Tag Archives: Productivity

Top 5 Recent Apps

5. Good Habits (free)

This is an incredibly simplistic app, but I love the idea behind it. This is actually Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity method (I’m sure he didn’t create it, but he’s the first person I heard associated with this method). Seinfeld would get a big calendar to put on his wall, and every day that he worked on new stand-up material, he’d marker a big red X over that day. After a few days, the motivation to keep the red X chain going was stronger than the motivation to not write new material, so he just kept it up. That is the idea behind this app. You enter in a particular habit you’d like to start or sustain, pick what days of the week you want to count towards the habit, then mark the days as you complete your habit. No frills, just motivation to keep going. And it works. I went from flossing like once a month to almost every single day in the last month (I missed October 1st so my longest chain is 28 days). But with blogging, I was on a pretty long dry spell, so I resolved to try and publish something at least once a week. So I marked that habit with only one day I had to check off, and whenever I check that day off, it makes the chain connect from my last checked off day, but my chain length is technically only 2 days. So while my blog habit chain covers the last few weeks without a break, my habit chain length is actually only 8 days. And if you complete a habit on an off day, it counts towards your numeric habit chain length. So even though Saturday is the one day I have to check off in order to keep my blog habit chain going, if I publish something in the middle of the week, my chain advances that far and my chain length number goes up by 1. Pretty sweet. I’ve definitely brushed and flossed more consistently this entire month, and compared to the first half of this year, my blogging consistency is through the roof. It works!

4. Swipes (currently free, they should release a paid version in the next two months or so)

Out of the 10+ to-do apps I’ve tried out, this is my favorite by a long-shot. The methodology is exactly like Mailbox, which, if you’re a Gmail user and you haven’t tried it yet, I would very strongly recommend giving that a try. So the methodology: you add a task or something you want to be reminded of (e.g. water the plants, buy a hose, change the locks, etc. Is it obvious we just moved into our new house?) and then a quick left swipe, and you decide if you want to be reminded on a specific date/time or a general time period like tomorrow or this weekend or next week. Then Swipes reminds you of your tasks when you’ve told it to, and you can left swipe to be reminded again later or right swipe if the task is done. Very simple, and nearly identical to the Mailbox app, just focused on to-dos rather than email messages. You can add tags and notes to each task if you’d like, and all of these are searchable within the app. Again, simplicity is key here. The next update will include a web app, cloud-based syncing, location-based reminders, task-sharing and adding priority categorization, all of which will be part of a pay package. That should be released sometime before the winter comes, and the pricing will be approximately either $0.99 per month or $9.99 per year. Phenomenally reasonable. The only real change I could want aside from that would be a cool Instagram picture when all the tasks are completed, like Mailbox gives you. Either way, this is a fantastically easy to use and helpful to-do app.

3. IFTTT (free)

IFTTT stands for “IF This, Then That.” It’s basically an automator for tasks you find yourself doing over and over. So you give it an “if” statement, and then tell it to do something if that thing occurs. IF I favorite a tweet, THEN save it to a particular Evernote notebook. It works by connecting to several different services and using recipes to complete tasks you do normally. For example, do you use Dropbox to store all your Instagram posts? If not, do you want to? It’s incredibly easy. You activate IFTTT to access both your Dropbox and Instagram accounts, and then everything is done on the backend by IFTTT, so every time you post a new Instagram picture, it automatically saves that picture to the Dropbox folder you specify. Think that’s a lame example because all your posts are already saved in Instagram? Then even better, how about saving all the Instagrams you like into a Dropbox folder for future use, like using them as rotating wallpapers? Bingo, you can create a recipe for saving Instagrams you like into a Dropbox folder.

