We spend a lot of time on our computers and our phones. Call it sad, call it progress, call it whatever you want, but it’s a fact. It’s also a fact that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Snapchat, and a myriad of other websites and software take up time we sometimes feel we don’t have.
But that doesn’t mean we should dismiss technology when it comes to things that can help you succeed. In fact, you can use the same technology that hinders so many to succeed and excel at whatever you set your mind to.
So here is our list of top 10 software apps that will make technology work for you. We did our best to come up with software/apps that can work well on any browser and any operating system, so feel free to put the pitchforks down because the Apple vs. Linux vs. Microsoft debate can be found elsewhere.
THE BROWSER APPS
1. Strict Workforce/Tomato Timer/Pomodairo/Focus Booster
There are many ways to study. Some people like flash cards (discussed later) while others like to write everything out long-hand, but one very underrated technique is the Pomodoro Technique, which can be aided by browser apps like Strict Workforce, Tomato Timer, Pomodairo, and Focus Booster. The idea behind this technique is to first decide on a task that must be done. Then, the timer is set for 25 minutes. Click start, go, or however you’ve set it up and then go full steam into the task you’ve set out for yourself. No bathroom breaks, no distractions–just “the zone” for 25 minutes. Once the time is up, drop everything where it’s at and take a 3-5 minute break to go to the restroom, listen to a song, stretch, or do a few push-ups, and then go for another 25-minute block. After four of these blocks, you can take a longer break (15-30 minutes) and then go back to the grind. These apps make it easy for you to keep track of your time.
2. Leechblock/Stayfocusd/Mindful Browsing
You’ve been there. It’s ten minutes into that paper on Pride and Prejudice and you’ve finally just hit the period in the intro. Time for a break! Your mind says as it kicks you into cruise control. You witness your hand hit the “new tab” on the browser and your fingers start typing the few key strokes necessary to take you to your favorite time-sinking website. Next thing you know, it’s two hours later, you’re on your sixteenth retweet, and your paper is collecting dust in a digital corner. With Leechblock (Firefox), Stayfocusd (Chrome), or Mindful Browsing (Safari) you can set up safeguards against that kind of “cruise-control” browsing which in turn can help keep you on task. Once you set the apps up, you can customize what websites you can block during which days and for how long. You can even customize what kind of message you’ll get when you try to access those particular sites! Stayfocusd also has a neat little system where you can “allot hours” during a day in which you can visit the blocked sites. You’ll learn how to keep your time wasted to a minimum when you realize that you only have ten more minutes to spend on Facebook!
THE DESKTOP-BASED APPS
3. Dropbox/Google Drive/Skydrive/iCloud
Consider yourself lucky if you’ve never experienced the blood-freezing terror that grips your heart when your computer makes a fzzzzztBOP sound and you realize, much too late, that you did not hit “Save” on that 10 page document that’s now in the digital ether. Cloud storage has taken away a lot of that fear by ensuring that even though your computer can break down, your files are still safe and sound somewhere.
So which program is better? That’s entirely up to you. Skydrive and iCloud are awesome if you’re very partial to either Microsoft or Apple with added benefits if you use an iPhone or a Windows phone. Dropbox’s desktop interface is beautifully simple, and its multi-user syncing is a great way to keep tabs on group projects or group notes. Google Drive doesn’t just have the space, but it can also function as a substitute for Microsoft Office or iWork with the ability to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, and you can even work on stuff in real time with other people with a Drive account!
Try them out, find the one that works best for you, and start using it to access your files on the go or whenever you’re at a friend’s house working on homework without your laptop.
All that said, we still recommend you have a jump drive somewhere with your saved files. It never hurts to be safe.
Music is life, and if you’re the kind of person that enjoys listening to music while studying, you can’t go wrong with either of these two apps. One allows you to get really creative with how you customize and add songs; the other takes away all the guesswork and after a few thumbs up and thumbs down hones in on something close to your preferred music tastes. Both are great to study to – though we advise that you pick instrumental, down-tempo tracks rather than the latest streak of very catchy and quotable top-10-top-40 songs.
Your brain will thank you, and you’ll be amazed when you tear through your assigned readings like a wrecking ball.
THE MOBILE APPS
This is a standard scheduling app for any smartphone user – it doesn’t just automatically turn your phone on silent when you’re in class, it also stores notes, sets up a calendar, and sends out reminders for that upcoming term paper or that assignment you need to do by Thursday night if you want to hit up the movies after school on Friday.
