This is a complete list of the best apps for increasing your productivity and underpinning your success.
I created it from real-world experience and an extensive trawl of all the productivity apps available at the moment. My recommendations are informed, logical and time-saving so you get more done.
So, if you want to:
- Learn about the different types of productivity apps;
- Understand what they can do;
- Get started with the best ones for you;
Then, you’ll love the information in this post.
Let’s get into it.
Contents – Best Productivity Apps of 2021
- The Essentials
- Other Apps for Specific Tasks
- Free Apps for Personal Use
- What is a productivity app?
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1. Essential Apps For Success
On setting up my business, I spent a lot of time investigating the most effective and reliable way of working.
As a result, I started out with many of the best productivity apps which save me huge amounts of time and continually underpin my success.
Keeping a list of things that need doing ensures you remain organised, clear headed and productive. Error free writing is essential and expected because its the 21st century and we all know there are apps for this.
If you’re in business in any way, bookkeeping and/ or accounting & getting terms & conditions signed by customers are of paramount importance. You simply must get this 100% correct from the start or spend hours (and hours!) unravelling a mess one day.
So, grab a nice drink, get comfy and settle in.
Basic Office Software
According to Wikipedia, “an office suite is a collection of productivity software usually containing at least a word processor, spreadsheet and a presentation program.“
According to me, it’s fundamental software any business requires to operate at a basic level in the modern age.
Nowadays, there are two main office software suites worth considering.
Google Workspace – Overall Best Office Software Suite
I strongly recommend Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) for any sole proprietor, small business, side hustle or serious passion project.
Fundamentally, it’s online office software but once you get up and running Workspace can be a whole lot more than that.
The whole platform operates in the cloud and is packed with useful apps that can be accessed on any device anywhere in the world. This also means your computer needs much less storage space because nothing is installed on it.
- Gmail – email
- Calendar – calendar
- Contacts – contact list
- Drive – cloud storage
- Docs – word processor
- Sheets – spreadsheets
- Meet – video calls
- Chat – instant messaging & team chat rooms
- Slides – presentations
- Keep – simple notes
- Forms – create surveys
The idea here is that everything required is included so you spend less time managing, and more time doing.
Docs and Sheets behave just like MS Word and Excel, which means there isn’t really a learning curve. Moreover, Google has ensured the user experience is super clean and intuitive. In fact, all the apps look and feel identical.
As a result, all Workspace apps are incredibly easy to pick up and use effectively. The lack of a learning curve means you feel at home very quickly and can focus on being successful.
Simple Intelligent Work
Google Workspace has been developed and put together very intelligently. The apps integrate seamlessly with each other (where relevant) which enables highly effective working.
For example, Google Docs (and Sheets, and Slides, etc) automatically saves to the account’s Google Drive – no manual saves or lost work anymore. Files can be edited even after they’ve been attached to an email in Gmail – again, any edit is saved automatically.
Another example is adding an email to your calendar as a task with the person’s details and location linked to your Contacts and Google Maps.
When in Gmail, it’s one click to view the day’s calendar (right-hand side), initiate a video call using Meet, or access your notes in Keep:
Google Docs include HTML heading tags which is great for blog post creation and SEO. They can also be shared and edited online with anyone you choose for easy collaboration, like many of the other apps.
I could go on, and on, because any new workflow or process you need is possible right out of the box. It’s like Google can read minds and has already thought what apps need to integrate with each other to enable success.
What’s more, there’s zero maintenance or downtime because all updates are carried out by Google without you ever knowing.
In short, everything just works perfectly together, all of the time, forever.
Google offers a 14-day free trial and then the following monthly plans:
The ‘Business Starter’ plan at $6 makes most sense unless you need more than 30GB of storage immediately.
For $12 per month the Business Standard’ plan offers 2TB of storage (per user) which should be plenty for most people.
All plans represents fantastic value because all the essential productivity software and cloud storage you’ll ever need is included.
Try Google Workspace on a free trial here:
Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) – The Familiar Alternative
The oldest and most widely used suite of office software is by Microsoft. Pretty much everyone has come into contact with Outlook and MS Word at some point in their working lives.
Much like Google Workspace, Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) comes with a bunch of productivity apps that cover everything you need.
- Excel – spreadsheets
- PowerPoint – presentations
- OneNote – note taking
- OneDrive – cloud storage
- Teams – video call software
OneDrive is Microsoft’s cloud storage service and is also included so you can safely store all your files in the cloud. It can sync with your computer automatically which is convenient and useful.
