I’m a bit of a productivity nerd. There are very few apps, techniques, or strategies I haven’t tried in order to help me get to the bottom of my to-do list every single day.
Some have been transformative, while others have wasted more of my time than they’ve saved.
As a result, I have very strict criteria when it comes to allowing new productivity apps into my world. They need to be quick to learn, capable of growing with my business, and accessible across as many devices and platforms as possible.
Oh, and if they come with a price tag, a measurable return on that investment is absolutely essential.
As it stands, there are just four apps I rely on each day that I class as out-and-out productivity powerhouses. I have a feeling that at least one of them will help you, too.
It’s almost impossible to explain what Notion is, and while I’m sure that’s a headache for its marketing team, I think it’s one of Notion’s many strengths.
Notion can be pretty much anything you want it to be. As a result, it has spawned a generation of Notion experts who have spent countless hours creating templates for CRMs, content calendars, to-do lists, full-on GTD systems, and second brains.
Finding such templates is a great way to get started with Notion if you know exactly what you want to do with it and have limited time to start from scratch. But if you just want to explore the possibilities it might offer your business, side hustle, or personal knowledge management, you can grab the surprisingly generous free version and dive straight in.
I’ve been using Notion pretty much since day one of Mark Ellis Reviews. It’s where I craft and manage my content calendar, keep track of review units, and ensure the production process for every blog and video passes by smoothly.
The most impressive thing about Notion – and, indeed, the reason it benefits my business so much – is the way in which everything can be interlinked. For someone who invests a lot of time in content repurposing, this is a godsend and means I’ve quickly built a detailed spider web of content for Mark Ellis Reviews.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, yes, I’ll be launching my own Notion template next year (subscribe to my free newsletter if you don’t want to miss that announcement!).
If there’s one type of app with which I’ve constantly swung back and forth, it’s to-do list management.
I’m pretty sure I’ve tried them all. Omnifocus was the one that stuck for the longest time, but I soon tired of its lack of cross-platform compatibility and the constant nagging feeling that I wasn’t making the most of its incredibly deep feature set.
A brief flirtation with Things 3 followed before I finally bit the bullet and tried a to-do list app I’d always heard Marques Brownlee (of MKBHD fame) talk about – TickTick. This was mainly because I was desperate for Android – and, to a lesser extent, Windows – compatibility, but also because if Marques told me to eat yellow snow, I probably would.
As it turns out, TickTick really is superb. If I have one gripe, it’s that the user interface could do with a fettle, but any aesthetic grumbles are trumped by the perfect balance of functionality and approachability.
I don’t use TickTick’s admittedly fascinating Eisenhower Matrix, and I haven’t tried the built-in habit tracker, but I do benefit daily from its ability to categorise my tasks and make the process of shifting around my priorities as simple as it should be.
TickTick is going to stick – I know it.
3. Spark 3
I’ve already said quite a bit about Spark 3, so I won’t regurgitate all of that here, but I can confirm that it is the best email client I’ve ever used.
This is for many reasons. I love its user interface. I also love the ‘holding pen’ into which it places new senders and from which you can quickly ‘Accept’ or ‘Block’ those mailings.
It also doesn’t really act like an email client; Spark 3 is far more productivity-focused, which is why it makes the grade for this list. For instance, rather than archiving emails, you click a checkmark which effectively does the same thing, yet feels far more satisfying and, crucially, productive. You can also set emails ‘aside’ for future reference, and group senders you never want to miss into a ‘priority’ list (or by sender).
I’m the sort of person who would mark emails as unread to ensure I’d eventually follow them up. This is a stupid strategy that would occasionally result in – you guessed it – important emails never receiving a response from yours truly. Something needed to change.
Thanks to Spark 3, I now have a satisfyingly clean inbox and one that only contains actionable categories of senders that never get missed – read or unread. Most of this isn’t groundbreaking and many email clients offer similar functionality, but there’s something about the way Spark has approached this productivity-first mindset for email that is so utterly brilliant. It won’t be for everyone, but it really is for me.
Spark 3 also works across macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android, so my email really does follow me everywhere.
If you’ve read the pitch for Brain.fm and immediately dismissed it, I understand where you’re coming from – I did exactly the same thing when I first heard about it. Then, I tried it and discovered a productivity app quite unlike any other. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Brain.fm has transformed my ability to get quality work done in a shorter amount of time.
Brain.fm basically pipes music into your ears which is designed to lock you into a ‘deep work’ state. It also offers music for relaxation, meditation, and sleep, but it’s the focus music that has been so beneficial for me.
There’s real science behind Brain.fm. It uses a patented neuromodulation process to ‘elicit strong neural phase locking’ which helps your brain achieve the desired mental state, super-fast.
It works surprisingly quickly. The music Brain.fm plays doesn’t contain lyrics, isn’t recognisable in any way, and gently pulses away on long, expansive melodies and drones, thus becoming a gentle yet encouraging backtrack for your work.
As a writer, it’s a productivity tool I simply couldn’t live without these days. Give it a try!
I hope that at least one of the productivity tools above becomes an indispensable tool in your armoury.
If I removed just one of those apps from my devices, I’d struggle to function at the level I do each day – that’s how important they are. It’s why I’m not going to change them for love or money; I’m a great believer that once you find a productivity tool, app, or strategy that works, it’s best to stick with it.
However, I can guarantee you’re screaming at your screen as I type these last few words. I’ve not mentioned your favourite productivity app, have I? If that’s the case, get involved in the comments!
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