Tech up your life

By Artur Odwald

The omnipresent technology is both a blessing and a curse. Well, it’s a tool, after all. It’s up to us how we use these tools, and sometimes we might not even realise what’s possible with the devices we already own. The list below contains a few suggestions on how to introduce technology into our lives to make them better.

The list gets more complex as we go, starting with the very basic tools and ending with the ones that require some investment to get the most benefit out of them.

For each position on the list, I mention the requirements that come with it:

  • Installation – you will have to install something on your device.
  • Account – you will have to create an account to use it.
  • Configuration – some setting up is necessary to use the tool properly. 

1.      Timers

Requirements: None – ready to go

We’re starting off with the no-brainer, but there is an idea behind it and it’s a good one.

Set the 25-minute timer and for those 25 minutes, do nothing but the one task you need to do. Whether it’s homework, household chores, or some exercise. Stick to it for 25 minutes and then you’re done.

This way:

  • you’re not procrastinating
  • you know exactly when your agony ends
  • you have a clear conscience
  • your time free becomes much more enjoyable. 

Of course, you can use any timer, or just the clock. So long as you stick to the time set. 

Sometimes this might be enough to get you into a flow and you’ll keep working even after those initial 25 minutes. A five-minute break is advisable, but if you’re in the zone, then you might as well use it while it lasts. 

Forest app on Android

Another variation of this is Forest. It’s a timer, that “plants a tree” when you start your session. If you finish, the tree grows. If you fail, the tree dies. You can see these trees in-app, so you’re basically growing your own forest. They partner with real-tree-planning organizations as well.

2. f.lux

A screenshot of the Windows version 4.111

Requirements: installation

Blue light filter. Some devices already have this installed by default (although you might have to turn it on manually), but for all the other devices, there is f.lux.

When your eyes are exposed to blue light, your body thinks it’s daytime and thus does not want to fall asleep. If you often work late at night, or just can’t imagine going to bed without looking at a screen for some time first, then this is worth considering. 

What’s handy about this one is that you can set up the time when you want to be asleep, and f.lux will automatically change your screen settings at the right time to make sure your body gets the “it’s night-time” signal.

Real-life night-time comparison

The only downside to this would be if you are a graphic designer, who has to pay attention to colours. Other than that, it’s a green light.

3. myBus (App)

myBus on Android

Requirements: installation

Real-time commute tracker. Look for your bus/tram stop, add it to favourites (speeds up the process a lot), and commute like a pro.

This is an absolute must if you commute regularly. If you know your lines well enough, you’ll be able to plan ahead, see what’s where and get to your destination in the fastest way possible.

One downside though is that sometimes a bus that exists won’t appear in the app. This may screw up your planning, but a ghost bus is still better than no bus.

4. Sleep as Android (App)

Sleep as Android App on, well, Android

Requirements: installation, configuration

Your oversleeping days are over. This app offers you an alarm clock that prevents you from dismissing it while snoozing away in dreamland. There is a variety of tasks that will have to be done in order for you to silence that beast of an alarm and your cruel evening self may choose the fate of your sleepy morning semi-comatose self.

  • Will you be woken up by maths equations? Will the answers be multiple choice, or will you have to type them out?
  • Will you make yourself run to the bathroom, to scan the code that you taped to the mirror? Preferably somewhere high above the ground to make you reach your salvation.
  • Or will you go down the most sadistic path of all, and force yourself to laugh out loud into the microphone, to dismiss the alarm? Most effective when Joker’s dance is added to the repertoire.

All of these are actual features that are there to help you get out of bed on time.

Other than that, there are many other sleep-related functions that are worth checking out. The free version of the app should suffice, but if you want to track your sleep data, analyse your sleep cycles, record the noises you make in your sleep, then you might want to look into the premium version as well. 

This app, however, is for Android only, so if you know an iOS equivalent, please let us know. 

5. RSS (Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication)

Browser version of Inoreader

Requirements: account, configuration

Instead of going to each website to see what they published, have all the news delivered to you.

I’ll stick to the basics, since there are plenty of articles or YouTube videos on the topic, and you don’t need any in-depth knowledge to benefit from it. What you need to know is that you can be up to date on all the newly published articles by just scrolling through the list that’s automatically updated whenever something new is published on the website/blog you follow. Same as your social media feed, but here you follow websites, not Facebook pages or friends.

You might be wondering: “What’s the point? I already follow them on social media.” Your social media feed consists of what they choose to publish and usually there are tones of miscellaneous posts that fill up your feed with junk. Here you can have a list of everything that’s published on websites/blogs you follow, and if you see something interesting, you can then go and read that article. But now you know you have a reason to go there and finding out didn’t take half as long as it would normally take.

You’ll need to find an RSS Reader. I use Inoreader, but there are plenty out there to choose from. I tested some other ones and went for the one that was most intuitive. You can access the reader from your browser, or download an app. Going through the list on your phone and then reading the articles that caught your eye on your computer can be quite convenient. 

One last thing: be careful with the amount of sites you follow. When I started, I went on a spree of following everything I could think of, because I thought now I can be up to date on everything. You have to keep in mind that some websites publish a lot, so your list might get out of control. 

6. Habitica

My level 77 orca-riding mage with a baby phoenix (fire chicken) by his side

Requirements: account, configuration

If you play games, especially RPGs, you’ve probably done your share of quests. They’re fun, rewarding, and you always want to do more. Now chores on the other hand – that’s the exact opposite. Habitica combines these opposites, to help you on your journey. Imagine your life as a game. Throw out the trash – get XP and gold. Finish homework – deal damage to a boss you and your friends are battling. Forgot to go for a daily run – you lose health.

The retro style alone can appeal to some gamers and turning your life into an adventure might shed some new light on the otherwise boring chores. Other than that, the “game” has plenty of rewards and collectables, such as the orca and the baby-phoenix on the picture above.

It might be more effective to play with some friends. You can support your party members (in-game as well as real life) and go on quests where completing your tasks deals damage in boss battles. 

Habitica at first requires some investment of your time, but once you get a hang of it, it can be quite rewarding. It might be that extra bit of motivation some of us need.

Too popular to make the main list

These are some of the most commonly used tools.

  • Google Drive / Dropbox – store files and access them from different devices.
  • Evernote – most common note taking application. Also accessible from different devices.        

Worth mentioning

I don’t use them, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find them useful.

  • Noisli – ambient noises and nature sounds. Use presets, or make your own mix (wind, forest, or rain sounds can be combined). The customization is what makes it stand out.
  • AppDetox / FindFocus – app blockers. Hardcore means of fighting procrastination. Block apps, websites, notifications, anything that could distract you.
  • Toggl / RescueTime – tracks what you spend time on. Too much interference for my liking but could be useful to others.

There are many other types of tools, or alternatives to the ones mentioned. One thing you’ve got to keep in mind is that they should be beneficial. If you don’t feel like they’re helping – get rid of them. They’re here for you, not the other way around.

If there is an app you use that could help others as well, let us know at contact.unicorner@gmail.com. We’d love to hear your experiences with everyday life tech.