The apps work perfectly well most of the time but don’t integrate as seamlessly and easily as those within Google Workspace. This means there is much less opportunity for super efficient processes which can be frustrating.
Ever attached a word document to an email, then needed to edit it? You have to remove said file, open and edit, then re-attach it. Do this a few times and it begins to get on your nerves. Such antiquated mechanics within Office 365 don’t waste that much time, obviously; but, they do irritate after a while and that negatively affects your productivity.
Whilst, there’s nothing specifically wrong with Office 365, there’s also nothing spectacular about it either. It’s familiar at the end of the day.
You can try Microsoft 365 on a 30 day free trial here:
Grammarly – Best Grammar Checker App
Grammarly provides detailed writing assistance in real-time and is the best grammar checking tool on the market. It can be installed on a computer, smartphone, integrated into MS Word or Google Docs, and as a browser extension for Google Chrome.
- Spelling errors and grammar checking
- Desktop or mobile app
I’ve used Grammarly for a few years and honestly don’t think I could live without it now.
It has state-of-the-art machine and deep learning algorithms which mean it’s the most powerful grammar checking AI around. Add to that it’s effortless installation and super clean user experience and its obvious why it’s the market leader.
- Acutely intelligent one-click corrections
- Powerful plagiarism checker
- Easy install & seamless integration
- Highly intuitive user experience
- Tone suggestions can be useful
- Mobile app for checking on the go
And, that’s not the best bit!
Not only can you try Grammarly out with their free plan, the premium plan only costs a few cups of coffee per month.
Premium Version Features:
- Sentence structure & clarity rewrites
- Tone adjustments
- Plagiarism detection (against 16 billion online pages)
- Word choice
- Formality level
- Additional advanced feedback
The Premium plan includes everything most of us will ever need – try it out for free, here:
Todoist – Best To Do List App
In their own words, you can ‘Organize it all with Todoist’ by ‘getting all those tasks out of your head and onto your to-do list.’ It works on any desktop or mobile device and is highly rated on Google Play and the App Store.
The most useful feature, in my opinion, is ‘nested lists’ which allow you to break down your tasks into custom categories and sub-categories. This means you can group and structure all your activities and priorities whilst maintaining a high-level view of everything at all times.
Over 1 million people rely on Todoist Premium which includes even better features like:
- Automatic backups
- File uploads
- Calendar integration
- Productivity visualisations
Ultimately, Todoist gives you the confidence that everything’s organized and accounted for, so you can make progress on the most important things.
NOTE – if you use Gmail (with or without Google Workspace) there is a Todoist for Chrome extension which turns messages into tasks. This is an awesome little tool!
The Premium plan for $4 per month ($3 if billed annually) is fantastic value and has everything the majority of to-do lists will ever require.
Better still, you can Todoist for free here:
QuickBooks – Best Bookkeeping & Accounting Software
The QuickBooks online accounting platform caters for 2.2 million users. In short, its a brilliantly well-rounded platform that anyone can pick up and use effectively.
The main reason behind this is simple: QuickBooks listens to customers intently and develops its product accordingly.
The result is top cloud based accounting software that’s specifically designed for different business types, including:
- Professional Services
- Manufacturing & Wholesale
Moreover, QuickBooks offers a full suite of accounting features and functions for sole proprietors, small businesses and mid-size organisations.
Additionally, they now offer ‘live bookkeeping’ which is exactly as the name suggests. Basically, you can hire a QuickBooks-certified virtual expert to set up & maintain your books with guaranteed accuracy!
The real jewel in the crown, however, is their exceptional customer service which is critical to any business’s success, especially when starting out.
Simply put, QuickBooks customer support is fantastic in so much as they’re dedicated, genuine and the best in the industry by a long way. But, don’t just take my word for it…
The best plan for getting started is ‘Simple Start’ because it provides all the basic tools required for bookkeeping. When you’re ready it’s a few clicks to upgrade to more powerful packages and functionality.
QuickBooks offer a 30 day free trial with the following pricing options:
- Simple Start – $25 per month
- Plus – $70 per month
- Advanced – $150 per month
Or, you can get 50% off with an initial purchase of 3 months:
Pricing in the UK:
QuickBooks integrates beautifully with HMRC – at this price point, there is no better cloud accounting software in the UK.
Streamline your workflow, save valuable time and make more money – get a free trial here:
Adobe Acrobat – Best Document E-sign App
Whilst we’re living in the paperless era there is a still a need to get documents signed. Enter e-signatures and more specifically Adobe Sign functionality which powers the best document e-sign app at the moment.
