The Best Apps For Self-Management: Pt. 1 — Attention Management

Good morning and good on you for being interested enough to open this article. If you’re like me, finding the focus to pursue your goals in today’s world feels like a constant battle of will and determination. It can be very difficult to balance your ambitions with what society expects of us.

Over the years, I’ve developed some philosophies that keep me on the straight and narrow. These philosophies are based on virtues that act as guideposts in the fog of life. Having these guideposts has allowed me to stay on track as I navigate moving forward.

But virtues are more than abstract-ideas: virtues are habits than must be practiced in order to work. But in order for habits to work, it helps to solidify them in systems and routines so they catch on.

With the relentless march of technology, hardware is no longer the clunky hinderance it once was. Improvements in display tech alone allows hardware to get out of the way of the experience and permits us to interact directly with the software — creating amazing opportunities.

Which led me to the wonderful world of apps! 📱

“Developing discipline through challenging situations and perhaps suffering along the way, are no longer values that are promoted in our culture.” — Robert Greene

For context, I’m not advocating that apps are the answer to all our woes.

Technology augments reality, it doesn’t replace it. What I mean by that is, don’t expect the following app suggestions to be a silver bullet if you’re struggling with self-discipline.

Work on yourself first. Reflect on what’s causing you to procrastinate, over-eat, numb yourself and generally live a life of discontent. Get a therapist if you need to (they’re great) and a coach when you want to double-down on your new strategies (also great).

Apps are amazing pieces of software that bring the power of technology closer to our reality in seamless and frictionless ways. As we’ll see, the sole purpose of many apps out there are to help you to build yourself into who you want to become (not just numb yourself with low-brow videos in between ads).

But with thousands of new apps added to the App Store every week, it can be challenging to sort the wheat from the chaff. The following are a collection of apps I’ve used for years and very much vouch for and I hope you find value in.

  • Works offline
  • Independent developers
  • Incorporates the latest iOS features (APIs)
  • Not ad-support or owned/run by Facebook or Google

Attention Management

As a marketer by trade, let me tell you: A persons attention is the supreme value that keeps the economy humming.

We can’t sustain economic growth without capitalism and we can’t sustain capitalism without consumerism. And I can’t get to you consider purchasing my products if I can’t get my product advertisement in front of your eyeballs and into your brain.

Rinse and repeat for anyone doing anything: a marketer altering your favourite app with ad placements; an author building his name in thought-leadership; a bird singing for a partner or a man looking for a date at a bar. They all seek attention for a result they desire. Attention. is. everything.

We live in a noisy world. Therefore, learning to manage where your attention is being led should be a priority for the ambitious. You should strive to protect your attention and monitor how you expose it over the course of your day.

But first, a word about the native functions of iOS before we begin.

If you’re not utilising Do Not Disturb to it’s full potential, you’re going to have a bad time. Since its inception, this native feature has become only more powerful and is beyond worthwhile you getting familiar with.

Here are some tips to get your started:

  • Set aggressive scheduled times where you can’t be disturbed i.e. 8pm to 8am.
  • Add the contacts who can disturb to your Favourite list in the Phone app. Then go to Settings → Allow Calls From → Favourites. That way your loved ones can still reach you if they really need to. (Protip: Don’t ever use Airplane mode to focus as you will 100% be uncontactable. Take the time to set up who can contact you during your Do Not Disturb time.)
  • Set up the Bedtime feature to keep notifications out of your eyeballs at night.
  • Advanced: Create a Shortcut that switches iOS to Dark Mode when Do Not Disturb is enabled so you know at a glance that you’re focusing.

On notifications from your installed apps: Be militant and aggressive in removing these. Remember they’re vying for your attention and only add to the noise. iOS introduced a quick and simple method for killing these:

  • Swipe left on a notification and hit “Turn Off Notifications”.
  • For apps that you do check but don’t need immediate notifications for, perform the same action but hit “Deliver Quietly”. This will allow the app to deliver notifications but are sent to the Notification pane (swipe down from the top) and not disturb you. You’re probably already checking your phone pretty frequently anyway so this help put the power more back into your hands. Baby steps.
  • Consider just deleting the app altogether. You can always download it again.

