My 5 Favorite Apps for Productivity

My face flushes as my hand searches within my purse. Both the search and my heart beat become a little more frantic as seconds pass. Aside from nine bobby pins and a lipstick I was afraid I'd never see again, my search is fruitless.

My phone is gone forever.

Or. It's still charging on the kitchen counter because I grabbed for the mug of coffee instead of my phone. That scenario happens more often than I'd care to admit.

It's certainly not exciting, but it is embarrassing how worked up I can get when I can't find my phone immediately. For better or worse, this fun-sized piece of technology is an extension of me. (Holler if you hear me!) In addition to helping me keep in touch with the VIPs in my life, it helps to keep me on task and stay organized- thanks to a handful of apps I've downloaded and purchased.

There was a period where I downloaded several productivity apps a week thinking they would be a salve to my ever-growing to-do list. After some trial and error figuring out the apps that increased productivity- and which apps hindered productivity- I've learned a few things. Specifically, when it comes to getting stuff done, you are your own fairy godmother. There are no apps that will do the work for you.

Ugh. I know.

Over time, I've found that there are a handful of apps that do help me keep track of events and to-do's, and basically make my life easier. Without further ado, and in no particular order, I present my favorite productivity apps.

My 5 Favorite Productivity Apps

  •  Fantastical 2: I'm still mourning Sunrise and it took a while to find a calendar app that I liked using as much as I enjoyed Sunrise. Fantastical 2 is intuitive, easy to read and has a clean display. I love that it integrates Reminders and Gmail, two of my most used apps**, and that I can enter tasks or events using their parser feature. For example, I can type "Bike ride with the ladies at 6 pm" and it will schedule my bike ride for 6 pm. Fantastical 2 isn't free, but it is currently 40% at the app store.
  • Trello: Trello helps keep track of the various projects you're working on, and allows you to assign to-do's, make notes, and keep your projects organized. Trello is my online project manager and the app is free- yippee!
  • CapMetro: I'm a big fan of public transportation and am happy that Capital Metro released their app. The app is free and helps you with trip planning, shows you the bus routes and allows you to buy tickets. There's definitely room for improvement, but it does the heavy lifting of figuring out how I'm getting somewhere so I can focus on my work... and not have to mess with traffic.
  • TripIt: When I'm not traveling, this app admittedly gathers dust. But when I'm planning a vacation- whether it's an overnight stay at a B&B or an international adventure- TripIt helps me keep track of the Where & When's of travel. I just forward any confirmation e-mails I receive to my individual TripIt account and it populates my travel. It's free and there's the option to upgrade to a paid account- probably a great idea if you travel a lot for work or pleasure.
  • OverDrive: Oh how I love OverDrive! OverDrive lets you borrow audio books and e-books from your local library. Don't have a library card? Get thee to a library and get one! Then download OverDrive. It's free and you can read the e-books via the app or stream audio books either by downloading them or listening through the app. OverDrive lets me listen to books on my commute- making them more productive and making me a happier woman.

If you've (unsuccessfully) tried several productivity apps- or looked into them and walked away overwhelmed- Mike Vardy has some great tips for figuring out what you need in an app on his blog. He does great work, so even if apps aren't your thing I recommend you still check out his site.

Okay, now it's your turn. Are there any apps out there that I need in my life?

**You may be wondering why I didn't include the Reminders and Gmail apps in this list. I figured you know all about them and I wanted to tell you more about productivity apps you may not have considered. If you weren't wondering, thanks for reading all the way 'till the end!

 

10 Things You Can Do To Increase Your Confidence

I’ll admit, I was initially surprised when I read about the connection between having confidence in myself and being productive. The more I thought about it, though, the more it made sense. I feel the best about myself when I chip away at my to-do list like a professional ice sculptor, and I’m that much closer to a goal or two. When I’m feeling like my best lady-boss self, my posture is better, my smile is brighter and I have that proverbial bounce in my step.

The opposite is true too— on those days when the most productive thing I do is put on pants, I don’t feel very confident about anything. That sluggish, can’t-do-anything feeling weighs down on me, making simple tasks feel like the New York Times crossword puzzle on Saturday. In order to keep you productive and feeling confident, I’ve compiled a list of 10 habits that keep me moving on my productive days and that help me get through my not-so-productive ones as well. I hope they help! If there are any tips that keep you groovin’ please share them in the comment section!

