search

7 productivity apps to make 2021 your best year yet

Cathy Reisenwitz

by Cathy Reisenwitz on December 22, 2020

2020, I can’t say I’ll miss you. According to the research most of us worked more, but got less done in 2020. I’m no exception. But, 2020 did introduce me to some snazzy new productivity apps.

The new year is a popular time to consider switching up some of our routines, including our apps.

I’ve found seven productivity apps that automate and streamline your work, so you get more done in less time. These aren’t the well-known apps everyone uses, but rather some fresh finds you might not have heard of, or tried yet.

Note: Apps are listed below in alphabetical order.

1. Alfred

Alfred has been around for a minute. But the utility of keyboard shortcuts intensified during shelter-in-place as more of us did more than ever at our computers. For Mac users,

Alfred is a souped-up version of Spotlight, the keyboard launcher built into macOS.

If you’re unfamiliar, keyboard launchers let you open, close, find, and organize files, folders, and apps without using your mouse or navigating to the Applications folder.

In addition, Alfred offers custom workflows which automate repetitive tasks. For example, Alfred’s time zone info workflow saves productivity podcaster Paul Minors tons of time (check out our interview with Paul!). Similarly the Convert workflow is great when one of your colleagues uses the metric system. If you can’t find the workflow you need in the Alfred community, you create your own.

Rishi Kumar, Head of Growth and Monetization here at Clockwise, loves Alfred. “Alfred is my new productivity 😍,” Rishi told me. “I’m a huge fan now and paid for a lifetime.” Moving to remote work has made automating more tasks, using his mouse less, and keeping fewer browser windows up on his screen imperative.

Rishi uses Alfred to control his lights and Spotify, look up lyrics, and jump right into Github. He can easily open different Chrome profiles on purpose, search bookmarks and 1Password, kill processes without opening a terminal, and paste the current date quickly.

Snippets save hours of typing. For example, you can insert your stock response to common questions with just an exclamation and then a short abbreviation. Alfred will auto-insert the full, rich text (links and formatting included!). “I never have to write “ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.” If I write /shrug it is always [a] shrug,” Rishi said.

Alfred Pros

  • Offers one interface for searching your Mac and the web without having to open a browser window

  • Orders search results based on your previous behavior

  • Knows where anything is stored, you just need the name. Or, just bring up a list of recently opened files, folders, and applications

  • Remembers any text, image or file you’ve copied since you turned on the feature for easy pasting from Clipboard History

Alfred Cons

  • Excludes PC and Linux users, just available on macOS

  • Hides most of the best features behind in the “Powerpack” upgrade. However, upgrading is just a one-time fee of £29 (about $39). For lifetime updates, the Mega Supporter Powerpack is £49 (about $66).

  • Lacks some features Competitor LaunchBar has, including Instant Send, which lets you take action on certain files or text with your keyboard such as composing a new email with the files already attached

Bottom line: If you’re a Mac user with repetitive tasks you’d like to automate, Alfred can save you significant time, making it well worth the investment.

2. Clockwise

Our research shows the average worker spent 5% more time in meetings in 2020. Between Zoom, constant Slack pings, and on onslaught of email, it’s been a tough year for heads-down work.

Clockwise creates that Focus Time you need to get real work done. It’s a smart calendar assistant that frees up time for you to focus on what matters. It does this in a few ways. First, Clockwise finds and blocks off two-hour or more chunks of uninterrupted time for you to focus on your deep work projects. Second, Clockwise creates more of those blocks by moving your meetings to the least-interruptive time possible. Third, Clockwise resolves conflicts automatically and suggests the best times to meet when scheduling, reducing the amount of time you need to spend in your calendar.

Gif demonstrating Clockwise Autopilot opening up Focus Time

Clockwise Pros

  • Creates more time for deep focus without making you decline meetings

  • Resolves conflicts, schedules lunch holds, and add travel time automatically

  • Displays your team your calendar status automatically through the Slack integration

  • Adds team no-meeting days and OOO automatically to your calendar via team calendars

  • Learns your preferences over time so your schedule can better serve your needs

  • Provides tons of value totally free, with paid plans still in the works

Clockwise Cons

  • Moves meetings for non-users as well

  • Restricted to GSuite users currently

Bottom line: Calendars are only getting more hectic. Clockwise uses AI to significantly improve calendaring, helping you carve out time for focus, spend less time scheduling, and making your life easier through integrations with Slack and Zoom.

