Not Just a Distraction: Your Phone Can Actually Help You Manage Time Better

Not Just a Distraction: Your Phone Can Actually Help You Manage Time Better

Our mobile phones are usually dangerous sources of distraction and wily enablers of procrastination. Frustrated with a project? How about you briefly scroll through Twitter, quixotically load three to four long reads you’d like read, Facebook stalk several acquaintances, read the entire Wikipedia article about Siberia, and look longingly at the aesthetic perfection of 17 Instagram feeds? And then oops, it’s dinnertime and you can’t possibly work when you’re hungry.

Instagram is so aware of its addictive, time-gobbling nature that the app is introducing a “usage insights” feature that will show you just how much time you’ve been frittering away gazing at someone else's beach holidays and artfully-arranged salads. You’ll also be able to set a usage time limit and the app will alert you when you’ve exceeded it. 

But your mobile phone doesn’t have to suck your time. Before you lock it in a cupboard and resolve to work only on paper (and then drag out your laptop for distraction on a bigger screen), check out these time-management apps that can actually boost productivity, not drag you down.


This app runs in the background of your computer and mobile devices to give you a terrifying breakdown of just how much time you're spending on specific apps and websites. Compulsively refreshing Facebook? RescueTime will be logging it. Loading your 21st news article of the day? RescueTime is watching. But the app isn’t just there to shame you: it can block distracting websites for a designated amount of time or alert you when you’ve exceeded your daily time limit for certain activities, like internet shopping, or looking at photos of your friends’ pets. It can also highlight what you’ve actually accomplished during the day.

Rescue Time is currently only available for Android devices. Subscriptions start at $9/month.


This iPhone app allows you to create a running to do list and assign time to each task. For example, you can allot 30 minutes to catch up on emails, 10 minutes to return a phone call, and 15 minutes to do the dishes. A timer keeps track of how long you’re spending on each task, discouraging dawdling and distraction.

1-3-5 List

This app allows you to prioritise tasks and schedule your day. It’s based on the so-called 1-3-5 method, which theorises we can complete one big task, three medium tasks, and five small tasks a day. Enter your tasks into the app, categorise them and check them off as you finish. The app is available for Android and iOS devices and offers free and premium subscriptions (for $2.50/month).


This free app for iPhones and iPads helps you maintain concentration over a stretch of time by playing instrumental music. Undergirded by neuroscience, the app claims to help its listeners hone their focus and tune out distractions, thus increasing productivity by a factor of four.

Pomodoro Apps

The Pomodoro technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s and named for the original tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used as a university student, is a long-established time management framework that breaks work down into 25 minute intervals, with five minute breaks. The intervals, and the breaks, are supposed to maximise concentration and increase productivity. You can buy a physical Pomodoro timer but you can also enlist your phone as one. There are a number of apps available, the best of which is Focus Keeper, which offers a minimalist and intuitive interface for iOS devices, for a one-time fee of £1.99.