For students registering for courses starting in September 2024, UBC has switched to a new system, Workday. Please check your email for setup instructions. Summer Session students should continue using SSC.

A student seated at a table in a cafe while on their phone
January 12, 2023
3 mins read

5 apps that will boost your productivity

Hi, I’m Emily, and when it comes to keeping organized, I’m pretty old-fashioned. I’m a faithful bullet journaler, and I’ve always been in support of analog planning overall.

Unfortunately for me, paper planners are not the future.

These days, I get strange looks from my friends when I start making my to-do lists in an actual notebook. Plus, I've occasionally been forced to admit that there are a few areas where analog planning falls short (but don’t tell anyone I said that).

So I decided to go on a journey of digital productivity. I tried out some free apps that are supposed to help you stay focused and organized, and I was pleasantly surprised by the results!

Below are the top 5 apps I tested and the ways they helped me get it together. Give them a try and see if they can help boost your productivity too.


For keeping track of everything you have going on at once, is pretty great. It’s a simple, easy-to-use, aesthetically pleasing to-do list.

My favourite thing about was how easy it is to prioritize tasks. You input everything you have going on and then figure out what you have time for on that particular day. It’s easy to reschedule tasks if you can’t get to them, add subtasks, and organize things into categories.

2. Stayfocusd

This one is a lifesaver. Stayfocusd is a Google Chrome extension that blocks time-wasting sites (that you pick yourself) after you’ve spent a preset amount of time on them.

We’ve all been there—you take a quick break from your essay to check YouTube and then suddenly you’ve spent 3 days watching ASMR videos.

Stayfocusd snaps you out of the Internet rabbit hole and forces you to get back on task. They’ve really thought of everything. In order to change your settings, StayFocusd provides you with a grammatically complicated paragraph that you have to type a copy of—word by painstaking word. Every typo you make erases your progress and sends you back to the beginning of the task.

You’ll never take a BuzzFeed quiz again.

3. Evernote

I had been hearing friends talk about Evernote for years. It’s basically a catch-all organizational tool for all of your brainwaves.

I used Evernote to take notes in class, annotate readings, and record lectures, but it was the biggest game changer in terms of organizing all of my resources for big projects.

Especially exciting is their Chrome extension, Web Clipper, which allows you to save online articles, videos, and anything else you might come across in your research directly to the app. I will definitely be sticking with this one.

4. FocusWriter

FocusWriter is going to be especially useful during paper-writing season. It’s basically a distraction-free word processor. It’s automatically full screen, and even the text toolbars are hidden in rollover. With no distractions whatsoever, you’re sure to focus on that term paper you’ve been meaning to write.

My favourite thing about this app is the Timer and Daily Goal functions. Input the amount of time you want to spend and/or the number of words you want to write and you’ll get a notification when you have fulfilled your objective. The app even keeps track of your progress over time!

5. Alarmy (Sleep If U Can)

Okay, not technically a productivity app, but Alarmy basically changed my life. I am notorious among my friends for sleeping like a corpse (I slept through multiple Totem fire alarms in first year), so finding a good alarm clock is key for me.

Alarmy offers 3 possible tasks to shut off your alarm in the morning: shake mode, math problem mode, and picture mode. In the paid version (yes, I paid $3 for this and it was totally worth it), there’s also a mode where you turn your alarm off by scanning the barcode on a product—I use the one on my toothpaste.

With all of these options, there’s literally no way to avoid getting out of bed. After all, if you can’t get out of bed, how can you get anything done?

It turns out that getting a little more digital doesn’t have to mean turning my back on my analog lifestyle, but supplementing it to make my life easier and more organized.

As we begin Term 2, try to think about what in your life is holding back your productivity. Is your planning method working for you? Maybe now’s the time to see what else is out there!