My 5 Favorite Nerdy Apps

Do you spend a lot of time on your mobile using social networks or playing games? If you're like most people, you probably do... I am not saying I don't; I actually tracked how much time I usually spend on social networks and other distracting apps using RescueTime, one of the tools I recommend using for productivity management, and it's around 2 hours on average per day! Although you might be using each app for a few minutes every other hour, but these minutes pile up throughout the day, and you end up wasting hours with not much gain. I'm not advising you to quit social networking; as a social media consultant, it would be bad for my business if you do lol

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My Top 5 Productivity Tools

 

As an independent social media consultant, I have the flexibility of working from home (or mostly hotel rooms and wherever I am while traveling)... And while I very much enjoy that I can work in my PJs, wake up and sleep whenever I want to, work at my own pace while watching TV, and take a break or travel when I feel like it... I have to confess that it tends to get out of hand, and I easily lose focus and track of work. Try to separate work life from personal life when you work from your personal space, and your job is all about spending time online on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the tons of other distracting social networks! So while my work life might look awesome on the outside, on the inside it is quite hectic, unorganized, confusing, and can get overwhelming... Up until I decided to restructure and organize it! And given how I'm all about tech, I of course turned to tech for help and began my search for tools and applications to manage and increase my productivity. Whether you work independently, or just want to make your job easier, here are the tools I recommend:

1. RescueTime

This is the first app that I found, used and was mind-blown by it... It is so simple yet very crucial! It basically tracks how you spend your time on the devices where you have it installed (I have it installed on my laptop and mobile phones) and gives a visual report of what the time was spent on with different categories, ranging from very distracting to very productive. You can set a goal of how long you want to spend on Business/Productive tasks vs Distracting tasks, and know exactly how to work towards that goal as you see where your time goes... The app has so many awesome features that you must check out, but I specifically like that it syncs across all my devices, and sends me a weekly summary, seen below, of how my time was spent, showing the most productive days, times, activities, and applications, and the most distracting apps that I need to learn to avoid (Whatsapp much?!).

What I love is that by knowing which time and day I am most productive, I can plan to have the most daunting tasks performed then where I am less likely to prone for distraction. The only issue however is that social networking sites are categorized as Very Distracting, which is realistic, but given that my work involves social media, I can not separate between the productive/business use of social networking sites and the distracting/personal use. Still, that's a problem you only have to worry about if you're in my line of work; otherwise, you're going to love it! 

2. KanbanFlow

This is a web-based tool where you have a work board with tabs to manage tasks and to-do lists. It's quite easy to set up and use, and leave open in your browser for a quick glance to stay on top of your work responsibilities. The tool has so many useful features such as adding description, tags, color-coding tasks, adding due dates, subtasks, team members, sending you email reminders when you're approaching due dates or tasks are overdue, etc... Ok you get it, it has everything and it's awesome and I love it :P It's usually the first thing I check out every day and regularly update! FYI (for your information/inspiration), below you can see a snapshot of my own workboard... 

I just love clearing out that "Do today" and "In progress" columns, and look at all the tasks I've "Done" to feel like I've accomplished something! As That itself increases motivation and productivity. The downside of Kanbanflow is that it is only web-based; it would be great to have a mobile version of it. 

3. Handle

This beautifully designed app is an integration between email, to-do lists, and calendar; so it is the perfect app if most of your work happens on or comes from your inbox! I personally didn't use it much, as I was already using KanbanFlow to organize my projects' to-do list, but I recently felt that Handle can be better suited to "handle" those small tasks that are coected to an email message, and can save me the time to manually add it to KanbanFlow with a link. So you may want to save the large recurring project tasks to Kanbanflow, and use Handle for small/communication tasks. But even on Handle, you can organize to-do tasks by project, and add reminders and due dates that would sync with your Google calendar...

Unfortunately, I seem to be having trouble adding due dates, not sure why; the other downside is that it does not have a mobile app, but rather a browser extension/desktop app ... Don't these developers know we spend most of our time on mobile rather than desktop! But we can't complain, the app is practical and free, and would sure come in handy. 

