Posts in Software Apps
Should You Download Another Productivity App?
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Another productivity app anyone? Maybe a new Markdown editor or todo app for your smartphone? Wait! Before you hit the download button, think again.

There is an upside to an app that works for you. There is also a downside to any app that steals your focus. 

I've certainly felt this. When my work tools are helping me get things done, it fees good. When I'm tempted to test out something new, there is a slight feeling of unrest. There really is a spiritual component to our work.

As Carl Pullein says, your apps should work for you, not the other way around. 

  

To save you time, I've tested out the latest version of Omnifocus (version 3.0) and it's quite strong. That doesn't mean that you should use it but you should watch the video. If you like the app, the OmniGroup is prepping for a May 30th public launch. 

Enjoy the review!

 

 

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About Mike St. Pierre

I teach people how to pray using simple online tools like blogs and video. f you’d like to be included in my regular email with tips and tricks for praying better, you can sign up here.

The Productivity Awards 2017
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I decided to do the TPA awards for a second year after the positive response from last year’s awards.  A few disclaimers are helpful: I’ve tested each and every app in the list.  Second, if I’m an affiliate for an app, I indicate that in the award.  

 

One new feature in this year’s awards is the inclusion of a  “Best Prayer App”.  Since prayer can make you a more productive person, why not highlight two apps for you to try in 2018?  Ok on to this year’s awards!

Best All Around Todo App: Tick Tick

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TickTick is this year’s best all around todo application, mainly due to its versatility and customization. It offers Smartlists, Themes, Natural Language and so much more.  It even has a Pomodoro timer for tasks if you want to track your work.  Want to use Touch ID to protect your projects?  You can do that too.  TickTick will even give you a weekly achievement score and visual “map” of your most productive day.  You won’t be disappointed with TickTick.

 

Runner up: Todoist

Todoist is a phenomenal app.  Sure, it’s due for a UI refresh but if you are looking for productivity app that can be customized to suit your needs, Todoist can handle anything.  The natural language input is the best in the business and its various color themes take your personalization to another level. 

 

Best GTD-Specific App: Things3

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Things3 from Cultured Code has its limitations and that’s by design.  It still isn’t my favorite app for file attachments and you can’t use Things3 to collaborate with peers.  But, the 3rd version of Things did not disappoint in 2017 for its stunning visual design and a “less is more” approach to productivity.  It’s the one app that is actually fun to use when you are trying to get things done.  If you don’t require deep natural language input or collaboration, Things3 will make you enjoy using a todo app like never before.

 

Runner up: OmniFocus

Not including OF in this year’s list would be like omitting a Mercedes from a list of luxury cars.  While its UI is ready for a refresh, OF is so powerful as a GTD-related app that it can equip you with various customized perspectives.  These allow you to work how you want to work, teasing out the projects or tasks that you need when you want them.

 

Best Project Management App: Nozbe

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While Nozbe is also due for a UI refresh, it still gets our top slot for project management.  Besides the fact that Nozbe is 100% cross-platform and the company can’t be beat in terms of its customer service, the collaboration features are what make Nozbe stand out from other apps.  Whether you need to share files or delegate tasks, Nozbe is our favorite project management app. (Disclosure: I am a Nozbe Ambassador and  an affiliate for Nozbe.)

 

Runner up: Asana

Asana continues to get a head of steam as a favorite project management app for both individuals and organizations.  While the barrier of entry is somewhat high, Asana allows teams to share documents, chat and organize their projects into “tiles” which makes work more fun.

 

Best Productivity Podcast: The Productivity Show by Asian Efficiency

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The Productivity Show got a reboot in 2017 and the results paid off.  Featuring various guests, including some from their “Productivity Dojo”, TPS comes out each week in order to help you be more productive and apply tactical strategies to daily life.  The shows gives you a “deep dive” into topics related to productivity.

 

Runner up: The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry

Todd’s podcast is an extension of his best-selling books on creativity and work.  The Accidental Creative Podcast is bolstered by its brevity and Todd’s practical advice for working smarter with your colleagues. 

 

Best Productivity YouTube Channel: Keep Productive with Francesco D’Alessio

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You’ll get tired just trying to keep up with Francesco as he reviews multiple apps per week.  How he finds time to manage a day job is mind-boggling but his output of high-quality videos is what puts him in this year’s top slot.  Besides his affable tenor and creative app comparison videos (i.e. Todoist vs. TickTick), Francesco is like an online coach, walking you through different apps without showing a bias.  

