Productivity apps for graduate students

My doctorate Major Review is just around the corner. This is when both my supervisor and my School determine whether or not I will be confirmed in candidature. If successful, I will finally be a confirmed PhD candidate. In simpler and more important words, I need to pass!

Apart from preparing for my Major Review, I have been struggling with the third draft of a journal manuscript. I have all the data I need, I’ve started writing, but now the refining of the work has proven to be quite a challenge. I find myself incrementally putting so much pressure on myself that my negative self-talk is becoming a barrier to actually finishing the manuscript. I also have a whole heap of other work that needs to get done! I have my ethics application due, the start of my next set of experiments, preparing for two conference presentations (and applying for grants to support my travel and accommodation), part-time paid work, marine science projects, and all my voluntary work, which includes being a formal mentor to other students. This does not include some of the invisible work done to manage the household I share with my husband, which includes things like remembering his sister-in-law’s birthday, ensuring presents are bought and wrapped, etc., or ensuring there is time to attend social engagements and do the grocery shopping.

I love lists and truly believe that I would not have accomplished much if not for lists. So here’s one. A list of the productivity apps that I have used in order to get things done as a researcher, wife, and immigrant (hey, those Whatsapp texts and video calls to friends and family back home take time, too).

Pomodoro timer app

You may have already heard of the Pomodoro technique. It has been around for years and the concept is very simple. You work intensely for a set amount of time, let’s say 25 minutes, and you set a timer for that. In those 25 minutes, you are doing focused work on only one specific task. You do not have to respond to social media notifications, nor do you stop work to make yourself a snack. Once the timer goes off, you stop work and take a five minute break to do whatever you would like. The timer goes off again after five minutes and you resume working again for a full 25 minutes. This technique allows me to get so much done! After two full hours have passed in total, which is worth about four rounds of Pomodoro, I give myself a 30-minute break before resuming any kind of focused work again. This technique works wonders for me when I’m trying to get a lot of writing done. It also helps that I’m forced to take breaks to stretch my legs and rest my eyes. Time flies, and at the end of the day, I realise just how much I’ve accomplished from my to-do list!

I use a Google app called Pomodroido, which is basically a timer. Feel free to search “pomodoro timer app” and find the best one that works best for you.

Trello (

Trello is basically a project management tool. I’ve used this to manage multiple projects, organize overseas holidays, keep itineraries for when we have friends visiting Adelaide, and so on. It’s also allows for project collaboration in teams. What I like most about it, though, is that it can be as simple or as complex as you’d like it to be. I started with one board and created a to-do list. Trello allows you to move items (items are called ‘cards’ in this system) across categories, which I found really useful. I kept it simple. I had the following lists within this board:

  • To do
  • Waiting / pending
  • Doing
  • Done
  • General / weekly / fortnightly

There is so much more you can do with Trello, as it allows for agile working and focused work. I’ll leave you with this simple list for now, but maybe I’ll post more about the other capabilities of Trello that I use for my doctoral research and other work. My husband and I went camping in Yellowstone National Park and wandered around New York City last year, and that entire trip was planned and managed through Trello.

Here is an old to-do board I created for one of my projects when I started using Trello (click on image to enlarge).

5-second Journal app (

I have always liked writing in journals. Lately, I’ve found that I really don’t have the time for it anymore. I still believe that reflection is a key part to self-awareness. Self-awareness is such an important part of wellbeing, knowing yourself, and staying true to our core values. How can we accomplish challenges if we lack the motivation to make it happen? There are tough times when it’s helpful to be able to envision the greater picture. I find that keeping a journal helps me to process my day. I just needed to find one that would be easy to keep. This one ticked all the boxes. It even gave me prompts to ensure I was able to find something to be grateful for each day.

All it takes is a couple of minutes in the morning and at night, two minutes, literally.

Morning entry

Evening entry

As they say, “don’t call it a dream, call it a plan.”

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