Just Thinking

5 Free Tools That Will Make This Year More Productive and Pleasant

Sometimes you just need a fresh new start. It’s a new year! For me it’s also a new semester at school, and I recently started a new job.

As Lucy Maude Montgomery once wrote: “Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it!”

So many fresh starts. And so many new directions to be pulled.

To celebrate, I’ve gathered a few of my favorite free tools that make my busy life easier and more pleasant.

Whether the directions you are pulled are employment, family, volunteering or freelancing, I hope some of these will give you a fresh new start this year, too.

5 Free Tools That Will Make This Year More Productive and Pleasant | Noisli | www.bitsofivory.com
Go to your happy place right from your desk – Noisli


I wish I could remember who told me about Noisli, because I’d hug them. Or give them chocolate. Probably chocolate.

My day job is in a lovely but busy office setting that can feel a little bit chaotic. In the evenings I take online college courses at home, which can also feel a little bit chaotic.

Distractions can be a serious challenge when I really need to focus on details.

This app is an amazing solution.

How many tools that help you become more productive and focused are also relaxation tools?

With just a click of a button the Noisli experts will suggest a sound mix. Looking for something else? No problem! Just click again for a different mix.  If they’ve almost got it, you can fine tune the mix by increasing the thunder. Or decreasing the crackling fire.

And then save your perfected mix for next time.

Or share it with friends.

Here’s my happy place. (click here) It actually exists, and this is really what it sounds like. Heaven.


5 Free Tools That Will Make This Year More Productive and Pleasant | Pomodoro Method of Time Management | Clock | www.bitsofivory.com
Manage time by breaking it into manageable bits – Pomodoro


When I first started taking online classes one of my assignments was to research programs to prevent time-waste online. Nestled between all of the “lock yourself out of facebook and twitter” options out there was a little gem. I loved it immediately. Partially because the name is Italian. And I love Italian.

But more importantly, I loved it because it’s a fantastic fit for how I work. It breaks time into blocks of focused effort, with little blocks built between sessions to stretch or walk or check email or Facebook.

I love it because it takes care of two very important problems.

  • The first is getting distracted and losing focus on the task at hand. I have been known to get distracted by multiple things, and end the day with part of several projects started, and nothing actually completed. Knowing there’s a light at the end of the time block tunnel frees your mind to really focus for the limited time set for the task.
  • The second is becoming so hyper-focused on a project that I lose track of time. There’s nothing quite like trying to stand up and walk around when you’ve been immobile for a few hours! Built in breaks give you time to stretch, hydrate, and blink.

This time management system doesn’t work perfectly for everyone, but if you find yourself falling into the distracted/hyper-focused traps when you’re working on projects, give it a try!

You can use any kind of timer. Though the tomato timers are really cute. And the physical “setting” of a timer can be a great trigger to your mind that it’s time to focus!


5 Free Tools That Will Make This Year More Productive and Pleasant | Pocket | www.bitsofivory.com
A virtual pocket can keep you on track, saving distractions for later – Pocket


Inevitably, as you’re practicing the Pomodoro time management rules, you’ll run across something on the internet that you really can’t pass up. You need to read it. Or make it. Or buy it. And if you don’t do it now, you’ll forget it.

Before you know it you’re sidetracked, and your 25 minutes of focus time has been spent surfing the web.

The Pocket app is my favorite new tool for staying productive while at the same time never missing a fun, fascinating, delicious or life-changing thing. Ever.

If you run across something that’s begging you to pay attention, just say yes – later. Put it in your digital pocket. Then pull it out on your five-minute relaxation break. Or while you’re waiting at the school to pick up the kids. Or in line at the grocery checkout.

One of the things I love about pocket is that you can tag articles with a keyword to sort them, making it really easy to find related articles that you’ve saved. When you’ve had a chance to read an article, one click will archive it to get it out of your “to read” list, but keeping it accessible if you ever need to refer to it in the future.

And you can share to social media right from the app.



5 Free Tools That Will Make This Year More Productive and Pleasant | Cozi - Grocery Lists & Menu Planning| www.bitsofivory.com
Family menu planning, shopping lists and so much more – Cozi


We’ve used Cozi Family Organizer for years now. The shared calendar is really nice for keeping track of a complicated family schedule.

At a single glance you can see everyone’s updated events and appointments. Everyone knows when they’re free to commit. Or not. It’s kind of magical.

But the shopping list is my very favorite.

Do you ever have that nightmare where you get home from the store and you hear a voice call out something awful? Something like “Oh, I wish I would have known you were going to the store! I used all of the milk this afternoon making pudding!” Or perhaps “Did you see my text this morning? I need to bring cupcakes for our robotics club party tonight.”

The nightmare is real, my friends.  And it’s the opposite of productive. And pleasant.

What I love about the Cozi shopping list is that everyone can log in either through the computer or an app on their phone to add items to the family shopping list, which updates real time. As you shop, you can cross off the items as you add them to your basket (unlike following a series of texts).

You can even organize the items on the list into areas of the store for a faster shopping experience.

Since we started using it, Cozi has also added a meal planner. And it gets better.

When you add a recipe to your menu, you can also add the ingredients to your shopping list with just a click!

“What’s for dinner, mom?” “I don’t know! Check Cozi and then get it started, please.”


5 Free Tools That Will Make This Year More Productive and Pleasant | WorkFlowy for lists | www.bitsofivory.com
Life is a series of lists – make them better – WorkFlowy


My overachiever civil engineer/computer programmer sister sent me this link.

She makes a lot of lists, so she’s pretty much an expert.

And she loves Workflowy.

I’m just getting started with it, but so far I adore it. And I’ll tell you why.

It’s simple.

No bells and whistles. No fancy little tricks that are fun at first and then get in the way.

And it’s perfect for perfectionists who are paralyzed by trying to set things up perfectly, and set up folders to divide up tasks perfectly, and then crumble because something important doesn’t fit perfectly into any of the perfect little categories.

Not that I would know what that is like.

You can see your whole list at a glance, or focus in on one item and its sub-items.

And when you accidentally build a whole list under the wrong category, you don’t have to start over. You just click and drag it to its new spot.

Simplicity is a beautiful thing, because you can design it to work the way you think.

My sister’s IT team uses it as a workflow tracker. The same list can hold your to dos, birthdays, contacts, gift ideas, lesson ideas, favorite scriptures and meeting notes.

Your whole life on one big, beautiful list.


Have a Productive and Pleasant New Year!

Whatever projects and tasks you have in store for the new year, I hope these tools make it something to really celebrate.

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