In a day and age when tablets like the iPad are increasingly being adopted as educational tools, digital textbooks and homework portal apps are part of daily life for many students. But what about work and productivity apps? More than 200 programs are categorized as productivity apps in the App Store, but the overwhelming majority of them are targeted to adult business professionals.
Fortunately, there are a few apps out there which are ideally suited to the needs of teenagers. If your child is having trouble keeping track of homework or struggling to balance work and play, one of these apps just might help.
1. Calendar apps, like Google Calendar or Calendar for iOS, are an incredibly versatile tool for teens and adults alike. Keeping a personal calendar is an important life skill for young people to develop, and calendar apps on smartphones and school-issued tablets are an easy and convenient first step. Students can use them to track due dates for homework and long-term projects and schedule set times to work on these tasks.
Perhaps more importantly, though, keeping an up-to-date calendar can help teens understand how much time there actually is in a day. The modern American high schooler is under a lot of pressure to demonstrate well-roundedness to college admissions officers by participating in sports and clubs, but it’s easy to go too far. When students have too many extracurricular obligations, homework often falls by the wayside. If school time and all activities are charted on a calendar app, though, it’s easy to see when a new commitment would be too much – the calendar actually provides a visualization of how many hours would be left over for homework (not to mention free time and sleep!).
2. 30/30 is a free iOS app designed to help people stay on-task and balance work and play. Users populate the app with their tasks and to-do lists, which can be color-coded according to criteria like due date or class. They can then select any task and focus on it for a given time. The app will count down the selected amount of working time, followed by a selected amount of break time. The default settings are 30 minutes for work and 30 minutes for free time, but both are adjustable.
30/30 is great for students who find themselves losing hours to online distractions every night. The app provides a structured balance between homework time and free time, making it more difficult for teens to lose track of just how long they’ve been procrastinating. And if a student with poor time management skills is aware of the problem but unwilling to fix it, then 30/30 can make it easier for parents to enforce limited break times.
3. Wunderlist is a free app for iOS and Android which is also available as a desktop program and a Chrome extension. It is one among many to-do list apps, but it has certain attributes which make it particularly suited for homework tracking and study planning. The app allows users to set due dates for tasks, and reminders can also be set apart from due dates – for instance, a reminder to start working on a project well before it is due.
And then there’s the collaboration feature, which has an open-ended design so as to be useful in a wide range of situations besides workplace projects. When a user has been set as a collaborator on a list, he or she will be notified when any reminders or due dates come up for items on the list. So if parents or guardians are set as collaborators on a student’s homework to-do list, they will get notifications when the student should be working towards an impending deadline.
(And of course, if the student has a history of simply ignoring homework assignments, parents can add assignments listed on class websites and create the necessary deadlines and reminders. While this isn’t an ideal long-term solution, it will go a long way towards ensuring the student knows that his or her parents know about those assignments and expect them to be completed.)
4. MyStudyLife is a student planner app available for iOS, Android, Chrome, and Windows 8. It mirrors the functions of a traditional student planner, minus the pen and paper – a feature which makes it well-suited for students who would rather write on a touchpad than on a page. And of course, it also has features that physical planners lack – most importantly, it will automatically provide reminders about upcoming tests and unfinished tasks.
MyStudyLife lacks the parental collaboration option that makes Wunderlist so useful, but it makes up for it with convenience. Unlike Wunderlist, it is specifically designed to be used by students, so its structure makes it easy to categorize assignments by class.
5. HabitRPG is particularly useful for teens who can’t seem to stop playing video games long enough to finish their homework, but anyone who enjoys working toward challenges might potentially find it helpful. It is a to-do list and habit-building app which takes the rather unique approach of presenting daily life as a video game. Users can “level up” by completing tasks and checking in for positive habits; when they check in for negative habits or fail to complete tasks by set deadlines, they gradually lose their level progress. Completing tasks also yields in-game “gold” and items, and at higher levels, users can team up to complete “quests” by checking off items on their to-do lists. This is the same basic structure shared by popular video games like World of Warcraft, but unlike those games, HabitRPG has little potential to be a time sink – there is very little to do in-game besides checking off items from the to-do list.
HabitRPG does not have parental collaboration options or a schoolwork-based design, but its emphasis on building good habits gives it an advantage over many to-do list apps. If a habit like starting homework before dinner will be recognized and rewarded, the student will have a greater incentive to actually follow through and develop that habit. So for teens who enjoy games, HabitRPG can help to build strong study skills over time while also encouraging them to keep up with their schoolwork.
Know any other productivity apps that are great for teens? Share them in the comments!