Planners are easy to forget about, and sometimes we can fall into the trap of spending so much time highlighting and doodling calendar dates that these planners become 75% art projects and 25% study aids.
Say you’re the kind of person that uses flashcards to study. Ever have one of those moments where you “swear you had that card right here oh man I left it in the purse at home!”
We feel you, we’ve been there before, and, like you, we’ve also experienced several flustered moments of trying to find a set of notecards that is in the wrong jacket, tucked in the wrong spiral notebook or binder, or left in the wrong car, the wrong house, or even the wrong city. Because of that, we recommend you check out Studyblue. You’ll never look at flashcards the same way again. Not only are you able to create, share, and store flashcards, you can also use the app’s interface to quiz yourself!
And when we mean create, we mean go above and beyond what a pen/pencil and a 3×5 easily-damaged piece of paper can do. Text, images, and even audio can be used to create the flash cards that you can carry around in your pocket, iPad sleeve, or laptop bag, without the risk of one errant gust of wind ruining a good study day.
7. Relax melodies
There are as many different study lists as there are students in your average high school. But if there’s one thing that they all have in common, it’s sleep. Sleep is awesome, but sometimes it’s hard to get when our minds are still running at 100 miles an hour late into the night.
So why not an App that helps you sleep?
There are plenty of apps you can get ranging from $0.99 to $9.99 but why not get something free that works just as well? Relax melodies lets you set a timer, pick a sound or combination of sounds, and relax as the sound helps lull you to sleep, without the need to waste battery life. Check out the app, get yourself some rest, and enjoy the added brain power that a full night’s rest will get you!
In Spanish, there is a phrase – mente sana en cuerpo sano, a sound mind in a healthy body. You won’t be surprised to realize that eating a honey butter chicken biscuit from Whataburger, while tasty, isn’t very conducive to studying. You also won’t be surprised to know that eating clean and exercising helps you get more out of your brain than a finals-inspired stress-diet of coffee, Shipley’s, and Red Bull.
This is where MyFitnessPal comes in – it’s a free app that helps you keep track of what you’re eating and how much you’re exercising. It’s very simple to use. An interface that lets you easily keep track of what your body is up to. Change will be gradual, but committing to a balanced diet will lead to better health and through that, better academic performance.
THE “MY GOSH, WHERE HAVE THESE BEEN MY ENTIRE LIFE?” APPS
Scrivener is the scatter-brained student and writer’s best friend. Though the learning curve is a little bit steep at first, once you get used to the program, it can be one of the best investments of time that you can make. Whether you’re a freshman in high school dealing with your first papers or a graduate student working on a master’s thesis, Scrivener allows you to keep your notes and research organized in one single screen. Want to concentrate fully on writing? Enter full screen mode and use the interface to write to your heart’s content! You can use one of the program’s established templates (ranging from a simple thesis template to a screenplay-writing template) or you can start from scratch and set up your research and notes organically, leaving you with as many sections to work with as you can. This cuts down on the need to have 20,000 tabs open and 30 different windows loaded on your taskbar. When you are done with the project, you can easily export it all into a single Word or PDF format, or if you’d like, you can also just copy and paste into Microsoft word and then just export things from there. What also makes this program unique is that you can tailor it however you want, and it doesn’t take a lot of work to have it synced to Dropbox so that your hours of painstaking labor are safe.
Few apps can be so schoolwork-friendly as Evernote. It’s a note-taking program that allows you to take notes anywhere at any time and to have them ready to go at a moment’s notice no matter where you go. Want to reduce some of those millions of tabs you have open? Go to the article you’re researching and use Evernote’s Web Clipper tool to save the article and have it ready for you in an organized manner, with “notebooks” for the different topics or assignments you might be working on. Did you take a lot of notes and want to turn it into a searchable PDF? Evernote does that, too.
The best thing about this program is that it is very compatible with other programs we’ve mentioned on this list, such as Scrivener (Evernote files can be easily attached there), Dropbox (to easily move the files around), and even StudyBlue (creating flashcards from Evernote files), and the learning curve isn’t so steep that you can’t just get your hands on this program and start working. Once you get used to the program, you’ll realize that there are a great number of things that you can use it for that will make your study experience much more rewarding.
– Hugo R.