You know that thing where you come into work, planning to power through your mile-long to-do list, only to look up at the clock at 6 PM and realize you got through, um, half of it? Yeah, I know the feeling.
And it’s why I started trying to find ways to get my schedule under control. This is what I quickly learned: Thanks to all the distractions surrounding me every day, I couldn’t do it on my own.
But, I could download a few apps that would take on all the hard work of managing the time for me. After some trial and error, I discovered the best options out there. Download the right one for you and you might actually finish your work early today.
Check them out below.
1. If You’re Always Saying, “Where Did Today Go?”
Just like a food diary helps you cut calories, having data about where you spend your time can help you cut out time-wasting activities. And, if you spend most of your working day in front of a computer, a tracker like RescueTime can be a real eye-opener. Five minutes on this site, and another five minutes on that one can really add up fast.
As soon as you install RescueTime on your computer, it goes to work documenting how much time you spend using each program, or probably more scary, each site you visit. The free “lite” version lets you set goals and see weekly reports about how you while away your day. And, for a small monthly or annual fee, you can dig deeper with daily reports, get alerts when you go over limits you set, and follow your offline activities.
2. If You Always Underestimate How Long a Task Will Take
If you prefer to do the recording yourself, an app like Toggl lets you keep track of the time you spend on each task with just a few clicks. And, by reviewing that data, you’ll get a better picture of your days, weeks, and months so you can set more realistic goals for the future and try to better balance your workload.
You can organize the info you get from Toggl with tags or color coding and create easy-to-read, customized reports. Plus, you can connect to services like Gmail or Google Drive to find out exactly how many minutes you’re spending on specific tasks. The app is compatible with all operating systems and both iPhones and Android phones, and all the main features are available with a free account.
3. If Your To-Do List Never Matches Your Availability
Once you know where you should and shouldn’t be spending your time, you can put together a daily schedule that works for you. The key is to account for everything—both events from your calendar and all those tasks from your to do list.
Believe it or not, most to-do list apps don’t include calendars, and most calendars don’t include to-do lists. But apps like Accomplish for Android or Fantastical for iPhone bring your task list and schedule together. So, no matter how many meetings you have to attend or errands you have to run, you can see them at a glance. Plus you can re-arrange anything when surprises pop up.
4. If You Can’t Stop Multitasking
If, despite all your scheduling efforts, you still feel that your time is spiraling out of control, give yourself some tough love. (Your mother would be proud!) One popular trick for sticking to your plan is to set time limits with the Pomodoro Technique.
Named for a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, Pomodoro increases your focus by encouraging you to work in 25-minute bursts with five-minute breaks after each session. And apps like Focus Time for iPhone ($4.99) give you a handy way to remind yourself of these repeating cycles so that you stay on task.
5. If You Need a Distraction Intervention
OK, you tried your best—and somehow, distractions are still breaking through all the apps. It’s time for the unthinkable: locking yourself out of the internet. Sounds a bit dramatic, I know. But sometimes it’s the only way to force yourself to get to work when time isn’t on your side.
The free Chrome extension StayFocusd lets you set the amount of time you’ll allow yourself to spend on certain sites or types of content (read: hilarious cat videos). Or, if you’re truly desperate, you can even stop yourself from accessing the entire internet (a.k.a., the nuclear option). Once your time’s up, StayFocusd locks you out for the rest of the day so your only option is to actually do your work!
Whether you need to take drastic measures or just want a more even pace to your day, these timers and tips put the power of time in your hands so you can get the most out of every day.