5 Productivity Roadblocks—and the 5 Apps Designed to Bulldoze Right Through 'Em
With more than three million Apple and Android apps on the market combined, it would seem there should be a tech solution for almost every need—especially when it comes to improving how you manage your time.
But let’s face it: Many of us are in a technology rut.
According to a 2014 comScore mobile app report, only one third of U.S. smartphone users actively try a new app in a given month. That means the rest of us mostly stick with old standbys—even if they aren’t really working for us.
We’re going to help you change that.
To give you better control over your workday, we’ve found some of the most effective time-saving apps around to help you cut corners, improve concentration, and turbocharge how you get things done.
Just think: You’re one quick download away from revitalizing the way you do business.
Productivity Roadblock #1: Email Overload
You check your email when you wake up, on the bus, all day at the office, during dinner—and even one last time before lights out. Yet despite all the hours we put into it, most people haven’t found a seamless system for reading, responding to, and deleting email.
According to productivity and organizational consultant Dr. Frank Buck, the key is to take action on every message—instead of just glancing at the subject line and then moving on to the next one.
You don’t have to fully resolve each and every email in the moment, explains Buck, but you do need to process it in some way. Maybe you move the email thread to a to-do list to manage when you can give it more time, or file it in a folder for future reference.
The App for That: Mailbox by Dropbox (Free on iTunes and GooglePlay)
To help you take action on your inbox, you need an app that makes dealing with email as easy and efficient as possible. With TechCrunch calling Mailbox “the best email management app you’ll ever use,” this is a must-try tech solution.
Mailbox’s simple interface helps shrink an inbox to zero with its swipe-based gestures for one-move deleting, archiving, or adding emails to a to-do list. But that’s not all.
As Buck notes, the most efficient way to truly knock out your email is to set specific times throughout the day to work through your inbox—and Mailbox has a feature to help with that.
The popular snooze option allows you to “hide” an email from your inbox for a designated period of time. It will then “reappear” at a time you’ve scheduled, when you can give it your full attention.
Productivity Roadblock #2: Time Drains
It can be easy to get to the end of the workday and not have a clear idea of what you’ve accomplished. Sure, you know you’ve been running nonstop since breakfast, but the details of how you spent the last eight hours are a blur.
The problem with sprinting from one problem to the next is that you aren’t actually managing your time—or your workload—at all. Instead, it’s likely you’re simply dealing with what’s in front of you, not necessarily what’s most important.
Denise Caron-Quinn, founder and director of professional organizational company In Order to Succeed®, acknowledges that this is a common problem.
To use your time wisely, it’s critical to prioritize the work that makes your boss the most happy and helps drive the company. But you can’t rebalance your schedule if you don’t even know how much time you’re spending on each task.
That’s why, Caron-Quinn says, the first step is to chart how you spend your office hours.
The App for That: RescueTime (Available for Free on GooglePlay, With the Premium Option Running $9 per Month)
While this app can’t analyze every second of your day, it can let you know how you’re using your tech time.
RescueTime runs in the background on your computer and mobile phone, tracking the minutes and hours spent on various applications and websites. It can even track how long you spend talking on your phone.
The app then sends you detailed reports and a weekly email summary showing the breakdown. Once you get a handle on where your day goes, you can set up alerts to let you know when you’ve spent enough time on a certain activity, or even block distracting websites (yes, Facebook, we’re talking about you).
Productivity Roadblock #3: Mass Distraction
There are times when, no matter how hard you try, your brain refuses to lock on to the task at hand. Maybe you have a deadline looming or a long list of decisions to be made, but your mind insists on thinking of everything but the work you need to do.
If you’re like us, you’ve tried the coffee cure (convinced that a dose of caffeine will do the trick) or the sugar solution (at least it tastes good), but according to research from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and INSEAD, short bouts of meditation may be just what you need. The study found that meditation, which helps clear the mind of other thoughts, can also help you make better decisions.
And the good news: Meditating is pretty easy to do.
The App for That: Headspace (10-day Free Trial on iTunes and GooglePlay, With Options to Upgrade Starting at $12.95 per Month)
You can learn meditation basics with the app’s free Take10 program, which teaches breathing and mindfulness in just 10 minutes a day. The app communicates with you through animation and easy-to-listen-to audio, so you can recharge just about anywhere.
The best way to get started is to set daily reminders to take your 10-minute breather and consider working in extra doses when your mind refuses to focus on your to-do list.
Productivity Roadblock #4: Hoarding Paperwork
Whether you’re plugging away at a tech startup or pushing legislation at city hall, we all have receipts that need to be filed, business cards to be put into our contacts app, and all kinds of handwritten meeting notes that we’ve got to, well, do something with.
“As much as we talk about the paperless office, we’ve got more paperwork now than ever before,” says Buck. Not to mention that we often have less space around the office to store it all.
To help sort out your paper surplus, Buck recommends converting important docs to digital files. And, fortunately, you don’t need a computer scanner to do this—your cellphone will do the trick.
The App for That: Scannable by Evernote (Free on iTunes, for iOS Only)
Instead of stacking, piling, or filing, Scannable can quickly capture high-quality PDFs or JPEGs that can be shared via email, Evernote, Dropbox, and many other options.
While the Evernote app has always included a scanner option, this separate app is faster and does a much better job of creating clear scans, even if, for example, you just pulled that crumpled business card out of your pocket.
Productivity Roadblock #5: Password Amnesia
Yes, we know. We’re supposed to have a long, complicated, unique password for each email account, online store, app, computer, and mobile device. We’re supposed to regularly update them—and then change them again when yet another company gets hacked.
It’s not easy is it?
And this becomes an even bigger hassle when you can’t access your computer or critical work services because you lost track of the magic combination that helps you gain entry, explains Sean Tepper, author of Earn More, Work Less, Live Free: Take Back Your Freedom and Create the Lifestyle You Desire.
“If you can’t reset your passwords on your own, chances are you’ll have to hand over your hardware or software to an IT firm,” Tepper says. “In that case, it won’t be minutes or hours of wasted time—it could be days.”
But there’s a solution: a password manager. These applications for your computer and mobile devices can keep track of all your numbers and codes so you’ll have relatively easy access to your info exactly when you need it.
The App for That: Keeper® Password Manager & Digital Vault (Available on iTunes and GooglePlay, $29.99 per Year)
This multifactor authentication system uses RSA encryption, biometric login, and Keeper DNA®, which uses connected devices to create a unique profile that verifies your login across platforms. Keeper DNA® also eliminates manual second logins (good-bye, two-step authentication!), making your password process easy and fast.
It can autofill your passwords through your web browsers and create new suitably random passwords. The app also offers online file storage for your photos, videos, and confidential documents in a secure digital vault.
While there are many respected password managers, Keeper® is a current favorite in the iTunes app store because it’s one of the most certified, tested, and audited password systems in the industry.
Of course, you’ll need to remember your Keeper® password to use it.
Photo of man using phone courtesy of Shutterstock.
LearnVest empowers people to live their richest lives, with daily newsletters packed with tips and stories on managing your money and boosting your career, a budgeting center for keeping track of your expenses and income, and affordable, personalized financial plans from a team of certified financial planners.More from this Author