Hey, what up guys? So it is round uptime. Today I’m gonna be sharing 21 different apps and tools that, more or less, force you to get your work done. Now to be honest right up front none of these apps work quite like that creepy piano in the movie Coraline. None of them are gonna make your computer sprout robotic arms that grab your hands and literally make them start typing.
But what they do provide are what I like to call training wheels for the brain because as I’m sure you’re well aware left to its own devices your brain is liable to get distracted by cat videos instead of actually doing the work that you have set out to do. Now over time and with practice, you can build your self-discipline and your ability to focus. But while you’re going through the early stages of that process it’s useful to use systems that provide training wheels, be they in the form of helpful limitations, commitment devices, feedback in reports, or literal drill instructors with very little regard for the integrity of your eardrum. So each of the apps that I’m gonna share with you today fits into each one of those categories, except the last one. And in fairness, I did do a search on Fiverr for affordable drill instructors but that turned up no results. So you’re on your own if you want to find your own personal Major Payne.
But before you go looking for one let’s go through these apps starting with those that fall into the category of commitment devices. What exactly is a commitment device? Well to put things simply it’s anything that creates a consequence for failing to do the thing that you’ve set up to do. All the tools in this category aim to make it painful not to do your work and there are quite a few of these. Let’s start with my favorite one which is Beeminder. It is no exaggeration to say that Reminder is one of the primary reasons why I have a successful YouTube channel today because back when I started on YouTube I used it to commit to publishing a new video every single week. Essentially Beeminder allows you to commit to a goal either of doing more of something or less of something and allows you to put money on the line.
Moreover, it’s very nerdy and it’s all about tracking data so you can hook it up to tons of different tools including Apple Health, Strava, Todoist, and IFTTT, which stands for if this, then that, which basically allows you to hook it up to pretty much any service on the planet. And due to the presence of all those integrations, the only real limitation here is your imagination. And there are tons of different goals that you can start putting money on in order to make sure that you are more committed to them in the future. But to give you one idea, again, for three entire years I tracked my blog’sRSS feed and made sure that I published a new blog post, a new podcast episode, and a new YouTube video every single week. And I had money on the line so I made sure that I did it. Now in the same vein, there’s another website called stickK, which is spelled S-T-I-C-K-K and it’s very similar to Beeminder though it’s a little less nerdy.
As with Beeminder, you commit to a goal and then you create stakes or consequences in case you fail. And you can actually put money on the line through it has fewer charts and graphs and it’s generally a little bit less statistics-heavy than Beeminder is. But on the other hand, you can set supporters who can watch your progress and a referee who can email every single time you log progress and make sure that you were telling the truth. Moving on from there we have an app with a much more specific purpose called TheMost Dangerous Writing App. If you, like me, sometimes have trouble getting started writing or while you’ rewriting you have trouble with your inner critic silencing you or trying to edit things when you should just be getting thoughts out of your head then this is an app that you might want to use because once you start a session with either a time goal or a word count goal you have to keep typing. And if you stop typing for long enough it completely deletes your work.
Not only that but it also has a hardcore mode. If you check this box and start a session you aren’t gonna be able to see anything on the screen except for the last letter that you typed because when you type letters they flash on the screen but everything else is blurred. And this, once again, silences that inner critic, makes you just get things out of your head and edit later. Alright so now let’s talk about the Strides app and the reason I put this on this list isn’t that it forces you to work by putting money on the line on anything like that but it does take advantage of what’s been called the Seinfeld Strategy. The comedian Jerry Seinfeld is famous for having honed his joke writing talent by making sure he wrote a new joke every single day.
To track his progress he would mark it off on a calendar on his wall. And because he could see that calendar he didn’t want to break the streak. He had this visual reminder of his progress that he didn’t want to tarnish. So this doesn’t break the streak strategy can be very powerful because we humans like to be consistent in our behavior and we don’t want to see those chains broken. Now while you could definitely use a calendar on your wall to do this that’s not an app so it doesn’t belong on this list. And while you could use any habit tracking app in the world to do it as well because almost all of them show your streak I do want to give a specific shout out to the Strides app because in that particular app, when you’re creating a goal, you have the option to create a goal for your streaks. So instead of just watching it count up to infinity you can actually seta 30, or 60, or 90-day streak goal which means your 30-day challenges can become that much more official.
