Apps For How We’re Working in 2017, The Year of Limited Bandwidth

feature image via Shutterstock.

Listen—I was super productive, once. But then instead of trying to put the fire out, we fanned the flames and made the world burn faster. I don’t necessarily mean US us, I mean humans in the United States who voted for this situation we’re in at the mo’. Since then, I’ve found it harder to work. It’s been affecting me more than I realize. I’ve had to re-configure the way I do tasks. Some things are not technology related (see: Passion Planner, loads of post-it-notes). But some are! And here they are.

Newton Mail

Now this one I for sure use, and it’s a continuation of my quest to find the perfect email system. Newton Mail has some similarities to Polymail, but after Polymail went to a paid system, their price for features I’d come to rely on was very, very high. Newton Mail’s price is much lower—$49.99 per year with a 14-day free trial. For that, you get read receipts (a huge must for me), send later and the ability to snooze and boomerang that email back at a more convenient time. But what I really have come to love about Newton Mail is the ability to go through emails one at a time, using the keyboard to sift through as you decide what to do with each one on its own terms. This singular focus, one-step-at-a-time method of dealing with communication feels new to me—I feel like I used to have so much more bandwidth. And then this Presidency. And now I’m making protest signs and writing postcards to representatives and calling and and and…yeah, I need to focus on one thing at a time.

Newton also connects with other apps, like Trello, OneNote, Wunderlist, Asana, Instapaper and more. You can then email content directly to those apps. If you’re a person with a workflow that includes one or more of these, you might want to take a look at Newton Mail. They’ve got apps for Mac, Android and iOS. Windows is coming soon.

Full disclosure, Newton bumped my account to pro so I could try out all the features long term. I will always disclose when a company gives me something for free.


While I’m currently using a combination of Habitica, a Passion Planner, Post-It-Notes and Slack to manage the six zillion things I do, WeDo looks SUPER appealing and I’m giving it a go. It’s sleek and minimal, so I don’t feel further depleted of bandwidth when I look at it. It asks you, upon setup, to think about habits you’d like to cultivate both inside and outside your workday, from inbox zero to taking a ten-minute walk. It looks especially wonderful for anyone working in teams—you can create all different ones, so you can split chores in your house with your family or work on a creative project together with your friends. No need to pick which to sign up with—different spaces for different groups.

WeDo is available for Mac, iOS, Android and the web. Most of its features are free.


I’ve mentioned Ulysses before, but I’m going to go ahead and mention it again because it’s been the best phone-to-computer syncing writing software I’ve ever had. Ulysses is a distraction free, mark-down writer made with long projects in mind. Instead of worrying about formatting your work, you simply *mark it for emphasis* or **strength** or [as a link] (yes, that’s exactly how you type stuff on Ulysses, it takes some getting used to, but I promise it’s worth it) and then let the exporter do the job for you. Need it to be an HTML snippet to put in WordPress? You’ve got it! Need a PDF because you’re sending your novel to agents? Yup, you got that too. Need to write on your phone on the metro because an idea just struck? That, friends, is why I love Ulysses. Its clean writing environment translates incredibly well to smaller screens. As I’ve been revising my novel (OH GOD LET IT BE FINISHED ALREADY), I’ve taken to sitting in my favorite café with my phone instead of lugging my computer around. It’s pretty grand. And it’s a library organization system, so no need to worry about file structure. It’s all right there in the app.

It’s a bit pricey, though. Ulysses is $45 for Mac (though there’s a demo you can try), and $25 for iOS. You bet I spent that money. My job is writing, and if yours involves writing too, you truly may want to consider it. Bonus: it also makes for a really great way to organize your D&D notes.


I’m using Forest literally right now, as I write this. It’s a beautiful twist on the Pomodoro timer—plant a seed and don’t touch that tree for 25 minutes. Focus, instead, on your work, your book, hell, even put it up on your phone while you’re eating dinner with your family so you don’t go for your email. Don’t leave the app (or, if you’re using the browser extension, don’t go to the blacklisted websites). If you do, you kill the tree and you have to start all over again. But if you manage to focus on your task for that 25-minute block, your tree grows and you get to plant it in your forest—an adorable visualization of all that time you focused. I’ve discovered that a huge part of motivating me to work in these new, scary times is making myself feel accomplished.

Another thing I’ve realized is that I have to somehow stop the scary social media spiral? You know the one—where I’m paralyzed by the sheer volume and horror of the news getting shared in my circle. Using the browser extension to limit my ability to quick check Facebook and get lost down a rabbit hole of awful has been pretty instrumental.