Adobe have a knack of over-complicating their product names, especially with e-signatures. It used to be called Adobe Echo Sign, then Adobe Sign (the best name to date!), and now a combination of Adobe Acrobat ‘with e-sign‘ products.
I’ll simplify it for you… the entry level ‘Acrobat PDF Pack with e-sign’ is the most solid and best productivity app to get PDFs signed.
Acrobat PDF Pack Features:
- Sign PDFs and documents
- Email documents for signing
- Get automatic e-signature notifications and reminders
- Create PDFs and export to Word, Excel or PowerPoint
- View, share, comment on, and track PDFs for review
- Use e-sign and PDF tools in Google Drive & Microsoft 365
Acrobat PDF Pack is everything most sole proprietors, side hustlers and small businesses need.
For more demanding business tasks ‘Adobe Acrobat Pro DC with e-sign’ offers more powerful features.
Acrobat Pro DC Features:
- All ‘PDF Pack with e-sign’ features
- Includes Acrobat Pro DC desktop software
- Edit text and images in PDFs on your desktop or mobile device
- Protect PDFs with passwords
- Collect e-signatures from your websites
- Collect credit card or PayPal payments from customers on forms
- Add customized branding to e-sign requests
- Vary recipient roles on e-sign forms
- Advanced e-sign forms with attachments, links & calculated fields
Feature breakdown across all three Adobe e-sign plans:
Yes. E-signatures in Acrobat, powered by Adobe Sign, meet or exceed stringent security and legal compliance standards. E-signatures are legally binding in most nations.
Pricing is very competitive and there is a 7-day free trial available.
At $9.99 (£10.50 in UK) the Acrobat PDF Pack is great value because it offers only what you need to get documents signed.
I use this product to get my business terms & conditions signed by new clients – its secure, reliable and very convenient.
If you’re not sure what product you need, start with the Adobe PDF Pack and upgrade if or when required.
2. Other Apps for Specific Tasks
In addition to the essentials, it’s possible you might need more niche software to do something specific.
Evernote – Best Note Taking App
Taking notes is a part of working life in many professions and other projects. In fact, the vast majority of us need to record thoughts, concepts, ideas and other information in whatever we’re doing.
Nowadays, there are productivity apps to create, organise and instantly retrieve our notes that go way beyond a pen and paper.
Evernote is used by 225 million people to store their most important thoughts and ideas.
According to them, “More than notes, Evernote is where you can store everything from personal moments to business projects, and know they’re always safe, always secure, and ready whenever you need them.“
Aside of creating and keeping your notes organized, it’s also possible to: Add text images, audio, scans, PDFs, and documents to them.
Furthermore, you can also save web pages (minus the ads 😉 and mark them up with arrows, highlights, and text where required.
Consequently, this means any type of digital information can be captured, stored and retrieved in a super convenient way. In short, there are endless ways to use Evernote and all of them increase productivity.
Evernote offers a free plan for basic note taking which will be enough for some.
However, most of us probably need the ‘Premium’ plan which costs $7.99 (£4.99) per month.
If you’re unsure, go with the free plan then upgrade when/ if required.
Zoom – Best Video Call App
Communicating by video call has become the norm in recent times, especially during the Covid pandemic.
Zoom is, by far, the most reliable video call app I ever used which makes an easy alternative to calling on a mobile phone.
What’s more, people who use Zoom report report up to a 95% increase in performance, trust, and engagement. In short, it is a highly useful app that increases productivity and underpins more success.
Most of us have heard of Zoom video calls, but there are a couple of other very useful video conferencing products available:
- Meetings & Chat – Free/ $14.99 per month
- Rooms & Workspaces – from $49 per month
- Video Webinars – from $40 per month
I’ve used Zoom Rooms, alongside Zoom Meetings, and it’s a fantastic user experience for all involved. At $49 per month it’s represents great value.
Get started with Zoom here:
Slack – Best Team Chat App
A chat app is crucial if you need to communicate with someone, or a group of people, in real-time. In other words, when using email becomes a chore.
Slack seemed to appear out of nowhere and is now the most popular team chat app in the world with 10+ million active users per day.
This is because it’s a truly fantastic productivity app that is all about enabling effective teamwork. Simple, robust and super user friendly.
With Slack, you have digital conversations within ‘channels’ which can be set up for any topic, project or whatever purpose you chose.
