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We are all racing against time to get more done. The good news is it’s possible to achieve this if you build a healthy, sustainable productivity system. The bad news is that it’s a system and it takes a while to get there.

What’s important at this point is to start somewhere today — and the best productivity apps get you going into becoming a better, faster and more efficient version of yourself.

Remember, however, that each person sees productivity differently and each productivity tool serves different purposes. Not every productivity app is created equal.

Productivity means the ability to do as much work as possible in a particular period. All of us see this differently as our tasks and/or our abilities are unique to one another.

But there are science-backed steps that can help us out with the situations we share in common (which are many) — they’re just not what we think they are.

Time is our friend, if you use the best productivity apps the right way. Source: AFP

Time is our friend, if you use the best productivity apps the right way. Source: AFP

How to be more productive, according to science

When it comes to boosting productivity, you have to put your common senses aside. Much of what researchers discovered about what gets our brains going often seems counter-intuitive.

To be more productive, science suggests:

  • Schedule a time to daydream when it doesn’t matter. Letting our minds wander is a key part of how our brains function. It’ll happen anyways so why not think about non-work or non-study stuff when you’re doing easy tasks? It’s a win-win situation.
  • Have a good laugh. This gives us an energy boost, which can help us power through when we’re really tired.
  • Distract yourself. Instead of working in clean, tidy and silent spaces, try messy and loud. This forces our brain to focus on your task at hand.
  • Stop working. It sounds crazy to do nothing when there are 3,000 things to do. But if you plan a break right, and do more than just stare out a window, it can recharge you.
  • Spend time in nature. Better still, exercise in nature for a double boost in focus.
  • Focus less. If you have to focus for a long time, break it up into stages and think about something else instead of being”on” all the time.
  • De-stress. Stress is the enemy of productivity.

Technology has come a long way to help us keep up with life’s obligations too. The best productivity apps today not only help us get out of the occasional slump, but even give us a full refresh.

8 best productivity apps to help us focus better and do more in 2023

1. Todoist

Best for: Those who need to make and follow to-do lists, without having to pay

Juggling classes, assignments, and your own personal life isn’t easy. While you may create a checklist in your head of all the things you need to do, more often than not, you will end up forgetting to do it or remembering at the last minute. 

Of all the to-do list apps available, Todoist is definitely the best on the block. Not only is it easy to use, but it also offers many features which allow you to assign due dates to tasks and even sort tasks by project.

The best part is that it is completely free and can be installed on any device, meaning that your to-do list is always available. 

Create reminders, set multiple priorities for your tasks, and create different to-do lists for different projects. And if you are really forgetful, Todoist allows you to set a reminder for your tasks. 

2. Google Calendar

Best for: Those who easily forget appointments and deadlines or need to find more time for themselves

It’s easy to double or even triple-book ourselves — a bad habit that can lead to fatigue, or worse still, burnout.  The best way to avoid this is by having a calendar to keep track of your schedule. 

While you can use a traditional paper wall calendar, using a calendar app is easier and always with you. With a calendar app, you can invite others to events, which is especially useful in a world where virtual meetings are common. 

Among the various calendar apps available, Google Calendar stands out as the top choice. Not only is it free, but it also works seamlessly across all devices, is available on iOS and Android, and can be used individually or for group work.

Play store Download link

3. Notion

Best for: Those who want to organise their entire life in one app

Notion is one of those apps that can do it all. You can use it to take notes, track habits, and even manage tasks. 

While it is a true all-rounder, the app works best as a project management tool. What makes Notion so great is its ability to create templates for just about anything, ranging from simple checklists to massive projects with dozens of steps.

The app enables real-time collaboration, allowing teams to work together, leave comments, assign tasks, and set reminders. Plus, Notion lets you save web articles and PDFs, create to-do lists, scan physical documents, and even extract text from images.

And if you are a student, education plans are 100% free for university students and teachers who associate their accounts with their school email addresses.

