The new year is a popular time to consider switching up some of our routines, including our apps.
I’ve searched the internet to come up with this list of the nine best 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: These apps aren’t listed in any particular order.
What are productivity apps? And do they work?
When it comes down to it, productivity is all personal. Sure, you can read blogs, listen to audiobooks, and check out podcasts about productivity. But at the end of the day, some techniques will work better than others depending on your workflow and scope of work.
Today, we wanted to go over some of the best productivity apps on the market and go over the key features, pros, and cons of each so you can choose the best one for your needs! What can you expect with productivity apps?
The great thing about productivity apps is that there are so many ways to be productive. So, on this list, you'll find a variety of apps with a variety of features. From note-taking functionality to real-time team collaboration to distraction squashers, you'll find an app on this list that will help you do more in less time.
And if you’re asking yourself, “Do productivity apps actually work?” We have good news: they do! Of course, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of productivity apps available — but you only need one or at most two to see the benefits. After that, you may get more distracted with trying to keep up with all your apps. In fact, our users see 20+ hours of extra Focus Time weekly.
Some of these softwares have free versions while others may require a credit card. But no matter the option you choose, our goal is to help you get a return on your investment with one of these tools.
Without further ado, let’s get into the best productivity apps on the market to make 2022 your best year yet!
Alfred has been around for a minute, but still ranks as one of the top productivity apps because of the utility of keyboard shortcuts. This feature only 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.
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.” As the world continues to stay remote and we all spend more time online, it’s become necessary to incorporate automation into our workflows to save time and reduce distraction. Rishi uses Alfred to automate all the tasks that are more tedious, so he can use his mouse less and can keep fewer browser windows up on his screen. Alfred truly creates a hassle-free workflow experience for Rishi. For example, he’s open any application on his Mac with a quick tap of his keyboard, search bookmarks and 1Password (a password manager), kill processes without opening a terminal, and paste the current date quickly on his Google docs or spreadsheets.
Snippets (Alfred’s term for keyboard shortcuts) saves hours of typing too. For example, you can insert stock responses 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.
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, if you work with international team members, Alfred’s Convert workflow feature is great when you need to use the metric system. If you can’t find the workflow you need in the Alfred community, you create your own.
Summary of Alfred’s key features:
- Clipboard history - lets you to locate any text or file copied from earlier
- Snippets - makes it easy to auto-expand abbreviations into full texts
- Custom workflows - simply link some hotkeys, keywords, and actions and say good-bye to long code!
- Music control - control music apps (like Spotify or iTunes) to get into the work groove
- Usage stats - review your actual productivity
- System commands - sleep your Mac, empty your trash, and activate your screensaver with keywords
- 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
- Alfred remembers any text, image, or file you’ve copied since you turned on the feature for easy pasting from Clipboard History.
- Excludes PC and Linux users, just available on macOS.
- Hides most of the best features behind in the “Powerpack” upgrade. However, their paid plans are just a one-time fee of £29 (about $39), or £49 (about $66) for their Mega Supporter Powerpack, which comes with lifetime updates.
- Lacks some features Competitor keyboard app launcher, LaunchBar, has. That includes 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.
Our research shows the average worker spent 5% more time in meetings in 2020. And according to other surveys, 51% of employees say the number of meetings are rising. Between Zoom, constant Slack notifications, and an onslaught of emails, it continues to be a tough year for heads-down work. If the thought of another 1:1 makes you want to scream and go offline forever, we feel your pain.
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. In short, this smart calendar app can optimize your schedule, so you can work smarter and not harder.
Summary of Clockwise’s features:
- Calendar optimization - frees up blocks of uninterrupted time, smart meeting scheduling, customized workflow options
- Focus Time - personalized goals to help you crush your to-do list
- Seamless team collaboration - get access to a team availability calendar, protected no-meeting days, and forecast each team member’s bandwidths
- Integrations - sync up with the best project management apps, such as Slack and Asana, so you don’t get lost in a sea of open tabs
- 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
- Moves meetings for non-users as well
- Restricted to GSuite users currently
Bottom line: Calendars are only getting more hectic. Clockwise has become one of the best productivity apps on the market because it 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 Asana and Zoom.