4. Toggl

This is more of a project time management tool that basically works as an automatic timer, with an option to add time manually, to track how much time you spend on each specific project, as opposed to RescueTime which tracks the time you spend on a specific application/website instead of project. It can be useful especially when different projects have different time priorities, and are costed differently based on hourly rate, to make sure that your time is spent on the most profitable/top priority projects, and you're being productive where it actually counts!

Toggl.jpg

The upside of it is that there is a mobile version of this app, but the downside is that I personally often forgot to click "Start" for every task I started working on, and sometimes I forgot that I had the timer ruing for a task while I was not really working on it but was actually distracted or even away. Still, it can be useful if you can actually remember to use it, and it can especially come in handy where the other apps may fall short, like in tracking the time you spend on doing online research for work by visiting many different websites. You can then log in that time as "productive", when RescueTime would not recognize the significance of those sites separately and may even consider them distracting (unless you manually go change each site's categorization in the app).

5. gTasks

It's a little embarrassing perhaps to include this in the list with the others, but it is the first app I started using long before the rest. gTasks, or Google Tasks, is a simple task list app by Google that integrates with your Gmail tasks. The advantage of it is that because of how simple and easy it is to use, it saves you time and effort in adding tasks and due dates. gTasks is my go-to app when I'm out in a meeting, or moving around, and need to quickly make a note/list of things to do, before I move onto the other tools for more elaborate task management. You can also easily send the list by email, or share it in many other means; you can check tasks as done in one tap, and see everything in one place. The same developers also developed another similar app called TickTick that you can also check out if you need something like gTasks but more advanced. TickTick lets you add attachments, comments and location to your lists, as well as active links.

gtasks.jpg

So this is it! That's all I need and use so far to manage my productivity and I hope you give them a try and find them as useful as I did... If you do try them, let me know what you think, and if you are using other productivity tools that work well for you, give me your recommendations below.


When Quitting Is Good

Photo taken on top of Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka, after I quit climbing up the last 200 steps of the 5'500 steps; having been pushed almost half of it lol

Photo taken on top of Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka, after I quit climbing up the last 200 steps of the 5'500 steps; having been pushed almost half of it lol

I have been having a lot of time lately to think about my life and where I want to go with it. I haven't figured it out yet, and I'd unlikely be able to do it by the end of this post. I've always had this philosophy, though it may not be to the liking of many, that I'd do what I can with what I already have, rather than seek to have what I may not... OK, that may have sounded too philosophical hehe... In simpler terms, I'd just make the best of comes my way instead of going out of my way to get what I believe is best for me. It may not be the best motto in life, but I've done well with it so far, I believe.

Surely there were times when I felt that that motto doesn't serve me well... In the times where I was actually tempted to want things, and felt driven enough to pursue them. Yet, in none of those times was I successful, which caused me to further believe in the validity of my motto! 

Those things were on my mind again lately... Things I would want... Things I had previously pursued but not achieved. And in the midst of my thoughts, I came across the below post by a friend on Facebook.

First it had me thinking: Is it that I didn't want it bad enough? Did I not work hard enough for it? Do I not deserve it? Am I not good enough for it?... You know... All the typical self-doubt thoughts that drag its holder to a dark deep hole of self-loathing! 

However, on the other side, are we not to believe that what is meant to be will happen? Of course it doesn't mean that we just lazily wait for things to fall in our lap, but perhaps to exercise diligence in our pursuits, hope and pray for the best while having faith that we will get what is written for us... As for what's not written for us, well, there's nothing we can do about that, except hope some more that there is something better in store for us instead! (And most people like to ignore the fact that perhaps there's nothing better for them, but let's not get into that dark deep hole now :P)

With those thoughts, I was prompted to leave my comment above, with the following questions:

"How long and hard must you go after something before realizing that maybe you're just being stubborn instead of persistent, and that perhaps it's time you focus your energy and time on something else that may be good for you too, even if you had failed to see it from start!"

