APP-ly Yourself: Productivity Factors and the Top Productivity Apps of 2021

What does productivity really mean?

Productivity refers to your ability to accomplish things efficiently. On the individual level, productivity relates to your own personal commitment to your work and your motivation to perform. Though we often think of productivity in terms of the sheer amount we get done in a day, what might be even more important is your capacity for producing quality work within a reasonable time-frame and, therefore, how well you make use of your time. Productivity can also be collaborative, however, drawing not only on these two factors but also on your ability to communicate effectively and operate well in a group setting.

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Factors that relate to productivity 

We usually think of productivity as timers, trackers, and things that literally apply to just getting work done. But, there are a lot of other factors that we don't usually think of, that indirectly affect our productivity. Here are a few.

1. Balancing work and life

COVID-19 has caused a major shift to remote working. This has an impact on how efficiently and effectively we are able to accomplish our tasks. Recent research has identified a few key consequences of working from home. On one hand, remote work cuts down on time constraints associated with commuting to the workplace, especially for those who might have normally relied on public transport and reduces the potential for being thoughtlessly handed more trivial tasks by supervisors simply because they come to mind while you happen to be there (Kazekami, 2020). On the other hand, a lack of separation between work and home life can often lead to difficulties focusing when the two overlap (Kazekami, 2020).

2. Feeling socially supported

Another critical consequence of working from home is the deterioration of the social aspect of an office environment. On one hand, we are able to work in the peace and quiet of our own homes. On the other hand, communication can be more complicated when we can't just pop in and ask a question. A study of software engineers’—perhaps the most digitally comfortable people you can find—productivity found that the quality of their social support was positively related to their productivity (Russo, 2020). Despite the fact that conference room chitchat might become distracting at times, social interactions can play a role in our sense of commitment and subsequent productive efficiency while at work. 

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3. Prioritizing tasks

When faced with a daunting to-do list or schedule of events for the day, it can be tempting to push things aside to avoid being overwhelmed. In doing so, however, the list of things to do continues to pile up until it becomes too much. To be more productive, using strategies to manage your time and prioritize tasks are often helpful; for longer projects, allot a certain amount of time each day to make progress or set milestones for yourself to break up a seemingly insurmountable task into doable chunks. If your list is filled with 101 things to get done by the end of the day or week, learning how to focus your time and take constructive breaks can make it all seem a bit more bearable.

4. Staying organized

Organization in any workspace is key, so keeping a tidy desk and a clear list of goals to accomplish each day (or week, month, etc) can be a simple way to keep yourself on-task and reduce the stress of an ever-present to-do list.

5. Self-motivating

Finally, understanding how to motivate yourself is absolutely essential when trying to get things done. Whether the boost of crossing off a completed task is enough to keep you going or you respond better to more tangible reward, finding what drives you to succeed will ultimately lead to a more productive headspace. 

Improving work productivity 

While there are plenty of things that you can do more immediately to be productive, putting in work behind the scenes is just as important—if not even more. First and foremost, in order to be productive you’ve got to take care of yourself. Trying to accomplish anything in poor physical or mental health can impede your progress as well as take energy away from your healing (Grawitch et al., 2017). This means you need to practice self-care.

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1. Get sleep!

One of the most crucial aspects of both general health and productivity is getting adequate and quality sleep. A large-scale literature review published in 2020 identifies a host of consequences of poor sleep: impaired cognitive function, weakened immune system, reduced motivation and effort, and mood issues, to name a few (Pilcher & Morris, 2020). Any individual or combination of these effects will likely make any task much more difficult—of course, a lack of motivation and a cognitive decline hinders performance ability, but even problems with mood and reactivity can act as barriers to effective collaboration and teamwork.

2. Practice stress-management techniques

Stress in particular can also be a major factor in your productivity levels. Although short-term stressors (like deadlines) often act as motivators to get things done, experiencing chronic stress can lead to quite the opposite effect. Recently, a survey of 186 employees across four different worksites found a strong, significant, inverse relationship between stress and productivity as well as between stress and satisfaction (Bui, Zackula, Dugan, & Ablah, 2021). In other words, the more stress you experience, the less satisfaction you’ll find in your work and your ability to accomplish tasks with efficiency ultimately decreases

3. Improve communication skills

In teamwork settings, a number of other factors are relevant to your ability to cooperate with others. Perhaps the most obvious of these is communication skills—it can be incredibly difficult to make progress when responsibilities and ideas aren’t mutually understood within a group. Therefore, improving your collaborative productivity must also involve working on the skills that play into your ability to communicate with those on your team. A good place to start is on social and emotional skills; recent research has shown that socio-emotional training programs significantly improve employee productivity in the workplace, likely owing to better social relationships and ability to work cooperatively (Rexworthy, 2020). Being more socially and emotionally aware can also impact your nonverbal communication skills, making you seem more able, amiable, and approachable. 

4. Develop Self-Awareness and Mindfulness

A number of mindset-adjustments and workplace interventions have also been found to be beneficial in boosting productivity and overall employee emotional well-being. In 2018, for example, a study spanning four separate companies evaluated the impact of a workplace mindfulness training on employees and found that feelings of stress and burnout were reduced following the intervention training while mindfulness, cooperation, and productivity were improved (Kersemaekers et al.).

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5. Grow a growth mindset

Implementing positive psychology practices can also help boost productivity at both the individual and the company level—by focusing on existing positive traits and room for improvement rather than consistent criticisms, employees are more likely to feel motivated to perform instead of getting bogged down by their perceived shortcomings (Kour, El-Den, & Sriratanaviriyakul, 2019). In line with these ideas, research has also shown that an emphasis on growth can increase productivity by reducing “wheel-spinning” habits and instead encourage learning and problem solving; in a blind desire to perform, we may often get stuck in a rut of being unable to overcome technical or cognitive barriers within a task (Kai et al., 2018). Those who employ a more fixed mindset may give up or become frustrated, whereas a growth mindset leaves room to ask for help or approach things from a different angle. 

