38 Apps and Add-Ons That Transformed My Productivity
Unfortunately, there is no perfect ADHD app. But on the other hand, some of these come pretty close! While they won’t erase your ADHD symptoms, they have been rigorously tested by an ADHD app expert, and, if used wisely, can seriously boost your productivity.
Apps can easily overwhelm and overstimulate the brain of someone with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). Over the years, I personally have downloaded nearly 1,000 apps — and learned a lot about true productivity along the way. Here are the apps that have found a permanent place in my toolbox — as well as why, in searching for the “perfect app,” you’re probably being too hard on yourself.
What are the Limits of Apps?
Apps are not silver bullets. There is no app that will solve our challenges. But there are sites, like If This, Then That and Zapier that can add a photo to a Dropbox folder when someone tags me on Facebook. Apps do some magical things, but every app, tool, and calendar requires us to engage with it. To-do list apps make it easy to capture your ideas and share your list with your family or team. You can rearrange the items, put them in columns, color-code them, add pictures, and have them emailed or texted to you. But no to-do list app will do the task for you.
If you want to boost your productivity, at the start of every day, spend at least five minutes planning your day. Review and update your plan five times throughout the day. It does not matter which tool you use. You can use paper, a bullet journal, a dry-erase board, or an app. Planning and reviewing your intentions will always save you time later.
Even when we need to do something that is not urgent, we have to capture that task now. If you want to get more accomplished, keep reviewing your list throughout the day. We need to accept the fact that we struggle with CRS — Can’t Remember Stuff. When we accept that fact, we can create an action plan to review our plans.
I look at my calendar and my task list literally 30 times a day. My calendar stays open on one of my computer screens. Would you like an additional screen for your calendar? Do you have a tablet? Get the app Duet. It allows you to turn your tablet or smartphone into a second or third display. I have four displays.
Do you have an unused TV? You might be able to turn that into a monitor, too. You need a special cable. Google your TV model and your computer model with the term “second monitor.” (If you have kids, ask them.)
What Apps Are Best for Managing a To-Do List?
When it comes to to-do list apps, there are lots of options. The good news, and maybe the bad news, is that you can use as many as you want. Switch every week or every day for your daily to-do’s, if you like. If you want to mix up where your to-do list for the day or week lives, go for it. I do.
Since I work with a team, which requires sharing and delegating tasks, I use Asana. I’ve been using it for over a year. I don’t love it, but it works well enough. With Asana, you can set up your projects in one of two ways — as a list with headers, or as boards, sometimes referred to as KanBan boards. I like boards because they are more visual. I also like the fact that I can add a photo to the board and have a task exist in more than one project at a time. If I complete it in one place, that is reflected in other places.
I have several different project boards in Asana, and I do the bulk of my daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly and yearly planning on boards as well. My projects have the year in each heading, and each column has the following header: “Today,” “This Week,” “Next Week,” “This Month,” “Next Month,” and “This Quarter.” Think of the items in each column as flexible. I move things back and forth all the time. With this setup, I can see the trees and the forest at the same time. And as with my calendar, I review and update Asana many times a day.
Another tool, similar to Asana, is Trello, which allows the boards to interface. These interfaces are like digital notecards that you can move between columns. You can’t go wrong with either of these. Remember, though, you have to do the task.
What Calendar Apps Work for ADHD Brains?
It doesn’t matter if your calendar is online or on paper. What matters is that you use it, you take it with you, and you look at it every day. Keep it out, and keep it open. Your calendar is your friend.
I’m an online calendar power user. I use iCal, which talks to Google Calendar, to my wife’s iCal, and to my online appointment scheduler, ScheduleOnce. On my iMac, I use iCal, but I use the Google Calendars that are imported into iCal. On my iPhone and tablets, I use Calendars 5.
Just as I wouldn’t recommend doing the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle in pen, I would write on my paper calendar in pencil. Our calendar and our to-do lists afford us flexibility. Nobody gets everything on their to-do list done. If you list something but it doesn’t get done, find another time on your calendar to do it.
How Setting Up Systems Can Improve Your Productivity
A big lesson I’ve learned as a productivity nerd has come from books, like Procrastinate on Purpose, E-Myth, and The ONE Thing. I learned the value and power of systematization. If it takes me five minutes to respond to one email, and I respond to 10 emails a day, every day, I am better off spending two hours straight on an email response if I can systematize it. My favorite tool for things like this is TextExpander. It enables you to make up your own shortcut code, and when you type that code, it will expand into a larger string of text. You can create templates with fill-in-the-blanks, dropdown menus, and the like. There is a bit of a learning curve, but according to my user stats, I’ve saved 40 hours of work.
Best Email-Taming Apps
Your email inbox is a list of other people’s priorities. To say that I don’t like email is an understatement. We get too much of it. As much as I dislike the phone, from a time-efficiency standpoint, many of the emails that we send or reply to would be faster to handle on the phone.
Set a time to check, process, and respond to your email. Do not do this first thing in the morning. For the sake of your brain, turn your email notifications off. If your boss requires you to keep them on, it may be worth having a conversation about that.
You don’t want to miss any important emails, so set up email filters. Email filters help you identify priority emails, as well as newsletters, spam, and less important email. I’m not going to explain how to do that here, but there is a little website called YouTube that can show you how. Search for email filters and your email provider (Gmail/Yahoo/Outlook), and you will find videos on how to do this. A guy named Steve Dotto has a ton of great tech videos.
