How to Make Productivity a Habit (and Automate with Some Useful Apple Apps)

How to Make Productivity a Habit (and Automate with Some Useful Apple Apps)

Posted by Andrea Ting-Luz on 2022 Jan 26th

After two years of living through this pandemic, those of us who are able to work remotely have done our best to adjust to working from home. We have established new rhythms to find a sense of harmony and distinction between our work life and our home life. We have grown accustomed to attending meetings, presentations, and events virtually on Zoom and other online platforms. We have become experts at toggling between our array of devices and numerous apps to share files, project manage, communicate, and collaborate with our teammates.

Although there are no shortage of means by which to organize what we need to be more productive, often managing our many apps and devices, and attending to a constant stream of online commitments, (not to mention being constantly distracted by the incoming culprits like news alerts, social media notifications, and texts and emails) can fragment our time and attention. Often getting on task of the work itself, and staying focused while you are doing it, can be the biggest challenge.

Andrea, Mac Zen's Marketing Coordinator, has been experimenting with some tools and methods for improving her productivity. She shares the tips and tricks she has learned.

MZ Pro Tip #1: The Pomodoro Method

The simplicity of the Pomodoro Method is really the point: focus on one larger task or a set of small achievable tasks for a pre-determined period of time (usually 25 minutes), then take a short 5-minute break.

Developed in the 1980's by a university student named Francisco Cirillo who was struggling to complete his assignments, the Pomodoro Method refers to the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used to time his tasks (pomodoro is Italian for tomato).

Essentially the method is broken down like this:

  1. Create your to-do list for the day.
  2. Set your timer or chosen pomodoro app for 25 minutes, and focus on a single task until the timer alerts.
  3. When your focus period ends, mark off one pomodoro and record what you completed.
  4. Take a five-minute break.
  5. After four pomodoros, take a longer, more restorative 15-30 minute break.

What makes this methodology so effective is that it helps you to avoid the feeling of overwhelm when faced with a big task or a long to-do list, which can cause you to self-inflict distraction. For example, how many times do you start by "doing some research" in service of a task, only to end up falling down Google/Instagram/YouTube rabbit hole that eats up far more time than you expected and pulls you completely off task?

By limiting your time frame to just 25-minutes, it maximizes your brain power to hyper-focus on the task/s at hand, adjusts your expectations to allow big tasks feel less intimidating, and gives you a reward in the form of a break. For those of us who are motivated by gamification, the Pomodoro method stimulates the same reward centre of the brain - completing a mission/challenge/task with a clock ticking in the background.

Andrea's Experience

I downloaded Pomello, which has been designed specifically as a pomodoro add-on for Trello, my project management tool of choice. I followed the few steps to connect the two apps, then created a board with my week's tasks (which I discovered must be set up as individual cards, so I set up each list as a day). 

When I activated Pomello, the timer appeared as a wee box, and from there I was able to find my daily task board, and choose which task I wanted to tackle first. I clicked on "Do It", which ignited the timer. After 25 minutes, the alert sounded, providing me with options to keep going on the same task after my 5-minute break, or mark this task as complete and move on to the next task. Pomello then automatically recorded my results as a note on the task card, and a little tomato appeared next to my task, indicating it was complete.

I must admit, it was very satisfying to look at my to-do list at the end of my day to see how many tomatoes I had earned, and yes, I had actually accomplished more than usually I do. Also, I learned how valuable it is to take a break from focusing, and to use that time to have a little snack, snuggle my dogs, or do a quick chore like run the garbage out.

There are several simple Pomodoro apps for your Mac devices. Some of our other favourites available from the Apple Store are:

1. Super Easy Timer (4.3 stars: ★★★★☆)

2. Tomato One (★★★★☆)

3. BreakTime (★★★★☆)

4. Good Timer (★★★★★)

5. Be Focused (★★★★★)

6. Red Hot Timer (4.5 stars: ★★★★☆)

MZ Pro-Tip #2: Maximize the Focus feature in iOS15 and Monterey OS

One of the most significant upgrades to the new iOS15 for Apple devices and for MacBooks and iMacs is the Focus feature. Focus amalgamates and expands the "Do Not Disturb" function to enable you to define your time into Personal, Driving, Sleeping, and Working and determine what alerts you receive during these times. This also allows you to define other specific moments or activities (ex. working out, reading, meditation, gaming or custom activities).

Andrea's Experience

In addition to my work with Mac Zen, I am also a yoga instructor. I use my iPhone to stream my playlists while I am teaching either online via Zoom or live in studio. If I receive a phone call or a text alert while I am teaching, it can quite literally disrupt the flow for me and my students, sending my alerts through whatever speaker or device I am connected to.

In the new iteration of Focus, I created an activity I named "Teaching Yoga" and specified all my scheduled weekly class times with a 15-minute buffer on either side. During these times all alerts and calls are automatically blocked. If someone sends me a Message or calls during one of these defined time, they are alerted that I am in "Focus-Mode".

If you want to enable certain contacts or apps from alerting you during your Focus times, you can opt to allow these notifications to push through by adding them to the lists marked "People" or "Apps".

You can also set Focus times to turn on automatically based on your geographic location (ex. your office or in my case, my yoga studio), or when you are using a specific app.

Combined with applying the Pomodoro method, Focus allows you to use your Apple devices to maximize the time you spend working and to minimize the volume of distractions that pull you away from your work.

For a step-by-step tutorial on how to set up your Focus functionality, please refer to this detailed article by our colleagues at 9to5 Mac:

Here’s how the new iPhone Focus mode works in iOS 15

What methods do you use to increase your productivity? Let us know...