My essential self-isolation apps

Life is different now, to put it mildly. People all around the world are stuck indoors, perhaps indefinitely. It’s a new, smaller, world.

Personally, I’ve been self-isolating and working from home for two weeks. All in all, it’s been okay. I get to spend all day with my partner and my cat – two of my favourite people in the world.

But, pleasant companions aside, other things help. Love alone cannot build a new, healthy routine. Here are the apps and services I’ve been using to keep me sane.

Down Dog

I get profoundly twitchy if I don’t exercise regularly. Some old injuries flare up too but, mostly, I just bounce around the house and annoy my partner. Thankfully, yoga is a perfect home workout – even if my cat loves to sit underneath whoever’s planking in the area.

Down Dog is my favourite yoga app, hands down. It has variable routines (generated each time you use the app) and paid members can add “boosts” to target a particular location or movement, like “hamstring opening” or “standing balances”. Add in a range of instructor voices, music, and movement display options – stills or video, at a mix of quality and detail – and you have a comprehensive package to get you moving.

And move you do. I’m pretty fit, but not particularly experienced at yoga, and the Intermediate 1 difficulty setting gets me sweating. Thankfully, Down Dog makes it easy for complete beginners to get started too.

There’s Beginner 1 and 2 levels to work through and a range of yoga styles to play with. Full Practice is your default but, if that’s a bit intimidating (or you just want a mellow stretch before bed), something like Restorative or Gentle could be right for you.

Down Dog has been a life saver during my first two weeks stuck in the house. No doubt it’ll get me through everything that follows too.

Basketball GM

Basketball GM will be the death of me.

It’s a web-based basketball management game. You pick a team, build out the roster, manage your finances, and try to achieve glory. It’s the most addictive (and intuitive) spreadsheet I’ve ever played.

I’m an NBA nerd and this is a perfect replacement for the suspended season. There are even custom player lists available so you can recreate what we’ve lost. For what it’s worth, Houston won the 2020 Finals in my game. As a Spurs fan, it caused me no small amount of grief.

It’s uncanny how invested I am in the careers of my players. At this point, they’re just randomly generated names with simple portraits but I truly want them to succeed. I fist-pump when they do and blame myself when they don’t. My heart glows when a favourite player of mine retires and enters the Hall of Fame.

I’m in deep with Basketball GM. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sat down at my computer to do something only to spend 20 minutes running through a few seasons instead.

I have a roster to balance, after all. It’s important work.

Headspace

A lot of people have spilled a lot of ink and pixels writing about Headspace. With good reason: it’s the mindfulness app par excellence.

The gist: Headspace combines a well-structured approach to meditation with charming animations and themed sessions for almost everything. From relationships to competing, there’s mediation for you. There’s also semi-guided and unguided options available if you just want a slightly twee meditation timer.

And Andy, who leads most of the sessions, just has an excellent voice. That helps.

There’s a free trial for anyone interested. I accidentally rolled straight onto the yearly plan but I don’t regret it. I feel better about myself and life in general when I meditate on the regular. Headspace is a great way to do that.

If you want a free alternative, try Smiling Mind. It features a nice range of programs (including dedicated streams for kids) and is completely free. It’s also translated some of its problems in an Indigenous Australian language, which is a sign of a great company.

Overcast (and a digital radio)

This may surprise you but podcasts are great. And Overcast is my go-to podcast app.

It’s filled with handy features, like Smart Speed, which cuts out silences in whatever you’re listening to, and Vocal Boost, which, yeah, does what it says on the tin. All in all, great app.

More existentially, though, podcasts just add more voices to the room. Often familiar voices. It’s easy to build relationships with podcasters – you hear them so often, and so intimately, that the best ones become familiar. In a time when you can’t have friends and family over, it’s nice to fill your house with friendly voices that aren’t the ones you live with.

Having a digital radio in the kitchen helps too. I’ve had ABC Radio National (a fantastic news and current affairs station from Australia’s national broadcaster) or Triple R (a community station based in Melbourne) on in the background any time I’m just pottering around the house. Both are great passive listening and both offer something valuable: RN keeps me informed, RRR keeps me connected to my community.

Libby and NetNewsWire

Libby and NetNewsWire are unlike except that they both serve up the written word. But that’s enough of a link to bundle them together.

Libby is a library app. It connects to your local library service and, provided you’re a member, lets you access its collection of e- and audio-books. It’s not as elegant a system as it could be: you’re limited to the library’s catalogue (which can vary wildly) and they don’t have all too many copies of each book available, despite being electronic, so you may have to wait for popular titles.

Fortunately, my local library network has a robust online offering. And Libby connects with my Kobo ereader (the excellent Aura One). Anything I find on my phone (a better browsing experience) appears there (a better reading experience).

NetNewsWire, however, is the best RSS reader going on both iOS and macOS. There’s more news than I can deal with at the moment and the ratio between signal and noise favours the latter. NNW is a joy to use and lets you filter by stories published today, making it simple to parse the most recent news.

I’d be lost without it.

Activity – Apple Watch

Here’s the thing: I enjoy walking. I enjoy exercise. I enjoy sunshine. Neither of those things by themselves will get me moving during the day right now. Filling a ring on my Watch? I’ll go for three strolls a day to do that.

I’m not quite the Activity Rings obsessive I used to be (I used to be a monster) but, now that I’m working from home every, I need a reminder or two to stand up occasionally. A little tap on the wrist makes that easier.

It’s also perfect for keeping to some semblance of a routine. Having stand hours, energy burned, and minutes moving represented visually keeps me on track. I used to fill them comfortably; it’d be easy to assume I still will. Now, when I get halfway through a day and see that I’ve barely made a dent in any of them, I’m reminded that, yeah, my routines have changed. I need to change how I approach health, too.

I mean, I get annoying when I don’t exercise, after all.