3. Loom

Even before widespread WFH, research showed that a full third of meetings were unnecessary. Loom can help replace some of those meetings with easy-to-send short video messages. “It's a useful way to skip a meeting,” our Head of Design, Charles Martucci, said of the Loom updates he gets from our design partner Metalab.

Clockwise Engineer John Han sometimes works from Korea, where the time zone difference means he can’t attend product standups. Instead, he records Loom updates and shares them in Slack.

Especially clutch for remote teams, Looms also convey emotion better than text, are great for conveying visuals, and save time typing. John finds Looms much easier to follow than text updates, especially for design updates (or anything visual). “Also, you feel more connected to that person even though you’ve never met them because it gives faces and voices to otherwise just an online being,” John said.

Screenshot of one of John’s Looms

Loom Pros

  • Saves you time. Recording and sending a Loom is often faster than typing long emails or attending a meeting

  • Cuts down on your meeting-load

  • Connects you to colleagues and stakeholders in different time zones

  • Enables recipients to digest the information better than text

  • Conveys tone and visual information more accurately and faster than text

Loom Cons

  • Can require more effort than writing a quick update for people who aren’t used to recording themselves

  • Lacks auto-transcriptions, which Zoom offers and Zoom also enables you to create short video updates

Bottom line: If you’re working asynchronously but want the benefits of video, Loom is a great way to have the best of both worlds.

4. Mmhmm

Launched in October, video chat enhancer Mmhmm came at the perfect time. It’s a macOS app that enhances your Zoom, Google Meet, and YouTube videos by giving you more options for presenting.

For example, you can display your screen “over your shoulder” a la SNL’s Weekend Update. This way, people don’t have to choose between looking at you or your slides, video, pictures.

Screenshot of SNL Weekend Update

Here’s a demo from the creator. And my little demo.

Screenshot of Mmhmm “over your shoulder” functionality

Mmhmm Pros

  • Allows you to use Airplay to demo your phone screen in landscape or full-screen

  • Enables you to make your face bigger or smaller and reposition yourself on the screen

Mmhmm’s phone screen display functionality in action
  • Replaces Google Slides/PowerPoint/Keynote/SlideShare with Dynamic decks which turn your video into a slide deck users can flip through

  • Allows multiple speakers to present over the same video background via multiplayer mode

  • Can be controlled using a PS4 controller

  • Offers animated backgrounds that use far less processing power than video files

Mmhmm Cons

  • Can significantly slow down your computer

  • Has some kinks to work out, like setting itself as the default camera for Google Meet without any notice

Bottom line: With so much remote presenting, it’s a good time to upgrade your presentation tools. If you do a lot of presentations, or even a few presentations that you need to land, Mmhmm is a free, easy way to make them punchier and more interactive.

5. Remotion

Remotion is a Mac app (there’s a waitlist for Windows and Linux users) that makes working remotely feel more like the in-office experience. A virtual office tool, Remotion shows you whether your colleagues are free to video or voice chat with screen sharing. You can start a conversation without links, meeting requests, or waiting. You can also create private rooms, or set them to “Open” so anyone can join.

Clockwise Designer Raph D’Amico is a Remotion fan. “I love how it ends the tyranny of the ‘meeting room,’ Raph said. “Instead of having to create a Zoom you just ping people. It’s really nice! The circles being small and close to the webcam makes it feel more like you’re making eye contact. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that if you ping multiple people, it puts you all in the same convo. So, if we're having a 1:1 and Charles [Clockwise’s Head of Design] pinged one of us we could add him to the convo and have a few minutes of serendipitous conversation. Whereas in Zoom you end the conversation with one person and start a conversation with another one. You lose the in-between moment. I wish more of the team was using it, and I wish we had a culture that normalized using it for quick, two-minute conversations! From my friends who use it that way, it’s a game changer! They say it makes them feel a lot more connected.”