Getting distracted by notifications is nothing new, even if we’re just now experiencing a new age where remote teams are becoming the norm. But it’s not just notifications coming from your iPhone or Android that’s distracting you — our laptops and desktops compete for your attention too. In fact, you may even find your Windows or macOS to be more distracting than your phone depending on how your workspace is set up. And studies show that the average worker gets interrupted every three minutes and five seconds! That adds up to a whopping six hours of productivity lost to distractions.
Luckily, RescueTime is to the, well, rescue. As a self-proclaimed “revolutionary productivity assistant,” you can expect to stay more focused, productive, and motivated during your working hours. This time management platform seems to have all the bells and whistles when it comes to keeping on-track with your to-do list.
With an intuitive interface, RescueTime makes it easy for you to set up your workflow with a custom daily Focus Work Goal and a smart coaching feature that helps you analyze your meeting schedule and end-of-day summaries. It will even block out certain web apps that negatively impact your focus when you enter a Focus Session, a feature similar to Focus Time at Clockwise or even the Pomodoro technique. At the end of your Focus Sessions, you can see how long you focused and which apps distract you the most. Though it can be confronting to see your productivity analysis, RescueTime will use that data to help you save time in the future.
RescueTime has a free version called Lite that’s better for personal use. But their pro versions are much more comprehensive. Before signing up for one of their paid plans, you can try out their 2-week free trial to see which features you need access to.
Summary of RescueTime’s key features:
- Focus Work goal - by gaining access to your meeting schedule, RescueTime customizes a daily Focus Work goal for you
- Smart coaching - it analyzes your focus and meeting schedule to give you reminders to help you stay on track with your to-do list for the day
- Focus Sessions - you can trigger one of these sessions if you need to block certain websites and notifications
- Insights - RescueTime analyzes and lets you block the sites and mobile apps that distract you the most
- Automatically creates a workflow that’s best for you, so you can be more efficient with your time.
- Works well with PCs, Macs, and Linux. RescueTime also has browser extensions for Firefox and Chrome.
- Tracks your trends (even offline ones) and blocks notifications that distract you the most when prompted.
- You can customize how thorough you want RescueTime to be with tracking, for anyone who’s intimidated by the extensive tracking features.
- RescueTime works great for personal use, small businesses, remote teams, freelancers, and large teams alike.
- Though you can switch it off, some might find the offline tracking to be intrusive to their privacy
- The mobile app version still needs work, since their phone usage tracker doesn’t work well at the time this post is written. Plus, the iPhone app requires you to turn on your GPS. To us, this feels unnecessary and potentially a waste of battery.
Bottom line: For those who get distracted easily, there aren’t many time management platforms as great as RescueTime. Even with the limited Lite version, it still is one of the best free productivity apps. And depending on your situation, one of the pro versions may give you a return on your investment.
While businesses are still figuring out the perfect balance of having employees in the office and working at home, project management tools have become a must. If you’re not familiar already, project management tools, like Notion, act like a digital version of walking over to a coworker’s desk to give them updates on certain projects. With Notion, you can get status updates on due dates, share files easily with team members, create team checklists for task management, and more. You can also have brainstorming sessions directly in the platform and in real time, preventing that all-too-familiar Zoom fatigue.
“We found that it’s not so much about needing new tools but instead, leveraging existing tools to foster greater collaboration during quarantine,” Corporate Recruiter Lauren Munroe said about her team’s use of project management tools to collaborate on projects simultaneously.
Summary of Notion’s key features:
- Notion is great for both personal use and company-wide use.
- Close all those tabs because you can connect all your teams, projects, and docs in Notion.
- Custom workflow - use their drag-and-drop feature to create the workspace that makes most sense to you.
- Ready-made templates - in Notion, you can access and use thousands of community-made templates and events so you never have to waste time creating your own.
- Use their thousands of integration options including LastPass, Slack, Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, and tons more.
- Eliminates the hassle of opening, reopening, and switching between tabs by having everything you need for project management in one place.
- Cuts back-and-forth emailing by keeping your notes and documents organized the way that works best for your team.