Next up we’ve got a coach which used to be called Liftback when I started using it as a college student but now it’s called coach.me because it has a big focus on, you guessed it, coaching. Now coach.me does have a habit tracking app that’s very similar to a lot of others out there but what I want to highlight in this video is their coaching services because if you were one of the people who listened to the intro of this video and did want your own personal Major Payne, wanted your own personal drill instructor, this is probably the closest that you’re going to get for not a whole lot of money because they’ve got personal coaching services for building new habits and staying productive for about 15 bucks a week, a lot more expensive than everything else on this list but if you do want personalized coaching and you don’t have a friend who can be an accountability partner this could be an option.
Of course, another option could be to use the entire internet as your accountability partner which is what I’ve done by essentially rolling my own commitment device using Google Sheets. So a couple of years ago I set a goal for myself to read 25 pages of non-fiction every single day for three months without fail. And while I did have an accountability partner in real life I also wanted to make my goal public and I wanted people to be able to track my progress over time. So I created a public-facing Google spreadsheet that tracked the book I was reading and how many pages I read every single day and then I made it public on my website so people could call me out if I failed to read. And the last tool that I’m gonna mention here in the commitment devices section is something that you might not have expected. I’m gonna mention
Discord and or Skype as a commitment device. Now for those of you who don’t know Discord is an app that is primarily used by gamers to chat with either by voice or by text and it’s a very cool app. In fact, we have a college info geek official Discord which you can find in the description down below. But I’m going to suggest using the voice chat feature here to set up what I like to call a workgroup. Back when I was in college set up one of these with a couple of blogger friends who each lived in different states. And every once in a while we would get on Skype, we’d be on a call but we wouldn’t talk to each other. We would simply be on the call and be working and this was in order to simulate the experience of sitting in a room with study buddies or accountability partners getting work done and just getting the motivation from knowing the other people were also getting their work done.
So even though I wasn’t physically in the room with my blogger friends I knew that on the other line of that Skype call, even if it was silent, was somebody who was getting work done. And that made me more motivated to do my work, as well. Category number two on my list are the apps that provide what I like to call helpful limitations or to put it another way, apps that block you from doing specific things. And a lot of the apps on this list are going to be website and application blockers. And I did talk a lot about those in my internet distractions video so I do recommend going and watching that for some more in-depth tips regarding those but here I’m just going to recommend them if you haven’t heard about them.
And the first one I have to talk about is my absolute favorite website blocker in the world which is Freedom. Now there are lots of other apps out there but Freedom is the only one that works on all the platforms that I use and reliably blocks everything that is a potential distraction for me on a daily basis. Now while Freedom is, by far, the most convenient of the website blocking apps because it allows you to define all of your blocks in schedules from a universal dashboard that goes out to all of your different devices it does have a monthly cost so if you want to pay less money and maybe have a little more inconvenience then the following apps could be good substitutes.
First up, if you’re on a Mac you’re gonna want to get the app SelfControlwhich is free and for Mac only. And if you’re on Windows you’re gonna want to go for FocalFilter which is, again, free and it is Windows exclusive. On the iPhone, there’s an app called Block Distracting Websites for about three bucks though near the end of this video I’m gonna talk about a new feature that may supersede this app and make it obsolete so stick around for that. And for those of you on Android, there’s a free app called Block Site that does the same thing. There is also an app for android, iOS and Chrome called Forest which is not really a website blocker but can kind of function in the same manner.
Forest helps you avoid using your phone in distracting ways by allowing you to grow a tree as long as you don’t exit the app. If you do, though, you kill the tree. Same with the Chrome extension, if you go to any of the sites on yours on your blacklist you’re going to kill that tree that you could have grown had you just stayed away from them during that time. And, of course, over time you get to see your progress in the form of a virtual forest growing up on your phone or in your browser. And if you want to keep that forest nice and healthy then you are not going to be distracting yourself. And in a similar vein to the forest I’m going to mention literally any Pomodoro app.
