We recently explored some of the best ways to automate your life, from shopping and finances to “work uniforms” and productivity. By now you should be well on your way to becoming an automated superstar and hopefully reaping the rewards — like being able to use all that free time on stuff you actually want to do.
Today we’re back again, covering off a load of stuff we didn’t have the word count to explore properly last time. Like how to make sure your laptop is on top form, supercharging your morning routine as well as automating your home to make controlling your electricals a bit easier.
Your working day
Automating your working day sounds a bit strange. But what I mean is automating how you break up your day so that you ensure you’re taking regular breaks and looking after yourself.
We’re all too familiar with spending hours and hours slaving away at something only to lift our heads that evening and realise we have a headache, we’ve only eaten rubbish and we feel pissed off at everything and everyone. Punctuating your day in a smarter way allows you to make sure you’re giving yourself what you need when you need it. Especially if you work from home and don’t have anybody around to help you break up the day by dragging you out to lunch or asking you questions. It’s also useful on the opposite end of the spectrum if you work in a busy office and it’s hard to focus for even five minutes.
Like most suggestions in this list, the way you break up your day needs to suit you. Some people like to set an alarm every hour to take some time out for themselves. If this doesn’t work for you, employ a tried-and-tested method, like the Pomodoro Technique. There’s loads to this technique — even a dedicated book and timer — but put simply it’s all about smashing through distractions and working in short, productive bursts sandwiched by breaks.
The basic premise is:
- Choose a task
- Set a timer for 25 minutes
- Do the task and nothing else (that’s the key) until the timer rings
- Take a short break of about 5 minutes
- Start again.
- Every 4 work sessions, take a longer break.
So why’s it called Pomodoro? Well, the guy behind the technique, Francesco Cirillo, used a timer shaped like a tomato, which is pomodoro in Italian.
Even if you don’t end up breaking your day up quite so rigidly, try and find time to do things you know make you feel good. Like going for a walk, working out on a night, spending some time by yourself or meditating, journalling or just finding the time to reply to emails from friends and family.
Writing these kinds of things on your to-do list might mean you get them done, but although scheduling in time and setting an alarm to do them may seem a little OTT it could be just the kind of reminder you need to snap you out of crazy work mode and stop putting everything off until tomorrow (and then the next day and the next day).
It’s great to spring clean your laptop from time to time and luckily there are a load of apps and services available that mean you don’t even need to worry about remembering to do it.
Our favourite automated cleaning app for the Mac is called Hazel. It sorts out all of your files based on name, file type, etc. Or, Hazel can do it all for you, renaming your files and making sure they’re all in the right subfolders by following the rules you wrote when you first set it up — a little like the rules you can set with Gmail or other mail clients. There’s also a function called App Sweep, which cleans up any of the rubbish left behind by old apps you’ve deleted in the past.
If it’s not your whole Mac you want to clean up, but just your desktop then try Clean. Which does what it says on the tin really, tidying up your Mac desktop every single day. Because control freaks know there’s nothing quite as annoying as a cluttered up desktop.
If you’re running a Windows laptop, try an old favourite like CCleaner. Not only will it enable your machine to run faster by cleaning up all the unnecessary clutter, but you can use it to speed up your startup, declutter your registry and even make your web browsing safer.
Yeah we know, there are thousands of tech products on the market at the moment created to make your home smarter. But where do you start? You could spend thousands of pounds getting your bath to talk to your phone and your phone to talk to your lightbulb and all of your kitchen appliances to chat to one another, but would that actually improve anything?
Well, there are a few things we have a soft spot for. Like the fact the Misfit ecosystem is allowing you to turn on the Misfit Bolt bulb from your wrist with a (literal) push of a button. But one suggestion that makes a lot of sense is investing in a smart switch or plug, so that any device you plug into it, whether it’s hairdryer or a toaster, can be controlled from your smartphone. This means you can turn your straighteners off after you’ve left the house, and never worry again.
There are countless smart switches on the market at the moment, but the Wemo Insight Switch (£49) from Belkin allows you to monitor electrical usage in your home, turn stuff on or off from your smartphone and program in customised rules and schedules to suit your lifestyle. For a cheaper option, check out the Ego Smart Wi-Fi Socket from Efergy (£39).
It may not be the most exciting home automation idea, but it’s a great place to start.
Your morning routine
There are a crazy amount of resources, personal recommendations and apps online that are all about how to have the best morning routine ever. For a while I tried to tick every box every day. Meditate? Check. Exercise? Check. Breakfast? Check. Journalling? Check. And ended up driving myself a little bit nuts. Instead I decided to just pick one or two things to aim for and turn them into habits — and vowed to give myself zero grief if I scrapped them all and headed to Starbucks for a croissant instead.
One of the ways I decided to kickstart some of the good habits was using the Five Minute Journal iOS app (which is getting a major upgrade soon). I realised I feel happier when I think about my day ahead and why I’m thankful. And what the Five Minute Journal app does is send you a nudge in the morning (you can tailor it to send whenever you like) and then prompts you to fill in three questions. The first is the three things you’re grateful for today. If this sounds a bit alien to you, go check out the benefits of a daily gratitude practice. Then it’s the three things that would make the day great and then it’s what your daily affirmations are.
If it all sounds a bit eye-roll to you that’s okay. But trust me, as someone who spent a huge amount of their life focusing on all the negative stuff, starting your day with a bit of positivity and setting some intentions can have a huge impact on your day — and your life in the long run. It just takes some time to make it second nature and not feel a bit silly about the whole thing.
If you’re on Android, try Diaro. It gives you a little more freedom to write what you like, so make sure you stay focused and don’t just rant about your boss or something — use the time to think about gratitude and what you really want from the day. For web, there’s 750 Words.
Another way to make your morning routine immediately more manageable and nicer is to do away with your regular alarm clock. Instead download an app like Sleep Cycle, which uses your phone’s accelerometer to wake you up at the optimal time — when you’re in light sleep and won’t feel quite so groggy. If you have a wearable from the likes of Jawbone you can get your device to do the same thing for you with its Smart Alarm, which slowly vibrating you awake at the right time rather than being shocked out of sleep by a more traditional alarm clock or your smartphone’s incessant bleeping.
Or, if you have money to burn, try the Aura from Withings. It wakes you up with a blue light that’s been designed to affect your body’s production of melatonin. This means it’s nicer to your body’s internal clock and will wake you up in a more alert state. Aura is also gesture-controlled and tracks your heart rate through a sensor under your mattress. It’s like a mini sunrise created to make you feel better. But, unfortunately, it’s £189 on Amazon right now. Sigh. Back to apps then.
Main image: iStock/andresr