puts up a blank white page so you do not even see the site.
Sometimes, having an extension like Forest is not good enough because you get sucked into spending hours of time on a social media site as soon as the timer ends.
There are plenty of extensions just like Block Site with different names. Block Site is not better than any of them so take your pick.
One thing I do like about Block Site that others may not do is that it tells you how many times (since it was installed) that you attempted to go to a blocked website.
I discovered that I already tried to go onto Facebook 121 times in 3 weeks. I realized I have a muscle reflex to go there when I get bored. I literally typed in “fa” then hit enter before I can help myself.
Did you know that blue light makes your body think it is day time? And guess what emits blue light? Practically everything electronic with a screen.
Ever since the invention of lightbulbs, our bodies have been out of whack. Our ancestors used to go to sleep after the sun went down, but now, our bodies think it is daytime in the black of night thanks to lights. This causes our body to not emit essential hormones like Serotonin that help you get to sleep.
My sleep schedule has been out of whack for years because I am a genetic night owl (it’s easier for me to stay up late). It has caused me to be late for important events and look unprofessional. Therefore, I really value going to sleep early.
Fortunately, there is software that cuts out blue light production from screens. The best part? It’s free. It’s called F.lux. When you first try this out, you might be put off by the orange-ish color of the screen. I got used to it pretty quickly and hopefully you will too.
To get to sleep faster and have a proper amount of sleep:
- Try to avoid all electronics two hours before bed (I am not always successful but I try).
- Turn on “Night Shift” for iPhone (under Settings -> Display & Brightness) and set to activate at sunset. This reduces the blue light emission on my screen automatically at that time. Other phones usually have this too.
- Have F.lux turned on, which reduces blue light emission on my computer monitor. I set it to turn on at sunset as well.
Or you might be scared others will see it on your screen and consider you “uncool.” I have only had one person notice over many months of use. And I simply proudly and honestly responded with why I did it and he got interested to the point of saying he might do it himself.
This is the best guided meditation in the world hands down. Nothing else I have tried (Headspace, Calm, etc.) comes close. The best part is it is 100% free. There are no hidden, freemium purchases or monthly fees (unlike everything else).
It’s a massive library of free guided meditations sorted by categories (everything from sleep to relaxation to self-love to mindfulness). There are thousands of meditations to choose from, including some by famous practitioners like Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra.
What makes it even better is that each guided meditation has a beautiful graphic and hundreds of reviews to give you a sense of how good it is.
I have seen other meditation paid apps being promoted on big podcasts (like Headspace) and they suck. You have to pay a hefty monthly fee for a handful of meditations from one person you have never heard of.
The whole process is ridiculous and I found through my research that these paid apps are venture-backed “tech businesses” by big actors and actresses. It’s currently a “tech investor craze” and everyone’s lost their minds, pouring money into bad ideas. Why pay monthly for something you can get for free with 100 times more variety?
I do not know how Insight Timer does it, but I think it is crowd sourced like Wikipedia. Every day, new guided meditations are added to a free library. They even have fairly active groups and communities of hundreds of thousands on the app where you can talk to others or message people directly.
Over the years, I have heard from a lot of great writers, musicians, marketers, bloggers and entrepreneurs who stress the importance of writing down your ideas as soon as you get them so you do not forget them. This includes Taylor Swift, Seth Godin, Ramit Sethi, Mark Manson, Ernest Hemingway, and Neville Medhora.
I finally decided to give it a try using Google Keep, Google’s note-taking platform. I was shocked by how many ideas I had on a daily basis. Within a few week, I had hundreds of notes. I can only imagine how many ideas I forgot about because I did not write them down.
Google Keep is one of the best tools I have encountered to organize, store, and find your ideas. It is intentionally minimalistic. You cannot format your text with font styles or size. You just open a note and start typing. The only options you have are:
- Remind me about the note.
- Change the color of the note.
- Share the note with a friend.
- Add an image to the note.
It’s a great way to brain-dump your ideas. I use it a lot for blog post or story ideas.
You can go to keep.google.com to use it on your desktop or download the free Google Keep app for iTunes or Google Play. I use both but the app gives you extra options. It allows you to record and add audio to a note. If you are a musician or just want to record your thoughts, the app is what you should use because of the audio feature.
It’s not perfect and there is room for improvement (it would be nice to have some formatting options like italics, bolding, and indenting), but I like the central theme of simplicity. I believe the enemy of success is unnecessary complexity.
Arguably, you can use your phone’s Voice Memo and Notepad function but this gives you more customization and acts as a backup in case you accidentally delete or forget something. It autosaves and lets you access it from any device. Its search function is handy if you want to find a specific note.
I consider this the 800-pound gorilla because most people in the productivity community already know about it. There are even massive manuals people buy to learn how to use it better.
My warning is not to over-use Evernote. I have observed that simplicity is the key, not complicated productivity apps. For example, Warren Buffett keeps his work calendar very simple and the billionaire John Paul DeJoria only communicated by phone – no email.
I occasionally use Evernote to store long-form notes, personal journal entries, or important documents and photos. The cloud storage acts as an extra safety net in case I accidentally forget to save something or delete it.
There are a few features it has that give it an edge over competitors:
- When it takes a photo of a document or notes you make on paper, its software makes the writing really sharp and clear when it saves the picture. Most hand-written notes are barely readable when you take a picture of them, but Evernote’s software makes them crystal clear.
- It has incredible text recognition software. You can use its search feature to search for words you wrote on paper that you took a picture of. And it’s fairly accurate.
- Evernote organizes and displays all these file formats more smoothly and cleanly for me.
- You can access it from the website or your phone, and it’s backed up online.
The free version of Evernote is enough storage for me to do what I need.
If I had to move from Evernote to something else, it would not be the end of the world. It would probably be to Google Docs. or Google Drive and Keep since they have similar functions. But some form of digital text storage with a search feature is almost a must.
10. Podcast App
Yes, this is the default app that comes with the iPhone. Other phones have this too. I mention it because podcasts are really useful. Whenever I am sick of listening to an audiobook, I pop open a podcast.
You may be wondering what you can get from podcasts that you cannot from books. You can get:
- Up-to-date information more geared towards modern times.
- Direct advice from experts that you cannot find online or in books (a lot of podcasts have enough weight to get high-profile scientists, entrepreneurs, or celebrities).
- Answers to questions more tailored to your needs than the from the structure of a book. The feel of a real person talking and making mistakes.
The best part is that it is also free.
Some of my favorite personal development podcasts are Eventual Millionaire, The Mating Grounds, The Tim Ferriss Show, Addicted 2 Success, The Investors Podcast, The My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast, I Love Marketing, Marketing In Your Car, The T. Boone Pickens Channel (the host was a billionaire), Self Made Man, Knowledge For Men, Entrepreneur on Fire, Smart Passive Income, and 10x Talk.
I have my own podcast you can listen to as well called Will’s Personal Development Podcast.
You do not have to use all of these suggestions. In fact, that is against the message I am trying to get across.
Get over the idea that “more is always better” because it is not true. Sometimes, simplicity and low numbers increase efficiency and results. Pick out what you think will have the highest impact for you.
All of the tools mentioned are free not because I chose to only mention free tools. It’s because they are the best productivity tools I have found out there and they just so happen to be free.
If I had to pick my top three, it would be:
- Block Site.
- Insight Timer.
But remember, tools alone are just 10% of the battle. Harvard Business Review says, “Until you have productivity skills, productivity tools are useless.” Therefore, check out my article on time management mindsets and behaviors.
Now, I want to hear from you. Let me know in the comments below why you struggle with time management and which of these tools you will try.
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