Studying for the ACA or ICAEW CFAB can feel like a masterclass in time management. These smart apps offer simple ways to help you become more organised and efficient.
Free (Basic) or £4.99 a month (Premium)
One of the most popular digital note-taking apps, Evernote makes it quick and easy to save and organise notes in almost any format: text, PDFs, spreadsheets, images, web pages, scanned handwritten notes, audio clips and more. When you create a new note, you can add keyword tags to it to create your own instant filing system. There’s also a powerful search function that lets you look for a word or phrase across all formats – even images and handwritten notes. The Basic version is free and will be enough for most students, allowing you to sync across two devices and save up to 60MB worth of notes each month.
Free (limited), Premium ($4 a month) or Business ($6 a month). Students can apply for a 70% discount on a Business subscription
Don’t underestimate the psychological power of a to do list (anyone who’s ever written down a task they have already completed just to cross it off knows what we’re talking about). The beauty of a digital to do list – and Todoist is one of the most beautiful – is that you can easily create multiple lists for different aspects of your work, study and home life, rather than putting everything into one long (and inevitably overwhelming) list. The other big benefit is scheduling: when you create a new task, you’re prompted to assign a due date, encouraging you to focus on what’s important and put not-so-urgent tasks to the back of your mind.
Free (limited) or $12.50 a month (Business)
Taking to do lists to the next level, with Trello you can organise all your various tasks and projects onto digital noticeboards. The key is in the layering potential: within each board you can have numerous lists, each made up of individual cards, or tasks. And within each card, you can then add additional information such as labels and due dates, and attachments of any type. The visual interface is particularly attractive, enabling you to customise your background, view lots of information at a glance and easily move tasks around. One of Trello’s other big strengths is collaboration, allowing teams to share and update project information. With the free version you can create up to 10 boards with unlimited cards.
Free (AnkiWeb and AnkiDroid); £23.99 (AnkiMobile)
No matter what kind of information you’re trying to memorise, the humble flashcard remains one of the best ways to do it. Digital flashcards work brilliantly: enabling you to create and customise as many cards as you like, add images, audio and video, and organise them into different decks. But the real power of technology like Anki is in its ability to actively improve your learning: using algorithms to track how quickly and easily you recall information, it learns which cards you need more practice with, and moves them up the deck. The computer-based version of Anki is free, as is the Android app (AnkiDroid) but there is a charge for the Apple app (AnkiMobile).
5. Focus Keeper
Free (with some in-app purchases)
Developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique is a proven time management method that breaks work down into intervals, usually 25 minutes long, interspersed with short breaks. The idea is that having a constant ‘deadline’ (and the reward of a break) encourages you to focus and work more efficiently, without giving in to distractions. And, naturally, there’s an app for that (many of them, in fact). Most include tools such as to do lists, and some integrate with other apps like Todoist and Trello. It’s a simple concept, though, and we like the simplicity of Focus Keeper, which features a red background in a nod to Cirillo’s original tomato timer.
Free (with some in-app purchases)
While smartphones offer all kinds of clever ways to boost your productivity, they are also of course one of the biggest distractions, tempting us to check Instagram or just reply to that WhatsApp instead of focusing on the task in hand. If you find yourself constantly reaching for your phone, try ‘digital disconnection’ app OFFTIME. You simply select the apps you don’t want to be distracted by (as well as those you do want to allow though, in case of important calls, for example), choose how long for, and off you go. Once it’s running, it’s difficult to override, forcing you to unplug and build better habits, and usage data shows just how long you spend procrastinating…
Forest brings the Pomodoro Technique and the idea of unplugging together, helping you to stay focused and manage your time effectively. It’s a little like a video game, too: you choose the amount of time (between 10 and 120 minutes) that you want to work for, open the app and plant a tree. As long as you leave the app open, it will continue to grow – but leave the app or do something else with your phone, and your tree will die. Over time, you can build up a virtual forest, and compete with friends too. Best of all, each tree that survives will earn you coins – collect enough and you can turn them into a real tree to be planted in Africa, thanks to Forest’s partnership with charity Trees for the Future.
Whether you want to hit a weekly studying target or commit to taking a walk around the block every lunchtime to clear your head, then habit-tracking app Streaks is a great place to do it. It has a beautifully simple interface, enabling you to set up to 12 habits and customise options such as icons and background colour. The idea behind it is simple too: that the secret to achieving big goals is consistent small actions. Making a habit of repeatedly doing the right thing (or avoiding the wrong thing) every day will help you succeed. The home screen displays the number of days in your current ‘streak’, as well as overall progress towards your goal, and you can also view more in-depth statistics.
Free (Basic); $29.95 a month (Premium). Discounts on annual plans are often available
Though not strictly speaking a productivity app, Grammarly is a brilliant tool for improving your written communication, especially for those who struggle with spelling and punctuation, non-native English speakers, or anyone pushed for time. Available as a mobile app and a Google Chrome plugin, it helps you compose and correct any piece of writing as you type, whether that’s a Tweet, your LinkedIn profile, a job application, email or client report. Much more than just a spelling and grammar checker, it looks for things like repetitive words, jargon, clichéd phrases and words that non-native speakers commonly misuse, and can even detect plagiarism by comparing your writing to billions of web pages.
Free (with ads); $4.99 a month (Premium)
How often do you come across an interesting article online and mean to come back and read it later? Pocket (formerly known as Read It Later) is a place to store any type of content – articles, videos, pictures, links – for later consumption. Instead of sending you back to the original source, you can read and watch (even offline) on its own user-friendly interface, and easily share on social media or direct to friends’ Pockets. As well as saving content from your browser, you can quickly save directly from hundreds of apps, including Twitter. If you have lots of content, you can organise it with keyword tags (the premium version will suggest them for you), and if you’re looking for even more, the app will make recommendations of things you might like.