Another tool for handling email is called unroll.me. The app will roll all of your subscription email newsletters into a daily or weekly digest. It also allows you to unsubscribe to any emails you no longer want.
The last tool for email is for Gmail. It’s called Inbox. You can snooze an email and have it reappear at the top of your inbox by time or by location. If I see that I received an important email that I need to respond to when I get to my office, I’ll snooze it based on location. Other apps do this as well, so if you’re not a Gmail user, log on to your app store and see if your email provider has this feature. It is a real help to email jugglers.
What Apps Share, Store, and Save Email?
Dropbox makes storing, sharing, and saving files easy, and they rolled out a new feature called Smart Sync. All of your files appear as if they are on your computer, but they are actually living in the cloud. This is helpful when you have more than two terabytes of files, and you work on multiple computers.
I know people who use five different free cloud programs, because they don’t want to pay for file storage. If you can do that, more power to you. But I’ve yet to meet someone with ADHD who can keep track of what goes where.
Can Apps Improve My Writing?
My son is six years old. He is highly gifted and is an amazing speller. He does not get that from me. Grammarly is a Web plug-in that helps with spelling and grammar when you’re typing online. If you often confuse “then” with “than,” Grammarly will tell you. If you need a comma, or use one unnecessarily, Grammarly will see that, too.
Apps that Help You Stay on Task
I wasn’t planning on writing about headphones, but as I thought about which technology I depend on, I decided to include it. Before I bought my Bose QuietComfort 35 noise-canceling headphones, I had been shopping for headphones for a full year. I viewed these headphones with a $400 price tag as a luxury, even though I wear them most of the day. I use them for podcasting and my online coaching groups. I didn’t know how much these headphones would eliminate auditory distractions. You know the saying, “Once a luxury, now a necessity”? My Bose headphones have become that. If they were lost or broken, I would not think twice about replacing them.
What Apps Can Refresh the ADHD Brain?
Getting to bed at my intended time has been a lifelong struggle. The problem with going to bed too late comes when that alarm goes off. If we are in a deep phase of sleep when the alarm goes off, we’ll be groggy for the first few hours of the day. We go through the day in a brain fog, and when we want to wind down for the evening, our brain wakes up, and the cycle continues.
I call it the “ADHD-Productivity Sleep Cycle”: We stay up late to finish work, so we’re tired and have trouble focusing the next day, so we stay up late to finish work.
The Sleep Cycle app gives us a way to interrupt this pattern. The app determines the quality of our sleep by using the accelerometer inside your smartphone. The intelligent alarm function will wake you up based on your sleep phase. If you have to wake up by 7 a.m., Sleep Cycle will wake you up within a 20-30 minute window based on your lightest phase of sleep. I’ve used this app for three years, and I love it.
How Can I Be On Time to Meetings?
Next Meeting for Mac OS is a little widget that lives in the top right of your screen near the clock and WiFi bar. It lets you know how long you have until your next meeting. It syncs with Google Calendar and iCal. If your meeting starts in two minutes, it will tell you that your meeting is now, which is very helpful. You can turn off your notifications on your computer, and not miss your next meeting.
I love technology, being productive, and learning new things. As a driven, curious, growth-minded person, who has ADHD and has learned to see failure as feedback, I can say this: The path to a great life is not easy. There is no app that can rewire our ADHD brains. But if we stay curious, have compassion for ourselves, and focus on incremental growth, we can live amazing lives. It can be hard, but that’s OK. We can do hard things.
Add-Ons that Improve Google Chrome
- Boomerang and Boomerang Calendar. Two Gmail plug-ins that track emails and schedule meetings within your email.
- Grammarly (see above).
- Snap&Read Universal. Text reader that simplifies vocabulary, translates text, reads inaccessible text.
Reducing Distractions/Increasing Focus
- Momentum. A home screen that asks, “What is your main goal for the day?” If you respond, it will remind you of that goal each time you open a new tab.
- Facebook news feed blocker
- uBlock Origin. When your Internet is slow, this will free up the bandwidth that ads take up.
Managing Too Many Open Tabs
There are lots of great Chrome extensions for this common ADHD issue:
- OneTab. Gets rid of extra tabs.
- Session Buddy. 100 browser tabs? They’re history!
- The Great Suspender. Unloads browser tabs, so they can’t chew up tons of memory. A simple mouse click reloads the page.
- Toby. A tab management extension.
- CleanPrint. It enables you to print a text-only version of an online article. No pictures. No ads.
Keeping Track of Your Work
- BackStop. Disables the backspace button from activating the browser to go to a previous page. If you’ve lost work filling out an online form because backspace made you go back, this is a great extension.
- Pomodoro Timer
- Pomodoro Assistant
Organizing Articles and Websites for Later
How to Make Your To-Dos Clearer and More Manageable
Look at your task list. Find the tasks that you wrote down as nouns, and add verbs to them. For example, if you wrote “doctor” on your list, what is the actual task that is implied? Do you need to call your doctor? Do you need to find a doctor? My task would say, “Call Dr. Goldberg, at 555-555-5555, to schedule an annual physical and ask if I need lab work. After my appointment is scheduled, schedule labs.” I am that specific. Try it. You may find that the app hasn’t been the problem. It’s that when you see “doctor” on your list, you don’t know what your first step should be.