When left to our own devices, we’re typically… less than productive. It’s hard to stay focused, it’s hard to work at peak efficiency, and it’s even harder to be self-aware enough to diagnose the problems plaguing us—the ones stopping us from operating at higher efficiency.
That’s why productivity apps and productivity tools have been such a breakthrough for professionals; we now have access to functions, data, and modifiers that can help us get more tasks done every day—and spend less effort doing them. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of productivity apps available, but which ones are truly worth exploring?
I’ve broken down this list of my favorite productivity tools by category, but be aware that many of these apps fit into more than one category—especially if they offer integrations with other apps, or bill themselves as cross-category options.
Productivity Apps for Tracking, Measurement, and Analysis
The most important part of any productivity improvement strategy is tracking, measurement, and analysis. If you don’t have a clear gauge for your current level of productivity, or how your productivity is changing, you won’t be able to tell whether or not your new strategies are actually improving your work. You also won’t have the key insights necessary to initiate meaningful changes to your current work habits.
I’m including EmailAnalytics at the top of this list because I believe email is one of the most important factors for understanding your productivity. Dissecting things like the number of emails you send and receive, your top times and days for email, how long it takes you to write and read emails, and even the length of your average email chain can all give you valuable information on how you’re spending your time, what your workload is like, and how you can improve in the future. EmailAnalytics allows you to measure all these stats in real-time, with in-depth and customizable visuals, so you can quickly identify which areas you need to improve upon, and notice when you start to improve. Even better, you can use EmailAnalytics for your whole team, so you can compare notes and see whether your other team members are pulling their weight.
Basecamp is one of several project management platforms on this list, and all of them share a similar purpose. With a project management app, you can organize your team, create and prioritize your projects, and keep track of how you progress on individual tasks. It’s a good way to keep an eye on your workload at a high level, and make adjustments when your workload is too steep or when you notice you aren’t completing tasks at a reasonable rate.
Asana is a project management platform that offers many of the same features, but with more of a focus on tasks and subtasks. Asana is also beneficial because it allows you to integrate with dozens of other apps, so you can use it with apps meant to help you stay on track, or apps that allow you to track time.
Next up is iDoneThis, a relatively simple app that helps you keep tabs on you and your team’s productivity over the course of a day. Each evening, the members of your team will get a reminder asking them to reply with a digest of the tasks they got done, the tasks they got blocked on, and tasks that still need to be accomplished. It’s a good prompt to monitor your historical performance, and can help you proactively identify the obstacles that keep you and your team from doing their best.
Toggl is a time-tracking app, and one of the most approachable ones on the market. Many time-tracking apps work the same way; they feature a convenient button that you can use to start and stop tracking time for various tasks. Then, after a period of time, you can look through your past entries and review your performance. For example, you might be able to spot a certain type of task that costs you a lot of time, or notice when and how distractions prevent you from doing your best.
DeskTime is a real-time time-tracking app with built-in features that help you keep your projects on budget (as well as on time). The differences between most time-tracking apps are related to usability and other superficial elements, so you’ll need to experiment with different ones to see what works best for you.
Trello is a project management productivity app that relies on a sequence of “boards” to help you organize your projects and tasks in a unique way. Rather than providing a straightforward list of tasks, Trello boards help you drag and drop tasks to different levels of completeness, so you can gauge your performance more accurately at a glance. It’s good for visual processors who have a harder time evaluating productivity based on sheer numbers.
Todoist is almost more of an organization and note-taking app, but I’ve included it in this category because it’s a handy way to evaluate how many tasks you’ve been able to accomplish. At its simplest, it’s a task list app that helps you organize your priorities and keep tabs on your progress.
SalesForce is many apps built in one, so there are multiple ways you can use it to track your productivity. You can use it to see how many emails you’re sending to prospects, how many sales you’re closing, how much money you’re making, and several other variables. The big problem with SalesForce is its price tag, putting it out of the average small business’s budget.
10. Google Streak.
Google Streak is an embedded CRM tool for Gmail that lets you track leads and prospects, not dissimilar to SalesForce. And because it integrates with other Gmail-related productivity tools like Calendar and Drive, it’s easy to keep track of your progress throughout the day.
If you work in software development, you should consider trying Assembla. It’s a source code management and communication tool that allows your team members to stay in contact with each other, keep track of tickets, and monitor high-level progress on your projects. The big downside here is its narrow focus on software development, so it’s not an ideal tool for just any professional.
TINYpulse is a different kind of productivity tool, meant to help you keep your team collaborating well with each other. Each day, your employees will be prompted to answer a brief survey about how they’re feeling, what they’ve been working on, and what obstacles are in their way. The information is anonymized, so you can get a good high-level view of how productive your team is (with some insights that can help you improve). It’s not the best for mastering individual productivity, but it’s good for improving an entire team’s productivity.
