Stop everything. Now look around and take inventory of how many different things you are actually doing at this very moment.
If you are only reading this article, then pat yourself on the back for your ability to stay on task. But the reality is that you are probably also updating your Facebook page, checking your email on your phone and catching up on a funny video your co-worker sent you, right? Well, tally it up and you are attempting to do four things at once.
Instead, you might want to try focusing on one thing at a time. According to research, excessive multitasking could be cutting your productivity by as much as 40 percent.
To simplify your life and help you stay on task, here are three smartphone apps designed to increase your productivity. Just try not to play Angry Birds in the background while you use them.
Check off your to-do list with Clear (iTunes, $0.99)
Sometimes simple is best. With that in mind, meet Clear, a straightforward to-do list app.
Lists are generated with boxes and prioritized with a color-coding system. Urgent items are red and at the top of the list. The colors gradually decrease in intensity as tasks decrease in urgency. For example, yellow is near the bottom.
The app is iOS 7 friendly with mostly touch-screen features. Pull down to create a new to-do and swipe to delete one you have completed. You can also easily tap and grab items to move them around in your list, or pull two items apart to create a new task in a specific spot in your list.
Lists can be organized into categories like a daily to-dos, grocery lists and even restaurants you’d like to try.
The app doesn’t have a lot of extras, but that is the point. It’s simple enough to help you get through your daily to-do list. The physical drag and drop quality of the app is very intuitive, making it extremely user friendly, so “learn how to use my to-do list app” never appears on your to-do list.
There are universal versions for Macs, iPhones and iPads, and you can sync your lists with iCloud, allowing you to take them everywhere.
Organize notes and coordinate projects with Wunderlist (iTunes and Android, free)
The list of accolades for Wunderlist is, well, wondrously long. Just a few mentions include Mac’s “App of the Year 2013” and Lifehacker’s top app for iTunes, Android, Mac and Windows. Wunderlist is even one of Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger’s favorite apps, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Wunderlist is like a complex version of Clear, with more functions, bells and whistles. It’s available on iPhone and Android devices, along with Mac and Windows, and is ideal for collaborating with co-workers and family members since you can easily create and share lists.
Start by creating simple to-do lists inside categories like “work,” “shopping” and “movies to watch.” Then type your to-do into the box and check it off when you complete it.
A few features that set Wunderlist apart include its ability to set due dates and reminders for each to-do. Need to drop off the dry cleaning every Monday or make sure you pay the electric bill by the 15th of each month? Wunderlist has you covered. Plus you can add “sub tasks,” like “pick up salad and salad dressing” under the “dinner” to-do. The app even allows you to attach files like photos or documents, send push notifications and assign tasks to different people.
Wunderlist is great for co-workers since you can collaborate and share lists with cloud syncing. When someone checks off a to-do item, adds tasks to a list or shares a list with you, the activity center sends you an alert allowing groups to keep track of project progress. Parents and spouses will appreciate these sharing functions as well when it comes to tackling family to-do lists.
Mange your time with Time Planner (iPhone, free)
Ever look up at the clock and wonder where the last two hours have gone, only to find you accomplished half of what you had planned? If so, take a look Time Planner. It’s an app designed not only to help you plan your time, but also to keep track of how long you spend on certain tasks, and analyze how efficiently you are using all those minutes in the day.
Time Planner can teach you time-management skills and also how to find time in your life for those things you want to try like cooking lessons or reading a new book.
Start by creating a schedule for your day. Pick from a host of categories like “health,” “home,” “rest,” “study” or “work,” and then give your activity a title. For example, “answer work emails.” Pick a start time (like 9 a.m.) and an end time (like 10:30 a.m.) and set the alarm to go off when your end time arrives.
Then record when you actually started your project and when you actually finished. The app will calculate how efficiently you used your time based on the difference between your planned times and your actual times.
The app displays pie charts showing how you spend most of your time (48 percent working, 30 percent sleeping, 10 percent resting, etc.), along with your level of efficiency.
The benefits of Time Planner are similar to the benefits you would reap using a food diary or food-tracking app. Chances are that the act of simply writing down what you do with the minutes and hours in the day will make you more accountable for and aware of how you use your time.
Instead of simply organizing tasks by time, Time Planner allows you to see where your time is going, with a colorful and user-friendly interface.
Technology is supposed to make our lives simpler, but sometimes all those screens can end up becoming a distraction. Hopefully with the help of apps like Clear, Wunderlist and Time Planner, smartphones can help us manage our schedules and complete our to-do lists. And then of course, there will be time for Angry Birds.