Our digital lives can become overwhelming. The constant flurry of information in and out of our heads can spin out even the most grounded individuals. But there’s a wealth of apps designed to help train us to be more mindful, productive and stress-free. You won’t spend a lot of time interacting with these apps, but their effects can be transformative.
Headspace is a well designed, blissfully simple podcast app, serving up 10-minute nuggets of meditation goodness cooed by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe.
Andy’s dulcet tones are what makes Headspace unique. Stress drips away as his comforting metaphors and embrace of silence draws the mind into the moment.
“Training the mind is about changing our relationship with passing thoughts and feelings, learning to view them with a little more perspective, and when we do this, we naturally find a place of calm”, Puddicombe says in a video included in one of Headspace’s early sessions.
The app is user friendly. It has simple playback controls and download options perfect for a flight, but you won’t be spending a lot of time looking at the screen — so long as you can stay focused.
One annoyance comes as a byproduct of being delivered through our communication devices. It’s hard to regain a peaceful train of thought after a message alert pierces the silence. Swapping to aeroplane mode helps.
Headspace is free for the first 10 lessons, but if you’re hooked you’ll be paying $20 a month or $150 a year. That’s pricey for what is essentially a podcast app, but certainly cheaper than an in-person meditation session.
Free for first 10 lessons
Using RealLifeChange is like having a therapist in your pocket. The app helps you make notes of the moments in your life that make an impact. Whether it’s a new friendship, stressful work moment or exciting development, the app wants to hear about it.
You make a note by tapping a category (experience, action, emotion, decision or discovery), then marking how it made you feel on a happy/sad, high/low impact grid. From there, you compose a note with text, but using the text-to-speech function feels like the best way to explain your emotions. Click done, add a few hashtags for categorising your memories and feel the weight of the world drip away.
But RealLifeChange is more than a journal. It incorporates an AI that feeds back information about your emotional state, based on the details of your notes. If you’re feeling happy frequently about something, it’ll let you know. If it detects a trend of negative emotion around certain hashtags, it’ll suggest you look into it.
It’s a bizarre experience to have a robot gauge your emotions, and with time and dedication to note-keeping the AI’s information becomes surprisingly insightful and uncomfortably personal.
In addition to the AI, you can track health and fitness information, and visualise swings in your mood with a suite of graphs and charts.
The app is free, but if you’d like the AI to offer suggestions for how to improve your mood, you’ll have to pay $1.49 a week.
Free, with subscription option
The Pomodoro technique, named after tomato-shaped kitchen timers, is interval training for your brain. The technique demands 25 minutes of razor-sharp attention on work, exercise or focus, followed by five minutes of doing whatever you please.
The technique claims to increase productivity and creativity while reducing the fatigue that sets in during long periods of focus, and, at least for me, the claims are true. Breaking the day into bite-sized chunks makes time fly and your productivity soar.
There’s a wealth of apps to practice the Pomodoro technique, but my favourite is ClearFocus, a cleanly designed and free app that also includes task-tracking to plot the trajectory of your focus sessions.
A button press starts and stops the timer and settings can easily be tuned to extend or decrease the length of your Pomodoros. The graphed information is useful for setting yourself new productivity goals and ends up being a fun way to keep motivated.
The worst part of using Pomodoro apps is the requirement of maintaining the 25 minutes of solid work without accepting a distraction. In a busy office, you’ll probably find a phone call or conversation with a colleague pulls you away from your focus, but when working at home, switching over to aeroplane mode is an easy way to remove digital distractions.
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