I love technological gadgets and gizmos, so I’m always poking around for hard and soft products that might make my work and life a little more efficient or enjoyable.
Below you’ll find a number of actual and virtual tools that I’ve found most beneficial and helpful, ranging from software to organize and do various types of work to self-development exercises to music for focusing and more.
Table of Contents
1. Self Authoring
Remember the writing exercise I told you about in chapter five—the one that helped ethnic minority students earn 44 percent more college credits and made them 54 percent more likely to remain enrolled in school?
This writing exercise isn’t just for students, researchers, or academics.
You can use it too to help maximize your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, figure out what you want to do with your life, and create a plan that will bring you closer every day.
Each writing exercise involves answering a series of questions in the form of an essay. You can write all of your essays at once, tackle a few per day, or just do some of the essays and skip the rest. The more attention, time, and effort you give each exercise, though, the more benefits you’ll get out of the program.
The whole package only costs $30 too, making it one of the best investments on this entire list.
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I don’t like grocery shopping.
When you add up the time it takes to drive to the store, search for items, wait in line, load up the car and drive home, a “quick trip” can easily turn into a two hour slog. I’d rather spend those hours working, spending time with my family, playing board games with friends, reading, golfing, or doing just about anything else, really.
That’s why I love Instacart, which is basically Uber for grocery shopping. All you have to do is pull up their website or app, select your preferred neighborhood grocery store, create a virtual shopping list, and schedule when you’d like everything to arrive. Then, someone shops for you and delivers your groceries to your front door.
The best part is that it isn’t all that expensive, either—in addition to your groceries, you simply pay a small delivery fee and smaller service fee. You can also give a tip to the shopper if you were happy with their service.
It isn’t without downsides, however:
- The prices listed aren’t always correct, so sometimes you pay more than you expect.
- The foods you want to buy aren’t always listed, despite being in stock.
- Sometimes (rarely, these days) shoppers make mistakes or simply don’t care to do a good job. The most common problems are forgetting to buy things and marking things out of stock instead of taking the time to find them.
Aside from those quibbles, it’s an outstanding service and a great value.
If you want to save several hours per week by having someone else do all of your grocery shopping, then you want to check out Instacart.
If you don’t have as much time as you’d like to sit down and read as you’d like, then this is for you.
When I’m driving, cooking, walking my dog, or doing almost any task that doesn’t require much gray matter, then I’m usually listening to an audiobook.
I take it a step further, actually, and buy the Kindle edition as well so I can pause and make highlights and notes as I listen, which I can then review again at any point.
I use Audible for all of my audiobook needs for several reasons:
- It has the best selection of audiobooks you can find online.
- It’s has slick, intuitive, and reliable apps for IOS and Android devices.
- It’s very affordable. Just $15 a month gets you a new audiobook every month, regardless of what it retails for.
So, if you want to get through books faster and make your downtime more rewarding and enjoyable, you need to give Audible a spin.
4. Google Drive and Dropbox
www.google.com/intl/en/drive/ and www.dropbox.com
Google Drive and Dropbox are file sharing and storage services that allow you to backup and sync all of your most important files across all of your devices.
My general rule is that if something is important, then I want it backed up in multiple places that I can access anywhere, anytime. That’s why I keep pretty much everything digital that I care about on my Google Drive and Dropbox accounts, including all of my work.
I go a step further, even, and backup everything on these platforms to an external hard drive just in case the nukes start flying and Google and Dropbox evaporate overnight.
Because if there’s anything I need to survive in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, it’s my book manuscripts and family pictures. 😉
Seriously though, I have the second backup just to be sleep better at night and know that my files are doubly secure.
5. If This Then That (IFTTT)
IFTTT is a program that allows you to jury-rig apps and devices to coordinate with one another and perform functions they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
To use IFTTT, you create a formula, or “applet,” that makes several apps or devices perform a series of functions based on a set of predetermined criteria.
For example, you can set up an applet to sync your Withings scale with your Fitbit, record every gym visit in a spreadsheet automatically based on your location, or program all of your house lights to turn on when you want to wake up.
You can discover the most popular applets here.
6. Instapaper or Pocket
www.instapaper.com or www.getpocket.com
I find a lot of interesting articles in my Internet travels, but I don’t always want to take the time to read them on the spot.
That’s why I like to save them in an app like Instapaper or Pocket and read them later. With these apps, you can…
- Save articles, videos, podcasts, and other links you want to come back to.
- Read distraction-free, as they remove ads, buttons, and unwanted/unnecessary images.
- Download articles onto your phone so you can read them without an Internet connection.
- Highlight passages and refer back to them later.
- Automatically export your highlights to another app like Evernote with IFTTT.
There are some small differences between the apps, but they’re more or less the same. You can’t go wrong either way.
7. Google Calendar
I’m a big believer in using a calendar because it helps me get all important appointments, calls, tasks, and obligations out of my head and into a simple, organized system.
And by “all” I really mean it—I put everything that matters to me in my calendar, including all important work events, as well as personal things like birthdays of friends and family members, reminders to pay certain bills, and even my anniversary with my wife (guess who doesn’t forget, ever? Haha.).
I like Google Calendar because it has a beautiful interface, it syncs across all of your devices, and you can connect it to other calendar apps like Apple’s iCal and Outlook, so you always know where you need to be and what you need to do.
8. Hemingway App
If you’re going to write something, anything, then you might as well write well, and these apps will help you do just that.
The Hemingway App is an online writing tool that highlights complicated sentences, weak words, and other common writing mistakes, and also suggests ways you can make your writing better.
It also tells you how difficult your writing is to understand by calculating its readability in terms of school grade level, which is extremely useful because if you’re writing at more than 5th or 6th grade level, you’re losing a percentage of your readers.