You can get Forest on iOS for $2 and for free on Android, Chrome and Firefox. If you’re using a mobile device, your forest will sync between your browser and your phone, so you can grow trees on your browser and wind up with them planted in your forest.

Actually Paying For Spotify

Spotify isn’t news to anyone. This is not a surprise. But y’all, going ad-free has changed the way I work, so I’m here to advocate actually paying for Spotify. It’s $9.99 a month, and I call this a business sanity expense. They’ve got all sorts of curated playlists that really help me focus—Peaceful Piano, Deep Focus and Stress Relief are huge game changers for me when I’m having trouble. And not having some dude’s voice advertising McDonald’s come across my speakers or my headphones full blast is way more massive than I expected it would be.

What about you? Is it only me who’s been having a really tough go of focusing on work lately, or is that you, too? What apps are you using to get through it all? Do you sometimes want to defenestrate your computer and go live in the woods, or am I alone on that one too?

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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. I don’t think you are alone with living in the woods alone, pending I have a small space where I have a charger for my camera, and computer and internet, how else will I show that I made friends with a deer?

    For me most of work is just note taking supplies I need so I use OneNote and Plumbago(another MS app) on my Surface 3. Plumbago doesn’t offer sync like onenote, but I rarely have the need for that. I really wish I got into penable computers earlier cause I think I would have found that more useful than my MBP when I was in college a decade ago. I’d probably be using OneNote more too.

  2. What do you mean by “go through emails one at a time”? I’m not seeing how this is different from say opening a mail in gmail and deciding what to do with it?

  3. Thank you for this. Forest has been on my list to check out for awhile (seriously, my Omifocus inbox has “check out forest” on there….it’s been there for probably 6 months particularly since I stopped using Omnifocus now that I bullet journal) and now I’m actually going to buy it/use the browser extension

  4. My iPod Classic started burning out its charge once a day instea of once every few days (RIP!) and I’ve been considering Spotify Premium. I have a small amount of space ovmy iPhone, and while I love Hamilton, I can’t listen to it every day.
    Spotify Premium goes offline, right? Does that mean the songs get uploaded to your phone?

  5. Thanks! I’ve never heard about Forest and I’m going to check this out. I’ve been trying to use Pomodoro for a while but I ended up going to blacklisted sites anyway…

  6. My local public radio station is free and if I can afford to give that subscription money to them; I get to support locally focused programming.

  7. On the “pay for Spotify” topic, The New York Times has recently added a deal for new digital subscribers that bundles Spotify with NYT access, and I finally caved because I KINDA wanted both of them but not quite enough to pay up.

    You’re totally right. It’s great! (But I think I might need to use Forest to stay off the doom-and-gloom of the Times…)

  8. I didn’t know I needed apps to help streamline and simplify my life, and now that I read this I realize I do. Definitely checking out Forest (!!!) and WeDo this week.

  9. Is there a good streaming service for classical music?
    Thanks for WeDo suggestion. I am going to give it a trial.

    • Spotify has a pretty broad classical section, as does Google Play, though most streaming services are a bitty iffy with regards to classical music. I tend to play online, because they usually have a pretty great selection, even if the ads get a bit annoying sometimes.

    • NYC’s classical music public radio station, WQXR, streams 24/7 online! No ads, just your usual NPR pledge drives from time to time. I used it for a taste of home when I was living abroad and now it keeps me functional at work :)

    • Also really love which is American Public Media’s classical streaming option. It’s got a 24/7 stream of what’s playing on the radio as well as a bunch of different options like “relax” “choral” and “romance” (ha)

  10. Thank you for this roundup! LooKing forward to trying a few of these apps this week.

  11. Forest is a fun idea!

    I have *literal* low bandwidth (think setting a single podcast to download overnight and one day in three entirely without internet) and am wondering about Newton Mail. I currently use Postbox and though I truly adore it, it’s doesn’t really seem to work at my current internet speed. Is Newton much lighter and is it easy to work offline?

    Also, big plug OmmWriter – my fave distraction-free writing app. It’s pretty, soothing and really really works for shorter form writing (I use it for focusing and writing tarot readings and sometimes blog posts). I adore it.

    ALSO: Can’t wait for your novel Ali!

  12. Paying for Spotify was SUCH a game changer for me when I started my corporate job last summer. It was the only thing that kept me going some days. Probably I need to switch back to free Spotify soon now that I lost (read: got fired from) that job a few weeks ago, but honestly I’m holding onto it for as long as my budget will allow…

  13. I don’t have loads of data so I don’t use Spotify on my phone that much, but I do use it on my laptop/work computer a lot. fwiw if you have an adblocker and load up Spotify’s web player (not the program) you get ad free listening

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