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Almost every year I do a post similar to this one, about how technology can help with popular New Year’s Resolutions. And every year I make the same disclaimer — if you want to change something about yourself or the way you move through the world, why wait until the new year? At the moment you realize what you want, make the change regardless of some arbitrary date or milestone or whatever. This year for me, though, the new year happens to coincide with a major change in how I live my life — I’m going in to thesis semester. I’m a graduate student in an MFA program and for the next few months I don’t teach, I don’t take classes, I just write my novel. That is the only thing my school expects me to do (well, that and my other job). I can begin falling back into rhythms driven less by panic and deadlines and more by how I truly want to be. Also, no more night classes. I’M BACK TO BEING YOUR RESIDENT MORNING PERSON, Y’ALL!
But I digress. New Year’s Resolutions happen to work out for me this year. And if you’re in the same boat, here are some common ways we want to make ourselves better, and some technology to help out.
Available for both iOS and Android, LifeSum helps you track your diet, water intake and exercise. It has the option to put the emphasis on weight loss, but y’all know I’m not about that. Other options include gaining muscle or eating more fruits and vegetables. The basic services are free, but a gold account ($3.33/month for a 12 month commitment) gets you more detailed nutritional information and recipe recommendations.
Recovering from a concussion, other injury or illness (mental or physical?) Jane McGonigal created SuperBetter after realizing that gameifying her recovery from traumatic brain injury really helped her with focus, resilience and just plain enjoying her life.
Since that process, she’s partnered with institutions like The Ohio State University Medical Center to create pathways to do everything from quitting smoking to implementing Fun Days during a concussion recovery to practicing realistic optimism. On top of the web-app, you can grab SuperBetter on iOS and Android (totally free).
Block & Flow
I know, I know, it’s only for iOS. But this free work timer is my reminder to everyone that the pomodoro technique exists, and that doing things in short bursts is, for many, a satisfying way to stay focused. (Here’s one for Android, just so some of y’all don’t feel left out!) The reason I’m recommending Block & Flow specifically is because it harnesses an “item collection” instinct I have when it comes to games, and it makes spending time doing tasks feel more like playing a game because you collect your time blocks and can see exactly how much time you’ve spent doing what. Want to harness gaming for productivity even further? Well then—
I know, I know, we’ve banged the drum on Habitica SO MANY TIMES. But seriously, treating your to-do list, daily tasks and habits as bad guys to vanquish, leveling up and — yes — collecting items is SUPER EFFECTIVE. Also your avatar is adorable. And a Straddler made an Autostraddle guild for us all, so join Habitica and to-do with us! In addition to the web app, there’s also an app for iOS and Android (the iOS one is way better, as of right now).
In an installment of Rachel’s Helping You Help Yourself column that I can no longer locate, Rachel advocates for not committing to more than three things per day. If you have a too-long to-do list, you get overwhelmed and do nothing. That’s the idea behind CommitTo3, which allows you to — you guessed it — make a to-do list that’s only three items long. No more, no less. The app is free for iOS and Android, but with a $2.99 yearly subscription you have the ability to track your progress and form teams.
Learn a New Skill
Want to learn how to write funny for the internet? Hand letter a post card? Create a game using Unity? That’s Skillshare for you! Some classes are free, but many require a premium subscription of $10/month (50% of that goes to pay Skillshare teachers). If you’re not able to pay right now, though, perhaps try Khan Academy (tagline: Free for everyone forever). A word to the wise, Skillshare is more practical and artsy than Khan, which is more academic. Anyhow, Skillshare has, in addition to their webapp, iOS and Android apps. They also have a 14 day free trial and, at the time I’m writing this, a holiday sale wherein one can get a 3 month premium membership for ninety-nine cents if you’re new.
I know it’s an extremely popular freebie app to learn languages and we’ve talked about it before, but Duolingo has changed significantly in the past year and I figure we should chat about it real quick. Each lesson now has a little fact sheet that goes with it that explains the why behind some of the language rules, so it doesn’t feel like you’re flying blind in the same way. I tested it out with a language I speak, and I think they’re doing an excellent job explaining things. Also, the more you learn, the more you can learn — use their fake digital currency to buy additional lessons. Today I did French idioms! In addition to their webapp, Duolingo has apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. I’ve also signed up to get notified when Hungarian becomes available!
Manage Money Better
The New YNAB
I rave about You Need a Budget (called YNAB for short) to literally everyone. I started using it after researching it for an installment of Queer Your Tech, and my finances got healthier in a matter of three months. Now they have a new web-based service that’s $5/month or $50/year. What’s new? You can set savings or debt reduction goals and the software will help you figure out how to budget for it; you can now use YNAB on any computer, Chromebooks or Linux machines included (or at work, where you can’t install software); it now syncs without Dropbox. There are a bunch more new things, and if you’re already a YNAB 4 user, you can lock in a 10% discount for life (so it goes down to $45/year). Check out the transition guide for how things have changed. If you’re not sure, try it free for 34 days.
This app is so good that it is the only app in this category. Just trust me.