Work Hard, Play Harder: 5 of the Best Apps to Help You Squeeze More Out of 2016

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I’ll be honest. For a long time, I used to think apps were 1-day novelty gadgets; the type you’d show a friend at the pub and excitedly beam, ‘Check this out!’, play with once again while half conked-out on the sofa back home and promptly forget about the next day.

Remember the iBeer app when it first came out? (It lets you to tilt your phone on its side, so that the device appears to fill up with beer, allowing you to take a ‘swig’). Worth a download for the laughs, but not terribly useful in the long-term.

So, it blew my mind when I started to discover a couple of apps that brought real value.

Innovation in the app industry, particularly as a result of the huge boom in smartphone and tablet use in the last 5 years, has revolutionised in the way we interact with the world today.

Apps have evolved into useful tools that can make our lives easier – helping us be more productive, to meditate daily, keep in touch with others, discover like-minded people and cool new hangouts in our city, the list goes on!

For those of you who are success-driven, but love to experiment and notch up new life experiences; for those of you who like to work hard and play harder in the rest of your life – here are some great apps to help you smash the daily grind and join the playground for a tipple afterwards.

1. Fever

Want to reinvigorate your weekend? Love the usual Saturday nights with your main circle, but fancy trying something new? 

The low-down:

This app is your inside-man; your friendly, alternative tour-guide…

Depending on your bag, there’s a huge variety of niche events and cool hangouts you can go check out, that you wouldn’t necessarily find in TimeOut. For example, a quick glimpse at my timeline of events and I can: 

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-Snag discount entrance to London’s best jerk chicken eatery (a right East London gem)

-Attend a one-off luxe tasting event for Veuve Cliquot champagne

-Try out the UK’s latest fitness craze at selected gyms (it’s called ‘Edge Cycling Boot Camp’ -an intense combo of cycling and boot camp-style floor exercises).

I like to give something new a go every 2-3 weeks, to shake up the routine – whether it’s dropping in somewhere new for a quick lunch, or planning a whole evening out doing something slightly outside my comfort zone.

Having just moved back to London from Sydney, where I lived for 15 months, Fever has been great for falling in love with the UK vibes all over again and discovering quirks within the city.

How it works:

Select up to 8 hashtags to indicate your interests; then scroll through the personalized newsfeed to find recommended upcoming events. With two taps, you can book tickets straight away, often on special offer. Easy as!

Added bonus: 

Get social and connect online with other like-minded people attending the same events. Tinder might have to take a back seat for now.

2. Evernote.

I’m a real content junkie.

I’ll often get inspired reading an article online, watching a TED video or randomly hearing a house tune that takes me right back. Something will resonate in the ol’ core and I’ll feel the urge to write it down to refer to later.

In the past, I’d have scribbled something down in my notepad, added it to iPhone notes, or written it out journal-style in a Word document. Having one place to store everything for future reference was proving a bit of a nightmare! 

This all changed when I discovered EverNote.

The low-down:

The app is genius because it allows you to store all your notes (plus image folders) in one place, and you can save webpages to read offline later.

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How it works

Everything goes onto the cloud system, accessible on your laptop, phone or iPad. It allows you to go paperless and organise everything easily and efficiently into separate notebooks, with the super-simple tag system to locate things.

The app enables you to streamline your life. So there’ll be no taking hours to find receipts for your expenses (you can snap them with the camera and save all into one notebook), or trawling through pages of notes to find that esoteric clothing brand name you scribbled down to check out later.

It’s the simplest way to get organised, especially for those artistic scatterbrains amongst us.

3. MeetUp.

This is the best app to widen your friendship circle. It’s ace.

The low-down:

MeetUp is similar to Fever. But its USP is that it makes it easy to break into whole communities in your local city harbouring the same niche interests.

Moved to a new city for work and don’t know anyone? Looking to connect with others who have the same penchant for Japanese cooking? Awesome. There are tons of peeps for you to connect with/geek out with.

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My timeline and suggested groups – a whole mix of MeetUps from personal development to house music, to urban, to entrepreneurial, and others.

This app changed my life when I lived in Australia. I was over there on a Working Holiday visa and living it up in Sydney – working in marketing during the day and spending most of my time with friends from the hostel in the evenings.

We shared a dorm, cooked together, went out on the weekends together – and inevitably all ended up at McDonald’s at 3 o’clock in the morning together (which was directly opposite the hostel – score).

It was a lot of fun. But one day, I decided to mix things up a little. I’d always been into presenting, so I decided to venture out and try out a public speaking MeetUp group in the city.

