9 Productivity Apps to Streamline Your Day

Staying attuned to your workflow and on top of multiple tasks is key to making the most of your workday. While the classic to-do list can be efficient, some days easily trample traditional pen and paper, leaving it a scribbled mess with extra notes, changed priorities and (of course) new tasks. By 5 pm, that once-neat list looks more like a disaster than a method of organization.

Thankfully, tech swoops to the rescue with better ways to handle our workload. We tested nine productivity apps, measuring each one according to how well it kept us on task and focused on our goal of finishing strong. Here’s what we found.

Go From Dreading to Done

Go From Dreading to Done

Staying attuned to your workflow and on top of multiple tasks is key to making the most of your workday. While the classic to-do list can be efficient, some days easily trample traditional pen and paper, leaving it a scribbled mess with extra notes, changed priorities and (of course) new tasks. By 5 pm, that once-neat list looks more like a disaster than a method of organization.

Thankfully, tech swoops to the rescue with better ways to handle our workload. We tested nine productivity apps, measuring each one according to how well it kept us on task and focused on our goal of finishing strong. Here’s what we found.

Workflowy

Workflowy

Workflowy is a clean and easy notepad that helps you organize ideas, to-do lists and grand plans via your iPhone and a web browser screen. Simply add a note with a headline to the homepage and then start adding items using bullet lists. You can add nested items below each main to-do list item, which eliminates the confusion of adding notes in parentheses or as separate columns. After each item is complete, cross it out; the item itself will still be there in gray with strikethrough font, in case you need to remember what you wrote.

The main advantage of Workflowy is that it syncs up the browser and iPhone screens, and operates much like a digital version of your handy notepad. You can also add hashtags to notes on the app and organize via said hashtag. The design is so simple that it’s a bit boring at times, but it gets the job done — or rather, gives you an idea of how you’ll get today’s job done. You’ll also feel more secure with a login and password, which the app requires.

Bottom Line:

TinyScan Pro

TinyScan Pro

This app was built to do one thing: Help you scan and organize confidential documents.

It’s an excellent app to use when you need to print out a document, sign and send it back to a client. Simply open the app and photograph the document. TinyScan identifies which is actually text and what’s background noise. This makes scanning anywhere even easier because you don’t need a perfectly clean background to create a document.

If there are more documents — say, if it’s a long contract — click on the camera or landscape icon to add more docs. After that, you can upload to Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive or Box. Or email, print or open it directly into your computer (through a Wi-Fi connection), fax it or save to your phone’s camera roll.

TinyScan scans in any color and also allows you to protect your documents using a passcode. It default-saves every document as the date and time it was scanned and uploaded; you can change the name to whatever you want and save all those documents on the app, should you need them again.

This app is fantastically constructed, easy to navigate without too many swipe-through actions. TinyScan ideal for busy people who work in a variety of locations and are regularly dealing with contracts or other paper documents that need to be scanned and delivered.

Bottom Line:

  • Pros: Easily scans any document, easy to navigate, protects documents
  • Cons: N/A
  • Price: $4.99
  • Operating system: iOS
Eisenhower

Eisenhower

This simple app adds a strict focus on what you need to do and when, organized into four quadrants that form a single square. The quadrants read: 1. Do First, 2. Schedule, 3. Delegate, 4. Don’t Do.

In the first quadrant, you can add tasks that are “urgent and important.” You can then immediately click on “START 30 MIN” clock, which instructs you to “now do this and nothing else.” This technique fosters a hyper-focused, task-specific attitude helpful if you need a firm hand and restrictive time limit. When all tasks are complete, an “ALL DONE” badge appears on the screen. (You can even tweet about your accomplishment.)

If you really don’t want to do a task, or just don’t have time, you have the option to email it, presumably to an assistant or someone else who would do it for you. The tone of this canned e-mail — default subject line “Please take over” — is pretty aggressive, so make sure your assistant isn’t a sensitive person who would take it personally.

This is a useful app if you’re mostly just prioritizing daily tasks. For more long-term productivity and goals, the items on these lists could too easily become lost in the shuffle.

