Like it or not, the holiday season is over and it's time to go back to work.
You might have been lucky enough to have a nice long break, or you might have been in and out since Christmas Eve – either way, the long haul of January is ahead, and I'll take all the help I can to get through it with something bordering grace.
Luckily, we live in a world of mobile phones, and whether you're an Apple lover or an Android junkie, I've got a few tricks up my sleeve to make the transition into 2023 a little easier.
It might sound like an obvious solution, but I'm going to say it anyway – set an alarm!
I don't just mean set a solo alarm at 6am, knowing full well you'll hit snooze and ignore it (then likely rush around in a panic to be ready on time). No, I mean set a couple, turn off the snooze setting so you won't be tempted, and force yourself up out of bed.
However, your alarms can come in handy throughout the day, too. Most of us know that it's beneficial for us to take a break from our laptop screens every so often, but how many of us do it? Not me, for one. Unless you count my less-than-glorious attempt at doing squats while the kettle boiled on the first day back at work, which was enough to put me off for life. But the point is, if you tend to forget this little bit of health advice, you can set a reminder on your mobile to, well, remind you.
While you're at it, why not go for a walk around, too? When you get back to your desk, both your eyes and brain will have had a bit of a rest and you'll be focusing again in no time.
Both Apple and Android devices have Clock apps pre-installed.
Ah, the Forest app. It's a smart one if you're prone to getting overly invested in virtual creations, but it can be effective if you're not invested, too.
How does it work? Well, the Forest app has been designed to prevent you from procrastinating when you should be working or studying. If you can't help scrolling when you shouldn't be, or simply lack the self-control to put your phone down and get on with your work, then Forest might be the app for you.
Essentially a focus timer, Forest provides motivation by helping you grow a little tree. Yes, you read that right.
When you need to knuckle down and get on with your latest project, you can plant a virtual seed and set a timer for yourself (you can choose the right length timer for your needs), and if you stay off your phone until the timer is up, your little seedling will sprout, grow and result in a lovely little tree. But if you can't resist temptation, not only do you lose the opportunity to add the tree to your garden, the tree will die. And believe me, you'll feel guilty about it.
A nice extra with Forest is the sense of real-world achievement you can gain with each tree. Every time you successfully plant and grow to maturity a tree within the app, you can earn coins that in time will build up and you can use to plant a real tree in Africa, as part of the app's partnership with trees for the future.
If you're less concerned with procrastination and more worried about concentration, then Noisli can help.
You may have heard about the benefits of white noise, but like many, you might have assumed it was a tool for helping babies get to sleep. The truth is, quite a few studies have looked into the topic, and ambient sounds in general can be beneficial for helping you to focus and be productive – which is exactly what we need when we're still getting over the holidays and trying to get back into "work mode". Disclaimer: that might not happen till March.
Noisli helps you to optimise your work environment. So if you work from home or in an office that allows you to use headphones, it's a great way to create an audio environment that helps you concentrate. The app includes a library of 28 high-quality sounds that you can play separately or create a playlist from. There are also a number of pre-loaded playlists that have been developed to help you be more productive.
The first step to working better (and getting into a good routine at work) is a good night's kip.
As soon as the holidays roll around, most of us are guilty of sleeping in, staying up a little later at night, and often zonking off for a nap around mid-afternoon while the TV plays to no one. And that sleep likely isn't particularly good quality, either.
Unfortunately, the festive season messes up our sleeping habits as nothing else can, so getting back on track as quickly and effectively as possible should be a priority.
You might have already heard of Calm (it is the number one app for sleep, relaxation and meditation, after all), and if so, you're already on the right path. Calm uses a combination of guided meditations, breathing work, soundscapes and even good ol' bedtime stories to help you get to sleep more easily, and relax before bed. Some of the stories are even read by celebrities with lovely, soothing voices – I'm partial to a bit of Matthew McConaughey, myself.
In turn, not only do you improve your sleep quality, but you can actually help to reduce stress and anxiety, too. Which is perfect now that you have to deal with all those emails that didn't seem important in December.
Similar and yet different to Calm, Headspace is an app that's also designed to help you reduce stress and sleep well, but it takes a different focus – happiness.
The app aims to help you make mindfulness a habit, and by de-stressing, practising meditative techniques and managing your back-to-work stress, you can use the app to keep a clear head and (hopefully) feel a little happier despite the dreary January weather.
As well as guided meditations, Headspace offers mindfulness exercises for worries, general anxiety, stress and to help you build up mental resilience. There are hundreds of exercises in the app, led by world-leading experts – all in the aid of helping to refill your cup with something as simple as a 5-minute meditation.
The exercises are easy to follow (even if you scoff at the idea of meditating your way to a better day at work) and can help you train your mind to be present in the moment. This way, you should be able to learn to curb distractions and stay focused on your day job.
Even better, plenty of users have reported added benefits like better sleep, less irritability, improved communication and even more compassion.
So, you're all set for productivity. You've got better focus. You're sleeping well. But what about organisation?
Todoist is the best app around for helping you to plan your days and gain a better work-life balance. Simple to use and yet pretty darn powerful, it's basically a nice, neat task planner and to-do list app (which you might have gathered from the name.)
You can use its tools to quickly add tasks (both typed and spoken aloud), and you can customise everything on your to-do list into "project" categories for work, your personal life, fitness and more. If you like, you can even delegate tasks to other people, like "Do the washing up" – and it's so straightforward, you can't really argue with it.
7. Habit-Bull/Habit Tracker
I'm not going to go into the pros and cons of making a resolution or two in the New Year – nobody wants to hear that rant – but the truth is, most of us fail because we don't have unlimited stores of motivation, anyway.
However, there are a few things you can do to help build a habit, and Habit-Bull (known as Habit Tracker on Android) is a smart way to just get on with it.
It's a bit like keeping up your streak on Wordle (I lost mine on New Year's Eve), but for something a bit more productive, like drinking water, cooking a healthy meal from scratch, going for a walk, or even cleaning your make-up brushes.
Habit-Bull helps you with the one thing most of us struggle with: consistency. It's been created specifically to help you build positive habits and it's backed by genuine behavioural science to help you visualise your habits and achievements. This, in turn, helps you to keep up the good stuff – just like keeping a little animated tree alive can be motivating.
Some useful features include graphs so you can map your success, built-in reminders, some mighty fine motivational quotes and a community you can interact with to help you with accountability.