Note: All of the above is becoming more advanced with Focus Mode in iOS 15.

Pomodoro for Professionals

The first app I’d like to introduce you to is Focus by Masterbuilders.

App Store link // Developer website

I’m putting this first as I class it as software that encompasses 3 of the 4 sections of this series: attention, time and task management.

If you haven’t heard of the Pomodoro technique already, it’s a pretty simple method for staying focused: You work undistracted for 25 minutes, take a break for 5 minutes and repeat. You’ll generally fall into a flow-state after a couple rounds.

You’d be right in being skeptical about an app that can essentially be replicated by the timer function in the native Clock app. This isn’t lost on me at all and in fact, it took time for me to see the value having a dedicated app for this.

There’s nothing stopping you from using the Clock app of course but there are psychological benefits for using dedicated tools for dedicated tasks. The more time/money you put into something, the more value you perceive and the more likely you’ll use it. That’s the theory anyway.

(Plus this is an article about the best apps for self-management so what are you expecting 😜)

Focus rightly justifies itself by utilising all the iOS features relevant to its functionality: beautiful and intuitive with robust cross-device support. This cross-device syncing is the best feature of Focus as it allows you to quickly start a “Focus Session” on your Watch via the complication and see the countdown begin/end in the menu bar of your Mac.

You can even add the tasks you’re currently working on to keep them front of mind and review the time spent after the fact.

Add delightful details such as multiple app icons, Siri Shortcuts support and the typical Dark/Light mode and you’ve got a professional attention-management app for the ecosystem lovers of the world.

Daily Routine, Habit & ritual

App Store Link // Developer website

Truth be told, Routinist doesn’t exactly fit the criteria I laid out for myself while writing this article. Although it is an indie app, not supported by ads and works offline, in terms of utilising iOS to the max… it falls short. Very short. It’s actually pretty janky and frankly quite ugly to look at it.

But after many years looking for an alternative, I can tell you that nothing works like Routinist. It has a very interesting way of setting up your bookends for the day.

The core functionality of Routinist is that you plan your evening-routine and your morning-routine by first inputting the desired end-time of your morning routine (for example, the time you plan to leave the house in the morning) and the amount of hours you wish to sleep at night.

You then proceed to build out the tasks of the evening and morning routines and Routinist will look after the rest.

For example, if the tasks of your morning-routine add up to 90 minutes and your desired leave time is 08:00, Routinist will prompt you to begin your morning routine at 06:30. If your desired sleep goal is 8 hours (working backwards from 06:30 to 21:30) and your evening-routine tasks amount to 60 minutes, Routinist will prompt you to begin your evening-routine at 20:30.

This backwards-planning approach incorporating sleep-goals sets Routinist apart from other routine-forming apps which will simply allow you to build routines and set desired start times. I have used many of these other app and there’s nothing wrong with them — they’re essentially just fancy countdowns.

Bookending your day with set tasks and routines allows for a much higher chance you’ll follow through with your intentions. I know I’ve burned through 7 books this year (it’s June at time of writing) via this method of setting aside time to read in both my morning/evening routines.

based on Behavioral Science

App Store link

I am currently trialing Routinery and it looks promosing. This app encompasses a pretty nice UI/UX with iOS 14 widgets, Apple Watch and iPad support and some other neat tricks like Haptics on iPhone. I’ve used the planning that Routinist has built for me and effectively supplanted my routines over to Routinery, essentially giving them a prettier a container.

If you’re looking for something prettier but less powerful than Routinist, this is the ticket.

If you found this article useful, please consider holding the CLAPS button until for as long as you like. It helps other people discover this article.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Ludo De Angelis

I write about creative fulfilment, our relationship with technology and living a good life.