10 Productivity Tools to Help Concentration

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, procrastination gets the better of us. And nowhere is this easier done than with the relatively free timetable of the PhD student. The research is ongoing, the writing carries on forever, and deadlines are often far away in the future: it’s hardly surprising we find ourselves wasting hours and hours on Facebook or catching up with the latest Downton Abbey episodes. A PhD isn’t a sprint, but a long (rewarding!) marathon of self-discipline. So here’s my handy list of productivity tools that help me focus and get down to business when I find myself getting distracted.

  1. Raining.fm: this is a handy website and app (£1.49 from iTunes) for those times when you need to block out all distractions. Throw on a pair of headphones, set the amount of time you want to work for (e.g. 45 minutes), set how ‘stormy’ you’d like it to be (e.g. raining, lots of rain, or rain with thunder and lightning) and off you go. It will stop the lovely storm with a pleasant ‘ping’ and tell you to put your tools down and take a break. I think it’s pretty great for reading or writing. You can shut everything else out and really focus with the relaxing rain sound. It also helps that you’re letting the website tell you when the time’s up for a break. Relaxing_rain_audio_for_work__play_and_sleep
  2. Headphones: following from number 1, a good pair of headphones is definitely useful to beat those procrastination blues. I use a pair of Urban Ears headphones because they look pretty (priorities…) and because they’re decent quality. Also the Plattan Plus size is perfect for my small ears and works with Apple software, so I can also use it to go running with my tiny iPod shuffle, on those rare occasions.
  3.  Ambient Mixer: I don’t use this as much, but it’s along the same lines as raining.fm: set some sounds and get working. Try out this to relax and focus in the Ravenclaw Common Room at Hogwarts, or try this to set your mind at ease on a sailing ship.
  4. Coffitivity: another similar app. The theory is that having no noise at all isn’t productive for creativity, but when it’s really noisy it’s too distracting, so quiet-ish coffee shop ambiance is the perfect level. This is what they have to say about it: ‘According to a peer-reviewed study out of the University of Chicago, “A moderate level of ambient noise is conducive to creative cognition.” In a nutshell, this means being a tiny bit distracted helps you be more creative. This is why those AHA moments happen when we’re brushing our teeth, taking a shower, or mowing the lawn! If we’re not focused too much at a task at hand, we come up with awesome stuff. In the coffee shop, the chatter and clatter actually distracts us a tiny bit and allows our creative juices to start flowing. It sounds crazy but it works!’
  5. Or the real thing: coffee shops are my go-to happy place when I need to get something done and the library / my desk just isn’t cutting it. ellebellemusique_on_Instagram
  6. Evernote: an app for phone and laptop with a Google Chrome plug-in. Whenever I’m on the go and I want to make a to-do list, or I have some ideas I want to jot down in the middle of grocery shopping, I use Evernote and everything gets synced up with my laptop neatly. What I like about this app is the fact you can organise notes into several different notebooks and use tags to tracks everything. Plus it’s free.
  7. Scrivener: I used this for my masters degree. I haven’t used it during my PhD so far, but I reckon I’ll come back to it in the writing up stage. It’s really useful for large writing projects, and I imagine it would also be useful for writing novels. There’s so much you could do with this software, but for me it was great to visualise how far through the word count I was with the handy little bar at the bottom that changes from red to green when you’ve reached the end! It’s pricey (£26.06 with a student discount) but seriously handy software writing tool for phd students and novelists alike.
  8. Notebooks: Leuchtturm1917 are my favourites, because they have page numbers! This sounds like such a simple thing but it means you can note the page numbers of all your supervision meetings / lecture notes in the handy ‘table of contents’ at the front and keep track of everything in one place.
  9. Habit Lists: Sometimes when doing a PhD it can be difficult to remember to step away from the research. Habits lists are useful to remind you to take a break and exercise, practice your language work to help you read those obscure journal articles, or simply get into a good habit of eating your 5 a day. The app works by encouraging you to keep habits checked off and in the green for as long as possible, so that you get into good habits, and get rid of bad ones. Handy if you’re hopeless at routines like I am, and need little reminders.
  10. Alcohol and Hangovers: If all else fails, then go for the (apparently misattributed) Hemingway approach: lindsey-e-archer-yellow-write-drunk-edit-sober-ernest-hemingway-quote-wood-transfer-art“Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation – the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.’ (Peter De Vries, Reuben, Reuben). So there you go, get drunk, write, and edit tomorrow.

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