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Productivity apps: what to try in 2021

Last updated on
September 24, 2021

The app market is saturated with tools promising to turn our productivity around. But all too often they just add to our administrative burden – taking time and attention away from the work that matters.

Since so much of our tech is latent with distraction, we need to become smarter about the tools we work with. But we also need to expand our understanding of "productivity". It's no longer sufficient to think of it in terms of “organization” and “prioritization” alone - technology that supports our wellbeing ultimately can strengthen our performance.

So, where do you start? What apps will actually help you do your best work and unlock your potential? Mixing new tools with established favourites, here's our rundown of the best productivity apps to try in 2021.

Locking focus

Dewo – for doing more deep work


This intelligent assistant helps you do more of the cognitively demanding "deep work" that drives you forward. Using AI, Dewo can learn your productive patterns and provide suggestions to help you work smarter. It can also automatically trigger “Do not disturb” mode once you reach deep work, and reschedule meetings for a more focused working week. It’s only in beta for now, but growing more promising by the day.

HazeOver - for spotlighted concentration


HazeOver literally lets you focus on one thing at a time, dissolving the need to minimize, close or hide windows as you navigate around your desktop. Essentially, the tool works by focusing on one tab or window on each monitor, helping you stay present on one thing at a time and really focus.

StayFocusd - for staying focused!


A useful tool when abstinence is your best cure – especially if you’re guilty of pointless social media checking, or can’t resist replying to a Facebook message. Serving as a handy, customizable Google Chrome extension, it enhances concentration by reducing noisy distractions and limiting the time you spend on unproductive websites.

Moment (iOS and Android) - for staying present


Using three key strategies - Measure, Coach and Disconnect - Moment is an indispensable app to help you understand your own relationship with your phone. Through guided sessions, app usage tracking, bootcamp courses and screen-free time blocks, you can cull poor digital behaviors and be more present in your life.

Pushbullet - for custom notifications


Pushbullet is all about keeping notifications productive. It connects across multiple devices and ubiquitously customizes your notifications to make sure you only see what you’ve defined as valuable. You can also opt in for SMS updates, check-in on missed calls on your desktop, and quickly drag and drop files between devices without having to email them to yourself.

Measuring performance

Timely - for tracking everything you work on automatically

Timely holds a mirror up to the way you work. Aside from helping you understand your overall performance, Timely shows you exactly how long you spend on different tasks. By tracking all the apps you use on web and desktop, it also helps highlight workflow bottlenecks, intrusive apps and unproductive behaviors. It’s mobile apps also offer the ability to track your GPS location, providing the full picture of what you actually do each day.

Screen Time (iOS) – for keeping iOS interactions productive


Serving as another incredibly diligent and effective productivity booster, Screen Time allows you to set blocked periods such as sleep, communication or tasks to curb distractions and help to stick to a schedule. You can also set blocks on specific sites or apps to squash the temptation of going on social media and aimlessly scroll your newsfeed.

Digital Wellbeing (Android) – for a healthier relationship with your Android


Digital Wellbeing helps you critique and improve your relationship with your Android devices. Through the app, you can read tips and understand specific tools the suite offers to help improve better “digital wellbeing” – something we all need to take a lot more seriously.

Structuring & organizing

Todoist - for quantifiable checklists


Todoist is like the PA you’ve never had, shouldering the burden of task organization by breaking work into neat checkpoints. From there, you can segment your task list into subcategories, people or time (or all of these), and obtain a much more explicit overview of what’s coming up. Download it as a web app, extension, or iOS/Android app.

Pocket - for saving useful articles


Ditch the bloated bookmark menus and download Pocket instead. This app allows you to save articles, media and other useful resources in one clean, intuitive space. It’s a great way to reclaim “trapped time” spent commuting, providing a quick back catalogue of useful, interesting reads.

Scanbot - for image capturing and uploading


Scanbot removes the duplication of effort that comes with converting analogue files into digital ones. It translates analogue materials like hand-written notes, magazine articles, books and presentation print-outs into digital formats for easy annotation. Its AI then fine-tunes your images –straightening documents and applying filters to improve legibility.

Alation - for enterprise cataloging


Chiefly aimed at enterprises and distributed companies who work across massive data sets, Alation helps everyone find the data they need to collaborate. It’s a simple way to index all your company’s data knowledge – ideal if you’re handling cataloging and auto-inventories, or want to overhaul your analytic productivity.

Wunderlist - for multi-purpose productivity


Wunderlist is the to-do list for the 21st century. Its design is intuitive, clean and functional, making it easy to manage multiple notes at once. It sets reminders, keeps track of documents and voice recordings connected to different tasks, and offers additional paid collaboration features, too.

Staying mindful

Headspace - for quieting your mind


Guiding you through effective, easy-to-learn exercises and meditations, Headspace helps quieten your mind and creates a designated space for downtime. From walking you through specific exercises to offering an archive of handy mental health awareness tips, this really is your go-to for reducing stress and staying mindful.

Brain FM - for productivity-enhancing sound

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If you struggle picking the right music to work to, try Brain FM. Used by over 150,000 people, it offers a science-first, purpose-driven approach to background music – picking sounds that compliment your cognitive focus. Using a technique called “strong neural phase locking”, it promises to create an ambiance conducive to the way you work.

Wysa - for mental health support


While it’s no substitute for professional clinical support, Wysa is an solid mental health resource. It helps tackle over 50 mental health issues, using AI chatbot to talk you through problems and create a practical exercise-kit for dealing with them. Backed by evidence-based therapy methods, it supports you through rough periods using anxiety-fighting techniques like meditation, talking and diary-writing.

Automating low-value work

X.ai – for automatic scheduling

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Email ping-pong has to be one of the most unproductive tasks going. Thanks to X.ai, you can automate the whole process. The app connects to your calendar and is able to book meetings with anyone in your network with a single click, word, or email. It schedules events seamlessly in the background while still offering you tailored calendar control.

Dashlane - for password management


Strong passwords are essential to workplace security – but they can make accessing and sharing tools across the company very difficult. Getting locked out of an account because you can’t remember your complicated password happens ridiculously often. Dashlane saves you the trouble by configuring strong passwords and saving them in one secure place for quick and easy access.

Otter - for sharing and centralizing communications


Using 'Ambient Voice Intelligence', Otter is able to translate spoken word into sharable, written text – particularly useful when it comes to minute taking. It listens to meeting conversations and uses AI to recognize individual speakers, quickly surfacing related documents in response to key phrases. By generating smart notes that collate audio, text and images, it massively reduces post-meeting follow up communications.

Brewster - for collating contacts


Keeping track of contacts, whether professional or personal, requires ongoing effort. Thankfully, Brewster can sync up contact information across your social accounts and phone to keep your address book in order. It’ll also show you connections between those contacts and remind you who you’re losing touch with.

Zapier – integrations between web apps


Zapier completely automates the manual burden of moving information between your different work tools. You can create as many “Zaps” as you like to pull data effortlessly between your apps. Along the way, Zapier suggests process improvements to help you solve issues outside of data transfer.

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