- Always keeps your team in-the-loop with real-time updates
- User-friendly, intuitive interface
- Works cross-platform with a Mac and Windows desktop app, and mobile app for iOS and Android
- Can require time and effort to set up your custom workspace, especially for team collaboration
- The navigation options needs improvement, since it’s difficult to find an exact page or file
Bottom line: If you’re working with a team, Notion can be the best productivity app since you don’t have to leave the platform to collaborate with your team.
Similar to Notion, Trello is a project management tool best at task management. It lets you organize all your projects into cards (also known as Kanban boards) so in just a quick glance, you can see what’s being worked on, who’s working on which tasks, and what due dates are coming up soon. They’re almost like digital sticky notes, where all your team members (or just one) can collaborate on projects. You can also integrate hundreds of other web apps such as Zapier and Salesforce.
Where Notion and Trello differ is the scope of functionality. Trello is best for small teams that don’t need comprehensive team reporting features, extensive customer support on the weekends, or wikis (web pages) for the entire company. Notion is more dynamic since it focuses on being a whole-company platform.
The platform is free to use, but upgrading to one of their paid plans unlocks a ton of additional features — the most useful for this particular article (increasing your productivity) being Butler, which automates your workflow. It can analyze the pattern of your actions and suggest automations that can help eliminate that tedious set up every week.
Summary of Trello’s key features:
- Simple and flexible interface - you can drag and drop your cards and easily see who’s doing what.
- Task management - in one card, you can add tons of details such as comments, priorities, completion statuses, comments, attachments, and more.
- Integrations - sync up Slack, Outlook, Gmail, Salesforce, Jira, and hundreds of other integrations so you don’t have to furiously open a bunch of tabs
- Customizable Kanban boards
- Detailed cards with information about deadlines, priorities, completion status, due dates, comments, and attachments
- Visually pleasing and intuitive interface
- Hundreds of integrations, including Slack, Zapier, 123 Trello Timer (just one of their many time tracking integrations), and even social media apps like Twitter.
- Easy drag-and-drop tools to customize your workflow.
- Trello can start to feel overwhelming if you add too many subtasks — that’s where a more sophisticated project management tool like Notion or Clickup comes in handy
Bottom line: If you’re a part of a small business or you’re a freelancer, Trello is one of the best free productivity apps, especially for task management since it takes no time to set up and you can truly customize your Kanban boards to your unique workflow!
We couldn’t publish this article of best productivity apps without featuring a to-do list app. And that’s exactly what Todoist specializes in. Having launched in 2007, it’s the O.G. to-do list and task manager, mainly for freelancers and small businesses. Instead of having a crumpled, paper to-do list that’s nearly guaranteed to disappear within the first five minutes of your week, you can have one that’s stored in the cloud so you can keep track of all your due dates, no matter if you’re on a mobile device, laptop, desktop, iPad, or anything in between.
There’s a free tier, which we think is great on its own — especially if you’re a freelancer who doesn’t need any of their advanced filters or needs extensive sharing options. But if you plan to collaborate with a team, you’d find more use in their Pro version or Business version, which allows you to open hundreds of active projects, have dozens of collaborators, get access to unlimited activity history, and there's more cloud space for larger file sharing.
Not sure what you need yet? Try out one of their plans with their very generous 30-day trial!
Summary of Todoist’s key features:
- Simple interface - get a clear view of what needs to get done not just today, but also in the next few days with color-coded due dates
- Add unlimited details - need to add more details, subtasks, or share files within a to-do list item? You can do that too!
- Board view - if a to-do list gets too overwhelming, you can switch to a Kanban board view to see the bigger picture when it comes to your tasks
- Progress reports - you can customize the amount of tasks you want to accomplish every day, and Todoist will let you know when you’ve reached that goal. (The motivational messages they’ve added throughout the app are quite adorable.)
- Todoist will tell you if you’ve scheduled too many tasks in one day to encourage you to shift your priorities.
- Offers a minimal, streamlined user interface.
- Integrates with calendar apps like Slack and Google Calendar so you never miss an important due date.
- Natural language processing, so it will fill in details as you type certain keywords.
- It’s compatible with Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and Chrome.
- Though Todoist has paid versions that offer more sophisticated features, we still believe this platform is best for personal use, or for freelancers and small businesses who have uncomplicated workflows since they just focus on one thing: to-do list crushing. And while that’s great for productivity, of course, we would love to see some more productivity-boosting features such as the ones included in RescueTime.