What’s more, it’s possible to send private messages, make calls, share files and even connect with other apps.
Give Slack a try, here:
Zapier – Best App Integration Software
Countless apps have official integrations with each other and many on this list do as well. But, when apps don’t have these you need software like Zapier to optimise your workflow and maximise productivity.
Zapier enables anyone to connect apps to automate repetitive tasks, so you can focus on other work – something, they call a ‘Zap’. It is super simple and intuitive to use, and requires no coding or technical knowledge whatsoever.
As a result, it’s possible to create simple one-to-one automations or multi-app workflows within minutes. The user experience is clean, robust and feels trustworthy which is important when your workflow relies on it.
What’s more, Zapier works with 3000+ applications including Google Workspace, Todoist, QuickBooks, Zoom, Evernote, and Slack (i.e. my productivity system!).
And top it all off, the real jewel in the crown is Zapier customer support which is authentic, responsive and highly effective.
With the Free plan you get 5 automations (or ‘Zaps’) which is a good way to try out the service, and might be enough for some.
After that, simply upgrade to the plan that best suits your needs. To me, the ‘Starter’ plan represents the best value because it comes with 20 Zaps which should be enough for most smaller businesses to get real value from Zapier.
If automation is on your agenda you should definitely try Zapier out:
Notion – Best Work Management App
In short, Notion blends much of your workflow into an all-in-one workspace. Don’t think ‘office software suites’ like Google Workspace, it’s more than that; think of an online workshop that brings all the corners of your company together in one place.
In their words, “ Want a task list? A product roadmap? A design repository? They are now all in one place. You can even customize your own workspace from dozens of LEGO-style building blocks. “
Use Notion to customise any project and task workflow using Kanban boards, tables, and lists. What’s more, it’s possible to add any type of content to notes and form your systems to stay totally organised and optimally productive.
You can even create your own business ‘wiki’ which, in essence, enables you to create your own repository of company knowledge. In other words, you take tribal know-how and turn it into easy-to-find information and answers.
Aside of all this, is the user experience.
Notion has only been around few years and you can tell. It is a super modern, clean and highly robust platform that presents state of the art interfaces for near-instant adoption.
In summary, if you’re serious about growing your business and need an app to connect all the various dots and team members, this is it.
Individuals can use Notion for free or pay $5 if you have lots of files to upload and/ or need more than 5 guests.
Otherwise, it’s a business plan that incorporates more advanced features like a collaboration workspace within the platform and so on. Plans are a very reasonable $10 per month per team member, which is also extremely good value.
You can try Notion out for yourself, here:
Zoho Projects – Best Project Management App
Zoho Projects is cloud-based project management software that helps you plan projects, track work efficiently, and collaborate with others wherever they are. It’s aimed at all businesses but lends itself to small to mid size companies in reality.
Use Gantt charts to build project plans and track task schedules. Moreover, Zoho Projects keeps you aware of your critical tasks and their dependencies, and immediately shows any deviations between your planned and actual progress.
What’s more, it’s possible to automate your task processes, visualize and design project streams, and customise Zoho Projects to suit your specific needs.
And, the best bit… the user interface.
It’s easy to find your way around the product with little to no learning curve. Moreover, views are more colourful than ever to make the user experience as pleasant and productive as possible.
Zoho Projects provides a 10-Day free trial and beyond that tiered plans based on number of projects, storage and scaling features.
You can try it out for yourself, here:
LastPass – Best Password Manager App
Many people use the same password for all of their various ‘protected’ accounts, but this is very risky. If one gets hacked, they all do. Also, if the password is too simple like a birthday or family name of some kind, it’s easier to guess.
Secure passwords are long, and unique collections of random keyboard characters.
But, how do you remember and use lots of these secure passwords?
25.6 million people trust LastPass to manage all of their passwords. The way it works is really simple. You remember a ‘master’ password and LastPass remembers all the others for you.
I use the Google Chrome extension so that any login screen I go to is automatically completed by LastPass.
LastPass also comes with a password generator and a bunch of other premium features if you choose.
The free plan is decent enough, but the premium plan provides full peace of mind with alerts on older passwords that should be altered (with a couple of clicks).
- Free – $0 with access on all devices (including mobile)
- Premium – $3 per month (includes LastPass for applications)
There is a 30 day free trial for Premium which you can try here:
Backblaze – Best Cloud Backup App
Cloud backup is technically the same thing as cloud storage (more or less), but for our purposes it has a different use case.
