Make it through the winter blues with a little digital assistance

These six apps will help you stay on track despite the colder, darker days ahead.

smartphone apps
© georgejmclittle, Adobe Stock

Now that darkness descends around 5 p.m. each day, having any sort of evening productivity seems next to impossible. Not to mention the daily struggle that is crawling out of our warm beds in the morning.

The world doesn’t stop turning when we are feeling disinterested in our day-to-day responsibilities, unfortunately, so to help you stay on track we’ve identified six apps to help you sleep better, feel better and hopefully do better.

When you want to get something done sans distractions from your phone, you can use this app as an added incentive. Using Forest, as time passes, a virtual tree will grow and over time the user can acquire virtual coins. But if you exit out of the app to use your phone, the tree will die. Aside from a pretty cool looking screensaver, another bonus is the app’s partnership with Trees for the Future, an organization that plants real-life trees around the world. Users can donate the virtual coins they’ve earned to help such endeavors.

Created by behavioral economists from Yale University, StickK is an app that makes you pay real money if you don’t complete a goal. Users set a target to be achieved by a specific time and assign themselves a “referee.”  The user then sets the stake (the amount of money they will pay if they don’t complete their task) and designates where their money will go if they fail.  The referee verifies user reports to ensure that goals are actually being met.

Sleep Cycle
This app not only tracks your sleep, it analyzes it. If you regularly wake up feeling groggy, it could be because your alarm is going off while you’re still in the deepest stage of sleep.  Sleep Cycle wakes you up during the lightest phase of sleep so your days can start a little less abruptly, and thus potentially less painfully.

Food fuels us throughout the day, and its not uncommon to turn to a few extra snacks for an added boost of energy. Using MyFitnessPal, you can stay on top of your health by counting calories and keeping a fitness journal. The app allows you to set a specific number of calories and water you’d like to consume each day, then subtracts from these numbers each time you log a meal. Logged food can be as generic as “banana” or as specific as “Panera Bread’s Broccoli Cheddar Soup,” as the app contains nutrition information for most chain restaurant menus.

Like any other part of the body, the brain needs exercise to stay sharp. Strengthen your neural pathways with Lumosity’s scientific games, designed to improve your mind’s speed and efficiency. The app determines a baseline for your reaction speed and reflexes, then hand selects games best suited for your brain.

If you’re lacking self-control, there’s an online application for—and named after—just that. Using SelfControl, an individual can block certain sites or programs that tend to distract them. Whether its email, social media or news sites, this application can take away temptation so that you can either finish the task at hand or simply capitalize on time spent with friends and family.