I ask that question in all seriousness... How long and hard are we supposed to pursue something before we realize that it is better to quit? A month? A year? 5 years? Perhaps the time period is more relevant to the goal itself; like if your goal is to be a talented musician, that would come with hours of practice (about 10'000 hours according to the rule uncovered in Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Outliers", which I highly recommend you read!), but isn't it possible that talent and creativity are not an outcome of practice, that even with such practice, someone can still lack the "it" factor that'd make them successful or exceptional? But I digress...

In the same theme of thoughts, and by coincidence, I came across another comment I made five years ago on a blog post titled "How To Quit Being A Quitter":

Sometimes people keep pushing themselves to do something so they don’t end up being quitters, and in the end, that makes them hate what they are doing. If you need to actually push yourself hard to do something and finish it, then you probably shouldn't be doing it! No one ever quits on something he/she loves and enjoys doing.

At the end, I am not saying that we should all quit our pursuits as soon as we feel frustrated or we run into an obstacle... This is hardly a conclusion, but rather the opening of a discussion... And I really hope that one of you readers is an experienced psychologist and can advise me on the matter: Am I wise or am I a lazy quitter? lol

Arab Tech Women Entrepreneurs

On September 23rd, I spoke at The Arab Women In Leadership & Business Summit in Dubai on technology-based entrepreneurship. I felt quite honoured to share the stage with amazing leading women who are ministers, founders, CEOs, chairmen (chairwomen?!), and managers of international and major brands, while I was there representing only myself as The Manalyst... That made me realise even more the importance and power of technology-based entrepreneurship. When I launched my website and online brand, The Manalyst, in 2009, it was not for the objective of having my own business, but merely to make use of the free time and internet I had in learning and sharing about the latest trends in my industry, while overcoming the limitations of being a professional in a male-dominated world (whether for being in Saudi Arabia, or generally in the business world)... I never thought that first step would lead me to be one of the influential bloggers and social media professionals in the region, covering and speaking at various related events such as this one I'm writing about, being interviewed by the media, and most importantly, having helped various brands and people with using social media to achieve their goals. 

In the 2-day event, I sat among the audience, of mostly women, listening to their stories, questions, concerns, and most of all... complaints. Some were legitimate complaints of social, cultural and work-discrimination struggles that might take long to change, yet many have overcame them; and some I found to be invalid, like the lack of role models in our Arab community... And that is what I aimed to prove wrong through my presentation, and this post.

First of all, one prevailing statistic in the Arab region is that almost over half of university attendees and graduates are female, yet that only translates to being less than a quarter of the workforce... So the problem isn't that Arab women lack the formal education or skills and capabilities to join or excel in the workforce. They're actually more likely to start their own business than to get a job, and even more women intend to do the same, yet that still doesn't transform into action.

There probably haven't been any formal studies or research of why there aren't more women in business, whether as employees or entrepreneurs, but common beliefs is that it is for one of the following reasons:

Cultural Pressures and Stereotypes, and Overcoming Women Unemployment Issues by Working from Home, with Flexible Hours

Even at this modern day and age, the role of women in the Arab world is still quite traditional... In most typical Arab families, a girl's priority is to get married and have kids. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, women are also often not allowed to work for cultural/social reasons or due to gender segregation laws. So while the majority of adult females attend university, graduate or even get to work, they do so as long as they are single. And those who have ambitions to pursue higher education and a business career face pressures from their families, or community, to focus on getting a husband instead, and if they're already married, then they should focus on their family and household instead. And in the business community, they're mostly viewed a "flight risk", as in, if hired, they might suddenly quit once married or with child, which makes them a bad investment. An example of a woman who faced and defied such pressures and stereotypes is Yasmine Al Mehairy.

