Do you ever feel like your app situation is out of control? I get on these weird kicks where I download a ton of apps that I think I’m definitely going to use every day. Then they just sit there cluttering up my screen for weeks, completely untouched since the day they were downloaded.
It’s time to simplify, folks.
As a busy graduate student, I need apps that are going to make my life easier and stay out of my way. Here are my favorites right now:
1. Notability (Mac + iPad + iPhone)
I am a recent convert to Notability. For the longest time, I didn’t go for it because I didn’t have an iPad, but now that I have it, I use it on ALL of my devices! I absolutely love the ability to combine typing, pictures, drawings, handwriting, and even GIFS in one document.
I take reading notes or class notes on my computer, then use the iPad to add personality. The extra effort means I spend a little more time with those concepts, and the visuals make them easier to remember.
I also use Notability as my main PDF reader when I’m assigned an article to read for class. I can highlight, make notes in the margins, and have it automatically available on all my devices!
It’s easy to organize my notes within folders and with colored tags, and the search feature allows me to search my notes of books I read ages ago. What a lifesaver! It’s not a free app, but totally worth the price, in my opinion. Highly recommended.
2. Zotero (Mac + PC)
If you’re doing any research whatsoever, you should really try Zotero. I am using it to organize all of my sources for various projects. There’s an extension for Google Chrome that allows you to add a book or journal article straight to the appropriate folder while you browse.
Here’s an awesome tip to get the most out of Zotero: at the beginning of your semester, take the time to put every single book you’ve been assigned into Zotero (and organize them by class into folders, or by semester if you don’t get that many books assigned).
Later on in the semester when you’re working on a term paper, guess what! You can easily cite a book you read without interrupting your flow. …But that’s not the end of it.
One day, for some other class, some other semester, or even some other degree, you might recall some concept from one of those books and want to cite it. You’ll have an easy time getting to the citation in Zotero, and you can look up your notes on it in Notability! Boom.
3. pCloud (all devices)
If you use DropBox, pCloud is the same concept. But here’s the thing – I need a lot of storage. In addition to all of my academic endeavors, I also play music. And let me tell you, playing music comes with a lot of audio and video files. So I need a lot of space.
Even if you don’t have the same kind of needs as me, just compare the free accounts: DropBox comes with 2 GB of storage, pCloud comes with 10 GB. For free!
Here’s another quirk of mine: I really don’t love paying monthly membership fees. When I pay monthly for things, I always feel pressured to use it every month. Also, those things really add up! I’m already paying for Spotify, Netflix, Adobe Creative Suite, etc. Like, I don’t need any more monthly debits. I’ll lose track.
As a result of this reluctance, I went looking for a DropBox alternative (they have monthly plans to upgrade the 2GB) and found pCloud. Not only does pCloud start off giving you more room, but they also offer lifetime payment options. It might seem weird, but I would rather bite the bullet and pay a large amount once, so I did. And I love it.
Oh, and if you don’t want to do the lifetime option, their monthly plans are still cheaper than DropBox.
4. C25k (iPhone, Android)
I really can’t say enough good things about Couch to 5k.
Look, guys. You’re in college. You’re stressed. Pressed for time. I get it. But you also know you need to take care of yourself. You know, eat a little better (meaning, uh, not pizza every day?!) and do some exercise.
My friend, Couch to 5k can totally help.
I know, I know. Running?! I promise you, I was a skeptic too. I hated running. My very worst memories were of having to run the mile in gym class in 7th grade.
But I knew something had to give when I started graduate school and gained 5 lbs. in the first month. (Emotional eaters, you feel me?) I knew I had to start eating healthier, and I wanted to get myself to exercise regularly. I downloaded C25k on a whim and got started. I fell in love right away.
It’s designed for people who aren’t in shape, and somehow the app knew exactly how far to push me each day. The first day, running for 30 seconds was hard. By the end of the semester, I was running for 30 minutes straight.
I lost the extra 5 lbs quickly, but the best part was how much energy I had for the day ahead. Trust me, I needed it! #gradschoolfeels
5. Tide (iPhone, Android)
You know that feeling when you’re down to your last few weeks of the semester, you’ve got approximately 4,389 papers due, your grades depend upon how well you can pull yourself together, and… all you can think about is the upcoming break? Focusing can be hard.
My classmates and I like to meet at the library and push through those moments together. We set an amount of time (usually 25-45 minutes, depending upon how panicked we are) that we’re going to work really hard and not talk, then we’ll take a 5-10 minute break. We’ve all agreed that, for some reason, we get more done this way than spending hours alone. It’s probably something to do with accountability.
Anyway, when we do these study sessions, I launch the Tide app and put it in the middle of the table. It gives us a visual countdown of how much time we’ve got left in the session. Bonus: I can turn on my Bluetooth headphones and listen to the soundtrack Tide provides (rain, ocean, or “muse,” a soft piano piece). Focus super-charge!
6. Evernote (all platforms)
What can I say about Evernote that hasn’t been said already? This has completely replaced all other “notepad”-type apps in my life. It’s the quickest, best way to get random thoughts out of my head and into a safe place.
I keep a running document in Evernote titled “Squirrel List.” When I’m reading or in a class discussion, sometimes I become intrigued with a particular thought or concept:
This discussion reminds me of that one article I read 3 years ago in my Race & Ethnicity in Religion class. I need to locate it.
When did the Romance languages splinter off from Latin?
I want to read a book on Ecofeminism. Need recommendations.
I slide those thoughts right into Evernote. I know that they can help me grow intellectually and further my research, but they’re the kinds of thoughts that can totally distract me from focusing on the task at hand. So I just get rid of them–temporarily, of course.
During school breaks, I sift through the list and pursue thoughts I didn’t have time to get into before. This helps to keep me intellectually engaged during breaks, and allows me to pursue things that interest me.
I’ve been using the free plan for years and haven’t felt the need to upgrade!
7. Grammarly (web, Mac, PC, Google Docs)
Oh, Grammarly. This is the app that every college freshman should be required to make use of from DAY ONE. Do you know how Microsoft Word catches your spelling errors? Yeah, Grammarly catches those… and so much more.
It catches you using words in the wrong context, helps you put your commas in the right place, and makes sure you’ve got your apostrophes sorted out. It comes as a browser extension, so it can check you all the time, even on Twitter or Facebook!
The basic (but life-changing) version is free, so… what are you waiting for?
8. Libby (iPhone, Android)
I commute 30+ minutes to school, and I like to use that driving time to do something productive. Usually, that something is listening to an audiobook. And I really want to subscribe to Audible, but… as you know, I have an aversion to monthly bills.
So I do what any responsible citizen would do. I check out audiobooks from my local public library! Luckily, this does not involve actually driving to the library and checking out a set of CDs (anymore). All I do is tap the Libby app, push play, and drive.
As you can see, Libby has a simple interface. I can speed up the narration if I want to get through the book faster, and I can insert bookmarks at certain places I want to remember. It’s a great way to enjoy some of the books that I want to read for fun, even while I’m pressed for time with all of the books I have to read for class.
Thanks so much for reading!
If you’re wondering about a calendar and task management, I think I’m going to do a separate post about that. You could say ~it’s complicated.~
Hope you get a chance to try out these apps – and let me know what you think! And have a great semester.