Screenshot of Remotion’s video chat

Remotion Pros

  • Offers a minimal, streamlined user interface

  • Uses icons to show you which applications your colleagues are working in

  • Offers the ability to sign up with your work email

  • Integrates with Slack and Google Calendar

Remotion Cons

  • Doesn’t offer “rooms” functionality

  • Doesn’t support multiple teams

  • Offers opaque pricing

Bottom line: If you’re a macOS user who’s used to quick chats with coworkers during the day and your teammates work roughly the same hours as you, Remotion is a great way to approximate those quick syncs online.

6. Tandem

Like Remotion, Tandem is a desktop virtual office app that displays whether your colleagues are free to video or voice chat with screen sharing. As with Remotion, you can see whether your colleagues are free to start a conversation at a glance, and start talking without links, meeting requests, or waiting.

There are a few differences between the tools. First is the user interface. Remotion is more streamlined and aesthetically pleasing than Tandem, in my opinion. For example, Remotion is optimized to give you the most information while taking up the least amount of screen space. Since the purpose of software like Tandem and Remotion is to make video chatting as seamless as starting a conversation at the office, it’s going to work best if it’s easy to access, but out of the way.

However, Tandem has more functionality. For example, Remotion doesn’t allow users to create “rooms” where more than two people can video chat at once. It doesn’t support multiple teams. It seems to have fewer integrations than Tandem. And it can’t automatically show your colleagues whether you’re in a meeting based on your work calendar. Remotion is still in beta, so some of this functionality may be forthcoming.

Tandem Pros

  • Works on Mac, Windows, and Linux desktops

  • Integrates with tons of great tools, including Slack, Airtable, Asana, Jira, Confluence, and SourceTree

  • Shows you what applications your colleagues are working in via icons

  • Shows your colleagues whether you’re in a meeting if you connect to your work calendar

  • Supports multiple teams

  • Enables you to point to things on someone else’s screen

Tandem Cons

  • Can occasionally offer slow and choppy video quality according to a few reviewers

  • Currently available for iOS and Android

  • Requires sign up/in through Google or Slack

  • Shows your colleagues what application you have open by default

Bottom line: If you’re a Windows or Linux user, or just need the extra functionality, Tandem is the choice for teams that work synchronously and need (or want!) to meet up for quick chats fairly often.

7. Timing

Clockwise Engineer Div Shekhar decided to try Timing after reading about it in Zapier’s list of 10 best time tracking apps. It’s a macOS app you pay for once to easily see where all your time goes. Div wanted to track how many hours he was working each day and each week. Plus, he wanted to see if it could help him avoid both working too much and working too little.

Time management apps automatically track how much time you spend on sites and in apps across your phone, tablet, and desktop, and then categorize your time so you can easily tell how much time you’re spending on different tasks or categories of tasks.

“Seeing the stats the next days and comparing how I feel has made for some interesting realizations,” Div said a week into using Timing. “Monday felt a lot longer than the eight hours I worked, and I realized later it was because I couldn’t stop thinking about work for another two hours after I’d officially stopped working. Tuesday was draining. Seeing the amount of time I’d spent on Zoom helped explain that fatigue. No-meeting Wednesday, not surprisingly, was not draining in comparison.” (Read next: How to successfully implement a No Meeting Day at your company)

timing app screenshot

Timing Pros

  • Offers useful default categorization. “It could track in more detail if I do work to configure it e.g., classify websites, or group work by project,” Div said.

  • Helps keep you focused on your work

  • Can help boost emotional awareness. “Apart from making me aware of how long I'm working, it's also made me aware of how I'm feeling,” Div said.

  • Offers offline access

Timing Cons

  • While Timing’s visible timer helped with focus, it also made the time "at work" more intense for Div

Bottom line: Timing is a great tool for keeping on-task and becoming more aware of where your time going during the day.

Going forward

Most of us agree that 2021 can’t come fast enough. I’m excited to start the new year off with some new productivity tools that will help me get more done in less time.

Have you tried any of these tools? Any we should have included? Let me know at cathy at getclockwise.com

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is Head of Content at Clockwise where she oversees the Clockwise Blog and The Minutes Newsletter. She has covered business software for six years and has been published in Newsweek, Forbes, the Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications.

Sign up for our newsletter

Ready to try Clockwise?

Get started for free