There is a multitude of articles out there that advise students to reduce their screen time and limit control their smartphone interactions while studying. While there are some benefits to be gained by minimising the distracting effects of click-bait articles, viral videos and constant social media notifications, your smartphone can also be a great tool for enhancing your productivity.
A lot of articles will feature study apps and will make claims about their effectiveness so before I give you my top 5 apps, let me present you with a short preface about the context in which the correct digital tools can improve your University life. This is not just about achieving better grades; that is a byproduct. The goal here is to become a better “University student”, to improve the attributes which in the long term are highly likely to result in efficient practices and effective habits.
There are two key components to achieving this. The first component is what you are familiar with: planning for the future. Calendar apps such as Outlook, digital notepads and time-management apps fit into this category. However, the second component is what most ignore in their pursuit of improvement: tracking your habits. Monitoring and keeping track of your habits is a challenging practice as continuous self-reflection is usually what we avoid during University years! Nevertheless, creating feedback loops in your life for tracking your daily routine, eating habits and sleep times can positively affect your life. As the great Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said:
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
With that said, here are my top 6 apps. The first 3 can help you track your habits and the latter, plan for the future.
1) Sleep Cycle
One important aspect of University life is maintaining a sleep schedule. From impending deadlines to £1 shots, your circadian rhythm is in constant threat of being disrupted. Sleep Cycle can help you improve your sleeping patterns by tracking the time and duration of your sleep. But my favorite feature, is that this app can also wake you up during your lightest sleep phase which means you are very likely to wake up feeling rested and actually attend that 09:00 lecture!
Forming healthy habits and tracking your progress is a challenge, especially during University years. However, many of you who enjoy playing video games, will have no problem tracking your in-game progress and the development of a fictional character! Habitica adopts a creative approach to tracking and maintaining your habits by allowing you to create avatars inspired from Role-Playing Games (RPGs) which can level up and complete quests and missions. As the developers mention, “Habitica is not just video-game inspired, but is a game in itself.”
Many self-help books which help keep track of your habits are centered around “The chain thesis”. This concept is based on the fact that a lot of people are more likely to develop a habit when they have a visual representation of their streak. This app features an attractive and intuitive interface where each time you stick to your habit, your chain grows, helping you stay motivated.
Remember that great study you read about that important topic which was relevant to the coursework you have to complete? Probably not if the link was lost amidst a sea of bookmarks or if the PDF file became just another icon on your desktop. This is where Mendeley come in handy; Mendeley is a reference management app that can help you maintain a good bibliography and sort your references. I personally use this app on a daily basis and it has helped me track and annotate countless papers (as a matter of fact, I have it open right now).
You are likely to find this app on any “top 10 app for University students” list and frankly, it deserves to be there for a couple reasons. Evernote is an app designed for creating, maintaining and archiving notes and task lists. What is great about Evernote is that it’s a cross-platform app is that automatically syncs your data between all of your devices.
Let’s face it – organising your thoughts can be tough. There are times when you are constantly bombarded with new ideas and the final task you need to achieve is not clear. Other times, you know exactly what you have to do, but you can’t recall the thoughts that led you to that plan. A technique often used to combat this is mind mapping where after gathering all your thoughts, you organise them in a map structure. Mind42 is a great productivity app which allows you to gain clarity on what needs to be done by allowing you to create graphic map of your thoughts and goals.