Productivity planners: best-in-class examples

Last updated on 
July 13, 2020

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Despite resurgent interest in low-tech, analogue productivity journals, the most effective productivity planners tend to be digital. They incorporate the same elements as manual planners, with the added advantages of machine shortcuts and intelligence to keep self-management accessible, smart and straightforward.

Since there are so many ways to approach productivity, there are also lots of different technologies for addressing it. To give you a taste of what’s out there, here’s our pick of the best digital productivity planners.

Productivity planner features

Before jumping in, it’s worth understanding what you want to achieve with your productivity planner. Consider which of the following tasks you want your planner to help you solve:

  1. Mapping and organizing your tasks
  2. Setting to-dos and goals
  3. Planning and structuring your schedule
  4. Breaking big projects into chunks
  5. Tracking your productivity
  6. Uncovering distractions and qualifying focus
  7. Sticking to your priorities
  8. Reflecting on your progress

Certain tools will excel at some of these tasks more than others, and you may only want a tool that specializes in a few of the above. To illustrate the range of features out there, we’ve listed the tasks each of our selected tools are best at below.

6 of the best productivity planners

1. Todoist – for managing all your tasks

If you’re purely looking to map out and prioritize your tasks, look no further than Todoist. Using a clean to-do list format, it provides an overview of everything on your plate and uses reminders to keep your most important tasks in focus. Its Karma feature also helps you break down large tasks into small goals, making it easy to chart your daily and weekly progress.

Best for tasks: 1, 2, 4, 5, 8

2. Timely – for intelligent weekly scheduling

Timely is a smart shortcut to greater self-knowledge, helping you track your productivity and create more effective schedules. The whole thing is powered by automatic time tracking, which records all your daily work activity to a private timeline. Real-time reports and dashboards then help you make sense of your productivity – from the time you spend on different tasks, to how you distribute effort across projects, clients and apps. From an intuitive calendar interface, you can then plan work ahead, time blocking your schedule and seeing if you actually stick to your plan.

Best for tasks: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

3. OneNote – for long-hand reflection

OneNote effectively translates stream-of-consciousness journaling to a tactile digital environment that you can access from any device, online or offline. It provides structure without being prescriptive, so you can arrange your reflection however you see best. That could include different chapters for processing feedback, goals, learnings and setbacks. You can add images and audio, and even use the drawing tool to write by hand, should you wish to.

Best for tasks: 1, 2, 8

4. Any.do – for smart task management

For a free tool, Any.do packs a remarkable punch. It’s a to-do list, a calendar, a notepad, a checklist, a board for sticky notes and a reminder app all in one. It’s primarily used for structuring tasks and managing your calendar, synching with Google, Facebook and Outlook calendars to keep everything in one place. You can add a to-do list item directly from your email inbox, attaching files from Dropbox, Google Drive or your computer. While not the best app for long-form reflection or goal setting (it’s designed to be used on-the-go after all), it’s a great choice for structuring and prioritizing your game plan for the week ahead.

Best for tasks: 1, 2, 3, 7

5. Dewo – for quantifying productivity

In an age of digital distraction, those who regularly do productive deep work will excel. Dewo helps you get there by protecting your time – using AI to schedule meetings to maximize the space you have available for uninterrupted focused working. It also provides statistics and insights on your productive performance, quantifying how much deep work you’re doing and how much you switch context. As an added bonus, it can even trigger Do Not Disturb across your apps whenever you enter a productive flow state.

Best for tasks: 5, 6, 7, 8

6. Grid Diary – for a diary-based journaling

As the name suggests, Grid Diary approaches productivity from a diary format. It provides a familiar block format for quickly reviewing weekly goals and plans. As well as a longer-form space to write about them. Its diary and planner templates are great for the latter, with helpful reflective prompts to keep you engaged and focused. You can even keep multiple journals to create your own planner system.

Best for tasks: 1, 2, 3, 7, 8

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