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Working from home? Need an app for that

Kit Eaton, July 1, 2013, NYT: 23:58 IST
Wunderlust app.
One of the advantages of this columnist’s job is that it is often a work-at-home affair. While the environment may be relaxing, I can assure you that there are no writing sessions in pajamas. This is serious stuff, and I’ve learned to work as efficiently at home as in an office, even though my house lacks some office amenities. But there are many apps for tablets and phones that can make up for this and keep the home working experience productive.

One thing that working at home absolutely requires is lists, to keep you from losing track of what you’re supposed to be doing. Wunderlist, a free iOS and Android app, is a powerful app for making and managing lists that has a clear interface controlled by gestures and taps. You can make as many lists as you like and add lots of items to each one, and you have the option of setting reminders for each item. List items can even have sub-elements and notes. The company also offers a cloud-based scheme so you can share your lists with colleagues or your boss.

The app is a pleasure to use. But one minor irritation is that some of Wunderlist’s features require a subscription. For example, to add unlimited subtasks or have the ability to designate tasks to friends or colleagues, you’ll have to pay $5 (Rs 301) a month.

Another way to keep yourself on task and on time when working from home is by using a time management app. Eternity Time Log Lite is a great option, and it’s free on iOS. The app promises to help you time your work, rest and play - and these are the main categories loaded into its activities list. Tapping on each category brings up a timer window with a big start button. To log time on a particular task, you use this timer and add a note or a tag for later viewing. Later, you can look at the activities and filter them by tag or even by hour ranges, giving you an insight into your work patterns.

The app is easy to use, but it does require a lot of input and management. For best results, you have to use it consistently and all the time, and this may not suit you (though it is probably easy to get into the routine). As with Wunderlist, the app’s free edition is useful, but to access the full list of features, like the ability to create an unlimited number of activities and tags, you have to buy the pro edition at $10 (Rs 602).

One alternative iOS time tracker is OfficeTime. It costs $8 (Rs 481), but it’s powerful and it has handy in-app notes to guide you through its features. A similar Android app is Timesheet-Time Tracker. Though this app is free, it is powerful, and even lets you export your time and task data in an Excel-friendly format.

For freelance home workers, one important task at the end of completing a job is invoicing. The popular iOS and Android app Zoho Invoice has this task covered, and it’s free. Though the app’s really about invoicing, you can also use it to track time spent on different projects. It’s simple to use and attractively designed, which in its Android edition makes it stand out a little from many of its peers. But it does require you to sign up for a free account, and to make the most of it, you will probably find that you spend a lot of time typing in detailed data. It can also be easy to get lost among its different menus because they look similar.

Working from home can mean staring at your computer for long periods of time, and that may not be a great thing for your eyes. You can set your phone’s built-in timer or alarm apps to prompt you to spend a moment looking away from your monitor. Or you could use an app like Simple Repeat Timer on iOS, which is free and which will repeatedly alert you at a set interval. The Android app Yata! Yet Another Timer, which is also free, has a repeat timer function among its other clock applications.

It is hoped these apps will help you remain productive while you work at home. But you should also take breaks and have a little fun - something that simple games on your phone could help you with.

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