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Eight apps to help you stay focused when working from home

Distractions are endless when working from home, making it harder than ever to stay on task. We asked eight business leaders to share their favourite apps, tools and platforms for productivity and focus.

Photo illustration: Jeanine Brito Source photos: Mindful Browsing

Mindful Browsing

Recommended by Diana Luu, head of marketing solutions, LinkedIn Canada

“Prior to the pandemic, I found myself getting distracted between calls or sometimes even on calls where I wasn’t an active contributor. Now that I’ve been working from home for nearly two months, that distraction level has increased significantly. After searching for a tool that would help limit the time spent on sites that were entertaining, but lowered my productivity during the workday, I found the Mindful Browsing app. When I go to sites that generally lower my productivity, like social media, I get a friendly reminder of the other activities that I could partake in that will help with my productivity. This app reminds me that I have better and more productive things to do with my downtime.”

Photo illustration: Jeanine Brito Source photos: Apple


Recommended by Nadine Villasin Feldman, director of programming, Myseum of Toronto

“My productivity app recommendation is pretty basic, but I stand by my tried and true desktop Stickies for list-making. I am a die-hard list-maker and find it deeply satisfying to check everything off a To-Do list at the end of the day. With multiple upcoming programs to plan and oversee, I like to colour-code notes by event and organize them according to priority. Ultimately, what keeps me motivated and productive during my workday is the fact that I have a job and am still able to work from home. These are very precarious times and I feel very fortunate.”

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Photo illustration: Jeanine Brito Source photos: Microsoft MyAnalytics


Recommended by Jason Young, head of legal, PayPal Canada

“Like everyone else, I’ve struggled with balancing personal obligations while working from home during these extraordinary times. I have two young kids and my partner also works, so we’ve had to learn new ways to manage. Microsoft has a feature called MyAnalytics, which analyzes your work habits and how you use your time. For example, it revealed that I respond to most e-mails in less than 30 minutes, was often responding while attending meetings and didn’t have appropriate focus time. Rather than being responsive and efficient, I was being reactive to my inbox and wasn’t managing my calendar appropriately. It has helped me change my work habits to be more productive – a lesson I’ve found extraordinarily helpful.”

Photo illustration: Jeanine Brito Source photos: Noish Sound Level Meter

NIOSH Sound Level Meter

Recommended by Leslie Woo, chief planning and development officer, Metrolinx

“After spending over 10 hours a day attached to headphones for video-conference meetings, I now have a heightened awareness of my hearing health. The NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) Sound Level Meter app measures noise levels so that I don’t put my hearing health at risk with elevated volume levels in meetings. I live in an open-concept condo with my partner, and now with two of us working from home with headphones on, we are at times literally shouting as we cannot hear the volume of our voices. I started using the app to “decibel-shame” my partner into lowering his voice. This app has helped us both minimize how much we interrupt each other in our now shared workspace. I can report that peace is restored in our homestead and I am able to ‘unmute’ much more easily.”

Photo illustration: Jeanine Brito Source photos: Flipboard


Recommended by Jose Ribau, executive vice-president, digital and innovation, Cadillac Fairview

“Now more than ever, Canadians are spending more time online consuming content, whether it’s for personal, professional or creative motivation. It can be time-consuming. The Flipboard app is a news and social-media aggregator that allows me to easily organize relevant content, saving time spent searching for information and making it easy to share resources with my team. The app allows me to personalize content that’s curated to my work and interests, like e-commerce, big data and cycling. I can stay up to date on relevant trends and interesting topics that may not have made major headlines, but are important to me."

Photo illustration: Jeanine Brito Source photos: Lattice


Recommended by Rajesh Uttamchandani, head of human resources, MaRS

“As the HR leader at MaRS, I’m particularly impressed with Lattice. This people-management platform is built to help us develop our goals, and align my team and the entire organization. All the company’s goals are in it, starting at the top. Each leader, team and individual’s goals are aligned to the goals at the top. All goals are visible, so transparency on what everyone is working on, and also visibility to other areas where people may have time or energy or skills to help, can be clearly seen. This really helps me manage how I distribute work to my team and makes it easy for me to ensure I am allowing my team to have balance in their lives.”

Photo illustration: Jeanine Brito Source photos: Google Keep

Google Keep

Recommended by Nancy Peterson, CEO, HomeStars Canada

Google Keep has been instrumental in helping me stay organized and to prioritize my work. It lets you take notes in Post-It fashion, pinning the most important ones at the top. I also colour-code, which helps me focus on time-sensitive items and those that drive the business forward. Those notes are categorized as Urgent items, Quarterly Objectives and Key Results, which I review first each day. I also use it a lot for brainstorming notes. As it is part of the G Suite, I often add my team as collaborators. Since it’s connected to other products we use, it makes it easy to turn ideas into actions.”

Photo illustration: Jeanine Brito Source photos:

Recommended by Marie Chevrier, founder and CEO, Sampler has been a game-changer for us, especially as we transitioned to a fully remote work setting. It’s a great tool we use to collaboratively manage projects, organize daily tasks and give the entire team a 360-degree view of what’s done, what’s stuck and what’s still pending. It’s acted as a great virtual work hub for us while working remotely, and gives us the visibility we need to stay connected, aligned and productive. The priority column is a lifesaver for me. The urgency feature lets me colour-code and categorize tasks by priority so I can quickly identify which ones need my immediate attention versus the ones that can be scheduled for later.”

Credits: Collected by ANDREA YU; Editing by STEPHANIE CHAN; Design and development by JEANINE BRITO

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