Many can relate to the struggle of staying focused and motivated when going through their undergraduate studies during the pandemic. According to a study by NASFAA, 76% of undergraduate students faced a lack of motivation with the switch to online learning (Daugherty, 2020). The situation was likely even more difficult for people with invisible disabilities, such as ADHD or anxiety.

In a study using cognitive assistive technologies (CATs), adults with ADHD showed a higher increase in productivity and life satisfaction with structured weekly schedules that are tailored to their individual needs, in comparison to other CATs (Lindstedt, 2013). We wanted to build an app that would provide students with individualized study plans, while simultaneously motivating them to focus and stick to their plan.

Currently, we have some great apps like Todoist, Notion, and Forest. These all have the same goal of helping people improve their productivity. However, all those apps require you to be able to plan out your tasks yourself, which itself is a huge obstacle for individuals with ADHD or anxiety.

We need an app to fill this gap, and this is why we came up with Cortex, your second brain.

What is Cortex?

Cortex is a productivity app to help students get organized for their school year, and stay motivated to finish their tasks. The app imports the classes and assignments from their uploaded syllabus. Using natural language processing, Cortex breaks down all of their desired assignments and projects into smaller tasks, with suggested deadlines evenly spaced out. This automation and personalization alleviates stress and removes an obstacle for students with their coursework.

Cortex also keeps users accountable for their tasks in an engaging way by allowing them to view their friends' tasks in the Peers tab. Peers can challenge each other to finish certain tasks, and if they complete each other’s challenges, they win a virtual item that gets added to their shared Space.

The Space is a virtual hall of fame that the user shares with each peer, and the more challenges the pair complete, the more items that get added to their Space. For someone who’s struggling with ADHD or problems with focus and attention, these challenges and virtual prizes serve as a huge motivation for them to focus and finish their work for the day.

What we learned

We are all beginner-level coders, so this project helped us learn a lot of new things. None of us had experience leading product strategy or design thinking sessions either. Having minimum experience with Android Studio and mobile development, we pushed ourselves to learn something new under time pressure. From playing around with the app layout in Design View to changing code in XML and Java, it was very nerve-wracking but very fulfilling. In the end, we’re all super excited about what we were able to build.

None of us knew of each other before this hackathon, and it served as a huge learning experience for us to adapt our working styles quickly to increase the efficiency of the team. We learnt to work under time constraints within a team, and how important it was to communicate our ideas effectively to build a cohesive product, and how to pitch our idea convincingly.

How we built our project

We started with a design sprint. In 4 hours, it moved us from ideation to problem-solving and narrowed down our million ideas to 1 target problem and 1 target user. We were deciding between a website or a mobile application but chose the latter because our target users were more active on mobile.

After that, we delegated tasks. Our UX designer built the design and wireframes for the app, while the rest of the team worked on developing the app in Android Studio. Finally, we all worked together to create our final project demo.


We had no prior experience coding an app, so even a simple task took a long time. We also had to work through coding errors that caused our app to crash. This took up more time on coding the front-end of the app. The sprint also took 2 hours longer than budgeted because we had so many ideas, so discussions often went over our timer beeping. If we have had more time to learn more, we would’ve also been able to tackle the back-end aspects of the app. Recording our pitch together was also a challenge since we had very little time left and we had to practise to create an organized presentation that flows coherently. Despite these challenges, we’re proud of our end result and the amount that we learned as beginner-level hackers.

What's next for Cortex

Cortex would require a lot of back-end development, and help from schools to give us accurate course data for the AI to learn from. But with more and more user feedback, Cortex could become more intelligent and understand what assignments most students are struggling with and learn to build tailored plans for every individual. Some next steps would be to expand our idea into a Web app to further increase the user base and accessibility. To secure funding, we could work with groups like Codecademy to promote individuals to keep track of their courses on our app.


  1. Daugherty, Owen. “Students Face Obstacles, Lack of Motivation in Transition to Remote Learning Amid Pandemic.” NASFAA, 16 July 2020,
  2. Lindstedt, Helena, and Õie Umb-Carlsson. "Cognitive assistive technology and professional support in everyday life for adults with ADHD." Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology 8.5 (2013): 402-408.

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