Yesterday, I sat on the couch and listened to my friend get frustrated that his PlayStation controller wasn’t charging consistently. After ten minutes of frustration, he picked up his phone, did a quick Amazon search, and ordered a new charging cable that would be delivered the next day.
Today, I used an app to update the shopping list my roommates and I share. Now, the sweet potatoes I need for dinner will be there when I get home. Plus, only one of us needed to go to the store instead of two.
I order clothes, groceries, and cleaning supplies online. I request food and coffee be ready before I arrive to pick it up. I use my watch to answer the phone while I’m driving and then hold the conversation through my car’s sound system.
How crazy is that? Twenty years ago, this could have been the plot of a science fiction novel.
Chances are, you use a lot of the same technology in your day-to-day life. It’s easy to simplify menial tasks with all the technology we have at our disposal. There are apps for everything under the sun; all you must do is search the app store.
What is crazy, though, is that not enough of us utilize all this technology to advance our careers.
We have nearly endless tools already at our disposal to help us get better — why not turn that towards your career and reap the benefits in your professional life as well as your personal?
So where should you start?
If You Want to Be Better at Communication
With so many people and projects vying for your attention, it can be hard to consistently follow up with people when you’re supposed to.
In the same vein, getting responses from co-workers can often be more work than it’s worth; few people have immaculate inboxes and it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.
Most offices have some sort of instant messaging system that they utilize in addition to email. Of those platforms, almost all of them have been optimized for mobile use.
Downloading these apps onto your phone can make you more consistently accessible — you don’t have to be sitting at your desk.
Casual apps like Slack, Google Hangouts, or Lync can also level the playing field, at least a little. It can be less intimidating to reach out to higher ups and quickly say, “Hey, can you give me a little more guidance on X?”
It also makes the interaction a lot more efficient than trying to schedule time with someone or hoping they’re free when you walk to their office.
Phone integration also allows you to be accessible after hours without checking email every hour, if that’s something your job requires. For some, the peace of mind and ability to check in creates a sense of being more prepared and feeling on top of things, even if you don’t respond right away.
Just be sure that if you are using a mobile platform, you still respect the boundaries of your coworkers. If someone has asked not to be contacted during certain hours, or has set their status to “busy,” consider reaching out at a different time.
If You Want to Be Better at Focusing
I just stopped to check my phone before starting to write this section, even though I have my whole article mapped out and my notes in front of me. Just like it interrupted the flow of writing, it interrupted my train of thought and productivity.
Tech has both personal and professional applications, but without delineation, it can be as hindering as it is helpful. Luckily, it’s easy to flip that around and leverage tech to make you more productive.
If you know you spend too much time checking your phone without cause, then consider starting with an app designed to monitor your phone use.
Most people, even those who think they don’t waste a lot of time on their phones, will be surprised by how many times they check their phone in a day.
If need structure more than information, consider an app designed to keep you away from distractions and working. iOS and Android offer a variety of apps, web extensions, and wearable tech timers that limit how you can use your devices.
Some will keep you from opening tabs that you’ve previously identified as distracting, while others will forbid you from closing the timer and opening other apps until you’ve reached your goal.
If You Want to Be Better at Being Efficient
Now that you’ve figured out how to be focused, how do you maximize that time?
Against conventional thought, you might want to start with breaks. Sitting too long and trying to push through a task can actually decrease your productivity.
Your brain acts like a muscle in certain ways, and pushing the brain to run a marathon every day will lead to stiffness, staleness, and fatigue.
The Pomodoro Technique combats this by interspersing shorter bursts of focused work time with scheduled breaks.
Several applications have been designed to build a schedule around the estimated length of time it will take to accomplish various tasks, and then a timer is run to keep you on track. This way, technology is aiding your in your pursuit of productivity rather than detracting from it.
If you’re seeking a different kind of structure, there’s a variety of platforms designed to manage tasks, break down projects into manageable chunks, and satisfy our brain’s love of checking off lists.
Utilizing a planning app on your phone brings the paper planners of the past into today’s world. Only, unlike with paper and pen, your digital planning app can learn, help structure your day, and even provide reminders of due dates and other important projects landmarks.
These apps can also be linked together so that teams can track projects in real time.
If You Want to Be Better at Getting Better
As much as we’d like it to be, having the willpower to just start something and stick with it isn’t a natural skill.
Change is hard, and most of us have to learn how to do it well. Once again, our friendly neighborhood app developers have come up with some solutions for the less iron-willed among us.
Depending on what your goals are and how serious you want to be (and maybe if you’ve failed at the same task previously), there are some different features to look for.
Some habit trackers use gamification to create incentives while you’re building new habits. These can include “leveling up” your character (a.k.a. you) or earning rewards. The interface will probably keep track of personal statistics and other goal-related information, and the interactions will be fun and lighthearted.
Other habit trackers go with a minimalist look, simply offering a place for you to put down a measurable goal and check in with it daily or weekly.
Many of the apps in this camp will provide visual representations of the data, like progress bars or success wheels. If you’re data driven, this will likely work well for you.
Finally, if you really want to kick your butt into gear, some apps provide incentives a little differently.
After you set a goal and commit to a timeline, some platforms will require you to publicly check in, set an overseer that you have to report to, or even require you to pay up if you don’t follow through.
Based on decision making research from Stanford, if you’re serious about creating new productivity habits, this is how to do it.
If You Want to Be Better at Being Happy
It’s no secret that the average adult spends a lot of time at work. For most, a full-time job equates to 2,080 work hours per year.
That number gets even worse when you consider that most people aren’t satisfied in their jobs.
Between trying to reach new work goals, maintain friendships, and still have time to eat a decent meal, your days can get rushed.
It may seem off center to say that increasing your life satisfaction will increase your productivity, but it does exactly that. So, if you’re trying to climb the ladder at work, it’s worth taking some time to look at the rest of your life.
If you’re chronically grumpy in the mornings, find a new alarm. Some apps will connect you with cheerful people from all over the world calling to wake you up.
Others will send you adorable animals pictures or motivating ideas — whatever your morning needs, there’s likely an app to provide it. Sometimes starting the day off on the right foot is all it takes to be more productive in your work life.
If your mornings are fine but your mood drags by the end of the day, build yourself a health and happiness campaign. Whether you prefer something interactive like working out or something passive like reading a passage, there are apps designed to increase your happiness, health, and well-being.
The information needed is sent to your phone or Fitbit and it helps you restructure the way you look at the world. The idea is that by training yourself to look for the good, you’ll fundamentally shift the type of things you focus on.
Chances are you’re excited to go out and overhaul what your workday looks like to become the most productive person you can be. Don’t do that.
Implementing too many changes all at once often creates more problems than it solves. Pick one of the areas above, narrow down what exactly you want to improve in that category, and set a strategy. Then, spend thirty days working on just that.
Once you’re comfortable with the changes, move to the next area you want to work on. This may seem slow and tedious, but it will help make your changes stick.
And just think, if you work on every category above, that’s only five months to a new and improved employee, thanks to tools you already have in your pocket.