WorkiQ is a monitoring app that allows you to track computer behavior, split between “productive” and “nonproductive” applications. For example, time spent on your project management platform of choice is counted as productive time, while time spent on Facebook would be counted as unproductive time. It’s a good tool for measuring how much time your distractions are eating up, and how you’re making use of your working hours.
Pipedrive is another app in the same vein as SalesForce, or any CRM. It allows you to monitor your sales performance, and is highly customizable—so you can set it up to display the right variables in a way that’s both intuitive and helpful.
Harvest is another time-tracking app, but it also tracks where and how you’re spending your time. It’s also a frequently integrated app, so you can tie it into a project management app like Asana to gather even more detailed metrics about how you’re working.
Another project management solution, Wrike, focuses on creating simple, repeatable workflows that can be used to accomplish tasks faster. It’s good for automating some of your work while still tracking your progress on tasks and projects.
RescueTime is specifically designed to help you keep track of your habits, both in your personal and professional life. This app runs in the background, so you’ll barely notice it, and tracks the time you spend on various apps and websites. At the end of the day, or a period of your choosing, you’ll get a detailed, visual-heavy report analyzing how you’ve spent your time—and what you can do to improve.
Productivity Apps for Email Improvement
Now let’s dig into some specific email productivity tools designed to help you get more done in a day—rather than just tracking your actions and helping you determine which areas need the most improvement.
Much of your productivity can be lost or gained in how you email, since it occupies such a large percentage of our working time. If you spend too much time writing, reading, and managing emails, you won’t have time to do much else, and if you’re not emailing efficiently, your communication and collaboration efforts can suffer.
In addition to EmailAnalytics (referenced in the section above), these are some of the best email-related productivity apps to use:
UnrollMe is perfect if you feel like you’re constantly overwhelmed with marketing emails and newsletters from places you don’t really care about. Rather than forcing you to wade through individual emails and manually unsubscribe from each of them, UnrollMe lets you see all the email lists you’re currently subscribed to, so you can conveniently unsubscribe to all the unimportant ones, all at once.
Mailbird is an email client that uses its own keyboard shortcuts in addition to traditional Gmail shortcuts. The interface is expandable, so you can customize which features you use, and you can rely on it to manage multiple email accounts at once—complete with color indicators, so you’re never confused on which account you’re using.
FollowUpThen is a paid app that’s easy to use—and it can help you keep track of all your email responses at once. When you subscribe, you can specify a period of time like “2days” or “tomorrow,” followed by an @followupthen as an email address. Then, you’ll automatically get a reminder to follow up on that email after the specified time period had elapsed. It’s perfect for salespeople or entrepreneurs who feel like they’re always forgetting to stay on top of their conversations.
SaneBox was created to make email organization easier for the average professional. With it, you can create and manage multiple different filters that automatically separate your emails based on content, importance, and whether or not the email has gotten a response. It learns from your preferences and offers lots of customization, so if you spend time on it, you should end up with an inbox that practically sorts itself.
If you’re into the idea of setting up automatic prompts to follow up on emails, Boomerang is another great option. With it, you can draft emails you want to send in the future and schedule them to automatically send at your desired time (for more ways to do this, see our in-depth blog post on how to schedule an email to send later in Gmail). You can also use it to set reminders for yourself, including reminders to follow up on an email if you haven’t gotten a response by a certain time or day. There’s a lot to explore with this app, and it has the potential to make anyone more productive.
23. Text Expander.
You probably spend more time typing out emails than you realize. Assuming just a few minutes per email and several hundred emails per week, you’re likely spending hours of time writing things out. Text Expander aims to save you time and make the writing process easier by allowing you to create shorthand versions of your most commonly used words and phrases. That way, you can type full sentences, or even paragraphs of information with just a few keystrokes.
This is a truncated list, since there are tons of Gmail-friendly apps, addons, and extensions you can use to improve your overall email experience. Make sure to check out our article on the 54 best apps for Gmail for even more information and tools to try!
Productivity Apps for Focus and Distraction Elimination
One of the biggest threats to your productivity is distraction, since it takes 23 minutes or more to fully recover from one. If you’re able to stay focused on your tasks for a longer period of time, without getting distracted, you’ll be able to accomplish more during the course of any given day, and stop wasting so much time.
OmniFocus is a task management app designed to help you stay focused on whatever’s most important in your list of priorities. You can use it to create “actions” and “projects,” then conveniently view those actions and projects so you always know what the next most important task is. You can also use “perspectives” to review your progress and learn from your past habits.
