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When Thoreau spoke that the solution to a life “frittered away by detail” was to “simplify, simplify, simplify,” he couldn’t have imagined a world where we manage much of our lives via computers and their corresponding devices (and one where an error in the synchronization of that data can throw off our entire schedule).

But even in our digital modern-day world, Thoreau was onto something when he continued, “keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.” Just because life in 2013 is a far different beast than in 1845 doesn’t mean we have to ditch our electronics and set up camp in the woods to feel that things are in order. Technology should be controlled, rather than letting our devices control us.

When used properly and effectively, a smartphone truly can simplify our lives, eliminating much of the tedium of traditional bookkeeping and paperwork in favor of real-time records stored in the cloud (leaving us more time to sit in the woods — or the backyard — and pen our own treatise on simplification).

These apps are among the best on the market for saving time and fostering an organized lifestyle:

eWallet GO!

Anybody with an active online presence likely has around two dozen or more sites, social networks and bank accounts that require usernames and log-ins. It’s a smart idea to vary these passwords between sites, but who can remember that many different passwords or variations? Although keeping a document with all of your passwords saved is a smart idea, an even smarter one is to encrypt them and store them in an app like eWallet, where they’re available from anywhere with one password. From credit card numbers to PINs, this app keeps your info safe but accessible to you, meaning you’ll never have to click on the ‘I forgot my password’ button again.

Shoeboxed

This app takes its name from that box of receipts under your desk that you dread digging through at tax season. A far better alternative is to record all of your expenditures as they occur. Snap a picture of a receipt with your phone and it automatically reads and saves with the date and the category of expense. Data easily exports into QuickBooks, FreshBooks and most accounting software, making expense reports and tracking tax write-offs simple and easy. All of the data is backed up in the cloud, so even if you lose your phone you’ll still have your info. And you can finally ditch that old shoebox.

BillMinder

From insurance to mortgages to utilities, bills are a monthly reality, and falling behind can cost us more through fees and hits to our credit score. This app helps you organize your bill budget, automatically created charts that show where your money is going each month (which can encourage electricity and water conservation). The account can be shared amongst members of a household, so everyone is on the same page. Notifications alert you when a bill is due, even when the app is not running.

Wunderlist

When it comes to daily task management, Wunderlist makes a strong case for frontrunner in the app market. To-do lists are synched across devices and stored on the cloud, with time-dated reminders for important tasks that send alerts to each devise. Notes can be kept separate from lists, and each can be individually shared with colleagues and friends for group collaboration. Most importantly, the interface is clean and simple, so it’s a pleasure to use.

Grocery IQ

Although Wunderlist can keep a collaborative shopping list, sometimes a product designed for a specific purpose does the job best. In the case of food shopping, that’s Grocery IQ. This list-based organization app allows users to create staple item lists (things you need every trip to the store) and specialized lists, storing these so that when an item runs out, you simply click it and it’s added back to your list for your next shopping excursion. Items can be added to your personal database by scanning barcodes at the store, and loyalty cards can be stored within the app (and removed from your keychain). The app even alerts and provides coupons for items you choose and helps with price comparisons at nearby stores.

HomeRoutines

Do we really need an app to remind us to clean the house? For better or for worse, the answer may be ‘yes.’ Busy lifestyles often lead to treating symptoms (the discoloration in the shower has turned into mold) rather than addressing the underlying problem. A gentle weekly reminder to ‘vacuum the living room’ or ‘dust the ceiling fan’ may be all the help you need to keep dirt and dust in check before they explode into epidemics of filth. Sure, it’s not as nice as having a maid, but this app can certainly lead to a cleaner house.

What other productivity apps have helped you to organize your life? Have any of these been useful to you?

Jessica Johnson was our guest blogger for this article and works for Extra Space Storage and contributes to http://blog.extraspace.com/category/organization/, exploring various aspects of organizing and storing possessions.

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