I’ll admit, I was nervous at first. I’d heard there was an activity called ‘Table Topics’, which is where you’re given a random subject and have to improvise a convincing one-minute speech on the spot. Hello.

Scary as it sounded, I decided to jump into the ring anyway and was pleased to find that everyone was actually really supportive and non-judgemental. In fact, a number of people turned out to share my passion for personal development and some went on to become close friends of mine. Two of them are life coaches in their early twenties (legends) and fortunately, I went on to help run self-help seminars with them in Sydney.

So the moral of the story is, try out a niche activity on MeetUp – it’s a great way to  connect with similar-minded people. When you can geek out with someone else over a shared passion, there’s nothing like it.

How it works:

Type in your city and select your top interests. MeetUp will suggest groups you can add yourself to and feed you a timeline of events coming up.

The more specific your interest, the better. When I was back in London after university, I decided to go out and meet new people at a pub-quiz meet-up for Londoners in their 20s. It was entertaining but generic – a few laughs over wine, but no one that I particularly thought, ‘Cool, we click’!

Comparatively, the public speaking MeetUp attracted a certain type of person – someone who’s perhaps likely to be into personal development and communication.

4Headspace.

The low-down:

Let’s face it, being a beast at work and joining the playground afterwards requires energy.

And dealing with the daily anxieties and stresses of modern-day living can really slow us down, making us feel sluggish or in a bad mindset.    

Sometimes the geek side of me likes to think of people as computers. If we want to really operate at our greatest capacity, we need to close all the windows (distractions and negative thoughts) in our system. It’s all about focus.

This then allows us to concentrate on the work that matters to us and get more done.

So how do we get there?

Well, countless studies show that meditation is a huge step in the right direction.

They say that meditating regularly (a minimum of 10 minutes daily) can reduce anxiety overtime, treat depression and help you to lead a happier, more fulfilled life.

All it starts with is a regular focusing on the present moment. 

Anxieties rooted in the past and fears about the future then fade away as we focus intently on the now. 

So, the more we practise this awareness, the less we are held back in our everyday lives.

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How it works:

They say founder and ex-monk, Andy Puddicombe, has done for meditation what Jamie Oliver did for healthy food.

He’s brought meditation to the masses and made it more accessible.

His hugely popular app, Headspace, is great, as you can sign up for a 10-day free-trial and gain access to 10 guided meditations.

Find somewhere comfortable to sit, where you won’t be distracted and allow yourself to zone in on the audio, with Andy’s voice to guide you.

His voiceover really helps you keep on track when your mind starts to wander. Don’t worry if this happens, as it’s inevitable when you’re just starting out!

Once you’ve completed the first 10, you can unlock themed meditations, such as, ‘self-esteem’, ‘anxiety’ and others, which are useful if you ever need a targeted boost.

With the app, simplicity is key and being able to practise the meditations anywhere is a big plus. There are also six snazzy animations to help you visualise the process easily.

5. 30/30

Ok, so time management isn’t the sexiest topic ever. 

But when it comes to personal happiness, getting the important stuff done has a huge impact on how fulfilled we feel at the end of the day.

Let’s be honest, it’s easy to get distracted by anything and everything when we’ve got a task do. Facebook, iPhone, Buzzfeed, Richard Littlejohn’s column in the Daily Mail (we’re talking serious procrastination stages here!)

This is where 30/30 comes in. 

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The low-down:

30/30 works on the concept that productivity can be increased by focusing on work intensely for short chunks of time, punctuated by frequent breaks in between. Breaks act as mini-rewards and allow us time to quickly refresh before the next set of work.

It consists of a timer and customizable schedule so you can really keep track on what you’re doing.

For me, I’ve really noticed the results when adopting this ‘chunking’ technique. 

For example, setting the timer to 30 minutes for uninterrupted emails means I can get  them all done in one go. That’s without letting the task drag on to 1.5 hours, due to binge-reading articles and replying to texts that can wait until later. 

I’ll then schedule in a 5-minute break at the end to make some tea, before getting on with the next task. I feel so much more satisfied when I’m in control of where my focus is going.

How it works:

30/30 allows you to adjust the length of work/break time slots according to your agenda, as well as customise the labels of your tasks.

It’s graphically rich, brightly-coloured and has an intuitive, gesture-based interface.

The best thing about 30/30 is that encourages you to get out of your head. When you can properly structure your work/break periods, you’ll see how much more efficiently you can work during focused chunks of time.

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So there you have it. 5 handy apps for you to squeeze more out of your year and max your life experiences this 2016.

Have you tried any of these apps? Do you have any of your own favourites that help you get more productive/on it socially?

Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!

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