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The 3 Apps I Swear By to Get Things Done

Here are the only 3 apps I use when it comes down to “productivity” and it’s all I need to stay on top of my tasks.

Photo by William Hook on Unsplash

As I began focusing a lot of my education and career late from late high school into early college, I began running into a problem that many others run into: productivity.

I would struggle not only to complete necessary things like school work and studying in a timely manner, but I would also struggle to do other things that I would want to do, for example, side projects and career-building.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve experimented with different methods, from bullet journaling, various online productivity applications, to many other smartphone apps that supposedly boost your focus and task management.

After a lot of analyzing on and reflecting on my own habits and motivation, I’ve managed to find 3 apps that I use religiously and they’re the only 3 apps that I need to manage all my tasks, keep track of my priorities, keep myself focused, stay on top of deadlines, and fight procrastination.

Not only that, but I’ve found myself to be increasingly motivated to get things done earlier and goals that used to feel so unreachable are now challenges that I look forwards to facing.

Screenshot from the App Store

Minimalist (Free)

Yes, I know…it’s just a todo list — nothing special.

But for me, to-do lists are essential for productivity. They’re the best way for me to keep track of all the things I need to get done, even the littlest of things.

I’ve tried many different to-do list apps from Apple reminders, Todoist, Google Tasks, to Actions (by Moleskin), but Minimalist by far has been my favorite one and I’ve been using it throughout my entire first year of college.

I love the simplicity of the UI, easy gestures, and overall functionality. I’m not overwhelmed with tons of options that make things confusing and add clutter. It’s just a simple list that you can add, remove, and reorder items with just a swipe of your finger (literally).

If you have an Apple watch, you can also view and check off items from there, which is just a slight plus to the whole experience.

Minimalist also offers quite a bit of flexibility if you do want to build more of a “system” if you’d like. Some additional features include:

  • Multiple lists
  • Dragging items between lists
  • Adding due date/time to tasks
  • Adding location to tasks
  • Pomodoro timer per task: You can set a Pomodoro timer whenever you decide to complete a task and it’ll track the amount of time you spend “focusing” on given tasks and you can actually view your focus distribution stats later.

There is also a pro version for ~$5 with more features such as:

  • more than 3 lists
  • sync across multiple devices
  • widget
  • live background

I do have the pro version but I don’t really make use of these additional features besides syncing since I have the Mac app as well.

Screenshot from the App Store

The Mac app is probably not worth the additional $5 on top of the iPhone pro version. The UI isn’t great and it’s a bit buggy in my opinion. It definitely is convenient to be able to access my to-do list from my laptop — especially when I’m trying not to get distracted by my phone when concentrating — but it definitely isn’t necessary and I wouldn’t recommend making the investment.

Generally every night, I’ll assess the items on my to-do list and re-order the things I want to get done first or are of most importance from top to bottom. This reduces the amount of thinking that is required the next day and I can simply get on with my tasks as soon as I wake up.

I do, of course, update my list throughout the day: adding and checking things off. Even non-immediate things are put into my to-do list (at the bottom) so that I won’t forget.

When decide to sit and get work done, my goal is to get through as much of my to-do list as possible and I simply go from task to task until it’s time for a break.

What I like about having everything in one to-do list rather than split up into categories or by day is that I have more options to choose from and I feel less “forced” when doing certain tasks I can choose what I want to do next, of course, keeping priorities in mind. What’s great about this workflow and mindset is that even if I’m getting something of lesser importance done, I’m still doing something rather than being unproductive at another task.

Overall Minimalist offers all the necessary functions I need to keep track of my to-dos along with a nice user interface. There are many alternative options, and you might prefer others over Minimalist. The main idea here is to have some sort of a simple to-do list app; whichever one is up to you :)

You can read more about the effectiveness of to-do lists in my article, All You Need is a To-Do List.

Screenshot from the App Store

Google Calendar (Free)

Whether it’s Google calendar or some other calendar app, they are essential. I use my calendar for everything from class schedules, meetings, events, reminders, assignments, and even personal goals.

Google calendar’s design is very simple and easy to use, but at the same time, it is a very powerful application and has a bunch of functionalities hidden within it. I personally like to keep things simple, but they can come in handy when needed and don’t bother me when I’m not using them.

Google calendar ensures that I stay on top of my scheduled or long-term tasks. For example, project deadlines or meetings that have been scheduled weeks in advance. It just keeps me more aware of my timeline as opposed to my to-do list which focuses more on smaller, immediate tasks.