1. Set up a game plan for the day

I love mornings because anything is possible. Take advantage of that possibility and schedule your day accordingly. Do your heavy thinking, or the tasks that require the most from you, when your mind is “on.” For some people— myself included— that’s the morning. Others ease into the day and really hit their stride in the afternoon or evening. Find what works for you and block off that time. I find that if I keep myself off social media and other distracting sites first thing in the morning, I generally get more done. I’m able to put my curiosity and effort into my research and articles instead of falling down the click-bait holes.

2. Break down your goals into manageable tasks

Take a look at your goals or your tasks— are there any that can be broken up into smaller pieces? It’s overwhelming to know that you need to complete a major project by the end of the month, but probably less overwhelming to think that this major project is made up of many smaller tasks. Breaking a project down into manageable pieces makes it easier to cross them off your list and before you know it, you’re turning in your project and opening the champagne!

3. Stick with one item on your to-do list at a time

I’ve found that jumping from task to task without completing anything just leaves me frazzled and my to-do list just as full. Sticking to a task, however, let’s me cross it off my list and gets me closer to my goal. Being able to focus on what’s important and prioritize has definitely helped me get better at this.

4. Write it down so you don’t forget it

Of course there are days where I can’t focus on anything, much less one task. When this happens, I make sure to be extra detailed about writing down my tasks and my to-do’s to tackle when I’m back on the productivity train.

5. Tidy up

I’m not telling you to have a spotless desk or home because we all know what works for us. Clearing out papers you don’t need anymore, emptying the trash, and re-stacking your piles helps clear any lingering mental fog, and it gets your space ready for you. At the very least, it’s taking an action when you very much don’t feel like doing anything.

6. Do not reach for your phone

Don’t do it. There are some studies out there that say people check their phones 85-150 times a day, spending 5+ hours scrolling, tapping, and gaming. I find myself reaching for my phone when I want to be distracted because I’m uncomfortable. Maybe I’m stuck trying to write a tough article, checking my phone is easier than working through the stuck. If there aren’t any notifications, fine… I’ll look through Instagram. If there are, then my brain switches track and I dive into that. When that happens, it’s twice as hard for me to get back to the task at hand. Unless you’re waiting for a very important call or text, try your best to keep your phone out of sight while you work.

7. Challenge yourself to “5 more minutes” of work

I find myself doing this towards the end of the day, when all I want to do is stare into space or hide under my desk. I’ve found that if I keep my head down for 5 more minutes, I can complete one more task. That’s one less thing I have to do the next day! When my brain feels like it’s about to fall out of my ears, I’ll try to spend the final 5 minutes making notes on whatever I’m writing about, so I know where to pick up the next day. Pro Tip: Explain your notes to yourself. You may not remember what you meant when you scribbled, circles. It would be a shame to miss a great piece because you thought you would remember.

8. Visualize yourself completing the task

When we’re bogged down in the details, it can seem like we’re never going to accomplish our goal and that sucks. Take a second to remember what you’re working towards. Think about how great it’s going to feel when your article is accepted, when you cross that finish line, when you play Hedwig’s Theme for your family at Christmas… That should help keep you moving!

9. Take a stretch break

Talk about keeping you moving, get up and move your body! Whether you’re being productive or not so much, it’s good to get up and stretch to keep blood flowing. It keeps your mind from getting sleepy and gives you a chance to step away from the computer— your eyes and back will appreciate it.

10. Pump Up the Jams (or Podcast)

When you’re feeling good, every song is your walk-up song. When you’re feeling a little more like you’re not sure you’ll ever work again, the right song can get you moving. Listening to songs that help you create, or podcasts that inspire you will help you blow through your to-do list in a blaze of glory. They can also re-inspire you if you’ve lost momentum or are at a crossroads.

I've found that not only are productivity and confidence related, but it's a cycle. The more confident I feel about my abilities, the more productive I am in my work. 

Creative Pain & Other Discomforts

Confession: I’ve been sitting on an article for a while because I’m afraid to write it. What’s especially embarrassing is that it was my idea- and something I’m excited to talk about. What’s stopping me? MYSELF! My own dang mind.

The worst creative pain is seeing someone do what you’re afraid to do.
— Hallie Rose Taylor

I’m seeing all of these incredible women do these amazing things, and I’m awed into inaction.