Yasmine co-founded the Arabic parenting website Supermama with Zeinab Samir in 2011. She faced many negative cultural stereotypes as a single 30 year old woman entrepreneur but was positive about the startup ecosystem in Egypt being more supportive than it is in the West, and she was able to secure funding as bias towards male founders was not yet apparent in the Arab world as it is in the West. (Source: Middle East Monitor)

These cultural and employment issues that Arab women face is what drives some into tech entrepreneurship as they get the ability to work from home, or wherever they need to be, and with flexible hours thus having the ability to tend to their other affairs (whether they're students, wives and/or moms) at their own comfort. This is what drove Tasneem Salim, programmer and gamer, to co-find GCON -the world’s biggest and Saudi’s first girls-only yearly gaming convention and community in Riyadh-, encouraging girls to pursue careers in game development, and break the stereotypes that gaming is a boys-only industry. In Saudi, where gender segregation poses a challenge in the workforce, that consists only 20% of women, she believes that gaming can a powerful option for those who prefer flexible hours and working from home. (Source: Wamda)

Two other ladies who also found that drive to start their own tech business are Duna AlSiyari and Hussa AlShamran; two college students who kickstarted the eCommerce site Qurtsyah in 2012 as the first in Saudi to sell stationary online, enjoying the flexibility it gives them to work while also continuing their education. They are determined to grow their business to the GCC, and continue to apply their college learnings to practical business experience and starting their own line of Arabic-style stationary. (Source: AlEqtisadiah)

Funding and Financing, and How It is Countered by Low Costs/Barriers to Entry 

During the event, some women were repeatedly mentioned in the discussion as role models for women entrepreneurs, such as Sheikha Moza, Queen Rania, and other prominent names... While their work is to be appreciated and admired, not all women in the Arab region have the same access to family money, status and connections to support their business initiatives. The average Arab woman has to strive to attain funds and finance her business. Either there aren't enough sources for funds in the Arab world with high competition, or there is lack of awareness in how or where to attain funds. In most cases, women who want to start their own business are either discouraged by lack of funds or they resort to financing their business with their own personal money which often slows their progress. 

That is what Hanan Khader, a programmer and mommy of 3, had to do when she launched Aqar-estate.com in 2008, a real estate digital platform for the MENA, which was a challenge in a male-dominated industry that she had to finance herself until she secured seed investment from Oasis500. 2 years ago, she also started HelloWorldKids, teaching programming to kids and inspiring them to be tech entrepreneurs.

With the low cost and barriers to entry of tech-based industry, in case of most businesses, many women have taken up to the internet to start their own small businesses, starting from scratch depending on whatever knowledge or skills they have, and financing their business further with the earnings, until they're able to make some steady income from it... Which is the case with Farihan Amin, owner of Simplecious, an instagram-based home baking business. 

The Need for Women-Focused Support Network, and What YOU Can Do to Help!

It is safe to say that women can never be equal to men, we may want equal rights but at the end of the day, we will always be different, especially in the Arab/Muslim world because we believe in our role as housewives and mothers, even if we weren't all born to have that typical life or if we wanted to be businesswomen on top of being wives/mothers. So the aim is to have a business ecosystem that understands the characteristics, requirements and challenges of Arab women entrepreneurs and support them through their journey & in their lifestyle. That's not saying that Arab women can't already compete, succeed and flourish in the current ecosystem among men! May Attari, a Palestinian student, has certainly accomplished that, along with her peers, through her university's leadership program "Qiyadat", by co-founding Fadfid, an online psychotherapy platform that connects patients seeking expert psychological advice to specialists across the Arab world.

Think of how many more innovative startups we'd have, in addition to the economic benefits, if more women are supported and encouraged to become entrepreneurs! You can start encouraging them from a young age, by raising girls to overcome negative stereotypes and explore their interests in a gender-neutral environment, and learn tech skills from resources like: ScratchHacketyKhan AcademyCode.orgTahrir AcademyThe Little Engineer

Female students can also be encouraged to aspire for an education & career in tech by nurturing and developing their innate skills, and using educational technology to teach and inspire them, from resources like: Khan AcademyCode AcademyTechGirlsEdSurge.

And as entrepreneurs and business owners, share your experience and knowledge with them, support their entrepreneurial activities and intentions, and welcome opportunities to mentor and guide women with entrepreneurial activities/intentions, through platforms such as Wamda Mix n’ mentorArabnetWamda 4 Women; and various Linkedin Groups.

And lastly, as part of the community, support them, enable them, encourage them, share their stories, give them feedback…You can start by sharing this post or its presentation below, in hope that the women I mentioned here can serve as inspiration and role models for others out there who are just waiting for the right motivation to rise and flourish!