Nailing down productivity can be tricky, even for the best time-managers, and trying to figure out how to be more productive can be even trickier. So perhaps somewhat ironically, you turn to the internet. But seeking out the best tools to increase your efficiency can end up working against it. Instead of finding out how to be more productive, you end up finding out how to be more of a procrastinator. Isn’t that what you were trying to avoid?
We know that accomplishing your tasks on-time and on-target is critical to reaching your goals…and probably to keeping your job. And we also know that completely avoiding your phones and laptops in the name of productivity is borderline impossible. So let’s take a look at how to be more productive in life using free tech that can help, not hinder, your efficiency.
7 Free Productivity Tools to Up Your Efficiency
Here’s a list of top productivity tools and resources that allows you to ditch the distractions, not the devices. Our resources might surprise you—some of them are about how to be more productive by prioritizing while others help you find the laser focus you’re always searching for.
1. Urgent vs. important: A tool that helps you prioritize
What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” —Dwight Eisenhower
What’s your most important task? And how do you know the difference between urgent and important? Think about it like this: Urgent pulls you away right now—that panicked email from your boss, that colleague whose questions must be answered immediately or the place goes down in flames, that double chocolate donut. Important has to do with your longer-term goals—the project proposal for your boss, raising your next round of funding, that double chocolate donut. (Kidding…kind of.)
Completing urgent tasks keeps you busy; finishing important tasks keeps you productive. The goal? Spend more time doing important work and less time doing urgent work. The first step? Knowing the difference.
How? Use the Eisenhower Matrix Canvas, a tool created by Mikael Krogerus, author of The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking. It helps you map out your next moves, prioritize the important work, and be an efficiency master, like Eisenhower.
2. RescueTime: A web + mobile app to track your time
It’s easy to feel like there’s not enough time in the day, but do you actually know where your time goes? That’s where RescueTime comes in. The free version of RescueTime tracks how much time you spend on websites and apps and lets you set goals for improvement. Watch your stats get better as you limit your time sucks and boost your productivity.
3. StayFocusd: A Chrome extension to limit distraction
We all know these moments—you take a break to read that one article, only to lose two hours down the hole taking a quiz about which Harry Potter house you’re in. StayFocusd makes sure your break doesn’t turn into a blackout.
This Chrome extension allows you to limit the amount of time you spend on any website. Once you meet that limit, you’re blocked for the rest of the day. Spend your time wisely.
4. Productivity Owl: A Chrome extension for productivity pros
Occasionally, those websites that suck all of your time are actually useful—or even worse, part of your job. With Productivity Owl, you can block some sites completely, set up designated sites so you can’t wander elsewhere, and set time limits on other sites. And the owl is watching your every move. You have just enough time to grab that one critical piece of information but no more. This judge-y owl might be just what you need to stay focused.
5. Tide: An app for concentration
For those who work best with white noise, the Tide app is for you. This app helps you concentrate by providing various nature sounds, such as rain or the ocean, set to a timer. Users call it “fresh, clean, and peaceful,” none of which are words we’d use to describe a typical day. Bonus? This app uses the Pomodoro Technique (our next kickass productivity tool) by breaking up sections of sound into 25-minute blocks.
6. The Pomodoro Technique: How to be more productive in bursts
Hands up if you can focus for three hours at a time without any distractions. Exactly. The Pomodoro Technique, invented by Francesco Cirillo, helps you tackle work in short bursts. The technique is simple and only requires a way to track time.
Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on whatever you need to focus on. When time is up, take a five-minute break (actually time it though), and start again. This method is particularly useful for breaking up big projects so they’re more manageable. Pair this technique with any of the tools above, and you’re set up for success.
Want something that does it all for you? Check out Tomato Timer. With simple keystrokes to start and pause the timer, take breaks, or reset, Tomato Timer makes the Pomodoro Technique a staple for any productivity seeker.
7. Ommwriter: A web app for writing without distraction
Need to write but keep getting pulled into other things, like the Buzzfeed black hole? This clean and sleek web-based app is perfect for composing emails, proposals, or editorials. Enter into your own full-screen writing retreat—with focus-generating music and satisfying typing sounds, and without notifications or distractions. Your creative juices are flowing better than ever, which means you do more work in less time.
Bonus tool: Panda Planner
Full disclosure: We’re affiliated with the team at Panda Planner. But even if we weren’t, Panda Planner tops our list of productivity tools. It’s a physical planner based on research in positive psychology and neuroscience that helps you prioritize your tasks, feel good about what you’ve accomplished, and stay focused on what’s to come. Two extra wins? It’s science-backed and happiness-inducing. What’s not to love?
We hope these tools and techniques help you discover how to be more productive. Because willpower is a resource that runs out, so rather than rely on it, structure your time and your environment to keep you on track. That might mean blocking the sites you lose yourself in or working in 25-minute power sprints. In the end, it’s about what works for you. So give them a shot and keep us posted.
Your turn: What productivity tips, tools, or techniques work best for you? Did we forget an app that supercharges your efficiency? Tell us more in the comments.
Author: Leora Rifkin
Leora Rifkin is the Co-Founder and Chief of Possibility of Make BREAD Boston and has her Master’s in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.