Bottom line: Don’t want to share a certain task with your whole company? You can house them in Todoist instead, so you can keep some of your tasks private for yourself. Plus, nothing feels quite as satisfying as checking off a task on an actual to-do list — even if it’s a digital one.
Tandem is a desktop virtual office app that displays whether your colleagues are free to video or voice chat with screen sharing. You can see whether your colleagues are free to start a conversation at a glance, and start talking without links, meeting requests, or waiting.
The user-interface is quite streamlined, intuitive, and aesthetically pleasing. Since the purpose of software like Tandem 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.
Tandem also has comprehensive functionality. Tandem has many integrations to choose from. Plus, you can create “rooms” where more than two people can video chat at once.
Summary of Tandem’s key features:
- Quick and easy collaboration - see which work apps your team members are working in, and join in to collaborate
- Voice rooms for specific projects, so you get feedback or collaborate even quicker
- An online co-working space feel, with potential to jump on video calls so it feels like you’re working in the same room with your team
- Works on Mac, Windows, and Linux desktops
- Integrates with tons of great tools, including Slack, Airtable, Jira, Confluence, all the Microsoft Office apps (Excel, Powerpoint, Teams, etc.), 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
- 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.
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 or iPad, 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)
Summary of key features of Timing:
- Drag-and-drop activities
- Privacy-friendly time tracking with the option to invite team members in case you need it for invoicing purposes for your billable hours or to check on everyone’s bandwidth
- Automatically detects video calls so you don’t accidentally overbook yourself or miss a meeting
- Productivity report
- Web app and iPhone app available
- 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
- While Timing’s visible timer helped with focus, it also made the time "at work" more intense for Div
Bottom line: Timing earns the title of one of the top productivity apps since it's a great tool for keeping on-task and becoming more aware of where your time is going during the day.
Evernote is one of the most popular note-taking apps that can also boost your productivity. If you’re familiar with Onenote, you’ll know how Evernote works in an instant. When most people think of note taking, they might think you have to be a student. In reality, Evernote can be used by any professional too!
But let’s be honest: notes can get really overwhelming when you’re just looking at a wall of text. With Evernote, you can find your “productivity happy place” by using more than just their note-taking feature to keep track of your ideas or any important information shared in a meeting. Those additional features like their calendar tool, pinned note option, and task list make it easy to make your interface visually appealing and less overwhelming.
Plus, you can assign due dates, flag important notes, and set up reminders all from your notes. Upload screenshots or even save entire web pages (without the ads) and mark them up however you’d like to take advantage of the unique visual functionality.
Summary of Evernote’s key features:
- Create and assign tasks from the notes you take, so no information gets lost like they often do in physical notebooks.
- Say adios to clutter forever - you can scan documents into Evernote, upload screenshots, and save web pages so you never have to deal with a stack of paper again.
- Integrates with Google Calendar, Google Drive, Slack, Gmail, and Microsoft Teams.
- Offers a visually pleasing and customizable interface.
- Uses color-coded labels so you can easily keep track of all your thoughts and deadlines
- Offers the ability to sign up with your work email.
- More than just a note-taking app, it can help you stay on top of everything by letting you create tasks out of your notes.
- Works with Apple and Android devices.
- Lets you create tags so you can search for notes quickly
- Evernote can feel overwhelming if you don’t know how to organize your interface properly
- The free version is a bit limited if you want to use Evernote to truly maximize your productivity, since task-creating and widget-adding is only available for their paid plan.
Bottom line: While Evernote has both a free version and a pro version. We personally believe that it’s worth the investment of $7.99/month if you work at a fast-paced or highly-detailed job where you need to take a lot of notes and subsequent tasks.
How to use productivity apps to get more done
When it comes down to using a productivity tool, the first step is to identify what you're looking for and how you usually like to work. Do you need to take notes to remember tasks? Or maybe you need help with distractions? Perhaps you need help with team collaboration. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses will help you choose the right productivity app for you.
Most of us agree that 2022 can’t come fast enough and we hope that it’s the start of new beginnings . I’m excited to start the new year off with some new productivity tools that will help me get more done in less time.