Remote work: 6 useful tools and apps to boost productivity

You may be one cool tool away from adding precious time back to your day or dealing with background noise at home. Check out these recommendations from other IT professionals
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If you consistently feel like you’ve been busy all day, yet made no progress on your most important tasks, you are not alone. Between the extra Zoom calls and the responsibilities (read: distractions) of home, remote work life can sap your productivity and focus.

We asked busy IT professionals to share the apps and tools that have changed the way they manage their time and improve their focus. From clever calendar solutions to tools that help you eliminate time-wasting distractions, you may be one app away from adding precious minutes – or hours – back to your day.

[ How do your team meetings stack up? Read also:  Zoom tips: 6 ways to make meetings better. ]

6 productivity tools to improve remote work

1. Clockwise

“For those of us who find disk drive defragmentation relaxing, you’ll love Clockwise; it defragments your calendar. In the same way a disk drive defragmenter puts disk blocks close together for optimal access and to free up disk space, Clockwise puts meeting events together to create large swaths of focused time. It even schedules lunch for you based on your availability and preferences.”

“The thing I like the most about it is that it doesn’t move appointments around to benefit me at the expense of everyone I’m meeting with – it tries to optimize the calendar entries for all parties involved. It also gives me visibility into my team’s time. I can tell at a glance if team members are in meetings at the moment and how much focus time they have to ensure they’re not overloaded.” - David Egts, chief technologist, North America public sector for Red Hat.

Want to know more? Egts discusses Clockwise and other topics in a recent episode of his podcast, The Dave & Gunnar Show, here.

2. BlockyTime and Toggl 

“Quite frequently I feel like time just slips by without me knowing where it has gone. I feel busy every day with a packed calendar, but how much time am I really spending on important, high-quality work? How much time am I allocating to family, fun, and fitness? How do I know if I’m consciously moving towards my goal, spending time and effort in things that I care about, instead of having my days filled up by others’ demands? Without solid facts, it’s impossible for us to review, optimize, and control the only thing that belongs to us in life: our time.”

“To answer these questions, time tracking apps are crucial for me. I recommend BlockyTime and Toggl because they both have a very clear UI, and you can quickly specify a 30-min time block with your pre-defined category (family, work, reading, sports, etc.) in less than a second. Personally, I don’t like being constantly interrupted by having to record my day every 30 minutes, so at the end of every day, I recount how my day was, what I have done, and then fill out all the blocks at once. It’s a nice way to summarize and reflect on my day.”

“Every two weeks, I check on the auto-generated report and see how I spend my time. Sometimes I benchmark the result against the goals I set for myself. Monthly and annual revisits are informative and fun. Quite often, I’m shocked by the difference between where I actually spend my time versus where I think I spend my time. Once you start tracking your time, you might be surprised, too.” - Kate Yuan, startup consultant


"Reclaim lets me set up ‘habits,’ like regular time for email or a run, and then their bot shuffles that time around meetings as they get scheduled on my calendar. When my calendar starts getting full, the tool will mark blocks on my calendar as ‘busy’ so that nobody can schedule anything during those times. Recently, they launched a tasks feature that auto-schedules time to get tasks done. It’s simple to set up, and it’s good to know that I’ll have the time I need to get work done.” - Rich Theil, CEO of The Noble Foundry

4. DF Tube

“Retail stores are carefully designed to make you browse through several aisles and make impulse purchases of stuff you ‘want,’ before you ever get to the stuff you ‘need.’ YouTube’s video gallery, side panel, and recommendations work the same way. They make you spend more time on YouTube and watch impulsively. DF Tube (Distraction Free for YouTube) helps you avoid impulses by showing you just the videos you came for. Ever since I set it up, it feels like I’ve reclaimed 30 to 60 minutes from every visit to the site. Give it a shot, and stay focused on your task with these blinders on.” - Ganes Kesari, co-founder and chief decision scientist at Gramener.

5. Krisp

“I’ve used two Krisp features during conference calls:

  1. Artificial intelligence-driven background noise reduction while taking on a conference call. “We’ve all had to adjust to working from home, and having kids or other noises in the background can really affect the other people’s ability to hear and understand you.”
  2. Artificial intelligence-driven noise reduction on the line while listening to a conference call. “We are increasingly working with a global set of colleagues and partners, and it can be difficult to hear and understand what people are saying at times. The noise cancelling of Krisp increases my ability to hear and understand.” - Todd Deshane, chief automation and proof of concept specialist at Computer Task Group

6. FindTime

FindTime is an add-in for Outlook/O365 that can be used when creating meetings to get the availability of attendees based on their busy/free time. The tool allows you to create a poll with times that work, and attendees can select the time that best works for them. FindTime will then use that information to automatically schedule a meeting with everyone. This saves you from having to check everyone’s calendar individually and hope that the time you select works for them.” - Cedric Wells, veteran director of IT business solutions.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.