It’s the start of 2021, and working from home is a reality for many of us. While 2020 may have caught us off-guard, let’s use this year to refine our WFH skills. There are many tools and apps that make my life easier, and I’d like to share my favourites with you.
Note: I do not earn affiliate marketing income from the apps and tools I mention in this post. My selection results from months (and sometimes years) of experimentation in my quest for organised, and mindful, living.
WhatsApp, Telegram, Skype, or Signal—which will you choose after 15 May? At the time of writing, awareness about the risks, dangers, and privacy violations of messaging apps are a societal preoccupation.
Whatever you choose, research intelligently and objectively (i.e. don’t give in to fear-mongering or rely on hearsay). I also recommend that you familiarise yourself with country-specific data sharing legislation.
Ultimately, select an app you are comfortable using and sharing data with. For me, that means trialling several and discovering which is most reliable and user-friendly.
I see the fracas as an opportunity to embrace new technologies I may otherwise not have.
No application, messaging or otherwise, is perfect. DM apps are communication tools. We can, and should, manage them sensibly.
2020 taught me a lot about email management, tools, and clients.
I’ve tried just about everything to get my professional email addresses to do what I need them to.
I don’t want to think about the number of hours spent on:
- support calls (that weren’t supportive at all).
- finding calendar integrations (I think I finally got this right with Calendly—fingers crossed).
- managing multiple inboxes.
- screaming internally at an email responder from hell.
Is it too much to ask for an app that:
- integrates seamlessly with my calendar to schedule Zoom or GoToMeeting calls?
- schedules emails to send later?
- has a decent and easy to manage auto-responder?
The closest I got is Spark by Readdle. This app is also free for basic use (which allows you to do quite a lot). It works well on Mac and Android. (Spark for Windows is in the pipeline).
Just don’t use Spark if you hate thread or conversation views. There is currently no feature (and no plans to include one) to unbundle those threads. The workaround I use is simply to mark the mail as unread. However, you can make suggestions about features you’d like to see and use in the future.
Health and fitness
I was an early adopter of Fitbit’s wearable devices. My last purchase was in 2019. Nearly two years on, I’m still happy with the device (Inspire HR) itself.
The Fitbit app is another story. In my experience, syncing sometimes doesn’t take place for days, or not at all if I don’t restart my phone. Read the Google Play Store and App Store reviews for yourself.
The device is a good way to track how much you move and when you move. It also monitors how much you exercise vs the movement you get in per day. This distinction is important whether you are working from home or in an office.
I thus particularly appreciate the hourly activity monitor. I have set ‘get up and move’ prompts for 14 hours a day. You can set yours only for your work day, but constant reminders are useful for developing good movement habits.
I used the Fitbit Premium subscription during lockdown (in March 2020, when gyms were a no-go). The number of workouts and resources pleasantly surprised me.
The mindfulness feature, and resources, were also handy during quarantine. More on that in the next section.
There are a couple of ways to stay mindful when working from home. You can use apps to teach you to be mindful, or you can use them to give you time out to practise your own mindfulness techniques and routines.
There are various ways to learn mindfulness—one of the most popular is meditation. If you want to meditate, an array of apps can assist.
I use a combination of apps to keep me mindful.
During 2020, I did Hatha yoga classes via Zoom three times a day, Feldenkrais classes twice a week, and stretch and tone classes three times a week. There’s nothing quite like stretching muscles to remind you how reliant we are on our bodies. No matter how much we prize living in our minds…
I like to tackle mindfulness in bite-size chunks too. So, I use the Fitbit reminder to move (a vibration on my wrist every 50 minutes unless I’ve done my 250 steps that hour) with other apps.
These tools allow me to take those much-needed mindful pauses regularly and remind me to stay now-oriented.
Another application for maintaining eye health and sleep routine is F.lux. The reminders allow one to be mindful of screen time. The app prevents eyestrain by changing the colour of your display throughout the day. It limits the amount of blue light exposure at night—a key factor for healthy sleep patterns.