Oof.

Carson Tate’s article for 99u about intellectual discomfort called out to me almost as loud as Hallie’s knock-out line. As soon as I combined the tools from Tate’s article with the emotion Hallie’s, I was ready to go. Google docs are popping up like bluebonnets and I’m pushing myself to work through the nerves and discomfort. As I worked, a pattern started to emerge though, and it wasn’t pretty.

I would write a few lines and then check my phone, or discover I was simply too thirsty to finish that sentence. I would make a dozen little adjustments to my desk, fidget a little more and then, then I could write. Fidget. Adjust. Repeat.

No wonder I wasn’t getting anywhere! I leaned into distractions and gave them way more weight than they deserved. So now I’m working on writing when I want to fidget, or check my phone one more time. Engaging in my work as it deserves to be engaged.

I’m also employing my “five more minutes” rule. When I get the urge to get up from my desk or distract myself, I give myself permission… if I just work for 5 more minutes. What I’m finding is that I don’t actually need to get up, it was just the resistance trying to throw me off my game. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.)


I encourage you to read Tate’s article and visit Hallie’s site. Both women have a unique perspective to work— and how they work— with everyday life applications. More importantly though, I encourage you to sit down with your project— whatever it is— for just 5 (more) minutes. Trust me, you don’t want to know that you were the one standing in your own way.

Oh. And if you're wondering, I submitted the article. I'll let y'all know if it's accepted!

There's leaning in, and then there's leaning away from...

One of the projects that I've been working on is partially responsible for my writing here again, and I'm pretty excited about that. This particular project has been like mental cross training, in that I've been writing about something I'm not familiar with throughout the week. I don't have the option to say, uhh I don't feel like writing, so I'm just not going to. I've had to push through and get it done. And finally a switch flipped and I'm here. Again.

About the same time I started this project, I also started reading The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship by David Whyte. I thought this book was going to solve a lot of the stresses in my life and help me to have everything figured out in every aspect of my life. Raise your had if you've ever approached a book with those expectations. Okay. So I'm not alone.

One evening a few weeks ago, I collapsed onto the couch and made a mental request to the book. I thought, please share a secret with me. One that will blow my mind and get me unstuck and out of this weird mental no man's land. Give me something. Just a simple request, right? Then I started to read the story of Whyte's time as a rock climbing teacher. (I almost skipped it because I had zero interest in rock climbing. I said almost!)

Whyte talks about how novice rock climbers will cling onto the rock as the climb gets tougher, pretty much guaranteeing that their feet will slip off of the holds due to the physics body positioning. As the slip further, they will cling harder, ensuring that they don't progress up the mountain. If the novice climbers would lean away from the rock, they would actually be in a better position to climb. 

In many ways their clinging creates a false kind of intimacy with the cliff that leads to immobility.
— The Three Marriages, p. 130

Busted. I had been clinging (so tightly) to my craft that I had essentially immobilized myself. It wasn't until I started working on something else- on positioning my mind differently- that I was able to move. For the Disney inclined, it's equal parts "let it go" and "just keep swimming." But don't let go entirely, you don't want to fall off the Matterhorn. And that's about as far as I can take that...

I hope this helps, if you're feeling stuck or trapped in any capacity. While I often look to favorite authors for guidance, I've learned that books don't solve anything. They help, but it's actually YOU that does the work. And I'm here to cheer you on. Just FYI

Since (I've) Been Gone...

I took some time, as you may have noticed from the cricket sounds coming from this space. But I'm here again. During that quiet time, I realized a few things. I'm the first to admit that nothing in here is ground breaking, but it was nice to have the realizations float around my mind. 

  • Thinking about something (dwelling if you will) is usually harder than actually doing it.
  • Inspiration is cheap (but welcome).
  • Waiting for the perfect conditions means you'll always be waiting.
  • Funks happen, sometimes you learn from them, and sometimes you don't. It's fine either way.
  • 9 times out of 10 moving your body in some way each day is a really good idea. 
  • There is a fine line between looking inward for comfort and pushing people away. ...And the special people in your life won't let themselves be pushed too far away. 
  • An evening spent dancing to Beyoncé is an evening well spent.  (I ain't sorry.)
  • Do the work. It may not be perfect right away but it'll at least be something to build on.  
  • (Perfect is in the eye of the beholder.)