Productivity? There’s an app for that

(Two, actually).

Busy busy busy.

Grants, conference abstracts, project management.

All to be completed without (completely) neglecting household chores, exercise, and fun.

I’ve recently started using a couple of iPhone apps that I’ve found very helpful, and that I’m reviewing here in case they’re useful to you, too!

Pomodoro Time Management Lite (Free)

This is essentially just a timer, but it’s customised to the Pomodoro Technique and requires much less hands-on time than manually setting the native iPhone timer multiple times a day. The pattern of 25 minute “pomodoros” of focused working time, followed by a 5 minute break (with a 30 minute break after every fourth pomodoro), fits my natural working style very nicely: if I’m having trouble settling into a difficult (or tedious) task, knowing that I only have to focus on it for 25 minutes makes it much easier to get started; and if I’m getting too focused on something, the app reminds me to take frequent short breaks to stand up, stretch, look away from my screen, and grab a glass of water or put the kettle on. This is highly beneficial to my health and productivity over the course of a full day at work.

I also like the fact that Yoda apparently wrote the pause warning text. Stop, or stop not - there is no pause.

Faults: the alarm at the beginning and end of each pomodoro doesn’t always go off (it seems to be more reliable in vibrate mode), so I sometimes miss it. And you have to manually restart the timer after the long 30 minute breaks. It was also just generally glitchy on my old 3G iPhone – sometimes it would keep counting down the time if I switched to email or the iPod function for a few minutes, but at other times it would just freeze – but that bug doesn’t seem to be a problem on my shiny new multitasking iPhone 4.

Oh, and of course, whenever someone comes by my desk and looks at my screen, it’s always during one of the breaks rather than during a pomodoro.

Epic Win ($2.99)

Thanks to Kimli’s excellent App Blast blog I got this app when it was on sale for 99 cents. However, having used it for a few weeks now, I’d happily have paid the full whack – and I very rarely spend more than 99 cents on any given app.

Epic Win is basically a to-do list, but your tasks are called “quests” and completing them bags you nice little prizes – points that equate to miles on a journey. You collect loot along the way, and move up the levels of your chosen character type. These incentives provide a teeny tiny little extra bit of motivation that, tragically enough, is often enough to get me over my usual inertia and procrastination.

You can set up recurring tasks or one-offs, and assign them values from 100-300 points based on difficulty. The app can be set up to send you push notifications of overdue tasks, an option I find helpful but that might get annoying if you set up lots of quests each day.

The app displays a nice sense of humour throughout:

Current profile. Two of my nephews are going through a phase where they add "-tar" to the end of everyone's names, including their cats', hence Cathtar.

I list exercise under “strength”, boring-but-necessary tasks like cleaning and laundry under “stamina”, work-related tasks (and extracurricular writing) under “intellect”, favours for friends and family (and kitty litter cleaning duties) under “social”, and guitar practice under “spirit” (oops. Must Do Better). I think the yellow bars represent points earned under those categories since your last level-up, and I think the numbers represent the number of times a task in that category has tipped you over the threshold of a new level. I’m not really sure, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s just for fun.

The app's soundtrack is of howling winds whistling over the desolate plain. Very atmospheric.

The loot is definitely the best part:

LOOOOOOT!!!!!

The other loot I’ve collected is as follows:

  • Flask of Soured Cat’s Milk: “Suckled from the putrid teat of Sheba, this milk is high in protein and ick factor”
  • 9 Inch Snails: “Although this spell takes several hours to come into effect, its devastating slimy force is unrelenting”
  • Enchanted Mop of Time Warping: “Grasp the handle, clean your floor, magically hours will have passed”
  • Whistle of Summoning: “Mouth-operated joy communicator used excitedly while giving the illusion of holding both a big fish and a little fish”
  • and – my favourite so far – El Libro Binary of Central America: “Juan Juan Juan Juan Zero Juan Zero Juan Juan Juan Zero Zero Zero Zero Juan”

It’s all gloriously silly, and I can hardly wait to see what piece of loot I find next!

As for my sleep deprivation problem:

There’s a nap for that.

(sorry, couldn’t resist).

Any other productivity app suggestions?

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
This entry was posted in blog buddies, career, grant wrangling, silliness, technology. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Productivity? There’s an app for that

  1. Steve Caplan says:

    I thought APP stood for–wait, what did it stand for, hmmm *scratches head*, oh yes, what was I going to say? Or was that yesterday? I don’t recall. What I do know is that Alzheimer Precursor Protein is not the APP you want to get…

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  3. The epic win app looks pretty freakin’ awesome. I’ve been looking at some productivity apps myself and haven’t been able to arrive at a decision (there is probably and app to solve that too). I also like how you’ve categorized your tasks.

  4. Hermitage says:

    I vill NOT give into the iphone propaganda!

    *Sees Tattoo of the Celebrity*

    GIMME GIMME GIMME IT NAOW!

  5. ricardipus says:

    Does the Twitter app for Blackberry count as “productivity”?

    Thought not.

    In that case, I got nothin’.

  6. cromercrox says:

    — likes — I might give Epic Win a try.

  7. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Steve, sorry, I was going to reply to your comment, but I forgot. I should put it on my to-do list; maybe I’ll score some sweet loot!

    MXX, the categories make sense to me! Mr E Man queried the kitty litter designation, saying it should be under stamina rather than social, but my reasoning was that not doing it would be very anti-social.

    Let me know if you find any other good apps!

    Ricardipus, no, it most certainly does not!

    Cromercrox, let me know what you think of it!

  8. Catherine says:

    Tom Webb on NN recently recommended ‘Things’ for iPhone: http://blogs.nature.com/tomwebb/2011/01/21/getting-a-grip No shambling undead minions though…

  9. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Hermitage, I’ve rescued your comments from the spam dungeon to tell you to GET AN IPHONE!!

    Catherine, welcome to the blog! I’ll check that app out – I read Tom’s post, and I’ve downloaded the free trial version of the “Freedom” app that blocks all internet access for a set amount of time. It’s a nice little tool when I’m having problems focusing!

    • Catherine says:

      Thanks for the welcome! I’m a frequent reader but infrequent commenter. Mainly due to the, ahem, adverse effect on my productivity (that’s my excuse anyway). I blame my lack of iPhone and associated organizational tools… Am commenting infinitely more now than when you were on NN though!

      • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

        Yay, WordPress – makes commenting so much easier!

        Maybe you need an app that selectively blocks blogs?

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