I also use my calendar to fight procrastination. It’s tempting to hold off on projects and assignments until the last minute, especially if they’re assigned weeks in advance. However, I’ve come to realize that I’m not a fan of the all-nighters and stressful grinds that come with bad time management.

I much prefer to do things over a longer period of time with less stress prior to the deadline. So how did I change my study habits? I set deadlines for myself.

Turns out, deadlines are the only thing that gets me rushing to do work. Throughout all these years, despite all the procrastination and late-night study sessions, I have never missed a deadline. So, I thought, what if I pretended that the deadline was a couple of days or even a week before it was actually due?

Well, it worked.

If there’s something I want to get done by a certain date, I put it in my calendar and act as if I must get it done by then. I’m not sure how and why my brain is so easily tricked by deadlines, but I’m now able to finish projects weeks in advance and accomplish personal goals that don’t necessarily have deadlines to follow.

One thing I don’t do with my calendar is time blocking. A lot of people like this method, so if it’s something you prefer — go for it! I personally can’t do with the structuredness of time-blocking and I find that it isn’t a sustainable study method for me since I can’t force myself to work when I’m not in the mood to do so.

For me, my calendar is strictly for events and deadlines or important reminders such as canceling memberships or application openings.

Screenshot from the App Store

Forest ($1.99)

I’m someone who gets extremely distracted by my phone, especially when I’m working — whether it’s notifications or just instinctually picking up my phone and browsing social media.

Forest is an app that keeps you off your phone for a certain period of time.

When you decide to put away your phone, you go into the app and start the timer for however many minutes you want. As soon as the timer starts, a seed will be planted and a tree will start growing as time passes. If you selected deep focus mode (recommended), the app will detect when you exit the app or look at any notifications and kill the tree.

Perhaps not everyone will be as motivated to stay off their phones for the sake of a virtual tree, but it works wonders for me. As soon as that timer’s on, I don’t touch my phone and my brain immediately goes into concentration mode. I can’t say that this is the case for everyone, but at least it eliminates one source of distraction for many people.

This app definitely saves me a lot of time fooling around when I actually need to get work done and I’m not necessarily in the mindset to do so.

Over time, your forest will grow and you’ll collect coins from each tree depending on how long you focused for. With the coins, you can either buy different kinds of trees or save up to plant a real tree in East and West Africa. Forest is partnered with Trees for the Future and has planted over 780k trees with everyone’s focus time.

Some other features:

  • Tagging your time, for example, work, studying, socializing, etc.
  • Graphical representation of your focus time distribution and your stats over time.
  • Compete with friends
  • Focus with your friends in group sessions

Forest also has a Chrome app that you can tie to your account, which lets you blacklist certain sites like Youtube and other social media pages to keep you off of them as you’re focusing.

If you don’t want to make the investment, definitely try Flora, which is basically the same.

Screenshot from the App Store

Instead of planting trees, you go on an adventure around the world and unlock different plants in different focus sessions.

One thing that really sets Flora and Forest apart is that you can put in money. If a virtual tree isn’t enough motivation to stay off your phone, then maybe losing your money would be. With Flora, you can opt to put down any amount of money for the duration of your focus time. If you exit the app, you lose the money, in which case the money also goes towards donations and planting trees.

Aside from that, everything is pretty much the same as Forest: you can see your time distribution and assign focus time to certain tasks and you can study in group sessions with your friends. The only thing missing is the Chrome app.

I used Flora before I got Forest, and really liked the app. I just think Forest’s design is cleaner and I found myself more eager to use Forest as opposed to Flora.

And there you have it, the only three apps I use when it comes to productivity. Together, these three apps have helped me cut back on procrastination, unproductiveness, and keep me on top of all the things and goals I have to get done.

I apologize if these apps weren’t as exciting as you had hoped when clicking this article, but sometimes simplicity is more effective and I highly suggest you try it out if you’re looking to better your time management and organization.

There are tons of alternatives out there for you to choose from, but for me, these apps offered the simplicity, clean UI, and proper functionality that I believe to be the core of improving your productivity habits.

Although I’ve found these to have worked very well for me, it may be different for you. But whether you’re someone struggling with productivity or just curious as to how you may better your habits, I hope you’ll give this a try and let me know if they worked for you too.

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