That may sound ridiculous to you but it’s nonetheless true—if you want maximally impactful writing, you want to keep it simple, and Hemingway will help you do just that.
Grammarly is a helpful in-browser writing app that highlights common grammar and spelling mistakes and suggests corrections in real time, while you write.
It’s particularly helpful for catching mistakes when you’re writing emails, which can make a big difference in the first impression you make!
After studying for his PhD. in Economics at MIT for three years, Dean Karlin and a friend were overweight and had tried and failed to get fit several times.
They decided to up the stakes. They both set new weight loss goals and agreed that whoever failed had to give the other person half of their annual income. And it worked—they both lost 38 pounds in a few months.
Karlin then created StickK to help others use the same, simple style of accountability to be more effective in achieving their goals and intentions.
To use StickK, all you have to do is set a goal, find someone to oversee your progress and keep you accountable, assign a monetary penalty if you don’t reach the finish line, and sign the contract.
WayBetter is another way to “gamify” your fitness goals.
With it, you can choose from a list of predetermined health goals, like losing weight, achieving a certain number of daily steps, or exercising more often, and you can get financial rewards for following through.
WayBetter has accountability as well in the way of “referees” who keep tabs on your progress.
Blue light, the kind emitted from computer screens, smartphones, and TVs, suppresses the production of melatonin, which is the primary hormone involved in inducing sleep.
Thus, by staring at screens every night, you’re artificially stimulating your body to stay awake when it should be winding down to go to sleep.
The best way to avoid this problem is to shut all screens down at least an hour or two before bed. That’s not always practical, though, which is where F.lux enters the picture.
It automatically regulates the amount of blue light produced by your computer screen based on the time of day, so if it’s noon, then F.lux allows your screen to produce more blue light, but if it’s seven p.m. and the sun is going down, it gradually reduces the amount of blue light that’s emitted from your screen to match your natural environment.
If you prefer lower levels of blue light during the day (which can be easier on your eyes), then you can also use F.lux to manually adjust the amount of blue light that’s emitted from your screen at any point during the day.
Task management apps are a dime a dozen, but Trello is my baby for organizing both my work and personal life.
Its primary selling point is its Kanban board design, which allows you to visually sort projects and tasks into vertical columns using “boards,” “lists,” and “cards.”
For instance, I have separate boards for my work and personal lives, and in my work board for example, I have lists for Today, This Week, In Progress/Stay on Top Of, and Up Next, and then individual cards for tasks I’ll be working on today and this week, tasks I have handed off to others and need to keep tabs on, and what will be up next when I have bandwidth to add more.
Cards are also highly customizable—you can add links, images, documents, due dates, labels, checklists, and more.
14. Cold Turkey or FocusMe
www.getcoldturkey.com or www.focusme.com
Research estimates that in a typical eight hour workday, most people only do about three hours of real work.
Where do the other five hours go?
The same data shows that most of it’s spent browsing the Internet, checking social media sites, and (ironically) searching for new jobs.
This isn’t exactly surprising considering how many of the most popular sites on the Internet are built to encourage mindless browsing and provide short-term gratification. What’s more, most jobs require you to be on the Internet or at least on a computer most of the day, so the temptation to slack is just a couple clicks away.
A website blocker like Cold Turkey or FocusMe is a simple and effective solution, which does exactly what you’d expect: allow you to irrevocably block your access to certain websites.
For example, with a few clicks, you could make Facebook unavailable from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every weekday, forcing you to only use the app outside those times (when you aren’t at work).
I mostly listen to classical music and film and video game scores while I work, but sometimes I’m in the mood for something different.
Lyrical music doesn’t work well for me because it distracts me and derails my trains of thought, so I usually turn to Brain.fm, which offers various types of mostly electronic loops that are great for focusing. I also enjoy listening to their “Relax” tracks while I’m reading.
If Brain.fm isn’t your thing, check out Focus At Will, which is very similar, and Noisli, which allows you to choose from different ambient sounds like a fireplace, coffee shop, rainstorm, and forest, as well as combine tracks to create a unique mix.
16. Loop or Strides
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.isoron.uhabits&hl=en and https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/strides-habit-tracker/id672401817?mt=8
As you know, so much of living well comes down to simply cultivating the right habits, and as you’ve probably experienced, forming habits is much easier and more enjoyable when you track your progress.
That’s exactly what the Loop and Strides apps do for you.
Loop is an Android app that allows you to graph your progress, set reminders, quantify the strength of your habits, and more.
Strides is an IOS app that’s more of an overall goal tracking app, and it includes everything found in Loop plus a few other neat features like the ability to break your goals into daily, weekly, and monthly steps, and more.
If you want to track your progress toward developing daily habits, then you want to check out Loop and Strides.
17. MyFitnessPal and Stacked
www.myfitnesspal.com and www.getstackedapp.com
MyFitnessPal is the most popular nutrition-tracking app out there, and for good reason.
It has a huge database of different foods and allows you to easily enter your own custom foods, set your daily macronutrient targets, and save single or multiple meals that you eat frequently.
Whenever I recommend someone track their calories and macros, I tell them to use MyFitnessPal.
Stacked is a workout tracking app I created because I didn’t like any of the other ones available (and I’ve tried them all). So, I built one that …
- Lets you track your strength, body composition, progress pictures, and weight in one place.
- Is clean, elegant, and easy to learn and use.
- Isn’t cluttered with unimportant features that you’ll never use.
- Allows you to customize every workout, whether you’re doing a simple body weight routine or a complex strength training block.
- Creates beautiful graphs, charts, and tables so you can visualize your progress over time.
- Automatically calculates your one-rep max for all of your exercises.
- Shows you what plates to load to get a certain amount of weight on the bar.
- And more…
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