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7 Apps for a More Productive and Balanced Summer

Free tools for staying organized, focused, and productive.

June 15, 2016

Travis Grandy is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Find him on Twitter @travisgrandy or at his website.


Congrats on making it to summer break, GradHackers! While many academics regard the summer as a time to catch up on the work that they didn’t have time to do during the normal academic year, it can also be a challenge to be productive without the structured days of the regular academic calendar. While we’ve blogged about the different ways to be more productive, tools can also be a great way to get yourself to establish some positive momentum.


In the spirit of using the summer ahead as an opportunity to revisit old habits and set new goals for the coming year, I’ve made a round-up of helpful smartphone apps to not only look after your time, but also your wellness. And your wallet too: these apps are all free for their basic features, although some require in-app purchases to upgrade to the full version. This list is a bit skewed toward Android users but I encourage you to share your favorite apps in the comments, especially for other operating systems.


  • Productivity Challenge Timer (Android) – Many contributors on GradHacker are fans of the Pomodoro method: using a timer to track short, focused periods to work on a single task. The Productivity Challenge combines a customizable timer where you can change the length of work periods (say, 25 minutes or 1 hour) and the length of breaks in between (so you can spend 5 minutes watching cat videos before getting back to work). This app goes beyond the typical Pomodoro timer as it will let you track your time based on different work projects (up to 4 in the free version). While you use the app to time your work, you can unlock achievements by having several sessions in a row, or get reminders from the app if it’s been too long since your last work session.


  • Rewire (Android) – Sometimes a good way to work on a new habit is to get yourself doing it every day. Rewire is an app designed to help you get on a streak by checking off each day you successfully meet a goal. These goals can be modest, such as spending 30 minutes working on your dissertation, or going for a 15-minute walk outside. The point is you do these things in a chain, and for each day you successfully meet your goal, your successful streak gets longer. This app lets you group goals together by category, and can add reminders to your calendar.


  • Stop Breathe & Think: Meditate (Android, iOS) – Meditation can have a lot of benefits including lessening stress, helping you sleep better, and focusing your mind so you can be more effective during your work time. Stop Breathe & Think is a great app if you’re new to meditation and want some practice. Each time you open the app, you take a short survey about your mood, and then the app will help you select a short, guided meditation. Once you have a program picked out, you can find a quiet corner, pop-in your earphones, and spend five or 10 minutes to help you focus on breathing and mindfulness. The free version comes with a set of meditation programs and the option to purchase additional ones.


  • 7 Minute Workout (Android, iOS) – Fitness researchers, including the writers on the New York Times Well Fitness Blog have been touting the fitness benefits of short workouts on a daily basis. 7 Minute Workout is designed to guide you through a set of exercises you can do at home or in your office without any special equipment. There are a lot of versions of the app from different developers, but the basic idea is the same: you hit go and the app will talk you through a set of exercises. It is sometimes easy to let fitness fall off of your priorities during those peak times of the academic calendar, but this app can help you establish a regular routine that literally takes seven minutes per day.


  • OneNote (Android, iOS) and Office Lens (Android, iOS) – Over the years, I’ve tried a few different apps to manage my notes for readings, seminars, and teaching, but I’ve finally settled on using Microsoft OneNote in combination with the Office Lens app. The great thing about these apps are that they’re cross-platform: notes on my computer sync with my smartphone and tablet and, if I need, I can even access notes through OneNote.com. If you already subscribe to the Microsoft Office suite of software, then this is a great way to integrate your notes as well. OneNote lets you categorize and tag your notes, and has robust search features. The other part of this dynamic duo is Office Lens. I love this app! Although there are several options if you want to sync pictures from your smartphone, Office Lens integrates with OneNote allowing you to easily add pictures to your notebooks. For example, I like to use this app when I’m reading from a hard-copy book and want to copy a figure or image. With its document scanning feature, Office Lens lets you deskew the image and adjust brightness/contrast to make it easier to read once it’s copied into your notes. Combined with OneNote’s integrated character recognition, images from books or documents can also be searchable. The app also has a whiteboard feature that automatically detects whiteboards so you can quickly snap a picture from your class.


  • Evernote (Android, iOS) – Many people swear by Evernote, and for good reason. It’s a robust note-taking platform that easily helps you index your notes and sync them with cloud storage. Additionally, it has features such as clipping from websites and PDFs and character recognition to make those images searchable. There’s also a lot of support from the Evernote community to turn you into an organizational wizard.


What are the must-download apps on your smartphone? Share you your recommendations in the comments!


[Image by Flickr user Pixel Fantasy and used under Creative Commons License]


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