A top-down photograph of a wooden work surface upon which is neatly arranged a mug of coffee, a pair of headphones, a smart phone, a laptop, a wireless mouse, a camera and lens, and a potted plant.

Get More Done: 3 free apps and sites I use to make myself more productive

Working from home means that I am surrounded by distractions all the time and there is no one to tell me to get back to work except my partner (who is usually the one distracting me in the first place).

Of all the (many, many) sites, apps and productivity aids I’ve used to try and stay focused, these three have been some of the most helpful.  They are time-savers, procrastination-busters, and focus-enhancers.  Best of all, they are all free, though I’d strongly encourage anyone who can afford to to make a donation if you find them as useful as I have!

  1. My Work Clock

I installed this brilliantly simple app on my phone last year, and I would recommend that everyone who works from home does the same.  It’s a straightforward punch-in, punch-out time logger that allows you to keep track of your working hours.  You can keep separate time logs for different jobs, and get reports of the hours you’ve worked by day, week and month.  I translate these reports into graphs on MS Excel that help me to visualise how my working hours have changed over time.  It’s a really effective way to motivate myself, helping me to figure out when my most productive days are, and my preferred working patterns.  It’s available on the Google Play store.

  1. StayFocusd

This website-blocking app from the Chrome Web Store helps me to limit the amount of time I spend in procrastination traps (scrolling through my Facebook news feed, binging on Twitter, browsing the back catalogue on SMBC, etc.).  You can add sites on which you waste time to a list of blocked sites.  Then, you set a daily time limit for those sites.  As long as you’re on any of the sites on the list, a time counter ticks down.  When it reaches zero, you’re blocked from using all of those sites for the rest of the day.  There’s also a nuclear option, which allows you to block all the sites on your list outright for a time limit that you set.

I use a 24-hour nuclear option for days when I’m really busy, and set a daily time limit otherwise.What I love most about StayFocusd is that it’s very customisable: you get to decide which sites you want to block, and for how long.  You can even determine how difficult you’d like it to be to unblock the sites you’ve added to your banned list.  For those with ultra-low willpower, there’s a security setting in which you must pass a fiendishly difficult typing test before you can unblock any of your banned sites.  Be warned, though: this really is incredibly difficult, so if you ever do need to unblock a site for any reason (if you get a job managing social media and need to spend 7 hours a day on Twitter, for example), it may take you a while!

  1. Rainy Mood

If you have trouble blocking out background noise while you’re working, this website is a godsend.  It's simply a soundtrack of rain to help you sleep, work or focus.   I like to combine it with some quiet background music—I normally use the Minecraft soundtrack—and I find that It's immensely helpful at tuning out conversations and other background sounds while I'm writing. If you prefer white noise to rain, the SimplyNoise site has downloadable soundtracks in a choice of three different ‘colours’ of noise: grey, pink and brown. These aren't free anymore, unfortunately, but they're not expensive, either.

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