Apps to boost your productivity

There are many productivity apps and websites available to help you better organise your time, your projects and your PhD. Whilst I prefer putting pen to paper, saving information digitally and syncing it across all devices, and with colleagues, can make things easier.

During my PhD, I am yet to find my perfect method to maximise productivity but here are a few options I have tried and tested, which are worth considering.

  1.  Evernote
    At the start of my second year of my PhD I started using Evernote, adapting the  Getting Things Done (GTD) technique. Evernote is flexible, and relatively easy to use productivity app based on notes. Each note can sync over many devices where you can add to-do lists, attachments (PDFs, powerpoint, images, etc), and each note can be tagged and saved to specific notebooks. The search functionality within Evernote also enables you to find words from hand-written (or typed) documents, which can be a bonus providing your hand-writing is legible!

    I used several notebooks within Evernote, one for each project, and assigned tags related to the urgency and time scale of the work, for example today, tomorrow, this week, soon, some day, waiting. I also added weekly and monthly to-do lists and goals to keep track of work and to review my progress and was also able to share notes with colleagues.

    Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 19.27.28
    Screen shot of the Evernote app in the web browser with a list of My Notebooks and a note I am viewing in the background. 


    Whilst using Evernote I had a free 1 year trial of Premium, which also meant that I could upload photos from my phone/tablet as searchable documents which was pretty handy if I made notes during a meeting I could upload to Evernote and link to my weekly review.

    I used Evernote for almost a year, however I do also like to keep a notebook and lab book and found that I was spending a lot of time just trying to write notes to keep Evernote up to date with what I was working on, also the app for Mac was quite slow to load which was frustrating when trying to find something in a hurry.

    Evernote also offers many other features I haven’t mentioned here including browser add-ons, and compatibility with other accounts such as gmail. Check out their website for a full list of features.

  2.  Bullet Journal
    The bullet journal is a simple and flexible way to stay organised with pen and paper. As a stationery lover, looking at bullet journals on pinterest/tumblr/instagram fills my life with joy. Sadly, I lack the artistic skill to make my bullet journal as decorative as ones you may find online and prefer to take a basic approach.

    When writing my thesis I had a small (A6) squared notebook that I carried with me everywhere which I’d just usually list 3 realistic tasks to complete that day and any events I was attending. This kept me focused and meant that I didn’t have one looming task that I kept putting off as it would be very specific and achievable. The notebook was dedicated only to PhD/thesis work so at the end of the day I could tick off the list and feel satisfied I had made progress.

    There are many different ways to ‘Bullet Journal’ and this technique can also work alongside other productivity tools.

  3. Wunderlist
    Wunderlist is a to-do list app which syncs over all devices. I first used the app in 2012 and it was an easy to use checklist app which has since incorporated many useful features including sharing and assigning tasks, categorising lists in folders, tagging, and more.
  4. Google Calendar
    I have used Google Calendar to sync events across all my devices throughout my PhD. It can also be useful to share your calendar and events with colleagues and to schedule time for particular tasks on your to-do list. Whilst I usually only schedule important meetings and tasks, you can also use the calendar for reminders and goals, and with the description and options to add attachments to events, it could also be used alongside google docs for collaborative work.

All of the above apps are free to use and are designed to increase your productivity, mainly in terms of note taking, to-do lists and task management. Searching in the app store, there are thousands of apps under the productivity category and I have barely touched the surface in my list here.

Other apps similar to Evernote:

Online notebooks, great for collaborative writing:

Task management apps:

I am really keen to try a task management app as I’ve read some really positive reviews. To be able to sync tasks with my calendar really appeals to me but I think that you need to use it as a group to gain all of the benefits of these apps.

On top of apps, I have also tried 100% paper-based organisation. Using a diary, lab book and many, many post-its. I prefer making notes on paper when at meetings and sometimes pen to paper helps ideas flow. I change my organisation system frequently, testing new methods but have not yet found a perfect method that works for me all the time.

Finally, worth a mention is IFTTT which is a digital recipe builder to automate tasks. It can be used with many of the above apps to make your life easier. For instance, to send reminders to colleagues, sync files automatically or create your own custom recipe to suit your needs.

What are your most used productivity tips? What apps do you use to keep on top of work? I’d love to hear what works for you, or what you think of some of the apps here!


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