 

Runner up: The Working With Channel with Carl Pullein

Carl’s channel started as a way of sharing his love for Todoist.  Since then, it’s exploded into a full-on productivity channel with multiple videos per week.  Carl’s branding has expanded into multiple “Working With...” verticals (with apps, with work, etc.) and he’s a delight to watch.  Coming across as a fellow practitioner rather than a lecturer, Carl really wants to help people get more out of their everyday lives.

 

Best Prayer App: Give Us This Day

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New to the Productivity Awards this year is the top app for daily prayer.  We give this year’s top spot to Give Us This Day.  Give Us not only provides you with the daily Bible & Mass readings but its interface is playful and easy to use.  You’ll find yourself wanting to use it more just as a result of the UI as tabs expand and “fold” down as you click on them.

 

Runner up: Magnificat

Magnificat is a wonderful app for following along with the daily Bible and Mass readings and offers a daily meditation and feature on the saints.  If you enjoy the Liturgy of the Hours, you won’t be disappointed in Magnificat. 

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Want more help with technology and prayer?  Click here to get Mike’s free PDF “5 Ways That Noise Wreaks Havok on Your Prayer Life”.

The Real Reason You Are Distracted When You Pray
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The scene goes like this.  You arrive at your local parish church for Sunday Mass and you have 2-3 minutes before the celebration begins.  When I grew up, this was fairly typical and it provided a few moments to look around and check out the folks in your pew or a few seats in front of you.  

 

Before you knew it, Mass would begin and you were off and running.

 

Today, the scene plays out differently.  The arrival is similar.  The pews feel the same, hard as ever.  Nothing has changed about the Mass.  It’s what’s in your hand that has impacted those few moments before Mass.  

 

The supercomputer, known affectionately as a smartphone, has invaded our churches and more importantly, our minds and hearts.  What used to be a few minutes of boredom or curiosity before Mass is now just another time when we pull out our phones.

 

God forbid we would miss an email, text or Facebook post from one of our hundreds of friends.

 

It seems, sadly, that we’ve begun worshiping our phones when we should be praying to God.  Smartphones have tapped into every buffer in our days- waiting in line at the grocery store, pausing at a red light while in traffic, and unfortunately in the few moments before Mass.  

 

I know, I get it- we need our phones to schedule things and communicate and get our email.  The problem is that our iPhones and Samsung Galaxies (with “infinity displays”) have sucked all of the oxygen out of what used to be moments of ordinary life.  

 

The real danger isn’t so much that we are tethered to our phones with our hands and portable chargers.  No, the more subtle invasion reveals that our phones have begun to influence our prayers.  Let’s be honest in saying that it’s more interesting and dopamine-inducing to check our Twitter feed than pray to a God we cannot see and rarely hear. 

 

The prayer challenge for all of us isn’t to put our phones down completely but to calm the noise they produce in our heads.  The good news is that a steady diet of “less”, marked by strategic days off from technology can break the chains that currently bind us.

 

Some apps can help with using our phones less during the day.  Apps like Self Control (for Mac) and Moment (for your phone) can monitor your phone usage and report back to you in terms of how often you’re using your phone.  Just seeing that you picked up your phone 45 times on Monday is a powerful motivator to use it less on Tuesday. This is similar to having a weight scale in your bathroom- an occasional weigh-in is a powerful motivator to eat just a littlebit less.

 

Apps are only part of the solution. What I’ve found to be the most effective means of breaking our addiction to our phones is to take a day off from them each week.  By using a “digital sabbath”, we reintroduce ourselves to a simpler time and marry our busy lives with the ancient practice of sabbath.  I’ve been using a digital sabbath for several years and have found it to be deeply spiritual.  

 

A digital sabbath gives us permission to reconnect with people offline. Conversations seem richer.  Naps find a way back into your schedule. Twitter and Facebook can wait.  

 

Best of all, a digital sabbath gives license to time with the Scriptures and time alone with God. By temporarily pausing your use of technology, you are giving God space to do what God wants to you in and through your life.  That’s a wonderful thing.

 

Technology isn’t a bad thing.  With a little practice and some useful tools at the ready, you can regain focus when you pray and be at peace with God.

3 Apps That Will Help You Focus at Work

We’ve all been there- you sit down to do some work at your computer and you get distracted. 

