If you’ve stumbled across this blog post, chances are you’re looking to:
- Get more done in less time or
- Make your life a little bit easier
And, by Googling “best productivity apps,” you probably encountered countless lists of the best productivity tools, each filled with 50+ suggestions and opinions on the must-have productivity apps and little consensus on the topic.
That’s because being more productive is an incredibly personal process. For some, setting 25 minutes on a virtual kitchen timer is the only way they can concentrate on a task without interruption. For others, time blocking in a calendar does the trick.
So, rather than waste your time overcomplicating things with an exhaustive list of options, we’re focusing on a foolproof formula that will help you form the foundation for the perfect productivity tech stack. Because, in all honesty, you only really need four apps to improve your productivity drastically.
Here are the four types of productivity apps every person needs:
A calendar and/or meeting scheduling tool [Google Calendar / Calendly / Nook Calendar]
You know what this is. And you probably use one every day.
Calendars first appeared back in the Bronze Age and have been essential timekeeping tools since then for countless centuries and societies.
Essentially, a calendar helps someone manage and organize their schedule, time, day-to-day activities, and responsibilities. But calendars are also used to plan future events (such as meetings) and keep a record of what happened each day.
Due to its practical use, a calendar is a necessary tool in anyone’s productivity stack, as it forms the foundation for all future time management and planning activities, including scheduling meetings and time blocking for deep work.
Google Calendar is, of course, free. And with Google Workspace, you can easily sync team members’ calendars to see what’s on each other’s schedules.
Meeting scheduling tools like Calendly simplify scheduling meetings with people outside your organization—you simply select which times you’re available, share your availability or propose a specific time to meet, and it’s automatically scheduled in your calendar.
A note-taking app or device [Evernote / Obsidian / ReMarkable]
Taking notes allows you to capture, organize, and store information, so it’s easier to retrieve or recall without relying on your physical memory and brain power.
As such, note-taking is often considered one of the simplest ways to keep track of your thoughts and memories; it’s a foundational productivity skill that helps improve your attention and focus while boosting comprehension and retention.
You could use a physical notebook, of course. But there are also a plethora of note-taking apps and tools that act like a second brain, helping you take notes and capture ideas from anywhere.
Evernote is probably the most famous one. But depending on which software suite you use, there’s probably a basic note-taking app already built into it, such as Google Keep, Microsoft OneNote, and Apple Notes.
While these tools make it easy to capture information, they can sometimes result in hundreds of notes that have little association with one another, making it difficult to organize and find specific thoughts. And in a professional setting, they can also be hard to share with others, making collaboration difficult.
Mind-mapping note-taking tools, like Obsidian, allow you to link notes and visualize their associations with added context. But they can be a bit over complex for the average person.
For someone who is a bit more old-fashioned, ReMarkable allows you to annotate PDFs on a large-screen e-reader/tablet using a stylus. It makes it easy to add notes to files, articles, and books you’re reading, and digitize handwritten notes on the fly. But it comes at a high price point.
Ultimately, the main goal is to write down anything important that comes up. The perfect note-taking app doesn’t exist—yet. Use what works.
A task or project management tool [Todoist / Asana / Jira]
Task management software helps you keep track of what needs to get done.
In our personal lives, this could be something as simple as a checklist for groceries or a to-do list to follow when completing household chores.
But professionally, task management tools can help you work more efficiently by prioritizing tasks, breaking them down into manageable action items, letting you assign them to colleagues, creating associations with long-term goals, and acting as a historical record of when someone completed tasks.
Something like Todoist is simple to set up and acts as a bridge between your personal and professional life, letting you track what needs to get done and filter them based on the project, due date, or some other parameter.
Project task management tools like Asana or Notion are customizable and can help you collaborate with colleagues on larger projects (they can also be used as a personal project management tool for individual users). For the more technical among us, there’s Jira (commonly used by developers for planning, tracking, and managing agile and software development projects) and Trello—both of which are made by Atlassian.
Choosing the right tool mostly depends on the level of complexity of your day-to-day tasks, if you’ll be collaborating with other people, and/or if you rather keep your tasks separate from work.
An app for focus and concentration [Freedom / Forest / Pomofocus]
Sometimes pure discipline isn’t enough to help us stay focused. Distractions abound, especially when working from home.
Focus apps and distraction blockers can make a big difference on days when your mind can’t help itself from wandering.
If you find yourself spending too much time reading fantasy football stats when you should be focused on work, an app like Freedom could help. You simply add which sites you want to block yourself from accessing (and on which devices) while you work and you’ll be unable to visit them once you begin your session.
For people who are easily distracted by their smartphones, Forest operates in a similar, albeit hauntingly whimsical, way. Open the app, and it plants a virtual tree that slowly grows on your screen. Switch to another app, and the tree dies. Grow enough trees, and you can build a forest, which helps you stay motivated by visually symbolizing your productivity.
If that’s a bit much, there’s always Pomofocus, a free pomodoro timer app that works on desktop, mobile, and web browsers. Inspired by the popular time management technique championed by developers and loved by anyone who’s easily distracted, you simply click start on the timer and work in 25-minute bursts, followed by five minutes of rest, which helps you stay focused in shorter increments.
In general, focus, concentration, and distraction-blocking apps can range from completely practical to totally gimmicky. But hey, whatever gets the job done.
Final Thoughts On Choosing the Best Productivity Apps
No silver bullet will help you achieve organizational bliss and get you closer to “Productivity Nirvana.”
Ultimately, it takes dedication and positive incremental changes to make any improvements to your productivity.
Having the right tools helps.
Until then, use these apps as a springboard for your personal and professional growth.