The value of IFTTT really comes in when you can identify tasks that you do all the time via your computer or phone. So if I find I’m constantly trying to save all the pictures that I’m tagged in on Facebook, or I want to share a new blog post across all my social media accounts, or I want to save all the tweets I’ve favorited into Evernote, or basically whatever you can imagine, IFTTT can do it. Just to get an idea, these are just a few of the services IFTTT can access if you give it permission: Blogger, Craigslist, Dropbox, Etsy, Evernote, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Google services (Gmail, Docs, etc.), Instagram, Soundcloud, Tumblr, Twitter, WordPress, YouTube…and this list keeps going. And if you’re thinking “I can’t think of anything I’d use it for” just do a quick Google search for Useful IFTTT Recipes. You’ll find LOADS. It’s really an awesome service.

2. Brightnest (free)

Ever had a weird household problem to which you couldn’t find a great solution? Like the tub not draining well, water/calcium stains on a toilet, figuring out your mysterious electrical panel? Brightnest will help you tackle a very wide range of household issues like these. The app basically has a bunch of mini-(like seriously mini, very easy to read)-articles that run you through a particular problem or use for an odd household item or how to do that one odd job. All the mini-articles are categorized into:

  • Healthy: Detox Your Kitchen, Safety Check: Your Stairs, Disinfect the Five Germiest Places in Your House
  • Green: Kitchen Composting Made Easy, 7 Eco-Friendly Laundry Room Tips, Eco-Friendly Air Fresheners
  • Savvy: Budget Breakdown: The Cost of a Bathroom Remodel, 5 Cheap Ways to Beautify Unsightly Furniture, Conversations with a Burglar: 7 Common Home Security Mistakes
  • Curious: 2×4: Four Unexpected DIY Projects, Get More From Your Mudroom: Ideas and Tricks, Fold a Fitted Sheet the Right Way
  • Clean: Forget the Brush! 3 Easier Ways to Clean Drip Pans, De-Stink Your Home, De-Clutter Your Kitchen
  • Handy: The Hunt: How to Find and Prep Your Electrical Panel, Inspect Your Weather Stripping, Inspect Your Air Ducts
  • Creative: 5 Frightfully Fast Halloween Decorations, 6 Ways to Make an Unfinished Basement Awesome, Pick Your Palette: 5 Tips for Choosing a Color Scheme
  • Hungry: 2×4: Four Unbeatable Grill Recipes, 7 Kitchen Gadgets That Are Worth Your Money, From Bacon to Brie: 11 Thanksgiving Appetizers

There are only 24 mini-articles culled from a much larger list. You have to be interested in at least half of these, right? And I keep calling them mini-articles because they seriously don’t take longer than a minute and a half to skim through. Tons of handy information.

Other great features, you can favorite articles to save ones you’ve found most helpful, and the more task-oriented articles have difficulty ratings and average time estimates, and you can even schedule them so you’ll be reminded to rotate your mattress and clean your sheets next Saturday if you don’t have time to do it today. Pretty slick.

1. Day One / Narrato (Day One desktop: $9.99, iOS app: $4.99. Narrato Free is free, Narrato Pro is $0.99/mo or $4.99/yr, and Narrato Awesome is $4.99/mo or $39.99/yr)

These are two separate apps with the same end goal: life-tracking journals. They pull it off in slightly different ways, and each have their merits. I learned of Day One earlier, and I’ve been using it more frequently. Day One is basically just a journal app that allows you to write as much or as little as you’d like in an entry, as well as add photos and tags to your entries for better organization. That seems extremely simplistic, but it’s got a great user interface. When you make a new entry, it tracks your location (if you allow it) and even the weather. What I haven’t bought yet (I’m waiting until I finally purchase a new laptop) is the desktop complement, which allows for printing, export in a number of different formats, Map View,  etc. I’m rereading this summary and I really feel like I’m completely underselling the app. Suffice to say, it’s been a neat way to journal thoughts, ideas, goals, connect photos with all of those, and see it in a very visually dynamic way. Also, it’s been highly recommended by major media outlets, including Apple itself. Take a look here.

