My favorite productivity apps: Spring 2018   Recently updated !


Like I’ve mentioned a little bit before, I’ve started becoming obsessed with productivity.

From books to apps to Youtube videos, I’ve learned so many new ways to get things done while not actually getting things done!

However, I have also discovered some pretty neat tools that I’ve started using. One of my goals for this summer break is to try and get some systems and workflows in place to keep things from falling through the cracks when stuff inevitably gets busy during certain parts of the year.

To that end, I thought a post about some of my current favorite and most-used apps could be helpful to some people.

I’ve broken them down by category, so you can get an idea of how they fit into my (current) workflow:

Calendar

  • Google Calendar – Basically just what it says, but undoubtedly one of the essential apps that I use. I just don’t think that I could live without this app at this point. If you have any sort of a variable schedule, or you’re constantly running out of time to get things done that you need to (like practice, for example) and you don’t use GCal or a similar app, start using it!

To-Do List

  • Todoist – Probably my most-used app (aside from my GCal), Todoist makes it super-simple to keep track of the next thing(s) you need to do. I used this app a little bit, and then I read Getting Things Done by David Allen (highly recommended), and it made this app 10x more useful. This app has a great free tier, and for under $30/year you can support the developers and get a few additional functions (location-based reminders, filters, etc.) that may appeal to those who like lots of control. This is the only app on the list that I pay for, and the David Allen book is a big reason why. If you already have an app to keep track of things you need to do then use what you like, but if you don’t, give Todoist a look.

Todoist is great for keeping track of your next actions, but not so great for keeping track of important documents or doing longer-term planning (more than a month or so in the future), however.

Digital File Cabinet

  • OneNote – Part of the Microsoft Office and Office 365 suite, OneNote is basically a digital filing cabinet/notebook. While the organization is a bit complex (compared to something like Evernote) OneNote is a great way to sort, store, and find lots of information.  Each notebook in OneNote consists of sections, and each section holds pages. You can have as many notebooks, sections, and pages as you want. Adding to the depth, each page can have all sorts of information – text, images, tables, PDFs, illustrations, etc. – and all these elements can be freely arranged however you want. The biggest strike against OneNote is the different features depending on how you access it. There are apps for Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac as well as the OneNote 2016 program and the web apps, and they all have slightly different options and functionality. I think Microsoft is trying to unify the feature set across the different platforms, but until they do some people may find Evernote to be a bit easier to use.

Long-Term Planning

  • Notion – Notion is the most recent addition to my planning apps, and it is a relatively new app in general. Notion is a bit hard to explain, but it combines features of lots of great project management apps – text, lists, tables, calendars, Kanban boards – along with lots of formatting options to let you create almost anything you want or need. It’s formatting options make it more enjoyable for long-term planning and keeping things organized for all the different freelance jobs I have. It doesn’t have OneNote’s (or Evernote’s) ability to clip web pages for future reference, but it can do almost everything else that you could need. In the future, I could see consolidating my OneNote stuff into Notion, but right now I think they both serve different enough functions to justify keeping them both. The free trial of Notion is quite generous, so you can try it out for yourself and see if you like it.

Time Tracking

  • RescueTime – Being a freelancer and being interested in a lot of subjects means I have a lot of flexibility in how I use (or waste) my time and a lot of different interests that can occupy it. If you’ve ever lost hours (or days) on your computer with little to show for it, then you may want to look into something like RescueTime. Basically, RescueTime keeps track of which websites you visit and for how long, and can be a great way to find potential sites or computer activities that are time-sinks. The paid version of RescueTime can also set limits to when and how long you can visit these websites and can block access during times you need to be actively working.
  • Toggl – Going hand-in-hand with wasting time on the computer is how you spend your time away from the computer. Toggl lets you track time for any purpose and organize those time charts into different activities for different projects and/or clients. I use this both for tracking billable time for my freelance web clients as well as tracking the time I spend on other business activities (billing, scheduling, etc.) so that I can see where my time goes at the end of the week/month/year. Having this record can be both eye-opening (how long I spent doing invoices) or reassuring when projects take longer to finish than expected.

Learning

  • Pocket/Feedly – I use Pocket in conjunction with my RSS reader app of choice, Feedly, to keep track of different articles that I want to read later. I can go through 100-200 articles in Feedly in about 10 minutes, save the ones I want to read in Pocket, and then come back to them later on in the day (or week) when I have a few minutes of downtime. Pocket automatically downloads the articles so I don’t even need to have an internet connection. I much prefer this method of reading over trying to browse my favorite 5-15 websites multiple times a day.

So, these are some of my most commonly-used apps to try and get things done in a (mostly) efficient way. If you have any questions about specific apps or any recommendations that you like, please post them in the comments below. I’m more than happy to try out new things!


About Colin Dorman

Colin is a freelance horn player and teacher, as well as a fan of tech of all sorts, aviation, and increasingly complex flight simulators. He also enjoys beer, bourbon and fitness - but not at the same time. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, as well as right here at ColinDorman.com!