By all accounts, it’s tough being a student. You’ve got to spend just the right amount of time chatting up members of the opposite sex, and just the right amount of time partying without accidentally going off the rails and waking up in a bin.
Somewhere between all the hard work of coming to terms with yourself and managing your social life, you might actually want to get some work done.
One of the annoying things about student life is that time is at a premium. Your days are spent busily absorbing knowledge, and your evenings get hijacked by assignments.
As if that wasn’t enough, it seems like a lot of the tech world is there specifically to relieve you of your precious surplus minutes. Apps and tools abound which serve no real purpose other than to help you “kill time” – probably the last thing you should want to do. Luckily, for every cloud there’s a silver lining. For every app or program designed to lure you into an abyss of internet memes, there’s also one to help you gain the upper hand in the battle against father time.
Here’s a look at some of the worst offenders which you’ll want to avoid, as well as some lifesaving gems which can help to make you the master of your own destiny.
Time waster: Instagram
Platform: Web, iPhone, Android
Key Features: Become your own paparazzi
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but that doesn’t mean it’s always worth a thousand good words. Often enough it’s worth maybe a thousand words of shoddily written Harry Potter fan-fiction, with one too many R-rated plot twists.
Instagram is one of the worst offenders in depriving an entire generation of their precious free time. Not only are you likely to bleed away the hours surfing aimlessly through photos of cats, but you’ll also be under extra pressure to join in and turn your life into one endless carnival of photo opportunities. Think of what you could do with those extra minutes here or there if you weren’t artfully arranging your lunch or mid-morning cappuccino to catch the sun at just the right angle for your next update.
Time saver: Evernote
Cost: Basic (free), Plus (£19.99 a year), Premium (£34.99 a year)
Platform: Web, Windows, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android
Key Features: Create notes, have them with you at all times, never need to organise them
If you’ve got a lot on your mind, and don’t want to worry about scrawling your notes haphazardly on half a dozen stray bits of paper, you might want to download Evernote – the notepad of the 21st Century.
Once you’ve set up your account, you can get started making notes in any style you’d like – text, video, audio, bullet point, photographic. Even with a free account, Evernote will automatically sync up your notes between all of your devices.
Perhaps best of all, you can easily search for keywords (even within photos) and arrange your notes into convenient categories with close to no effort required.
Time waster: Facebook
Platform: Web, Windows, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android
Key Features: Become a hamster running endlessly on the dopamine wheel
It may be the biggest social network in the world. You may swear that you’re only on it to keep in touch with your cousin in Australia or your friend who’s moved up North (or down South). Odds are you’re just kidding yourself. Facebook, like a lot of social media, manipulates your body’s dopamine production to get you hooked and keep you coming back for more. If you find that you’ve got a strange urge to check your updates every 10 minutes throughout the day – or if each notification gives you butterflies – that’ll be the reason why.
What’s worse, studies have found that all that time spent Facebooking is likely to fuel depression down the line, rather than feel-good vibes. Better to just send your distant loved ones an email, or a good old-fashioned postcard.
Time Saver: RescueTime
Cost: Light (free), Premium (£5.71 a month, or £45.70 a year)
Platform: Web, Windows
Key Features: Track just how you’re spending your online time
RescueTime is an app designed to track just how much time you spend doing things you’re not supposed to be doing on your computer. To be more specific, it automatically tracks the amount of time you spend on different websites, or in different applications, and creates reports for you to view. Your reports come on a weekly basis and outline just how you’ve spent your time.
At a glance you can see what percentage of your time has been spent productively and what percentage hasn’t. One great benefit of this tool is that it does its job automatically and doesn’t ask you to fill in your own timesheets. This greatly helps in reducing guilt-ridden or absent-minded gaps in your record. At the same time, it can lead to awkward soul-searching about just why you needed to be on Reddit for the entire time you were “revising”.
Time Waster: StumbleUpon
Platform: Web, iPhone, Android
Key Features: Procrastinate with less effort and greater intensity
One of the great things about living in the internet age is that the collective wisdom and learning of mankind is laid out before you like a buffet table. You only need to hit Google with your burning question of the moment in order to learn some new, fascinating fact about the world.
Of course, most people use that amazing power to look up random clickbait articles and videos of cute animals tripping over themselves.
StumbleUpon is the ultimate app for helping you waste your time by connecting you with mildly entertaining e-anecdotes on demand. You’ll feel like you’re learning something new about the world, but you’re probably not.
Time Saver: Remember the Milk
Cost: Basic (free), Pro (£15.88 a year)
Platform: Web, iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry
Key Features: Checklist task management, never forget the milk again
Remember the Milk is the task management app to end all task management apps. This disarmingly simple tool allows you to create to-do lists for anything you need to get done during your day-to-day life. You can set specific details for each task, search your tasks by due date or by keyword, and you can also set the app to send you reminders whenever you’ve got a deadline looming. Reminders can be sent either by email, Skype, various chat programs such as AIM, or even by text depending on your mobile network.
What’s even better is that Remember the Milk integrates well with just about every platform, app, and bit of software out there – including Evernote, Gmail, and Twitter. Finally, if you sign up for the Pro version, your list will automatically sync up across all of your mobile devices.
Time Waster: Twitter
Platform: Web, Windows, Mac, Windows Phone, iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Nokia
Key Features: Profound insights at 140 characters a piece
In theory, the idea of Twitter is to condense conversation and force people to pick their words more carefully before committing them to the world-wide-web. Something like a Haiku in social media form. Whether or not that’s true, having a 140 character limit and access to an unlimited audience means that it’s all too easy to spend hours shooting off one-liners and floating half-formed thoughts into the aether. Soon you may find that your tweets degenerate to gems like “lol just had a bagel lol”, and by that point it may be too late.
What’s worse, at least one study has been set up to investigate a mysterious and ominously named new phenomenon known as “Twitter psychosis”.
Time Saver: Focus Booster
Cost: Free (free), Basic (£1.90 a month, or £19.03 a year)
Platform: Web, Windows, Mac
Key Features: Chunk down your large tasks, complete them with ease
A small chunk of time can go a surprisingly long way when you’re fully focused on the task at hand (see Parkinson’s Law). The problem – especially with larger tasks – is getting started and trying to avoid feeling completely burned out after a couple of minutes. There’s a great trick for getting around this, and it’s called the Pomodoro Technique.
Focus Booster is an app based on the Pomodoro Technique. It involves getting you working for 25-minute chunks and then taking 5-minute breaks to give yourself a breather. The free version features the basic timer, the paid version includes a lot of extra goodies to help keep track of what you’ve been spending those precious pomodoros on. If you’ve got a big deadline coming up soon but can’t get motivated to sit down and punish yourself flat-out for an 8-hour stretch, commit to doing just a couple of pomodoros at a time. You’ll be amazed by how easy it becomes to chip away that iceberg.
Guest author: Dan Wessels