Narrato is the newest journal app I’ve found, and the idea behind this one is fantastic. Basically, the goal is to not just have a dedicated journal for text entries, but rather, what the app makers call a “life stream.” The idea is rather than creating strictly text-based entries from your own brain, finding inspiration in a host of other social media platforms. Narrato can connect to Twitter, Facebook, Moves, your iOS photos, Instagram, etc., and you can choose what content from these services to add to your particular journal. It also allows for text-based entries, weather/location tagging, and even a moods-based icon tag (basically adding emoticons. Cute). What I love about this is how easy it is for you to add a wide variety of different content to your journal. It’s quick and effective, not making the journal process a chore. To me, the main downside is that currently, there is only an iOS version. I despise typing on my phone, and for the most part, I’ll be wanting to add actual text-based journal entries, rather than just a hodge-podge of pictures, tweets, etc. But, much like Day One, it’s very visually pleasing and fun to use. Take a look here.

So which of these wins? I’m torn. If you are a social media content floozy (meaning you use loads of different platforms and post a lot of stuff), I’d go with Narrato. It’s a great platform to aggregate lots of what you post into a singular, very good-looking spot. If you are more reserved with your social media content posting, I’d go with Day One. It allows less flexibility for what kind of content you post (that will most likely get better as they continually release updates), but it also is more conducive to adding bulkier content (i.e. a long journal post) that takes a long time to create. For my money, I’m sticking with Day One.

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Top 5 Recent Kick Ass Apps

I have been finding some insanely great iPhone apps as of late, and I wanted to share my five favorite.

5. Sunrise

I’m still not totally sold on this one yet, but I needed something to round out this list. I’ve been half-heartedly looking for a calendar app to replace the native calendar app that comes with the iPhone. Not that it’s an awful native app (far better than the native Mail app, more on that later), but I’ve been curious to find something with a little more spice that would make me excited to use it more than I do now. I’ve tried a couple  out (Tempo was a big dud) but this one is at least the prettiest. Looks like a creamcicle. And it’s got a pretty workable user interface; while not unforgettable, it certainly functions as you’d expect.

The major drawback is that Sunrise does not sync with the native calendar app. So while I actually do use my Mac calendar, and that syncs automatically to my iPhone calendar is always up to date, Sunrise won’t be. Blah. It does sync to Facebook and Google calendars, so if you use those primarily, you’re in luck. Definitely worth checking this one out, at least.

4. Yahoo! Weather

I don’t usually get excited about the weather, or about tools that describe the weather to you, but holy cow is thing app a real beaut. Big fonts, locale-specific pictures loaded from Flickr, and LOTS of specific weather information for your area. Not only does it give you current temp and weather conditions (what weather app doesn’t?), it gives you the 12 hour forecast, five day forecast, precipitation, wind & pressure, sunrise/set & moon phase data (it’s currently waning crescent, in case you were wondering), and a satellite map of your area. That sounds like information overload, but the design of the app makes all this so easy to digest. What you want is right where you want it. You’ll fall in love right away. The kick-assedness of this app is making me take a look at other Yahoo! apps, something I wouldn’t have even thought of doing a few months ago. Well done, Yahoo!


I learned about this on Lifehacker a few months back, but it cost $.99 and I was a massive cheapskate so I didn’t get it. Then a week or so ago I found it featured on one of these free app services (AppGratis or something like that), and I got it for free.

For as amusing as this app is, I’d almost say it’d be worth the buck. It’s a to-do list manager, but rather than offering encouraging reminders like an app like Astrid, this one shames you into getting things done to earn rewards. It is the Ron Swanson of to-do apps. What’s funny is that “CARROT” is a sentient robot, and marking things done will make it happy, whereas not getting anything done or not opening it up for a few hours makes it angry. And when CARROT gets angry, it gets mean. If I haven’t been getting things done, I’m greeted by insults when I open up the app (it last greeted me with, “Welcome back, meat bag.”). And if you add exercise as a to-do, it will automatically tell you to go eat some marshmallows, or give you permission to eat Doritos or something. Funny.