Forest is a unique app available on mobile devices, and if you use it, you should be able to dramatically cut the time you spend on unproductive and time-consuming apps. The app coaches you to plant a digital tree, and as long as you keep the app open, that tree will continue to grow. The tree will be killed if you leave the app for any reason, so it encourages you to avoid other digital distractions.
StayFocusd is a Chrome extension that allows you to set limits for yourself, setting a firm upper limit for how much time you can spend on time-wasting websites. For example, you might limit yourself to spend only 30 minutes on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. Once you’ve used up all your time, you’ll be blocked from accessing that site for the rest of the day. It’s completely customizable, so you can set your own time limits and block only the websites that waste your time the most.
30/30 is an app that uses a timing system to help you stay on task. It has a gesture-based interface that makes it easy to learn, and with it, you can create an unlimited number of tasks, then time those tasks. It alerts you when your designated time periods have ended, and helps you stay focused on a single task at a time—rather than get lost when you’re distracted by new to-do items.
Noizio doesn’t force you to change which tasks you work on or block unproductive websites. Instead, it uses the subtle atmosphere of ambient noise to cultivate a better, healthier, more productive work environment for you. With it, you can customize the right level and mix of ambient noise for your work style, and get more done than you could in total silence or with the distraction of typical music.
Any.do is a to-do list app that relies on a calendar, task management system, and notification system to keep you organized and focused. You can use it to color-coordinate your tasks, organize them by day or by category, then systematically check those tasks off as you complete them.
Another Chrome extension, Momentum allows you to customize your “new tab” page with a list of to-do items, quotes for personal inspiration, and other items of your choosing (including the weather, if you so desire). If you find yourself frequently opening a new tab to visit some distracting website, this is a great way to break your habit, since you’ll be reminded of what you should be doing instead.
HazeOver is a “distraction dimmer” currently only available for Mac. It’s a simple app that automatically highlights whichever window is in front of your others, dimming the others so they’re less noticeable. It’s ideal if you need to have lots of windows open while you’re working, but if you only need to focus on one at a time.
If distracting websites are the bane of your productive existence, you might also consider trying Freedom. It’s another website blocker that allows you to restrict access to certain sites during a schedule you have full control over. For example, you could block your most common culprits for distraction during office hours.
Productivity Apps for Notes and Scheduling
It’s hard to be productive when your systems of note-taking and collaboration are a chaotic mess. If you keep track of your appointments on three different apps, or if you don’t have a convenient way to keep track of your notes, you’ll be stuck wasting time.
That’s why these note- and schedule-focused productivity apps are worth trying:
Evernote has been around for years, and it’s become a top name in the note-taking app world for a reason. It offers features to take notes, create tasks, manage projects, set deadlines, and take control of your productivity, automatically syncing all your information across all devices. It also offers strong collaboration features, so your team members can share files and notes with one another.
34. Google Keep.
Google Keep is another note-taking app, and possibly a more convenient one, since it’s already integrated with Gmail. With it, you can automatically turn your emails into notes and to-dos, and share notes with your colleagues. There aren’t many bells and whistles, but it comes with Gmail, so it’s ideal if you’re looking for something simple.
35. Calendars 5.
Calendars 5 is a unique calendar app for iPhone and iPad. It helps you visualize all your appointments and events in several different formats, which makes it easier to conceptualize your schedule and priorities. If you find it hard to wrap your mind around all your upcoming responsibilities, it’s worth a try.
36. Bear Notes.
Bear is a flexible note-taking app for Apple devices that focuses on minimalism and good design principles. You can use it to write down all your ideas whenever they occur to you, then organize those ideas in a way that makes sense. You’re practically in full control here, so you can use the app for anything from meeting notes to task management and prioritization.
37. Just Press Record.
An app that delivers what its name promises, Just Press Record is a simple app that allows you to record and transcribe your voice. It makes it ridiculously easy to transform your thoughts into written words, and allows you to organize all your notes so they’re easy to find later.
Nebo is a note-taking app that focuses on manual, written entry—so if you like the feeling of taking notes and drawing diagrams with a pen, it’s an ideal app for you. With it, you can jot down notes in your natural handwriting, or sketch flow charts and diagrams so you can visualize your thoughts.
Wunderlist is an all-in-one app that allows you to take notes, create tasks, and manage your to-do items, both in a personal and professional context. You can even share and exchange lists with your coworkers so you can see what you’re each working on.
