Intelligent calendars and endless pockets: Nine apps to make working from home a whole lot easier

Amantha-Imber-recommends-productivity-apps

Dr Amantha Imber is the founder of behavioural science consultancy Inventium.

There are so many distractions in the office. But in the work-from-home environment that COVID-19 has forced many of us into, it can feel like distractions double.

Given everything that is going on in the world, it’s natural to want to refresh your local news site every few minutes.

And if the distractions weren’t challenging enough, feeling connected to your team in a virtual environment can often feel impossible.

So, without further ado, here are nine apps that will increase connectedness and reduce distractions.

Zoom 

Okay, I’ll admit that this is not a particularly original recommendation.

But what makes it better than other video chat applications, such as Google Hangouts, are the display settings.

It’s great for small team meetings because you can set up the screen so you look like the Brady bunch. I find it makes a huge difference being able to see everyone all at once, as opposed to just having a view of the person speaking.

And for one-on-one chats, you can maximise the screen so the other person takes up the entire screen and minimise your own image (thus minimising distractions).

Forest

Our mobile phones can be a major cause of distraction at home. The bings and dings of notifications constantly pull us away from the main task we are trying to get done.

Given the pull of the phone, one of my favourite app discoveries (ironically, a mobile app) last year was Forest. You set the timer for how long you want to focus on a task, and it grows a tree. But if you succumb to the temptation to do a ‘just check’ of your phone, you kill the tree! And who wants to do that?

Serene

When trying to stay on task on the laptop, Serene will not only block distracting websites and software, but it will also help you prioritise what you should be working on.

You simply set the sites and software that you want blocked, enter in the most important task you need to be working on for the day, and how long you want to have uninterrupted work time for.

As a bonus, Serene also plays serene music in the background.

Notes

Being able to whiteboard notes during a virtual meeting is a surprisingly useful thing and a great way to engage participants.

And while there are lots of options available, the Apple Notes app does the trick. It’s simple to share your screen over a video call and draw, change colours, scroll around. Basically, it feels like you are in a real room with an actual whiteboard.

Superhuman

Like most people, I spend at least an hour a day in my inbox. Loving your email software can make a big difference to daily happiness (not to mention productivity) levels.

Superhuman is an email client that connects to Gmail. I first learnt about it when interviewing former Pinterest president Tim Kendall on my podcast How I Work. Tim spoke of its speed and cleverness.

(After being a loyal Newton user, I needed something new after its demise, although it did end up relaunching.)

Superhuman claims to be the fastest email experience ever made. I concur. Spending time in Superhuman feels zippy and light and makes me feel super-productive.

It also speaks English. Using a natural language processor, I can simply hit Cmd-K and type in exactly what I need the app to do. For example, remind me if an email I send doesn’t receive a reply within 10 days, or automatically BCC a person.

Woven

Woven claims to be the intelligent calendar for busy professionals, so feeling like I fit the bill, I started using it a few months ago.

It is packed full of useful features that I haven’t found anywhere else. One such feature is the Woven assistant — an AI-powered meeting scheduler who you simply call on within any email.

Another feature allows you to create templates for commonly occurring events. I find this infinitely useful for podcast interviews that I am scheduling which contain details that are tedious to enter over and over.

Pocket

Have you ever found yourself in an internet black hole after being sent an article that a co-worker insisted you read? And then found yourself with a tonne of tabs open from clicking through to links contained within that story? Of course, you have.

Pocket is an app that solves this problem. You can put it on your phone or use it as a plugin on your internet browser. Whenever you find yourself faced with an article you want to read (but at a really inopportune time), you can save it to your Pocket.

Thanks to Pocket, I batch read all articles that catch my attention on a weekly basis without getting lost down any black holes.

Send from Gmail

As a writer and speaker on the topic of productivity, I perhaps not surprisingly try to avoid my inbox in the morning. But a problem that frequently arises is when I need to send someone an email to ‘complete’ one of my morning tasks.

For example, I might have finished writing an article and need to email it through to an editor. And I find that if I open up my inbox quickly to execute the task, I get sucked into the web of emails that await me.

Send from Gmail is the perfect solution to this problem. It plugs into Chrome, and when you click on it, a Gmail Compose window opens up. It then lets you send an email without having to physically venture into your inbox.

Tandem

My team and I haven’t tried this app, but I’ve heard great things about it.

Tandem allows you to easily chat with your team via message or video, share documents you are working on in real-time, and even share a cursor. Plus, the user interface is beautiful. I suspect that if my team had the need to collaborate on documents frequently, we would be getting onto Tandem.

NOW READ: Hidden meanings, generalities and clichés: How to communicate effectively with your staff, and what to avoid

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