But it’s good motivation. It also starts as a pretty low-feature app, but as you mark more things done, more features continually unlock, making the app more useful. It’s pretty awesome. Conversely, I think there are a few glitches. Colleen’s CARROT constantly insults her via her iPhone’s lock screen, or just leaves creepy messages (the last one she showed me, CARROT said, without provocation, “Do you hear the whispers too?”). My CARROT doesn’t leave me nearly as many unsettling messages, and I’d like it to. I did get one last night, and it was awesome:


Also, I want more reminders to do things, and I don’t know if I don’t have my settings set correctly, but she doesn’t always remind me when I need to do something. So there is some definite room for improvement on some of the features. But for sheer enjoyment, this is a better to-do app than any other I’ve tried.

2. Mailbox

This one has revolutionized how I look at email. I can’t imagine trying to handle my email without it now.

The main philosophy behind this app is simple: your email inbox should function as a to-do list. Before this app, I kept loads of ancient emails in my inbox because they had some random piece of information I wanted to hold on to, like a sibling’s updated address, the most recent version of my resume that I’d worked on at school and then sent to myself, an online sales receipt, whatever. It was also cluttered with emails that I needed to do something with, a quarterly statement from my old job’s 401k management company (reminding me I need to roll it over to my new job), a library due date reminder, a note from Mom which needed a reply. Then there was the totally random stuff that is in everybody’s inbox that I had just forgotten to delete. Emails from Old Navy or Kohl’s or [insert any retail store’s name] telling me about a sale which had subsequently expired months back. When I got Mailbox, my inbox was sitting pretty at about 85 messages. I think Colleen’s was over 100.

Mailbox changed all of that. With the simple philosophy that your inbox is a to-do list, in approximately half an hour, both Colleen and I had emptied our inboxes. Completely. Down to ZERO. When was the last time your inbox was at zero? It’s an insanely awesome feeling. How does it work? Basically, you’ve got 4 options for every email. Archive it, delete it, put it in a list, or set a reminder. The archive is the one function I haven’t totally gotten use out of yet, I think it’s basically meant to be a place where emails can go if you want to keep them but not in a list. Delete is obvious. List is great, because I was quickly made four lists that covered most things. Friends, Family, SLA (Special Libraries Association, I’m the treasurer of the Iowa Chapter so I needed a place to put emails I get from the national organization), and Random. Anything that can’t be turned into an actionable item and then deleted goes into one of these lists. Then finally, my favorite part of the whole app is the reminder feature. Let’s say I’ve got an email from Mom that I’ve been meaning to reply to and just haven’t had the time (the age-old excuse). I do want to write her, but it’s 8 am on a Monday and I can’t do it at work. One swipe and Mailbox asks me when I want to be reminded. I can set it for later in the day or week, or pick a specific date/time, or just have Mailbox remind me sometime in the vague future whenever it wants. Whatever I choose, the email then leaves my inbox and I’ll receive it again for whenever I set the reminder. There are certain emails that I don’t particularly want to deal with during the day or even the evening when I’m hanging out with Colleen, so I’ll push them to the weekend to tackle over a cup of Saturday morning coffee. It takes all the stress out of managing my inbox. Literally the most productive app I’ve ever used. And as a reward for getting down to zero, the app presents you with a totally awesome picture from Instagram. It changes every day, and it’s reason enough to get down to zero.

What I also love is how seamlessly this works with Gmail. As of now, Gmail is the only mail client with which Mailbox works. Gripe all you want, but the development team at Orchestra is like 10 people, and they’ve created the greatest productivity app known to man, so cut them a break. What’s even better is that there is an insanely obvious and easy workaround to this only-Gmail problem (which will most likely change with time, as Orchestra has been purchased by cloud-computing service Dropbox). Just have your non-Gmail accounts forwarded automatically to your gmail address. I still get mail from my grad program at Iowa sent to my Iowa account, and all of that is forwarded to my Gmail so I can still manage it through Mailbox. Boom. Problem solved.

And as of a few days ago, they’ve taken down the wait list for the app, so you can go straight to the app store and download it, no waiting in line. If all of this wasn’t fantastic already, the app is FREE. Are you kidding? It seriously couldn’t get any better. USE IT.

