Everyone I know either in academia or industry has one or two (or sometimes a mouthful) things to say about productivity. Some even say how productive they are. Yes, they are the ones to sacrifice their sleep to meet the deadlines. I am not one of those, nor will I be ever.

If you are looking for tips on meeting your deadlines and time management or even reducing your anxiety, this is not to place to be. Refer to the suggested readings below if you intend to learn about those.

Here, I will only take you through a short read on how to find the right tools to boost your productivity and some tools that I used during my no-physical-supervisor-PhD journey.

Finding the right working arrangement

What is most essential in productivity shift is to be aware of your unique character. What I mean is to find out under what circumstances you are productive. For instance, I can finish a task only in a couple of hours by working in a noisy place which would typically take days for others. Most, however, can’t be productive in such crowded and noise-polluted places. So the rule number one is to know yourself!

When I need to work remotely from home or somedays that I don’t necessarily have to be present at the office, I use this great app called Coffitivity to imitate a packed coffee shop, a restaurant with cutlery clanging or even a crowded campus to keep myself motivated.

Finding the right tools

Regardless of what industry you are working for or research you are involved in, you will need the help of computers at some point. If you use computers to only send emails, I even have some tips for your productivity. The best free tool for an email client is Spark from Readdle. With its elegant design (and dark mode support), you can set up as many email addresses as you want. Also, it comes handy with a Smart Inbox feature, with which you can set what type of notifications you will get during work hours. Spark also supports natural language search and email snoozing, so you will never forget to read or reply to an email. You can also create email templates if your work includes tedious email writing.

What’s more, it has a built-in calendar which will make you forget about other calendar apps. Best is for last, you can schedule emails. Unfortunately, it is only available for macOS, iOS/iPadOS and Android at the moment.

Now, we are all set with our emails. Next tool I am going to introduce to you help you plan your day on behalf of you. It is an app called Sorted3, unlike other “to-do” apps it sorts your daily tasks automatically for the period you set ahead. It is only available for iOS at the moment, but they are working hard to develop apps for other platforms.

But how about long-term tasks or projects? To effectively organise your projects and keep your track on your progress, Notion app is built for you already. It is available for most platforms and free for one user, so give it a shot to plan and track your projects.

If your work has to do with large images, figures, photographs, graphic designing, etc., ImageOptim is the only tool you need. It strips off metadata from the image files; therefore, saves disk space and bandwidth by compressing images without losing quality. Available on most platforms, or you may use the in-browser service.

Let’s keep working on files. As a scientist, my only struggle on the computer was to spot duplicate files. We write manuscripts, grants or reports, in all of which, we need to use citations. Reference managers copy the articles in their own libraries by default rather than moving them, therefore, creating duplicates of each file. To check whether you have duplicates on your computer, dupeGuru is the tool to go.

Even while you are reading this article, your eyes have been exposed to too much light. F.lux makes the colours of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day. It’s even possible that you’re staying up too late because of your computer. You could use f.lux because it makes you sleep better, or you could just use it just because it makes your computer look better. Different colours in the light spectrum stimulate the circadian system in humans. Blue light includes lights that appear green, blue, cyan, and even orange, which may exacerbate sleep disorders, especially in children and adolescents. This effect can be minimized by using dim red lighting in the nighttime bedroom environment or if you are working late on your computer, f.lux does it for you depending on sunrise/sunset time of your location.

My other favourite app to keep my biologic clock set is Pillow Sleep Tracker. Just by facing your phones down on your mattress, it monitors your sleep movements and heart rate to wake you up at the lightest possible sleep stage. After I discovered this app, my daily energy levels have drastically increased, and I could complete more work compared with days I did not sleep well.

Let’s presume that you have all the right tools and the workplace you needed, but you still dithering and postponing your work. I will wrap up this passage with some words on procrastination.


Procrastination is a serious behavioural issue*, unlike how some use to mask his or her reluctance to do a task. However, you may turn procrastination into your benefit by replacing it with conscious procrastination, at which you start planning on how you would perform the job before you start. It should not be confused with pre-crastination, which is the exact opposite of procrastination. Pre-crastinators tend to finish a task quickly just for the sake of getting it done, moving away from taking responsibilities. On the other hand, conscious procrastination is when you have a planning period rather than jumping directly in doing the task. Thus, you would be able to calm yourself down even if the deadline comes closer.

My best advice on avoiding procrastination is to slice your tasks into multiple sub-tasks and note down those into a notepad (digital or physical). When you finish a sub-task, strikethrough it. This visual progress will help you motivated when you see tasks completed. As I mentioned above, you may use Sorted3 app to plan your sliced tasks automatically.

Final words

Let’s be honest to ourselves and accept the fact that you will not implement my suggestions above right away. You will have found some ideas worth trying and others not. Nonetheless, adopt one at each step (or at least one), or discover what tools could be better to improve your productivity. We are all unique characters, and therefore, we don’t necessarily adopt bullet points in a self-improvement book.

Suggested Readings

  • Barrett, M. (2017). Five tips to get the most out of your workday. The Conversation, April 20 1-3.
  • Lai V.T.T. (2019) Struggling with Mental Illnesses Before and During the PhD Journey: When Multiple Treatments Join the Healing Process. In: Pretorius L., Macaulay L.,Cahusac de Caux B. (eds) Wellbeing in Doctoral Education. Springer, Singapore.


  • Rosenbaum, D. A. (2014).It’s A Jungle In There: How Competition And Cooperation In The Brain Shape The Mind. New York: Oxford University Press. Print version released March 2014.
  • Anne-Marie Chang, Daniel Aeschbach, Jeanne F. Duffy, Charles A. Czeisler Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jan 2015, 112 (4) 1232-1237.
  • Holzman DC 2010. What’s in a Color? The Unique Human Health Effects of Blue Light. Environ Health Perspect 118:A22-A27.


All above are extracted from my personal experiences. Some may be backed up with science, some may not. Please consult experts regarding a specific topic I mentioned hereby.