Do you make New Year's Resolutions? What are they? To stop being late for work? To remember to floss every night? To read less Internet during the day?
Here's a little secret you might not know about me: I LOVE productivity tools. The Millennial word is "lifehacking," but call it whatever you want: self-improvement, Getting Things Done, whatever. Thanks to modern technology, we have more apps and tools than ever to help us on our journey to becoming better human beings.
Below are some of my favorite apps, hacks, tips and tricks to making your resolutions really work. Got more? Leave 'em in the comments.
Resolution: Stop Being Late
Hack: Rethink Your Schedule
Are you one of those people who are ten minutes late to everything? I used to be, too, and I HATED myself for it. I felt like the kind of person who didn't value other people's time, but I just couldn't help it. No, really, I literally couldn't help it. Here's why -- studies show that chronically late people actually parse time differently than normal people. Meaning, a chronically late person might see ten minutes on the clock and think he or she can fit a whole lot more into that ten minutes than is reasonably possible.
So what stopped me from being late? This tip someone once shared with me:
If you are waiting to leave the house, for example, and you have ten minutes before you need to leave, just go ahead and leave. Don't try to fit one last task into that ten minutes, Just leave and be early, instead of trying to squeeze a 15-minute task into that extra ten minutes and ending up late.
Resolution: Stop Surfing Facebook/Twitter/Youtube/Whatever You Use to Procrstinate
Hack: Strict Workflow Chrome App
I can easily lose an hour reading Facebook or RSS feeds in Feedly. It's hard to get myself to buckle down and do work when the Internet is an endless source of fascinating Beyoncé videos and arguments about reality TV stars. But a friend recently recommended to me the Pomodoro Technique for productivity, and I found a great app that kills two birds with one stone.
The Pomodoro Technique works like this: work for 25 minutes, then get a five-minute break. Repeat as necessary.
Strict Workflow is a Pomodoro timer in the form of a free Chrome web app, and what makes it great is that it can blacklist any website of your choosing during a 25-minute Pomodoro work period. Then you get five minutes when the sites are whitelisted, so you can refresh and reply to that flame war on the Hair Balls comments.
Resolution: Sleep Better
Hack: White Noise Mobile App
Most people I know already use their iPhones as alarm clocks. That works okay for me, but I've been looking high and low for a white noise machine with an alarm and clock face big enough for me to see from the bathroom in the mornings when I don't have my contacts in yet. Well, those things run about $100 at stores like Brookstone. But a friend recommended to me the White Noise app from TMSoft and I lurrrrrve it.
The app is $1.99 and is available for iPhone, iPad and Android. (There's also a free version if you want to give it a test drive first.) The iPad app does basically every single thing I want in an alarm. There's a sleep function for the white noises (or it can play nonstop) and a gradual alarm so you don't get jerked out of bed when the thing first goes off. The app can also accommodate multiple saved alarms.
But the white noise functions are the best. Included in the app is a clock face you can brighten or dim, and change the color of. I leave mine plugged in on my nightstand all night with the clock display on and the sounds of beach waves crashing to help me sleep, and it really does make a difference. The app comes with something like 40 standard sounds -- everything from birds chirping to rain to the creaking of a sailboat on the water. But the best thing is that every few weeks they offer a new free soundscape for download. Over the holidays it was ice-skating rink and presents being unwrapped.
Resolution: Make or Break a Habit
Hack: Habit List Mobile App
Let's say you want to remember to floss every night. Or you want to stop drinking so much soda. Habit List is an awesome app that helps you make better habits and break bad ones.
Make a list of everything you want to do and give each item a time frame. Flossing, for example, you'll want to do every day. Maybe you want to not have alcohol during the work week. Or you want to go running three times a week. You can pick ANY time frame for each habit. Then, each day, you get a list of habits that need to be completed for that day.
The best thing about Habit List is the feedback. You can set up timed reminders for each habit (at 8 p.m. I get a reminder to take my vitamins), but if you happen to check that habit off before it's time, the reminder won't show. Each day you get a percentage report of how many of your to-dos you've completed, and each week and month you can get reports on how successful you've been for meeting the time frame for each goal.
I love this app so much. The reporting is what really makes the difference here in helping maintain streaks. Sadly, Habit List is only available for iOS but it looks like Habit Streak for Android is similar.
Resolution: Keep a Journal
Hack: 10-Year Journal
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Some people like the idea of keeping a journal but hate the concept of a mushy, emotion-filled book of secrets. Instead, I suggest a ten-year journal. I got mine at the start of 2007 and have been writing in it every day since then.
Here's how it works: Each day of the year is a page. Each page is divided into five or so lines for each year. So, January 1, 2007, 2008, 2009, etc. is all on one page. You write a few lines about what you did each day, and when you get to the end of the year, you start again at the front. It's really cool to look back and see what you were doing on a certain day five years ago, plus there are extra pages at the end of each month if you want to expound on your thoughts. It would be a great gift for a new college graduate, newlyweds or new parents, but mine starts with the final year I lived in Korea, my return to Houston and seven years worth of adventures since then.
It might seem pricey at $40, but it'll last you a decade (and hopefully longer). And while I'm sure there are apps out there that do this, there's something to be said for going analog for this one resolution.