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5 free must-have apps for your return to the office

Goodbye, comfy home. Hello, commutes and cubicles. These five essential apps cost nothing and will help you ease your way back into office life.

5 free must-have apps for your return to the office
[Photo: kali9/Getty Images]

It was fun while it lasted, but companies all over the place are starting to summon their employees back to the office.

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If you’re a bit rusty when it comes to in-office life, that’s understandable. But there are some tools you can leverage in order to make the transition less jarring. Here are some of the most helpful freebies.

Sleep Cycle

If you find yourself in the unenviable position of having to, you know, be somewhere on time in the morning, you’ll appreciate this app. For starters, it monitors your sleep for patterns of snoring, coughing, and other unpleasantries that can make for a restless night. You’ll then get a sleep score each morning along with tips to improve your sleep moving forward. But its best feature, in my humble opinion, is the built-in alarm clock with a customizable “wake window” that detects when you begin to stir and, if it senses you’re in a light sleep phase, will wake you as long as you’re within your window. It’s much better than a blaring alarm clock at the same exact time each day—I’d rather wake up refreshed at 6:20 a.m. than be ripped out of a deep sleep at 6:45 a.m.

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The basic app is free and plenty fully featured, while the $30-per-year premium version adds additional tracking, cloud backup, and a smattering of other features.

A Soft Murmur

Once you get to the office, you might notice something that you haven’t had to deal with for quite some time: noise! Yes, the nonstop chatter that plagues every open-office layout is back. Plug in your headphones–don’t forget them at home, whatever you do–and fire up the great, free A Soft Murmur website.

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You have your pick of 10 ambient sounds, which you can mix together to block out distracting office noises. If you find a mix you like, you can save it and it’ll be waiting there for you the next time you load up the site, no account needed. There’s also a timer feature, which is helpful if you’re dozing off to sleep—don’t sleep in the office unless your company is cool with that—or you’d like to devote a specific chunk of time to a task.

The site itself is free and easy to use. You can access 13 additional sounds with the pro version, which costs $9 a year.

BreakTimer

Don’t just sit at your desk like a lump all day: Remember to move around a bit. Those mid-day workouts and walks-on-a-whim are much harder to come by when you’re in the office. There’s a great free app for Windows, Mac, and Linux called BreakTimer which—you guessed it—lets you know when it’s time to get up and move around.

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You can customize the frequency and lengths of each break, and there’s a nifty little “idle reset” feature that detects when you’ve been away from your computer—presumably not sitting like a lump—and moves the countdown to your next break accordingly.

Waze Live Traffic

When I worked full-time in an office, this trick was a godsend for me each day. Head to Waze.com—it doesn’t matter if you use the Waze app or not—and you’ll see a live traffic map. Enter your work address and home address in the driving directions box in the upper-left corner. This will send you to a page that shows you how long it’ll take to get from the office back home and which routes are best.

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The site also creates a custom URL for you that stores your office address and your home address. Add this site as a bookmark in your browser and, assuming you have a bit of flexibility about when you can leave work, keep checking this as you get closer to quitting time. Once you notice the time to get home start to creep up, it’s time to jet.

Mealime

After a long day of work away from home, there’s little worse than trying to figure out what you’re going to make for dinner once you finally make it back. Thankfully, Mealime makes weekly meal planning about as easy as it gets. With a focus on easy, healthy recipes, you tell the app which kinds of foods you like, select a handful of meals, and it’ll create a customized grocery list for you.

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Head to the store, grab what you need, and that’s about it. When you’re ready to cook—which takes less than 30 minutes—follow each meal’s step-by-step directions.

The free version of the app has plenty on offer to get you going, while the $50-per-year pro version adds members-only recipes, robust nutritional information, enhanced customization, and a few other goodies.

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