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An overwhelming, ever-growing to-do list is at the center of many entrepreneurs’ lives. A big problem for young entrepreneurs, especially, is that they make up a disproportionate percentage of “work martyrs,” feeling like they have to power through until the job gets done and are thus afraid to unplug from work. Entrepreneurship can exacerbate this issue – it’s even harder to switch off from work when you’re trying to build your own dream, and its success or failure is entirely your responsibility. Sound familiar? The trick is to manage your time effectively, stay organized and work smarter, not harder. By maximizing productivity while you work, you can get more done in less time, and this means you can build balance back into your life and avoid burnout.
These five free productivity apps will make it easy to stay focused and on-task while you work, so you can enjoy time off guilt free. (Note, all of these apps are available for iOS and Android).
The Pomodoro Technique ® involves working for a set period and then taking a short break, typically 25 minutes of work followed by a five minute break.
Research suggests frequent, short breaks during work improves focus, and countless entrepreneurs swear the Pomodoro Technique ® is one of the best ways to implement this. Tim Ferriss is among those espousing the technique and said the following in an interview published on Zen Habits:
“I like the Pomodoro technique and variants for this. Commit to a sprint (using a timer) for just 20 minutes. It will help overcome the procrastination inertia (or lack thereof).”
The free version of the Pomatodo app gives you a timer for work/break intervals and allows you to set tasks and keep a record of what you’ve done.
Those overwhelming to-do lists are much easier to wrangle if you can organize them properly and access them quickly. Apps for note taking, managing and archiving are a staple for the productive go-getter.
The Evernote app is a favorite among savvy entrepreneurs for organizing tasks and information. The free version is full of features, allowing users to take notes in different forms including voice memos and handwritten “ink” notes. It also syncs accounts across devices, making access super convenient.
“This is the one program I do not know what I would do without if it ever goes away. Evernote is my digital brain. I use it to collect information about different topics, keep notes from client conversations and seminars, scan magazine articles, clip websites, draft articles and blogs. I love it because I deal with vast quantities of information and Evernote keeps it organized, searchable and manageable.”
It may seem counterintuitive, but noise can enhance productivity. Aside from blocking out distracting noises, research shows the right kind of ambient noise can boost creative thinking: a bustling coffee shop is perfect.
The Coffitivity app provides three café soundtracks in the free version to give you work-friendly background noise. The app was developed by a group who were looking to use research findings to improve how they worked, stating on their website:
“When we started Coffitivity, it was very much a side project to build a tool to help us work better. We’re a team of entrepreneurs, freelancers and creatives in Richmond, Virginia, and we all LOVE the vibe of the coffee shop.”
Staying on top of industry news and other information that will help your entrepreneurial endeavors is vital. But when you’re busy, it’s easy to lose track of those articles or videos you think will be useful and plan to attend to later when you have the time. Or sometimes they can distract you from your current task and be detrimental to productivity.
The Instapaper app allows you to save those interesting morsels of information you come across, sync them on all your devices, and access them even without an internet connection. With the free version, you can also share, do some highlighting and control how the text is presented.
“Instapaper is a simple and useful tool for saving web pages to read later on my iPhone or computer – without wifi. With Instapaper, I can read long-form stories or industry news that I’ve added anywhere, anytime!”
The presence of some bad habits (like playing with your phone before bedtime) and the absence of some good ones (making time for exercise) may be preventing you from optimizing productivity. Anyone who’s tried to change a deeply ingrained habit, or try to form a new one, knows it’s a challenge.
The free version of the Coach.me app provides a habit tracker that lets you add goals from different categories. For example, “no screens after 10 p.m.” in the productivity category, or add your own goals. You can also set weekly targets, check-in with communities of people trying to achieve the same goals, and ask or answer questions in those communities.
In a Business Insider article, Tim Ferriss, who uses Coach.me every day, credits the app with helping him change behaviors effectively:
“For adding new habits or ending old habits. This [Coach.me] is the only thing that got me to floss regularly. I (and 5,000+ others) also recently went 30 days without booze… and other stuff.”
A few minutes for better productivity
It will take a matter of minutes to download and set up these five free apps, so why not put aside some time today to get them up and running? Those few (productive) minutes you invest in getting more organized could make a world of difference as to how much you get done in a day and, importantly, how much more spare time you have to restore the balance in your life.