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After-work Apps

Five tools that help me balance work and family, take care of my friends, and stay sane

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It takes a lot of tools to do a good job

At Postlight we design and build digital products, and we also use a lot of digital products to operate our business. There are the obvious ones like Slack, G Suite, and Trello—and the less obvious but completely necessary B2B tools like Pingboard, Float and Abacus. The collective goal is simple — help the company run efficiently, communicate clearly and continue to grow. This is what technology is supposed to do, right? Solve problems. Make our lives better. Help us do more. Stay connected. Expand our horizons.

So when I became a mother in 2015, I naturally turned to technology to help me balance work and life at home. Apps like Nest and UrbanSitter and Instacart arrived on my phone. The friction points that surfaced in my life as a working mom had universally been solved already. Literally, there’s an app for that.

Less straightforward, however, was how to hold on to the character traits that were meaningful to me as a person before I became a parent. I have two young children. My family is large and across continents, and my friends lifelong. How could technology help me continue to be thoughtful? Continue to have the bandwidth to learn?

I tried Googling “best thoughtful apps”— The results are varied, and not particularly helpful. When it comes to solving nuanced problems, technology solutions seem to be in low supply. Trial and error are your best bet.

Two years and two kids later, and I think I’ve finally landed on the “suite of tools” I need to operate my life outside of the office. It’s surprisingly short. You probably know many of them. I’m sharing it in the hope that this can help someone else, somewhere.

Five Apps for People Who Value Both Their Families and Their Independence

  1. WhatsApp. The best way to feed the beast. Regardless of time zones or data plans, a group message can keep everyone’s tank full of photos and videos of the kids and life in general. You might even find that you talk more to the important people in your life now than you did before kids.
  2. Duolingo. Learning is hard when you are exhausted, and when you have small children you are always exhausted. The game mechanics in Duolingo make learning a new language more like playing Candy Crush. And who doesn’t have the energy for Candy Crush?
  3. Punkpost. For the moments when you realize you’ve totally forgotten about a friend’s birthday, wedding, graduation (name it, I’ve forgotten it). With about the same amount of effort as text message, you can send a beautifully, professionally-handwritten (handwritten!) card. Major thoughtful points.
  4. Taskrabbit. Because as much as you fight it, there are only so many hours in a day. Get the small things off your To Do list with hired help and make room for the more meaningful ones. (Feel guilty asking someone to do something for you? Treat helpers with respect and tip them.)
  5. Airbnb. Under the constraints of routine that comes with work and a young family, there are times when you just need to dream about your escape. A private island off the coast of the Norway sounds really nice right about now…

These are the five. Erase all the other apps and I’m fine. Erase one of these and everything crumbles. I believe firmly that technology can make our lives better, which is why I work at a product studio. But one of the lessons I’ve learned since working here (and since becoming a mother) is that it’s often better to really commit to one or two proven solutions—WhatsApp and Taskrabbit—than worry about what could be better, or faster. There’s always something new and shiny that promises to be more fun. Familiar, functional tools are the best tools, at least until I can get my kids to sleep through the night.

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Story published on Apr 6, 2017.