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Each of these tools can help you structure and schedule your most productive days by keeping your time in check, fighting off procrastination, and maintaining your energy levels.
It’s become common knowledge that successful people structure their days carefully. But to structure your own schedule is an art unique to you. Each of us is different, with varying highs and lows in productivity and focus. This means that the structure of your own day will be something you have to figure out with trial and error. To help with this, you could discover your own peak times using this spreadsheet.
Once you have an idea of when you’re most productive, and when you need to take things easier, the following list of apps and tools will help you structure your most productive days around these peaks and troughs. They range from strict time management apps, to tools that will help you maintain sufficient energy and focus to get through those scheduled tasks.
Let us know in the comments which other tools you use to structure your days.
1. Sleep Better
Platforms: iPhone and Android
The perfect day starts with waking from the perfect sleep. That’s where Runtastic’s free Sleep Better app comes in. Sleep Better is a sleep tracking app that offers valuable insights into how well you’re sleeping, but the most useful feature here is the app’s smart alarm.
When your alarm goes off while you’re in a deep sleep, you wake up feeling groggy, with that brain-fog often refusing to lift for up to a few hours. But when you set an alarm with Sleep Better, the app senses how deeply you’re sleeping, and wakes you only when you’re in a light sleep phase, making it far more likely you’ll wake feeling refreshed and ready to go.
2. Journal to Improve Yourself
We’ve written before about how journaling can help to reduce stress, increase self-discipline, reduce absenteeism, and improve problem-solving skills. By developing a daily habit of journaling, you’ll be placed in a strong position to reap those professional and emotional benefits.
One of the easiest ways to start journaling is to sign up to an online tool such as Penzu (free on Web, iPhone or Android). Another great, but temporarily unavailable option is, 5 Minute Journal. It’s currently being redesigned, but will be available again soon, I hear. In the meantime you could always purchase the paper version.
If you want to keep things really simple, write your journal entries in Evernote, OneNote, or Word. Each day record a few targets, things you’re grateful for, affirmations, and goals for the day. This really helps to clear your mind, and forces you into a more productive mode, by highlighting what it is that you should be concentrating on today.
3. Keep Information Handy: Evernote
Evernote is a free, powerful note-taking app that’s available on all of your devices. The service includes plenty of powerful features that can help your day go that much more smoothly.
By having everything you could need wherever you are — meeting notes, personal information, research, to-do lists, Monday morning checklists, minute-taking templates, etc. — you never again have to worry about misplacing information, or forgetting a file. Evernote stores everything, and makes it all incredibly easy to find. This means that once your day is scheduled, you can get straight to the tasks at hand, without worrying about the logistics of preparing for each task.
4. Block Time: Google Calendar
Time blocking is the simple idea that you should block off sections of your day for specific tasks. This is because tasks naturally tend to expand to fill whatever time we allocate to them. So by creating specific, undisturbed blocks of time for each task, we prevent this from happening.
I personally prefer Google Calendar for this, as the visuals of the time blocks are particularly strong. You could equally use Apple’s Calendar, or even Windows Live Calendar, if you wished. The point is simply to ensure you can see your allocated time blocks, and stick to these religiously, giving you confidence that you’ll complete all the tasks on your list that day.
5. Create a Timed Task Flow: 30/30 [No Longer Available]
With a 4.5 star rating from over 3500 users, 30/30 is a free iPhone app you’ll wish you discovered much earlier (I certainly did). Piggybacking on the idea of time blocking, 30/30 is a simple but powerful way to create and arrange time blocks to keep your day on track.
The developers explain, “You set up a list of tasks, and a length of time for each of them. When you start the timer, it will tell you when to move on to the next task”.
6. Keep a To-Do List: Any.do
If you love the satisfaction of mind-dumping your tasks, then crossing off items from your to-do list, Any.do is a perfect solution. There are indeed similar to-do list apps out there, but Any.do’s beautiful design, and it’s availability as a mobile, web, and desktop app, make this option stand out.
If you wish to upgrade to the premium version, you’ll have access to a host of collaboration tools, and also be able to add recurring tasks to your to-do list, to help automate a few parts of your scheduling.
7. Schedule Group Meetings: Doodle
We reviewed Doodle back in 2012, and four years later it’s still the go to app for millions who want to more easily schedule events and calls, no matter what time zones everyone is in.
Instead of going back and forth between a group of people trying to establish a convenient time to get together, Doodle (free) removes much of the hassle. It does this by allowing each person to select a few different times and dates during which they’re available, and the organizer can at a glance see which is the most convenient time for the majority.
8. Maintain Your Focus: Momentum [No Longer Available]
Platform: Chrome browser
When you open a new tab for the first time each day, Momentum (a free Google Chrome extension) will ask you what your main focus is for that day. Each time you open a new tab, you’ll be reminded of that task, along with a stunning photo, and an inspirational quote to catch you before you venture off-piste.
An additional feature is a simple to-do list in the corner of the app to let you know what else you need to do.
Al alternative extension is Dayboard, which instead of focusing on just one task per day, allows you to add up to five. Like with Momentum, you will be reminded each time you open a new tab what you should be working on.
9. Manage Your Attention: Pomodoro Timer
Platforms: any type of simple timer works for this method (recommendations below)
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system that’s incredibly simple, and has a huge number of followers. The basic gist is that you pick a task you’d like to get done, then set the Pomodoro timer for 25 minutes. During those 25 minutes, you can do nothing but work on the chosen task. Once the timer rings, take a short break. And once you’ve completed four Pomodoro cycles, take a longer break.
10. Block Distractions: Cold Turkey
Platforms: Windows and Mac
When you have a schedule you need to stick to, the last thing you need is the temptation of time-sucking websites and apps that’ll take you far from what needs to be done.
Cold Turkey has been built with this problem in mind. The free program (with premium options available) allows you to build lists of websites that you want to block. Then, during certain times, you can activate those lists to ensure you won’t be tempted by Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, etc. There are few better ways to beat procrastination.
11. Outsource Reminders: FollowUpThen
If you’re in the midst of an emailing time-block (or if you’re trying to quickly work toward Inbox Zero), FollowUpThen.com is a godsend.
As you’re working through those emails, there will be plenty that don’t need a reply right away. Once you have a FollowUpThen account, you can email those non-urgent messages to an @followupthen.com email address, knowing that the message will be bounced back to you in a certain amount of time.
For example, if you send the message to email@example.com, that same message will land back in your inbox in three days time. You can use other emails such as 27December2017@followupthen.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org. The free account allows you to send 50 follow-up emails per month, though you can purchase more for a low monthly fee.
12. Rest Your Eyes: F.lux
Platforms: almost cross-platform (no Android app)
This isn’t strictly a scheduling app, but using it could certainly increase your productivity. F.lux adapts the color or your screen’s display to the time of day. As the sun begins to set, your screen will display warmer colors that help your eyes and body to relax, and thereby help you to fall asleep more easily.
And as we said at the start of this article, “the perfect day starts with waking from the perfect sleep”. By using F.lux to help with your sleep schedule, you should expect to wake up feeling more refreshed, and ready to tackle more throughout the day.
Which Apps Do You Use?
You can draw on a huge number of tools to help you with structuring your perfect day. These are the best I’ve found, but there will most certainly be more that are worth trying out. That’s not to say that they will all contribute to your productivity, after all, much productivity advice is over-hyped. But trying out a few of these recommendations for a couple of weeks will allow you to see which work for you.
Which other tools do you use to create productive days? And if you use any of the above, how have they helped you?