Backblaze is a ‘set and forget’ backup solution that replicates all your files in the cloud. So, ideally you’ll have a cloud storage app like Google Drive that syncs with your computer and Backblaze backing the same files up automatically. I’d also recommend taking a ‘cold’ backup every month to a USB drive or external hard drive.
There’s no limit to the number, size, or type of files it will back up. If you ever need to access a file, you can download it from Backblaze for free.
The cost of Backblaze is super simple:
- Premium – $6 per month ($60 per year) with unlimited data
There is a 15 day free trial which you can try here:
3. Free Productivity Apps for Personal Use
If you’re not seeking out these types of apps for a business project or side hustle, you might not want to pay for them.
This is a growing list of the basics which can be used for free.
Gmail – Email App
As of October 2019, Gmail had 1.5 billion active users worldwide. It’s owned and operated by Google who, like all of their apps, have ensured it is the most user friendly interface of any email application.
This is important because anyone can pick it up in minutes and instantly feel in control of their inbox. Emails can be grouped under user created labels, and structured more deeply with sub-levels into a digital filing system. Another brilliant option is being able to split your inbox into sections, such as ‘Important’ and ‘Everything Else’ for example.
But, the beauty of Gmail compared to other email apps, like Outlook, is that it is web-based. In other words, you access it through a web browser (like all Google apps) or mobile app and all data is stored in the cloud. Moreover, you can access your inbox on any device anywhere in the world.
Better still, Gmail is free and comes with 15GB of cloud storage (Google Drive) and a whole bunch of other productivity apps. But, more on that is coming up shortly.
Google Calendar – Calendar App
Alongside your email account keeping a calendar is critical for being productive and effective on a daily basis. Whilst email is the centre point of your communication actions, your calendar keeps track of where you need to be and any meetings (digital included).
Good calendars need to be versatile for different ways of working yet highly useable at the same time. Being able to customise the view and how reminders show is important to enable an effective user experience for specific needs.
Also, your calendar has to be accessible and work seamlessly across all device types.
Google Calendar – Best for Work and Home
There are many calendar apps on the market, but Google Calendar is still the best because it’s super clean, easy to use and integrates with your Gmail account. Like Gmail it is web-based so you can access it on any device anywhere in the world.
Everything within your calendar is stored in the cloud so you never have to worry about a lost or damaged device. Simply, login on any device with an internet connection to access your calendar.
It works across all devices and synchronises in near real-time (update on your mobile shows on a different device in a few seconds). What’s more, it has an exceptional user interface (especially on mobile), multiple calendars, colour coded events for quick insights, and it’s free.
Set up a Google account to try Google Calendar:
Google Drive – Cloud Storage App
Computers and software use, create and store data constantly. The traditional method of storing data was on the computer hard drive. But this all changed when the internet came along.
Nowadays, it’s possible to store data in the ‘cloud’ which means, at a basic level, that it is kept remotely (i.e. not on the computer in question).
One advantage of doing this is that it is deemed safer and more secure from physical damage or loss. You access the data via your computer; it is not actually stored on there so if said system crashes or is stolen, no data goes with it.
The biggest advantage in my opinion is for workflow. Your files are accessible across all device types from anywhere in the world. What’s more, the best cloud storage services actually sync your with your computer files automatically.
Google Drive – Best Cloud Storage & File Sync
There are lots of cloud sync apps available, all offering more or less the same features but one of them is the stand out winner. Yep, you guessed it, Google Drive is the best cloud storage service and for two specific reasons.
The first is it offers 15GB of storage for free which is more than any other provider and plenty for personal and some business use.
Secondly, it comes with Google’s backup and sync function which automates file uploads from your computer and vice versa. Add a simple backup strategy (i.e. take a ‘cold’ copy of your files on a flash drive or external hard drive for example) and you’re data should always be safe.
If you need more space for your files, simply upgrade to Google One which is around $100 per year (about £80) for 2TB of cloud storage.
4. What is a productivity app?
It’s easy to overcomplicate this, so I’m not going to.
A productivity app is any piece of software that means you get more work done in less time.
The best productivity apps make your job easier and more enjoyable and ultimately underpin even more success.
I have a young family, busy career wife and a business to run. My to do list is ‘interesting’ and my calendar even more so. Not only do I stay on top of everything with the best productivity apps, I prosper and exceed even my own (very demanding) expectations.
They’ve enabled more out of life, both home and work, as well as give me a sense of control on all things.
But, this is just my experience – how might they help you?