As great as this app is, however, it can take some time to learn how to use it and its many features.

Thankfully, founder Thomas Frank created a free Notion Fundamentals course. In it, you’ll find thorough tutorials on all of Notion’s main features. You can also see how Thomas uses Notion for his own work on YouTube. 

There is no denying that Notion is one of the best productivity apps for students.

4. Evernote

Best for: Those who need to get to many notes ASAP all the time

Evernote has established itself as one of the most reliable productivity apps for students, standing the test of time. It is renowned for its exceptional note-taking capabilities and also serves as a useful tool for task planning.

As a free planner app, it allows effortless sharing of project files with others, making group assignment collaboration a breeze.  The app enables seamless sharing of project files, making it perfect for collaborating on group assignments. 

With Evernote at your side, you need not worry about losing your notes and you can access them fast.

Serving as a digital notebook, Evernote efficiently accommodates various media formats such as text, audio, video, PDFs, and images, effectively organising them using tags, colour codes, and other practical tools.

5. Grammarly

Best for: Those who don’t have time to edit their writing

Whether English is your native language or you are still learning it, we all struggle with grammar. This could be a problem if you need to write a lot — which then translates to even more time spent checking your spelling and grammar.

Don’t worry, Grammarly is here to help you. Grammarly is, without a doubt, the best tool for checking your grammar and spelling.

Once you install the Grammarly browser extension, it automatically identifies grammar and spelling errors in your written content.

You can even tweak it to sound casual, more academic or more professional.

6. Habitica

Best for: Those who need to break bad time-wasting habits

Habitica stands out from typical habit-tracking apps by transforming habit-building into an engaging role-playing game.

As you complete your habits, you can level up your character and earn new gear, making the whole process fun for students. 

You can join parties with other Habitica users to fight bosses together, providing extra motivation to stay on track, even when motivation is low.

Habitica’s gamified approach and in-game rewards for completing tasks, along with consequences for failing to do so, make it a highly effective free productivity and planner app.

You can create custom tasks for categories like habits, dailies, to-dos, and rewards, and as long as you complete your tasks, you’ll progress in the game.

7. Best anti-distraction app: Freedom

Best for: Those addicted to social media, checking emails and opening too many tabs

It is ironic that we have to use an app to stop us from opening other apps. The internet is a big and scary place. You blink, and you might miss something. 

As a result, we have all become addicted to checking our phones and constantly scrolling to get the latest news. 

However, this isn’t the best, especially when you have work and assignments to complete. Thankfully, Freedom is here to save the day. 

Freedom is a cross-platform app that blocks whatever you find distracting. You simply give Freedom a list of websites and apps to block, and the app will prevent you from accessing them until you turn them off.

You can schedule Freedom to block apps during certain times each day, which is perfect if you have set work or study hours. For serious focus, Freedom even has a “Locked Mode” that prevents you from disabling it until the timer is up.

It runs on every platform and can block distractions — both websites and apps — on all of your devices. That means you can’t, for example, block Twitter on your computer only to pick up your phone and look at it there. You’ll not find Twitter there.

It costs US$8.99 if you pay monthly or US$3.33 per month if you sign up for the whole year.

best productivity apps

With the best productivity apps, you can gain more time to pursue your hobbies. Source: AFP

8. Best read-later app: Pocket

Best for: Those who love to read

Being more productive doesn’t mean you cancel everything fun out of your life. It’s all about scheduling your time — there’s a time for your interests and there’s a time for work/study.

Pocket streamlines the process of saving articles through its browser extensions. Once saved, you can read articles offline without any distracting ads.

Opting for a Pocket Premium subscription grants you the added benefit of searching through your existing saved web pages.

The app is free to use, featuring excellent mobile versions that synchronise your articles and offer built-in support for highlighting and reviewing your highlights later.

With Pocket, you can curate and access articles with ease, making it a top choice for staying well-informed without distractions.

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