New Year, New Apps

Let some genius bits of technology help you accomplish your 2015 goals

newapps“New year, new you,” sounds catchy, but let’s face it, you’re the same old you — with some new resolutions. It’s natural to use the start of a fresh calendar page to embark on self-improvement missions, experts say.

“New Year’s provides us with a clean slate,” says Anne Marie Ludovici-Connolly, a corporate behavior change consultant and author of Change Your Mind, Change Your Health. “The possibility of a ‘new year, new you’ makes a new calendar year a very motivating time to attempt change.”

While up to 45 percent of us make resolutions, according to a recent University of Scranton study, only 8 percent achieve their goals. The good news: Those who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to accomplish them than those who don’t.

A goal backed by an action plan is even more likely to be accomplished. Luckily, technology makes action planning easier than ever. Here are the smartest apps in each self-improvement category, all free and road-tested. They can help you to be smarter, healthier and more spiritual.

  • Timeful (time management)

    Once you realize that people make time for what they truly want, “I don’t have time” starts to sound like an excuse. Let’s say you want to carve out time for three workouts or maybe two sessions of foreign-language learning per week in 2015. Timeful syncs with your calendars, gradually learns your preferences, and starts suggesting those times. Sure, you could block off calendar sessions yourself, but Timeful makes sure they don’t slip over the weeks. If you don’t accept a suggested time, it will come back with another. Hola, accountability!

  • Fooducate (healthier eating)

    Fooducate’s root word, “educate,” implies learning. There is plenty to this app: there’s interactivity, like tracking your daily diet and starting discussions with other users; there’s on-the-go usability, like looking up an eye-opening amount of nutritional information for dishes from different fast food chains, and scanning barcodes to find the calorie counts and “health grades” of packaged foods. If your goal is to get healthier this year, Fooducate will give you a strong start.

  • LearnVest (budgeting)

    Formerly targeted at women, LearnVest is an instructive financial app that now has an expanded appeal. Whether you want to set up a budget or take things to the next level by paying off debt or increasing your earnings, this app can help get you there (though to get the most from it, you’ll have to trust it with numbers from your various accounts.) LearnVest calls its action program “a gym membership for your money.” Warm up by reading some of its many useful articles on financial tips.

  • 7 Minute Workout (fitness)

    Recent research has shown that intense short-burst workouts can be more effective than longer, easier ones. But if you’re not a trainer, how do you design a challenging session for yourself? Here, Johnson & Johnson’s Official 7 Minute Workout app shines. Figuring in age, motivation and fitness level, it delivers seven minutes of heart-pumping instructions (plus optional warm-up and cool-down.) The virtual trainer acts out the motion and calls out tips on form, just like a real trainer would. And no equipment is needed. All in all, there’s no way to claim you didn’t have the time or know-how for effective exercise.

  • Lumosity (brain skills)

    Want to improve your memory, get better at multitasking, or just stay mentally sharp? Lumosity promises to help through fast science-based games created by neuroscience researchers, and it’s fun to boot. The app will try to sell you on a paid premium subscription, but you can do a daily session for free. (Bonus: You won’t plow 45 minutes into an addictive quest to score as one of the “mentally fittest” people your age.) It won’t feel like an instant life-changer, but the most effective daily habits rarely do.

  • 3-Minute Retreat (spiritual)

    Sometimes prayer flows; other times it could use some inspiration. The 3-Minute Retreat from Loyola Press offers brief daily direction, complete with music. It starts by asking you to center your thoughts on God then asks a series of reflective questions. You proceed at your own pace — so you can take more than 180 seconds if you’d like. 3-Minute Retreat isn’t as flashy as the other apps, but its prayer direction is solid. And you’re coming for spiritual growth, not streamlined graphics.