Here we are, two weeks into 2014, and that newfound enthusiasm for a fresh start is likely beginning to wane. That crazy list of new things to start that looked completely possible during the holiday break now seems crazy thanks to routine responsibilities taking over and dominating our lives.
But it turns out this is the perfect time to really get organized. It’s early enough in the year that you’ve still got some willingness to make changes, and you also have a solid perspective on what’s reasonable. “Going to the gym every day” now is “go to gym three times a week.” It’s time to take a good, long list at your goals and figure out how you’re going to make it all happen.
I’ve found a handful of great organization apps that I’m using this year to help me get it together. They range from work productivity apps to grocery list management, to a great app to help you relax.
Ready? Let’s do this thing!
7 Apps to Get 2014 on Track 1 of 9
Let's get the party started.
Time Your Activities During the Day 2 of 9
This likely sounds incredibly simple, but I'd start with your timer app. Give yourself set times to do various things: fifteen minutes to check email, ten minutes on Facebook, or a half hour reading your RSS feeds. I've found that using a timer has given me a much better sense of how long it takes to do each task, and how much time I waste.
This year I'm also fully implementing a version of the Pomodoro Technique, inspired by my friend Dresden who told me about her timer usage. I'd read about this technique years ago work for 25 minutes, take a five minute break, then work for an additional 25 minutes, but take a longer break of 15-20 minutes after several 25 minute sessions but this is the first time I've really given it a try. It's been great at reminding me to get up twice an hour; I've been using the short breaks to do some stretching and walking around the house.
Track Your Time Spent on the Computer 3 of 9
I've written about RescueTime before because it's such an amazing app. It tracks your computer usage each day (there is an option to add in offline tasks as well), and creates easy-to-understand reports that tell you where you spend your time. I tried this out last year, and was really startled to see how much time I wasted on social media and sitting with a laptop screen in my face. It inspired me to make some big changes in the way I spend my days.
I'd love to see more customization on this app for instance, I do most of my writing in Google Apps and it lists that time as recreational (it's likely that I could do that if I upgraded to the premium version for $72 a year). I also need to get better at turning it off when my daughter uses my computer, because it keeps telling me I spent half an hour playing some video game that involved puppies. It wasn't me. Really.
Read It Later with Instapaper 4 of 9
I was excited when I'd heard that Facebook was instituting a "save it for later" feature, but it turns out it's already been done, and better, by Instapaper. Because one of the dangers of just "popping in" to social media is the rabbit hole of fascinating (and often silly) articles that your friends link to that demand your attention and given how fast social media moves, you better click now or you'll never find it again.
Don't get caught in that time suck again. Instapaper allows you to quickly, with a single click, save those fascinating articles to be read at a later date. With browser extensions, you can click on the Instapaper icon on your toolbar and it will automatically save it for you. Then, at your leisure, you can go to your Instapaper page and read through them all. Brilliant.
Create a To-Do List You Can’t Ignore 5 of 9
Speaking of extensions, Google's Chrome is offering a "New Tab to Tasks" plugin that automatically shows your Gmail to-do list each time you open a new tab (it's also available on Firefox). If you're the kind of person that needs your to-do list in your face each time you go to a webpage, well, this is for you.
I've found it helpful to use it for non-work related notes; just today I was reminded to call my doctor about refilling a prescription. I used to track that stuff with post-its all over my monitor, but those are so easy to ignore. Digital works far better for me.
Organize Your Editorial Calendar and Work Projects 6 of 9
I just discovered Socialcast recently, and it is really pretty spectacular. These days I'm juggling over a dozen clients with various deadlines on any given week, and Socialcast allows me to set up projects by name, and then add a series of tasks to each project that need completion. It's the best editorial calendar I've seen yet, and I've tried over a dozen (for the last six months I've been using a notebook next to my computer). Best of all, you can invite collaborators to use the service and work on projects together.
I'm currently using the free version, but it's so good it's likely I'll upgrade to the incredible inexpensive pro version.
Track Your Food and Fitness 7 of 9
I've been using My Fitness Pal for a while, but my usage slacked during the holidays. I love this app; it's the absolute best way to track calories and exercise that I've found. One of my favorite elements is the recipe feature that allows me to upload my own recipes by ingredient and serving size, and then determine nutrition by serving.
I'm currently using it not only to track calories but also my nutritional ratios (I'm currently trying to keep my carbohydrates under 20% a day), and it offers nice graphs that show me how I'm doing and allow me to make adjustments throughout my day. It's worth noting that you can also create and set your own goals, and I can't forget to mention the amazing food database it has (and the ability to scan bar codes of many foods).
Plan Out Your Meals and Groceries 8 of 9
MealBoard is the app I've been looking for when it comes to meal planning and keeping track of groceries. Until I began using this app, I sat down each week and made a list of meals for the week, and then carefully checked the pantry, and then wrote out my grocery list by area of the store and without fail, I managed to miss key ingredients during the transfer from recipe to grocery list.
MealBoard does all that digitally: you can upload your recipes (and I have plenty of new ones thanks to my holiday gift of a slow cooker), and it makes your list for you. In addition, I can use the desktop version to organize my lists and even import recipes from top websites. And best of all, I can give my husband access to the list to add his own items.
MealBoard is the only app I'm including that has a fee ($2.99 in the app store and is sadly not yet available for Android), but it is worth every single penny.
Bonus Item: Be Calm and Meditate 9 of 9
Last, but not least, is a gentle reminder to relax. When we talk about getting organized, we rarely talk about taking time for ourselves or giving ourselves a rest. That's where Calm comes in: this lovely website (and app, of course) offers a handful of pleasant images and soft music with timed relaxation and meditation. I particularly love the option for the short meditations (either guided by a sweet-voiced woman or simply timed) that can easily fit into a lunch or coffee break after all, we've got two minutes for some deep breathing, right? I'm planning to use this often.