Now I debated whether or not to put Pomodoro apps on this list because they really don’t explicitly do anything to force you to do your work but I just had to add them because they’re so effective for me. Once I start a Pomodorosession and I have committed to doing one single thing I am so much less likely to go do anything else but that one task. And if you want a recommendation absolute favorite Pomodoro app is one called Tide which is on the iPhone and Android and I like to actually put it on my phone screen, but the phone screen on the desk and leave the screen on during those Pomodorosessions that way I can actually see the timer the whole time. Rounding out our section on helpful limitations are a couple of apps that help you write more effectively starting with Cold Turkeywriter which essentially locks your computer down completely until you’ve hit a writing goal of either wordcount or minutes written.
It’s very much like the Most Dangerous Writing App but instead of deleting your work it just doesn’t let you do anything until you’ve actually done that work. Alongside that is another writing app called Blurt which isn’t so sadistic as Most Dangerous Writing App or Cold Turkey writer, it won’t lock down your computer, it won’t delete your writing but it does have that feature which blurs every line except for the one you’re currently working on which can, again, help to silence that inner critic and help you actually keep writing. That brings us to our final category in this video which I like to call feedback and reports. None of the apps here force you to do anything actively, they don’t make you put money on the line, they don’t block sites but they do show you, in naked embarrassing detail, what you’ve been doing with your time.
And the first one thatI’m going to list here is one called Toggl which is an active time tracker where you actually have to start a clock and tell it what you’re going to be doing during that time. Now as with Pomodoro apps I find that using manual time tracking apps makes me more likely to do the thing I set out to do because I set a timer and I’ve intentionally started that process. But this also lets you take advantage of what’s been called the Hawthorne effect which describes how people tend to change their behavior for the better when they know that they’re being observed or tracked. And in my experience with manual time tracking, I found that this tends to happen even if you’re the one doing the observations of your own behavior.
Now if you happen to find that Toggl is not the time tracking app for you don’t worry because there are dozens of other ones out there. And I do want to give an honorable mention to one called Clockify which is completely free. Now Toggl’s personal features are also free so they’re pretty comparable for anybody wanting to use them on a strictly personal basis but any of you guys out there managing teams you might want to give Clockify a look. Now both of those apps are built around manual time tracking. We are now going to move over to automatic time tracking with apps like RescueTime. As you may have gathered from the previous sentence RescueTime, and other apps like it, automatically track the time you spend on different websites and applications, categorizes that time as productive or non-productive and then gives you reports on how you’ve been spending your time.
And these reports can be very eye-opening because you may think you know how you spend your time but how you think you spend your time is probably very different than how you actually spend your time and it could be pretty surprising to see just how much time you waste watching cat videos and not actually getting your work done. Now alongside RescueTimeand apps like Timing, and Hours and other things that are very similar, there’s another app I want to mention called Y-Productive and I’madding this to the list because it does what RescueTimedoes but it also allows you to create a daily project and task lists. So it kind of combines multiple productivities features into one. And finally, before I tell you the apps on this list that I use personally, the last item that we have to talk about is something called Screen Time which is a built-in feature in iOS 12. So if you’re using an iPhone you might not need an automatic time tracker or a website blocker because this thing can do both of those things.
It’ll tell you where you’re spending your time on your phone, how many hours and you can also set up number one, apps that are gonna be blocked and also something called downtime hours which are specific hours where you can’t access any apps whatsoever except for ones that you put on a specific whitelist. So that brings us to a question that I’m sure that many of you are likely to have which is out of all the apps on this list which are the ones that I use on a daily basis myself. But for those of you who are wondering those apps include reminders which I mentioned at the beginning of this video as one of my favorite apps and one of the things that let me build this youtube channel in the first place.
Additionally, I also use Strideswhich is the habit tracker that I’m currently using and very much enjoying. The Tide app which is my Pomodoro tracker of choice, Freedom to block distracting websites on my computer and my phone, and RescueTimeso I can get those reports and see just how much timeI’m wasting on a daily basis and hope to reduce that in the future. Of course, there are many other apps that I use to get things done, many productivity apps that don’t quite fall into the category of things that force me to get my work done but that do build systems or allow me to do things much more efficiently.