The four main types of productivity software (with examples)

Last updated on 
May 4, 2020

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Technology has the power to amplify our innate human abilities, helping us make connections, create and hone skills faster. It’s led to a booming industry in digital productivity software, addressing almost every aspect of our day.

But the general category “productivity software” is deceptively simple – if not rather useless – since it houses a multitude of tools with vastly different approaches and interpretations of productivity.

To navigate this minefield, you need to know what kind of productivity solution you’re after. Based on the current market, productivity software can be largely broken down into one of these four main types.

1. Quantifying performance

This first category of software tries to make productivity quantitative – providing figures to give you some sort of measure of how you perform over time. While the substance of what they measure may differ, they all tend to take the “charts and stats” approach to UI, translating your productive performance into helpful visuals. It’s all about gaining insights and self-knowledge so you can address processes and behaviors, and set ambitious new personal goals.

Todoist

Taking the classic to-do list approach, Todoist helps you understand your progress against specific goals – whether personal or professional. It helps you break down large goals into achievable tasks, and then tracks your work to produce a personal productivity score. Review your daily and weekly performance in simple stats, and try out the bonus Karma feature for an extra boost; by gamifying your progress, it’s acts as a step counter for anything you want to achieve.

Dewo

Dewo is all about helping you address your productive patterns so you can fit more quality “deep work” into your day. It captures everything you do on your computer and uses AI to score the productive value of each activity. Using this, it can surface how often you switch context, which apps disrupt your focus and where you produce your best work. By figuring out when you enter and leave flow states, it can even automatically toggle “do not disturb” mode to protect your focus. Actionable charts then help you make targeted changes to help improve your performance.

2. Removing unproductive work

The next major group of productivity tools deals with outsourcing – cutting out unproductive parts of your life, so you have more time and energy for those that matter. In order to do so, these tools invariably use some form of machine learning so they can learn how you perform a task and start performing naturally to the same standard on your behalf. This means they focus on simple, repetitive admin tasks – like data entry and calendar management.

Timely

Essential for billing and managing profitability, to managing resources and costing projects, time tracking is one of the biggest necessary admin evils going. But with Timely, you can automate the entire task. It automatically captures everything you work on and uses AI to draft accurate time sheets for you. All data stays completely private to you alone – draft time sheets themselves need you approval before colleagues and managers can see them. There’s no forgetting to stop timers or straining to remember what you worked on – everything is done in the background so you can just focus on your work.

X.ai

Meeting Tetris is an ideal candidate for this category of productivity software. Instead of knocking around emails and fiddling with schedules to agree a time that works for everyone, you can now offload this task to tools like X.ai. They connect to your calendar and use defined rules to provide one-click meeting scheduling, handling any subsequent email back-and-forth. The best can even learn everyone’s productive habits, picking meeting times with minimal impact on everyone’s space for deep thinking.

3. Simplifying processes

A huge chunk of productivity software focuses on providing shortcuts – simplifying clunky processes and workflows to minimize them. Unlike the previous category, they don’t completely remove problems – they just make them easier to manage. These can come in the form of browser plug-ins and app integrations, as well as bespoke software for specific tasks. The majority of these tools basically organize and simplify our digital workspace – from locating files, sharing documents and storing passwords, to pulling data between tools and saving resource links for future reference.

Evernote

If you work with several different devices, you’ll know the pain of trying to sync notes between them. You may find yourself creating dumb workarounds – emailing or WhatsApp-ing yourself information, or leaving a scattered trail of them across several apps. Evernote helps to tie all these threads together, providing a central inventory and access point for your digital notes. You can even integrate handwritten notes into its system, so nothing analogue gets left behind either.

SaneBox

This app is all about organizing your email inbox to help keep your highest-priority messages in view. Using AI, it ranks and filters your emails, moving low-priority ones like newsletters and ‘CC messages to separate folders. You’re left with a neat, prioritized inbox focused on the most critical communications.

4. Providing discipline and focus

This final group of software tries to target your habits and behaviors – helping to provide motivation and discipline to bolster your focus and staying power. As productive “hacks”, they offer small, practical strategies for getting stuck into work. They’re not for everyone (and some can feel a bit gimmicky and hollow), but some have proved to be highly popular – particularly Pomodoro technique productivity trackers.

Freedom

This app tackles your procrastination habit with a decidedly firm hand. It effectively time-boxes the amount of time you can spend on unproductive websites and apps, locking you out once you’ve reached a set time limit. You can even block the entire internet for next-level protection from self-distraction – particularly useful why you’re trying to hone your deep work skills!

Pomodoro Tracker

This app uses the popular Pomodoro technique to help you break your day into manageable 25-minute sections of focused working. Each section is followed by a five minute break period, before refreshing to repeat. People who thrive off external expectation, or just like a challenge, may find that the ticking countdown disciplines their focus.

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