Bottom Line:

  • Pros: Prioritizes daily tasks that need to be handled immediately
  • Cons: Not functional for long-term projects or goals
  • Price: $2.99
  • Operating system: iOS
Clear

Clear

Clear is a color-coded productivity app that helps the busy person who thinks visually. Every list you create shows up in the main list space and you can easily separate and identify them with different headlines: “personal list,” “work list,” “kids list” or “grocery list,” for example.

The pulling and swiping actions of creating lists and sublists is incredibly intuitive and you can add an optional “reminder” to every item on the list. When you are finished with a certain item, you can X it out and return to the main screen. Each list on the main screen shows how many tasks are currently slated. Make sure you like swiping screens before downloading it though.

Bottom Line:

  • Pros: Color-coded organization, sub lists within lists
  • Cons: Lots of screen swiping required
  • Price: $3
  • Operating system: iOS
Due

Due

Due succeeds in its simplicity and standalone power. By default it’s not integrated into your smartphone’s calendar, which is perfect if you don’t want deadlines and daily habits to convolute your work schedule.

Due issues simple pop-up reminders on your phone for each of your daily tasks. It only issues reminders for events that occur on a five-minute bracket, so you can remind yourself that something is due at 3:35pm but not a time like 3:37pm.

While the iCal app can issue reminders too, the main advantage of using Due is that it keeps you focused on each individual task and its deadline. Due also has timers for other important reminders — power nap (set it to 20 mins), parking expiration (don’t get a ticket) or even something like a simple reminder to get up and move around. (That last one is actually pretty useful.)

Bottom Line:

  • Pros: Succinct with deadlines, keeps you focused on work tasks
  • Cons: N/A
  • Price: $9.99
  • Operating systems: iOS
Mindnode

Mindnode

Mindnode is a fun productivity app for the visually inclined. It’s best for mapping out big ideas, which is a different type of productivity.

Unlike the other apps, which are rife with buzzing alerts, incessant reminders and endless to-do lists, Mindnode gives you a chance to play around with a flowchart-y series of nodes that helps you lay out your weird thought processes. It’s a break from the constant need to feel productive, which could in turn actually make you more productive.

There’s an option to email the mindnode, or send it to another app, Dropbox, the camera roll or straight to a printer. I also like the option of sharing Mindnode documents to MyMindnode.com, which makes it easily viewable in any browser and gives each doc its own URL.

Bottom Line:

  • Pros: Fun design, innovative
  • Cons: Not for a daily to-do list
  • Price: $9.99
  • Operating system: iOS (iPhone & iPad)
30/30

30/30

The 30/30 app helps you break up your tasks and workflow into 30-minute chunks, which is great when you need to dedicate blocks of time to finishing a specific task from your list. Once the task is finished, swipe right and it will disappear. This app also gives you the option to share the list via email either with yourself or with an assistant.

Bottom Line:

  • Pros: Good for accomplishing quick tasks
  • Cons: N/A
  • Price: Free
  • Operating system: iOS
My Minutes

My Minutes

My Minutes is a great app for keeping track of how much time you want to allot to certain tasks, especially recurring ones. If you want to make sure you’re exercising for an hour everyday, for example, or returning emails for 20 minutes, this is the app for you. Simply enter your task and then select “at least” or “at most” next to a number of minutes or hours. Then decide if this should repeat everyday, select days of the week or just a single day per week.

The design is clunky and reminiscent of iPhone 3 but on the plus side this app is incredibly efficient.

Bottom Line:

  • Pros: Keeping track of time for daily tasks, goal-oriented
  • Cons: Clunky design
  • Price: $2.99
  • Operating system: iOS
Asana

Asana

The Asana app is all about virtual teamwork without the endless email threads, but it can sync to your inbox if that’s what you need.

Add new tasks that have been assigned to you, or that you’ve assigned to yourself on the homepage of the app. You can add also add comments or photos to each task. Every project on Asana is either categorized under “Personal Projects” or “Organizations & Workspaces,” which helps keep individual’s tasks and the team tasks separate.

Asana users can also sign in through a browser, syncing team and personal tasks on screens big and small. The most innovative element is the innate function to take people off email, thereby eliminating endless time-wasting email threads.

Bottom Line:

  • Pros: Good for remote team projects, eliminates never-ending email thread
  • Cons: N/A
  • Price: Free
  • Operating system: iOS , Android and Web app

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