The 10 best productivity apps out there

Productivity
Takeaway: Apps can be distracting and lead you to waste a ton of time, but the best apps make you more knowledgeable, organized, and productive. The 10 apps below—selected by myself and Ardyn on our podcast—all will help you do this.

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 4s.

Podcast length: 26 minutes, 45s.

At their worst, apps are distracting and lead you to waste an ungodly amount of time. But at their best, they can make you quite a bit more efficient and productive. So which ones are worth your time and attention?

In this week’s episode of the much-beloved podcast Becoming Better, Ardyn and I dig into our favorite productivity apps, and chat about why we love them so much. In case you don’t have the time or inclination to listen—or just want to check out the apps we chat about this week—here’s a list of our favorite productivity apps, along with a quick blurb on why we dig them. 

If you’re looking to become more focused, knowledgeable, and organized, I hope you’ll agree that these apps are in a league all of their own. (A quick note: this list differs slightly from the episode, in order to make the article more accessible.)

1. Focusmate (website; free). Focusmate is one of my all-time favorite productivity apps. When you launch the website, you’re presented with a calendar in which you’re able to book a 50-minute session to focus on something. The site then partners you up with someone from around the world who also wants to get some work done during that time. You then spend 50 minutes working with the person—working with them over video—and share what you got done when your focus session is done. The service is eerily effective at making you more focused and productive. (I’m writing this article during a focus session with a programmer in Boston.)

2. Freedom (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android; $29/year). I write about Freedom quite a bit on this site, and for good reason. Freedom is a distractions-blocking application: once it’s enabled, you’re not able to access your most distracting websites and apps for the amount of time you specified in advance. Pairs well with Focusmate. (A free alternative for the Mac: SelfControl.)

3. Libby (iOS, Android, Windows; free). Libraries are an incredible resource that far too few people take advantage of. Libby is a great, free app that connects to your local library, that lets you browse their selection of ebooks and audiobooks. If you’re a bookworm, this app can easily save you hundreds of dollars a year.

4. Audible (every platform; $15/month for one book a month). I read around twice as many books because of Audible. Audible is an audiobook site that, for $15/month, gives you access to one book a month, along with two Audible Originals (original audiobooks exclusive to Audible). A no-brainer, along with Libby, if you’re a bookworm.

5. Simplenote (every platform; free). A great, simple, and beautiful note-taking app that’s available for pretty much every platform under the sun. The app is so simple that you can’t even bold or italicize text in it. I personally use this app for capturing ideas throughout the day, as well as for capturing my daily intentions when I travel. This app is on all of my devices, and I couldn’t live without it.

6. Toggl (every platform; free, with paid plans). A dead-simple time-tracking app, which can be set up to track your time automatically. 

7. Insight Timer (iOS, Android; free). This is my favorite meditation app, and I’ve pretty much tried them all. Insight Timer features guided meditations, sleep meditations, and a simple meditation timer. But the app’s real power lies in how it lets you see, in real time, who else is meditating around the world—including people near you. The app also keeps you accountable with meditation reminders and meditation streaks—and you can have friends in the app, too.

8. Things (iOS, Mac; $10-50). The last three picks on the list are only available for Apple devices, but I’d be remiss to not include them; they’re a few of the best apps available on any platform. Things is a beautiful, powerful, and delightful to-do list app. I’d be far less productive and organized without it.

9. Fantastical (Mac, iOS; $5-$50, depending on device type). In my opinion, Fantastical is the best calendar app out there for any platform. Unfortunately it’s only available for Mac and iOS, but if you’re in the Apple ecosystem, the app is easily worth the purchase. A few of my favorite features: using natural language to enter calendar events, a convenient mini-window that lets you access your calendar no matter what you’re doing on the computer, a beautiful interface, and complex time zone support.

10. Soulver (Mac, iOS; $3-9). Many of the things I calculate each day are too complex for a calculator, but aren’t nearly complex enough for a spreadsheet. That’s where Soulver comes in. Soulver lets you type out problems as you would on paper, and then solves them for you. Plus, it’s super lightweight, easy to use, and fast. Everyone I recommend this app to loves it.

If you’re looking to become more focused, read more books, and organize your life, give these apps a shot.

A few honorable mentions: Overcast (for listening to podcasts); Overleaf (an online LaTeX editor); and Strava (a run/cycling tracker).

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