If you’re like me, it goes something like this:

  • I’ll just check Twitter real quick...
  • ... and follow a link from a sports writer to a story online...
  • ... which makes me think that maybe there are related stories so I turn to Google for a quick search...
  • ...which then takes me down the rabbit trail of three other articles related to the same topic.

Can you relate? 

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The rabbit trail is a dangerous thing. It's seductive really. The rabbit trail taps into our desire for quick, dopamine-inducing searches and internet expeditions. The rabbit trail affects us all, whether we are aware of it or not.  If you have an internet connection, you've experienced this.  If you use social media, you've experienced this.  If you have a smartphone, you know what I'm talking about.

I suppose the question is this: what are you going to do about it? 

If you need to work online and can’t become a monk (although that sounds good sometimes right?), the good news is that there are a number of apps you can use to stay focused. Here are the three that I use regularly:

  1. Self Control. This Mac-only app is very smart. It allows you to create a list of applications or websites that you know you’ll be tempted to visit. Then, by launching the app, it knows to not allow you to open those websites. I’ve used Self Control for months and find it very handy. You can also launch the app and tell it how long you want to do focused work. Self Control then begins and ends when your timed work is done.  (cost: free)
  2. Coffitivity. Cofffitivity is a website (and app) with some pre-recorded sounds that simulate a coffee shop. The makers of of the application have stepped up their game and now offer a handful of different coffee shop soundtracks. Just launch the one that fits your mood and you’re off and running. There’s something about a little bit of back noise that helps you to focus and do your work. (cost: free; a $9 premium version is also available)
  3. White Noise. White Noise comes in both a free and for-pay version and it’s great. There are tons of sounds that you can try out, from the sound of a hairdryer to the purr of a cat to the sound of a rowboat along the water. White Noise is what I use when there is some other noise in the house or in my office. I launch White Noise and it serves to negate most of the other noise around me. This is very subtle but good news- it actually works. (cost: free; a premium option is also available)

Another tactic you might try is to use an iPad for as much of your work as possible. While you can certainly multi-task on an iPad (with split-screen that allows you to have two apps side by side), it lends itself to using one application at a time. 

Whether you go with the iPad or the apps that I mentioned above, the key is to outsmart the distractions in your head. Once you do that, you’ll be more free to do your focused work.


BONUS: if you’re a person of prayer, you may want to try White Noise in order to set the mood and tune out the other noises around you. While this isn’t practical for praying at church, it does the trick for those times when you want to have a quiet time at home but just can’t seem to tune out the noise. 

The Eight Elements of a Digital Sabbath

You’re at the grocery store and what do you see?  People on their smartphones, walking down the aisles.  You go to the restaurant and what do you see?  Whole families sitting near one another but not really being present to each other.  Even at church, with just a few spare minutes before services, you’ll see smartphones pulled out of pockets and purses.  Just in case I miss something...

The smartphone cometh and has taken us to places we never imagined.

Consider the following:

  • Did you know that, according to Pew Research, only 15% of teens do not have a smartphone?  That means that the kid next door to the kid next door to the kid next door... all using smartphones.  I can remember just a few years ago when smartphones were kind of a luxury.  Today, not so much.
  • There's more- the average person, according to AOL News, unlocks their phone 80 times per day.  Think about that for a moment.  We unlock (and then use) our phones 80 times per day.  What else do you do 80 times per day? I can't think of anything if I'm honest.

When I first read that last stat, I didn't believe it.  Then, I tested out an app called Moment.  I realized that I was picking up my phone way more than I realized.  Dozens of times per day to be exact.

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Can you relate to all of this?  Do you pick up your phone more than you’d like, feeling tempted to check it even in the thinnest moments of your day?  

What can you do if you are starting to feel as if your phone is taking over your life?  I suggest one simple thing and it’s called The Digital Sabbath.  

The Digital Sabbath is a technique borrowed from ancient Judaism and Christianity whereby believers would take a day out of their week to rest.  The concept was deeply baked into the DNA of adherents: no work, just rest, play, enjoyment and renewal.  That sounds good, doesn't it?

To most of us, this idea sounds cute.  I used to think this too until I started to take it seriously. I figured I had nothing to lose so I picked Sunday as my day of the week.  Since I’m a Catholic Christian, this also made lots of sense.  Sunday would be the day when I would try not to use my phone.