Productivity Apps for Collaboration
If your job requires frequent engagement and collaboration with others, you should consider making use of these collaboration-focused productivity apps:
40. Google Drive.
By now, you’re probably already familiar with Google Drive. It’s a cloud-based storage app for all your files (and your team’s files). With it, all your team members can have separate accounts, but you can rely on shared folders, and readily exchange access to those files with one another. Depending on how you’re using it and how much space you’re taking up, it may be free. It can save your team time and frustration as they attempt to collaborate on the same projects and tasks.
Dropbox belongs in the same category as Google Drive, and offers many of the same collaboration features. Dropbox is faster in some respects, and you may find it easier to manage, but ultimately, which one you use comes down to personal preference.
Slack took over the world of team chat a few years ago because of its seamless, easy-to-understand user interface and its ability to be used for just about anything. You can create different chat groups for different teams, chat one-on-one with colleagues, and set a personal status so people don’t contact you when you’re away from your desk. It also has tons of integrations, so you can customize your team’s Slack experience.
Discord is a voice and text chat app designed for gamers, but it’s found a significant following in the professional world, too. With it, you can create unique channels and ensure all your team members are in near-constant contact with one another.
HelloSign is a bit of a different entry on this list—it specializes in making it easier to create and manage business documents. Most notably, it allows you to share digital paperwork (like contracts and agreements), and sign that paperwork without the hassle of printing and scanning. If you’re still printing and signing documents the old fashioned way, this can save you and your team hours of time.
There are hundreds of choices here—these are just some of my favorites—so definitely do some digging if you’re looking for a solution for your specific needs.
Productivity Apps for Automation
Automation one of the best ways to improve your productivity, since it takes a previously manual, demanding task and handles it automatically. Again, there are many potential examples to call on here, but these are some of the most useful and most accessible:
1Password is a password storage app that keeps track of all your passwords in a single place. It will automatically log you into all your most used sites and apps, so long as you identify yourself. That may not seem like much, but even if you save five minutes a day by automating your password entries, that can add up to hours of savings over the long run.
Spark is an email client you can use on just about any device, and it offers a “smart inbox” that automatically sorts your messages into personal, newsletter, and notification boxes. It also offers an intuitive way for you to reply to important emails, and clean up the others that remain. You can also use it to schedule automatic follow-up reminders, so you don’t have to manually check and re-check your sent messages.
Eventbot works with Slack, and it’s an ideal way to keep your team’s schedules automatically aligned. Within the chat app, you can create new events, offer RSVPs to the events of others, and create a shared calendar where all participants can see all the events they’ve been invited to at the same time. You can also schedule recurring events to keep team members on point for things like meetings, and get automatic reminders in the chat app to ensure you don’t miss any important events.
An app with “bot” in the title is a pretty good indication that it’s going to save you time. Scanbot specializes in scanning tangible pieces of information and cataloging them in a digital format. With it, you can take a scan of just about anything, including business cards or documents, and automatically upload them to the cloud and/or share them. It saves a lot of time if you’re trying to digitally capture the details on tangible works.
We’ve all had the embarrassing experience of sending an email riddled with typos (or maybe one with an especially unfortunate typo), but taking the time to manually review all your content before you send it out can be exhausting. Grammarly is an automated writing assistant that checks all your text—whether you’re emailing, drafting content, or working on another application—and offers potential corrections.
Pushbullet is all about connecting the multiple devices you probably use on a regular basis. Coordinating your smartphone, tablet, laptop, and other devices together to work as a unified whole can be a challenging task, but Pushbullet makes it easier by offering automatic notifications across multiple devices, quick link sharing, and convenient chat and file sharing options.
I’ve saved IFTTT (short for “if this, then that”) for the end because of its sheer versatility. It’s a completely free system that allows you to create your own automatic shortcuts, and automated processes that make your life easier. It offers support for thousands of apps and devices, enabling you to establish notifications on your phone or tablet when certain conditions are met—like when the weather changes, or when you complete a task on your project management app. If you’re creative, you can think of hundreds of ways to use this to your advantage, and take several daily tasks off your plate so you can focus on more important things.
Finding and Balancing Your Productivity Apps
One more thing to note: adding more productivity apps and productivity tools to your repertoire isn’t always going to strictly improve your performance. Even though apps may, independently, be able to save minutes to hours of your time, they also require time to set up, time to maintain, and time to organize.
Therefore, the more productivity apps and tools you use, the weaker your net results could be; and it’s often better to use a handful of strong apps than dozens of weak ones. Take your time experimenting with these apps to see which ones work best for you, and only keep the ones that are most effective.
If you’re interested in taking EmailAnalytics for a spin, you can sign up for free today! It’s the most comprehensive Gmail analytics app on the market, and it can help you improve your productivity in multiple areas of your profession simultaneously. The sooner you start tracking your progress, the sooner you can start making improvements.
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