Online productivity tools to work from home

It’s hard to be productive if your office is literally your bedroom or living room, but most of us have no choice as WFH remains the default amidst the pandemic. For those who are constantly feeling unmotivated, these online productivity tools might be able to help.

The best part? All of them are completely free to use!

1. The Most Dangerous Writing App – keep writing or your work disappears

While The Most Dangerous Writing App is geared more to writers and creatives, it can be used for a variety of general writing tasks that we encounter from day to day – from everyday emails to important reports. The Most Dangerous Writing App forces you to keep writing to hit your preset goal – if your hands freeze up for more than 5 seconds, all your work fades away and disappears.

Your writing turns red and fades if you don't type fast enough, a great motivation for those who work from home
What it looks like moments before your hard work goes down the drain.
Image adapted from: The Most Dangerous Writing App

Why does it work? Writer’s block is a real threat that can turn your most productive days upside down. The urgency caused by your text slowly turning red and fading away is perhaps the best way to keep your creative juices flowing – and your fingers tapping away. 

It also forces you to keep laser focused on writing, avoiding the slightest of disruptions like checking your notifications or doing a bit of Googling on the side. To make sure your text doesn’t evaporate, simply write continuously until you hit your word or time target, that can range from 3 minutes to 60 minutes, or from 75 to 1667 words. 

You can set your writing goal in terms of a duration or word count
You can select different writing goals before you begin – in the form of a set duration or word count.
Image adapted from: The Most Dangerous Writing App

2. Just Read – focus on articles without clutter

If staring at a blank screen while squeezing the last drops of your brain juice to compose an email is bad enough, I’ll contend that browsing websites can be a worse time sink.

Browsing the web might be an important part of your job or part of your hard-earned breaks. But from endless enticing web links to dozens of colourful images to peruse, it’s no wonder that a 5-minute browsing session can easily turn into an hour-long one before you realise it.

Just Read is a Chrome browser extension that condenses most websites into a minimalist’s delight, devoid of distractions and clutter. Most importantly, it removes pesky ads that disrupt our focus and can sometimes make it difficult to quickly digest the content.

A regular website vs website with Just Read extension
How a regular website appears (L), versus how it appears with the Just Read Chrome extension (R).
Image adapted from: Just Read

3. RescueTime – automatically monitor how you spend time at work

If we’re obsessed with budgeting our money and monitoring how we spend it, it only makes sense that we spare the same concern for time – our most valuable, finite resource.

After setting up RescueTime, you can go ahead about your day-to-day tasks as the app monitors your usage patterns and habits in the background. When you’re ready to face the facts, access the RescueTime Dashboard where you’ll find a summary of your usage based on your interactions with various apps and websites.

The RescueTime Dashboard gives a handy graphic breakdown of your productivity throughout the day, week or month, allowing you to budget your work from home time
The RescueTime Dashboard allows you to quickly visualise how you spend your time at work.
Image adapted from: RescueTime

For example, the ‘Business’ category monitors the time you work on Excel spreadsheets and Google sheets, while ‘Communication & Scheduling’ collates the time spent on communication apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and Slack, along with your Calendar app.

RescueTime works on both Android and iOS for mobile, and on macOS, Windows and Linux computers.

4. Stayfocusd – block time-wasting sites like Facebook and YouTube 

If the lack of a boss peering over your shoulder as you work from home leads to copious YouTube and Facebook consumption, Stayfocusd is the tiger mother answer you might just need.

A Chrome browser extension, Stayfocusd blocks incriminating sites in a blacklist that you create. Select your daily working hours where the blacklist will be enforced, and you will be limited to a set number of minutes on these sites per day.

For those with a self-control crisis, there’s The Nuclear Option, which blocks websites for a set period with absolutely no way for users to work around it. If it comes to this, I’d recommend therapy, but you do you.

5. WhatFont and ColorZilla – find out what fonts and colours your favourite websites use

For the time-pressed, it can be a headache trying to pick that perfect font or colour for your Powerpoint presentation. 

The WhatFont and ColorZilla plugins display the font, size, and colour of elements on the webpage
WhatFont and ColorZilla make it easy to check the fonts and colours used in a site.
Image adapted from: WhatFont, ColorZilla

WhatFont and ColorZilla are Chrome browser extensions that make it easy to get design inspiration from your favourite websites. With these extensions, hovering your cursor over text will yield the name of the font in question, or the exact colour of the logo, image or background – online productivity tools that will definitely also delight creatives like web designers and art directors!

For added convenience, clicking in WhatFont will yield more details for the font like colour, size and weight, while clicking in ColorZilla will automatically copy the hex code for you to paste in your app of choice.

6. Pocket – save content for later with a keyboard shortcut

We’ve all been there – encountering the most interesting article or video right when we’re trying our best to be productive. You could ignore it, which likely means you probably won’t see it again, or you relent and watch your time and focus drain away.

The Pocket List collates all the articles and videos you save for later viewing, allowing you to maximise your time as you work from home
Your Pocket List collates the articles you save throughout the day and can be accessed across your devices.
Image adapted from: Pocket

Pocket is the third option might not know existed. Simply hit Command + Shift + P for Mac or Control + Shift + P for Windows, and the article, website or video will be archived in your Pocket for later use. 

The best part? Pocket works across devices as a Chrome browser extension and Android/iOS app. This means that you can save your articles as you work, and then peruse them on your phone during your lunch break or in the loo – just remember to sanitize your phone after!

7. Grammarly – proofread your emails as you write 

I might be wrong, but there’s probably a scientific explanation for why we only discover grammatical and spelling errors after we hit ‘Send’ or ‘Publish’. 

Even if you don’t work as a writer, chances are that you produce plenty of emails and other reports on a day-to-day basis. Grammarly helps you scan your text for errors in real-time, so you can stay professional even when you are time-pressed and stressed out.

Grammarly provides spelling and grammatical corrections in text boxes like your email composer, giving you on-the-go corrections when you work from home
The Grammarly Chrome extension works in most text boxes, allowing you to correct everything from emails to feedback forms.
Image adapted from: Grammarly

It’s available as a Chrome browser extension, but you can download Grammarly keyboard for use on your Android and iOS mobile devices.

8. Forest – plant a tree IRL when you focus

You might have heard of the Pomodoro Method – named after the nifty tomato-shaped kitchen timers that productivity fanatics hoarded when studies showed that our brains thrived best on 25-minute work cycles each with 5 minutes of rest.

Forest provides a pleasant visual goal to augment the Pomodoro Method – stay focused and leave your phone untouched for 25 minutes, and watch your sapling turn into a beautiful tree. For added motivation, you can earn coins to turn your virtual trees into literal trees – Forest partners with Trees for the Future to plant trees around the world. 

 Forest encourages you to focus by allowing you to grow a virtual tree, encouraging discipline as you work from home
Turn your sapling into a fully-grown tree by focusing for a full 25-minute interval.
Image adapted from: Forest

Free online productivity tools for work from home performance

Apps and plugins are some of the most underrated online productivity tools when it comes to our digital devices. While these free power-ups might help us hack our brains and to stretch our time at our home offices, your wellbeing matters too.

Getting adequate rest and regular exercise is vital, especially when you work from home and can get drowned in the tasks you have to complete. 

Exhausted from a long day of working at home? Check out these movies.

For more articles on online productivity:

Cover image adapted from: The Most Dangerous Writing App
Originally published on 20th February 2020. Last updated by Renae Cheng on 19th July 2021.

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