My favourite WFH (or any location, any occasion) music app is Spotify.
I also appreciate the slick interface and user experience across all platforms.
The app has entire playlists dedicated to mindfulness. (To be fair, so do all other music / streaming apps). Search for ‘deep focus,’ ‘music for concentration,’ and ‘classical music for concentration’ to complete tasks without distraction.
Some people can work with podcasts in the background, but I find it too distracting. This affects my concentration and level of focus, so I prefer music.
Planning and organising
This section is probably going to be contentious. Organising and planning mean different things to different people. Tools that work for some don’t for others.
Apps and tools I’ve thought perfectly logical and easy-to-use caused uproars with people who aren’t as willing to adapt to change.
Two provisos, though. I enjoy trying new things and experimenting. I also believe in action— not sweating the small stuff.
In terms of my working style, I keep things short, succinct, and simple.
So, here are my planning and organising top picks for 2021:
I ran two interesting experiments with Dropbox Paper. The first was a collaborative effort that ended with unhappy collaborators.
The group insisted on returning to systems and tools they had been using for years. That was what they felt comfortable with.
Such is life and the nature of people’s comfort zones. I’ll admit that the app was still in beta stage, so it had problems. However, when it worked well, it worked really well.
This led to experiment two. I persevered and got comfortable using Paper as a tool for collaboration. Briefs, specs, checklists, idea generation, meeting notes and project tracking are some uses.
I now use the tool for most of my tasks and projects.
If you need to defend your time and limit distractions, download this app. Think of Reclaim as a virtual assistant (because it is). Schedule appointments, meetings, and free time with this useful, productivity-enhancing app.
Reclaim creates flexible time blocks on your calendar. It automatically reschedules events according to planned and unplanned interruptions. Share as much information as you want to with your colleagues.
I thoroughly enjoy using Reclaim, although from May, new plans and pricing come in. If you register now, however, you can use Reclaim Assistant for free.
Note: Reclaim currently only works with work calendars hosted in Google Calendar. If you want to use it for your personal Gmail calendar, you can use the Reclaim LifeWork option for free.
Evernote has been around a long time. However, it’s got better with time, updates, and more features.
I use it for many tasks—not just note-taking. Features I use regularly include: Web clipping, annotating highlights from my Kindle, saving important documents, and sharing reminders with colleagues and family.
Evernote’s character-recognition process means searching through handwritten notes is easy.
Video calling is largely what kept many of us going in 2020. So far, it looks like 2021 will not be too different. The separation from friends, family, and colleagues is frustrating, lonely, and just plain boring.
The availability of some apps will vary according to geographical location, so check which your country supports before installing them.
Remember to check how long anything is ‘free’ for, especially if you have to submit your credit card details upfront.
Here are some of the best apps to keep connected.
While there were some security issues with Zoom in early 2020, people weren’t too perturbed.
I like the app’s built-in chat feature, screen-sharing, the ability to record meetings, and its general user-friendliness.
There are plug-ins and integrations for most calendars, and they support seamless scheduling.
Perhaps best of all, though, is that Zoom is free for individuals and small organisations. Some terms and conditions apply, though, so read those carefully.
I’ve been using GoToMeeting for a couple of years. It is like Zoom, but perhaps not as user-friendly if you aren’t familiar with video conferencing.
It has a distinctly ‘business-like’ feel, so it works well in corporate environments.
My annual subscription costs $228 for the GoToMeeting Starter package, but there is a basic free option you can use to log into meetings.
While Teams is replacing Skype for Business, you can still use Skype for smaller organisations (up to 20 employees) and for personal use.
Teams is ideal for larger organisations and for use with e-learning. A major draw card is the app’s ability to host large and secure online conferences.
At the time of writing, you can sign up for free and access the basic features.
There is currently a limit of 300 participants and 60 minutes until June 30, 2021.
There you have it—a complete list of apps you can use to work from home. If you like what you’ve read here, please consider paying for the knowledge shared. You decide the amount. Simply click here: paypal.me/notablecom