After doing this experiment for several months, I’ve found the following to be eight key elements of a successful digital sabbath:

  1. Define what “digital” means to you.  To me, it’s mostly my phone + Twitter + Facebook.  I don’t feel tempted to check Instagram or LinkedIN any more so those didn’t make the cut.
  2. Decide why you want to do the sabbath in the first place.  For me, it’s a break, a breather and a barrier.  I need rest from digital usage.  I want to breath a different pace of life and finally, I want to gradually create a healthy barrier between me and my technology.  A day off helps me to do that.
  3. Don’t beat yourself up.  If you mess up and suddenly check your phone at a point in the day, be gentle with yourself.  Put it down and get back to whatever you were doing.  It’s ok.
  4. When with others, keep gadgets out of sight.  Fight the urge to place the phone between you and your partner when you’re eating a meal or having a conversation.
  5. When watching TV or a movie, keep gadgets far enough away that you’re not tempted to reach for them.  This might apply to a tablet or your phone or your laptop.
  6. Pick up a book. Grab one that you really enjoy and have been looking forward to reading.  Give yourself permission to read something analogue (a book, newspaper, etc.).
  7. Include nature or leisure.  By going outdoors or to a museum or street fair, you’ll “trick” your brain and distract yourself.  To the degree that you can divert your attention to truly beautiful things (art, music, nature, etc.), all the better.
  8. Celebrate the end of the sabbath.  It’s ok to enjoy checking Facebook or email at the end of the day.  Like breaking a fast, this is when you can reconnect with whomever you need to online.

These eight elements can make for a happy and productive digital sabbath.  Why not schedule your next digital sabbath?  When can you put down the phone and take a day for yourself to unplug?

How to Get Into the Zone When You Work

Have you ever had one of those days when you were like a stick-shift car?  Back and forth, herky-jerky...

 My first stick-shift was an old pickup truck and a summer job allowed me to deliver engine parts to local garages.  I was a terrible driver and I was lucky that I wasn't fired- it was that bad.

Work can feel like this too- back and forth, tossing and turning from one thing to the next.  The modern workplace is built to chop up our day into small blocks of time.  The problem is that the boundaries of our "blocks" are fuzzy.  Every "got a minute" takes us away from our ability to focus.

When our days are filled with lots of interruptions, it's very hard to get our heads back to a focused state.  It can take several minutes to refocus after being interrupted.  Meetings are much the same, draining our energy and taking up an awful lot of time.  

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Too many interruptions (and/or meetings) can leave your head spinning and your day totally wrecked.  These work-killers are nothing more than "noise", creating a slow hum of displeasure in the day.  With each interruption, you lose your head of steam and become more and more irritated.  By the time you leave, you are frustrated and can feel defeated.

To counteract these pesky bugs, one thing is necessary: deep work.  Deep work is the ability to focus, without interruption, on meaningful and challenging tasks for a prolonged period of time.

Check out this post about how deep work can help clear your head and further expand your ability to do deep work.  The question remains- how much deep work do you need in order for your day to feel good?  After all, most of us can't afford an entire afternoon alone in an office, doing deep work.

An hour without interruption might be satisfying enough.  Imagine a day with just two blocks of uninterrupted time?  As you begin to experience time-focused periods of your day, you'll begin to notice something.

You'll notice that you're not as frustrated when the interruptions do come along.  This is because you know that you've already tasted "the good stuff" (of uninterrupted work) and you desire it even more for the rest of your day or later in the week.  Having a block or two of deep work under your belt helps to "absorb" these interruptions.

Let me share a personal story to help make this point.

I was feeling particularly disjointed a few weeks ago.  I knew that this was the result of not scheduling several hours of focused (i.e. "deep") work.  As a person of faith, I try to see my work as part of my relationship with God.  As such, I turned to prayer in order to recalibrate my day.

My prayer was very, very simple, "Lord, just give me the courage to do deep work, if even for a briefer time than I would like."  I just needed to get into the zone and then all would be well.  No more distractions, just focused and deep work.

This turned out to be exactly what I needed and my day went much better.  I turned off the noise in my head and the noise around me using an app called Self Control.  This forced me to write, to create and to ultimately finish a project that was in need of closure.  When all was said and done, I felt great.

My day was rescued because I was able to dial back the noise, focus and put my head down in order to work.  Can you relate?

For Follow Up
If you look back on the past week, can you name a day when you went home and felt as if you got absolutely nothing done?  As you look forward to the week ahead, where can you schedule blocks of deep work when no one and nothing will be able to interrupt you?  Once you schedule these blocks, you'll be in the zone and feel great about it!