When both your work and leisure time are spent in front of a screen, it’s easy for the two to bleed into one another. Distractions like social media and videos can easily eat into time that should really be spent focusing on important tasks, and a steady flow of email notifications can jar us out of a productive workflow.
That’s why time-management software is so useful; these free tools and services help you make the most of your day by prioritizing tasks, organizing materials, planning your time, and blocking distractions. There are also brilliant free programs to automate mundane tasks, saving you a few clicks and sweeps of your mouse. The savings might be small, but throughout the week they add up to something substantial.
Write without distractions and target your creative attention like a laser
We’ve tried a lot of distraction-blocking software, and FocusWriter remains our favorite. It takes over your whole screen with a simple empty page for you to pour your thoughts out onto. There are no page breaks to break your flow, no necessary formatting tools, and no way to see social media notifications or incoming emails.
FocusWriter isn’t just a substitute for Microsoft Wordpad, though – it lets you set a custom background to get you in the mood, includes Pomodoro-style timers so you don’t have to concern yourself with clock-watching, and even has a Focus mode that greys out everything except the paragraph you’re working on.
FocusWriter isn’t suitable for editing, but for getting a first draft of an essay, story or report down on paper, it’s ideal.
Before you start working, we recommend activating auto-saving. FocusWriter is stable and reliable, but it doesn't have an automatic recovery function like Microsoft Word, so it's best to play it safe.
Review and where to download: FocusWriter
Hassle-free task management to help you stay organized and motivated
Free web app Trello enables you to make several to-do lists, and set deadlines to help you stay on top of your work and errands. Each item in a list has its own card, which contains detailed information (as much or as little as you like), as well as any links that will help you get the job done. For example, if you need to pay a bill, you could quickly paste in a link to your bank’s homepage, and the amount due.
One of Trello’s best features is the ability to prioritize tasks, helping you structure your day. It’s great for keeping yourself motivated too; once you’ve completed a task, drag the card into a column for finished jobs and at the end of the day you’ll have a clear view of what you’ve accomplished.
Trello also lets you assign tasks to other people, which is mainly useful for businesses, but could also be handy if your family or housemates are unusually organized.
Try it online: Trello
3. Cold Turkey
A tough approach to time-management that blocks distracting websites
Cold Turkey is like a nicotine patch for social media addicts, supplementing your willpower by blocking the sites that waste your time and attention for specified periods of time. Unlike distraction-blocking browser extensions, you can’t circumvent Cold Turkey by using a different app, and you can’t simply uninstall it while it’s running.
Cold Turkey comes with a block list of the most notorious time-thieves like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, with the ability to add more if your vices aren’t included by default.
Download here: Cold Turkey
Save a few moments every day by using Task Till Dawn to automate jobs
Talk Till Dawn is a neat little app that enables you to automatically open folders, files or programs at certain times or intervals. For example, if you use a free backup program that doesn’t enable you to schedule backups, you could use Task Till Dawn to force it to run at the end of each day.
Similarly, if you use a free malware scanner, Task Till Dawn lets you schedule a regular scan (once a week, for example) to check for threats automatically.
Task Till Dawn is still in development, so a few features are still in an experimental stage, but it’s a very handy way to avoid performing tasks manually.
Download here: Task Till Dawn
5. Rainy Mood
The soft patter of rain on a window is a perfect soundtrack for hard work
Working in silence is dull, and noises like ticking clocks can be aggravating when you’re trying to focus. Some people work well with music, but if you’re likely to get distracted skipping between tracks, give Rainy Mood a try.
Rainy Mood is available as a free web app if you’re working on your desktop, or as a mobile app for Android or Google Play, and helps drown out background sounds with the relaxing sound of raindrops and distant thunder.
We also find Rainy Mood brilliant for those times when our minds are whirring with thoughts of the day ahead and it’s impossible to sleep.
Try it online or download the app: Rainy Mood