1. Zombies, Run!

This was previously Number 2 on this list, and then I took it for a run outside (I had previously only taken this app for a run on the treadmill). Holy cow did that change things. I can say unequivocally that it was the most fun I’ve ever had on a run. Exhilarating, exciting, dynamic, challenging, and just a pinch scary. Let me explain.

Zombies, Run! is essentially an interactive audiobook told from the 2nd person perspective, with your own music intermingled with the story. So you create a playlist of your music that you like to run to, then you start a mission and begin your run.

The story places you in the middle of a post-apocalyptic environment, overrun with zombies. You’re the newest member of Abel Township, a small village made up of various survivors. Each mission advances the story and gives you a clear objective: save the abandoned child outside of Abel’s borders, distract the zombies away from Abel while the entry/exit gate is fixed, recover supplies from a nearby abandoned hospital, etc. When the mission starts, the story begins and you hear various characters interacting for a bit, and then it’ll throw to a song off of your playlist. As you run, you collect items/supplies that you can use to build up Abel Township after the mission is over. And at random times during the music portions, you’ll start to hear a radar blip. This means zombies are on your tail and it’s time to speed up. A computerized voice tells you how far they are and if they’re getting closer. If you don’t keep your speed increased enough, the zombies will get close to you and you’re forced to drop some supplies you’ve collected in order to distract them. And let me tell you, when the sun is setting and you start to hear that radar blip, it doesn’t matter how tired you are, you get your ass in gear. The closer the zombies get, you begin to hear their undead moans and groans over the top of whatever song is playing. It is hellishly scary, but I cannot overemphasize how exhilarating it is.

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? I thought so too, but I was won over the very first run I took with it outside. It’s just exciting to actually feel the need to speed up as you’re running, and the monotony of just listening to songs you’ve heard a zillion times is completely broken up by hearing how the story is progressing. Yesterday’s mission took me outside of the town borders to go rescue a child that had been abandoned in the wilderness. I ran into the child’s father who was trying to protect it, then we had to band together to rescue Molly (the young girl) and escape some zombies who were after us. It was great fun.

On top of this, during the music phases of your run, you collect items like ammo, first aid kits, building supplies, and tons of other stuff. These supplies are used to build up Abel Township, which you’ve got on your phone and which you can also access online (more on that in a second). So it’s like Sim City, but with zombies and mysterious, double-crossing villagers. So cool.

If this isn’t enough to get you to buy the app, aside from it being something that makes the actual act of running fun, it is an intensely thorough exercise app. If you sign up for a free account on their website, you can log your runs from your phone to your online account, and the level of detail about your run is pretty staggering. Get a load of this.

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 8.51.14 PMIt tells you exactly what your route was, as well as when each event in the story happened, what you picked up when, what you listened to when, and how often zombies attacked. It even tracks your speed, which is totally awesome. And on top of it, if you enter in your weight and age, it tracks your calorie burn. I’m sure this is not all perfectly accurate, but it’s good enough for me. And it makes the entire exercise worth so much more. I get super excited to see how far I’ve run and try to break my PRs. Here’s also a picture of my Abel Township.

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 8.50.12 PMPretty lame right now, but that’s because only Season 2 missions earn you the supplies you need to actually build up your base. And that’s the first of a few flaws. I bought the app right after they released Season 2, or basically the new batch of missions. They updated a few things, and based on user reviews, there seemed to be some dysfunction in upgrading from the Season 1 package to the Season 2 package. A lot of people complained their fully formed Season 1 bases disappeared and they were forced to start over, and the app makers replied that it was all part of the story. Still, I’d be super annoyed if I’d spent time building up my base only to have it be reduced to rubble when new missions were released. There are some slight syncing issues, and I wonder how exactly accurate the GPS is from time to time.

But truly, these are all minor complaints that don’t come close to devaluing this app. If you dread running outside and want some motivation, or you’re a seasoned runner that is looking for a change from your normal running music playlist, I’d recommend this. It’s fairly cheap, and just too much fun to pass up.


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