Top Productivity Apps to Work Smarter

App use is increasing in popularity as we become more and more familiar with technology in all aspects of life. Using an app for productivity can be effective in teaching and encouraging time-management skills, maximizing focus, finding motivation, and even improving our mindset towards work tasks (Nisar, 2019). But, it's equally important to take a bigger-picture view of why you want to be more productive. Usually, it's to advance your career, feel calmer and more in-control, or become an effective team contributor. So, below we're listing a few apps - some that can help with the tactical nature of getting work done, and some that give you the bigger-picture strategies to develop skills and advance your career, control, and contribution.

Best for organization

Actions:  Keep track of all of your upcoming events, due dates, and plans using Actions. This app allows you to create note-style reminders that can be combined into lists and color-coded based on subject, deadline, or your own personal preference. When you’ve checked something off of your list, simply swipe it away and move on to the next!

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Calendars: For those of us who are always jumping from one thing to the next, Calendars can be a great tool to keep track of it all. Using this app, you can create multiple calendars and sync schedules with friends or coworkers as well as set reminders, to-do lists, and create widgets within your phone so that you can easily see your upcoming events or tasks. Calendars will track the list items that you complete, creating a motivator to get through it all.

Best for time-management

Flora: If you struggle with motivation to stay on-task or find yourself taking frequent breaks that turn into longer-term distractions, Flora might be able to help. Set a timer for your dedicated “focus” time and when you’re done, you’ve grown a tree! Using your phone for other apps kills your tree, which helps keep you accountable for your time. Track your habits and be rewarded with the ability to unlock new trees and invite friends to join you in growing a tree together! You’re also given the option to use the trees you’ve grown virtually with Flora to plant real trees, so the planet wins too. 

Focus Keeper: If you’re someone who responds well to goals and progress tracking, FocusKeeper is a great fit for you. With the simple and color-customizable interface, you can track your worktimes and progress on tasks. FocusKeeper allows you to set focus timers with break times and creates charts for you so that you can have a visual representation of all that you’ve accomplished—a pretty great motivator to make those stats rise and improve your efficiency. 

Best for career development

LIFE Intelligence: this app teaches you the science behind goal-setting, time-management, and decision-making. It helps you understand why you have the traits you have, or do the things you do - whether procrastination, social media addiction, or anxiety. Then, it gives practical exercises from coaching and therapy to help you address those issues. Unlike the apps above, LIFE doesn't just deal with one issue. It has a huge toolkit of exercises, that can help in every aspect of productivity, from emotional management skills, to project management skills, to communication skills.

LIFE Intelligence: Productivity App

PathSource: This app offers personal assessments to guide you toward a good college or career fit for you depending on what it is you’re looking for. There are thousands of job postings updated frequently supplemented with video messages from people in a wide range of careers getting into the nitty-gritty of their work—a useful way to get some insight about potential career paths for you! PathSource also has a plethora of career-specific data to give you all the facts about your prospective career choice from education levels to average salaries.

Johanna Caskey
February 26, 2021

References:

Bui, Zackula, Dugan, & Ablah. (2021). Workplace Stress and Productivity: A Cross-Sectional Study. Kansas Journal of Medicine. 14. doi: 10.17161/kjm.vol1413424 

Grawitch, Waldrop, Erb, Werth, & Guarino. (2017). Productivity loss due to mental- and physical-health decrements: Distinctions in research and practice. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69(2), 112–129. doi: 10.1037/cpb0000089 

Kai, Almeda, Baker., Heffernan, C., & Heffernan, N. (2018). Decision Tree Modeling of Wheel-Spinning and Productive Persistence in Skill Builders. Journal of Educational Data Mining. 10(1). 36-71. doi: 10.5281/zenodo.3344810 

Kazekami. (2020). Mechanisms to improve labor productivity by performing telework. Telecommunications Policy. 44(2). doi: 10.1016/j.telpol.2019.101868. 

Kersemaekers, Rupprecht, Wittmann, Tamdjidi, Falke, Donders, Speckens,  & Kohls. (2018). A Workplace Mindfulness Intervention May Be Associated With Improved Psychological Well-Being and Productivity. A Preliminary Field Study in a Company Setting. Frontiers in Psychology. 9. 195. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00195  

Kour, El-Den, & Sriratanaviriyakul. (2019). The Role of Positive Psychology in Improving Employees’ Performance and Organizational Productivity: An Experimental Study. Procedia Computer Science. 161. 226-232. doi: 10.1016/j.procs.2019.11.118. 

Nisar. (2019). Smartphone and App Implementations that Improve Productivity. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. 

Pilcher & Morris. (2020). Sleep and Organizational Behavior: Implications for Workplace Productivity and Safety. Frontiers in Psychology. 11. 45. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00045 

Rexworthy. (2020). Training, productivity and performance: lessons from a chilean retailer. Strategic HR Review. 19(2). 75-79. doi: 10.1108/SHR-12-2019-0088 

Russo. (2020). Predictors of Well-being and Productivity of Software Professionals during the COVID-19 Pandemic – A Longitudinal Study. Empirical Software Engineering. 

Saraf, Rahman, Gallardo, Jamison, & Lor. (2018). Improving Mental Well-Being and Productivity of Small-Medium Entrepreneurs in Fragile, Conflict and Violence Affected Areas: Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Trainings Help? Policy Research Working Papers. doi: 10.1596/1813-9450-8489   

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