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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.
Just want to brag that I managed to keep my 2015 New Years resolution to not watch any movies wherein the main character is a cis/het, white, able-bodied, neuro-typical, etc., etc. dude. This SEVERELY limited what movies I could watch but it was a fun challenge :)
Oh man, that sounds like a difficult challenge indeed!
Mine was to not listen to any music artists or groups that weren’t either woman led, or at least 50% female.
I did (almost) this exact same thing! No movie or TV with white cis dude leads, at all. I actually found it a lot easier/less restrictive than I anticipated. Well, it was until I realized I had forgotten about cartoons (bob’s burgers, steven universe, <>). But I’m kind of sad that the year is over. 10/10 would recommend this “resolution”/experiment.
Thanks Ali, I guess I’ll start my way at the top and work my way down from there:-)
My plans do involve trying to keep healthy and exercising, despite going back to work and finally speaking arabic (I’m taking a class for that,though).
Maybe I’ll even get around to managing my money better.
Good luck on your further endeavours!
Thank you for the luck! I’ll need it!
Congrats on being almost done with your Masters degree, Ali!
Last year I was able to keep my resolution of flossing more often. I’ve never used a whole roll of dental floss before and in 2015 I finished several….
Thank yoouuuu! Also flossing is a really good resolution. I did the same! Yay flossing!
It’s important to keep your gums healthy !
Just what I needed today! Thank you! Will give Super Better, Block & Flow and YNAB a try.
Your user name is precious
As is yours :)
I think this might be Rachel’s post you were thinking of re: three priorities per day
I haven’t logged into duolingo in over a year probably, so yikes to that.
Yes, that’s the post! <3 <3 <3 Autostraddle Trivia Champion strikes again.
This is really great, I’ve already downloaded SuperBetter! I’m all for resolution apps, but more often than not they end up untouched in my little productivity folder.
But my new fave, Streaks, is a habit-keeping app that really works for me! I get such a kick out of pressing the little icon that I’m actually excited to do all my tasks for the day. Now I floss with enthusiasm and fill up my water bottle more often than ever! Hi
The current productivity app I’m fooling around with is a chrome extension called BuildFocus (it’s at buildfocus.io I think? i’m not sure)
It blocks websites for 25 minute blocks and then gives you the option of another block of 25, or a 5 minute break, and for every 25 minute block you complete you get a little house and you’re tryna build a city!
It’s combining the gameifying and the pomodoro thing and I love it, though it’s still in alpha so it’s a bit limited.
My new years resolutions are to kiss more girls and to play more bass guitar. I don’t think there’s an app for the first one but I might hunt for one for the second.
I feel like it might be easier to find apps for the first than the second, tbh. Good luck!
Also here to support Habitica and YNAB 200%, but thought I should add that YNAB is free for college students. I learnt this too late! Also if you just recently bought the YNAB 4 software, you’ll get a few months off free on top of the 10% lifetime discount.
I’m waiting with bated breath for Hungarian to become available on Duolingo. I’ve always been sad that my Hungarian great-grandma didn’t pass down her language, and Duolingo has really helped me with Italian. Estimated launch is 12/14/15, though??
My grandfather spoke it, my dad can curse in it, and the family name I have to pass down when I have children is Zoltan. I need to learn Hungarian.
I just found stickk.com, which is likely to appeal to those of you who have a competitive edge. You don’t have to put money on the line but you can set it up so that if you don’t follow through your money goes to a charity you want to support, a charity that you don’t want to support, or a person you know. If you do meet your goal no money moves around. One of my friends and I set up matching goals that will give money to each other if we don’t live up to them. It’s an interesting twist on accountability partners, that seems like it is going to be fun long term.
I’ve just started using a similar app (Beeminder). They also have really good statistical analysis behind their graphs and stuff. We’ll see if I ever have to give them money!
Happy New Year Ali! All the best of luck for this big thing that is writing a thesis!
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Looking back on it a year and a half after, I realise I like the finished product less and less but I’m still insanely proud of the achievement!
Also don’t forget to still do the other things you enjoy in life while you write :).
Thank you so much for the luck! I’m enjoying so far, but I still think I’ll need the luck.
This list is awesome, thank you so much! I started using a couple of them immediately :)
The other day I went back to a previous article about period trackers and ended up download Clue, to help myself keep better track of PMS (so that maybe PMS won’t continue to fuck up my relationships). Resolution #1 being self-awareness of my own mental health. I hope I can remember to update within the app /actually use it.
I also looked back at an article that recommended apps/websites for blocking social media, because that’s something I really need to do (Resolution #2). The problem though is they all seem to only block social media within web browsers. Is there anything out there that I can put on my phone that will block my Facebook app for a certain amount of time? (Rather than just blocking Facebook.com from my Safari)
I love YNAB, but have stopped using it in the last few months because I got promoted at work and was so busy. Now I’m going to reset and start the new year actually knowing how i spend my money and how much I have!
On the languages front, I’ll happily recommend giving Human Japanese a try – it’s a pair of apps (beginner and intermediate), available for mobile and desktop platforms, stupidly cheaply, yet very professionally produced:
I started Habitica and YNAB today- finger’s crossed I stick with it!
Also if learning German is anyone’s jam there’s a state-run language program that’s free to use and pretty effective imo;
Thanks for the DW German link! I admit, I’ll be giving Japanese priority for now, but I’d very much like to expand my German beyond understanding what I’m ordering in restaurants. ^_^; (Not to mention German remains a highly useful language as a tourist in many other countries, second only to English)
AND it is the language, where the literal translation for gloves is “handshoes”.
I plan to use Habitica, LifeSum, and YNAB. Great list- now apps can hold me accountable for my insatiable desire to do tons of things at once.
Well I just downloaded Duolingo to practice my Russian as my other half is Russian and has a non English speaking relative visiting from Siberia at the moment. I tested my French for fun and I am delighted that I am 10% fluent! It’s been ages since my last French lesson and I am feeling crappy at the moment so it was a nice boost.