Starting a new year is a great time to start healthy new habits, quit unhealthy ones, or just try something new that may improve your life’s satisfaction or effectiveness.
But it’s already more than a week into the new year. Many of us have already tried and failed on our resolutions. For many others, the holidays came and went, and life is happening so fast that we didn’t get a chance to reflect and consider what next steps could help us achieve the life we truly want.
Fortunately, there’s an app for that … somewhere. In an app store near you, there’s an app that’s a near-perfect fit for you to make that next step easier and quicker to jump start, make it more fun, and help you stick with it.
My overarching resolution for this year is to live more fully in the present moment, appreciating and maximizing whatever I am doing at the time, fully connecting with (and enjoying) the people I’m with, fully focusing on (and enjoying) the work I’m doing — rather than multitasking or getting distracted by thoughts about the past or future.
Obviously, that’s a lofty, abstract goal. I broke that resolution down into some concrete steps, including three practices that I had tried (and failed) multiples times in past years: meditation, journaling, and the Pomodoro Technique for work focus.
Just seeing those three terms makes me wince from the memories of tediousness, boredom, and ultimately failure of trying to make these a habit in the past. But this time, I’ve now successfully practiced them for 16 days in a row (I got a head start on the new year) — about five times farther than I’ve ever gotten for any of these three practices.
None of these practices requires an app, but for me, it was key. Using these apps makes it easier, quicker, and more fun:
- Headspace or Calm (free, with option for paid subscription, iOS or Android): Both of these apps lead you through a guided meditation, to help you train your mind to stay focused on your priorities and the present moment rather than getting distracted. I signed up for the free trials, and I like both. I’ve heard that some people simply go back and forth using the free versions, 10 days using Headspace and seven days using Calm. I find that I like the Headspace narrator’s voice and style a little better, and so I’m planning to try the paid version. I’m excited to notice that where I previously found it extremely hard to do five minutes of meditation without becoming bored or completely distracted, I can now do 10 minutes pretty easily.
- 5 Minute Journal ($4.99 iOS or $22.95 paper): This journal is not a record of everything you do, but rather a way to process thoughts and events, reflect on them, and choose how to respond. It helps me live with gratitude and intention. In the past for me, journaling took a lot of time and was boring, and so I quickly found that I didn’t have time for it. This inexpensive app makes it fun and quick to reflect on the past day and focus the next day on what’s most important for me. It is now a joy to carve out 5 minutes every day for this.
- FocusList ($4.99, iOS or Android): This is helping me be more focused and efficient in my work, by using the Pomodoro Technique. I haven’t yet decided that Pomodoro is the best technique for me, but I’ve decided to give it a long-term experiment, and so far it seems to be a major improvement. There are a ton of apps and websites that support Pomodoro; I like that this one is both light and flexible, and the integration with Apple Watch is helpful. Basically, it helps me focus on a single task for a defined duration (default is 25 minutes), followed by a five-minute break, after which I choose what to work on next. Then you repeat the cycle. The short length creates a bit of urgency so I work harder to stay focused and efficient, and it helps me stop procrastinating for unpleasant tasks. (I can do anything for 25 minutes.)
A surprising benefit of Pomodoro is that it’s helping me better estimate how long tasks will take and how many tasks I can realistically expect to squeeze into one day — and so I am being more careful to prioritize my tasks. As a result, it is helping me feel better at the end of each day, because I am getting done the predefined things that were most important to me.
Also, the five-minute break helps me keep perspective. Although I’m often tempted to skip the break if the task is not yet finished, I’m finding that the break is critical. For example, recently I ended a 25-minute session and didn’t quite finish everything I’d planned to do for a particular task; but during the break, I came to the realization that the task really WAS done — it was definitely good enough to meet the need, and any additional work wouldn’t add enough value to justify the time. Bam! I just saved myself at least 30 minutes, and I was able to move on to my next priority.
I’ve found that all three of these take some practice before they start to feel less clumsy, less like learning to ride a bike (and falling repeatedly), and more like they’re actually taking me where I want to go and letting me enjoy the ride along the way. They say 21 days is the foundation for a new habit, but I’ve already reached the point where I’m looking forward to jumping into them each new morning.
How about you? Have you found any apps that have made it easier to start or stick with a resolution? If you need other ideas, check out Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss; this is where I learned about Headspace, Calm, and 5 Minute Journal.
Jesse Lahey, SPHR, is the host of the podcasts Engaging Leader and Workforce Health Engagement, and he is CEO (chief engagement officer) of Aspendale Communications. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. If you know anyone who would benefit from this information, please share it!