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Cover image for Top 3 Tools For Boosting Your Productivity

Top 3 Tools For Boosting Your Productivity

emmabostian profile image Emma Bostian ✨ ・5 min read

"How do you get so much done?" This is a question I receive several times a week. And up until today my answer was always the same: "I'm struggling to keep my head above water."

I have an absurd amount of commitments. Here are just a few of the things I'm actively engaged in:

And between all of this, I tried to find time to travel, spend time with family and friends, learn German, and relax.

Needless to say, I was a bit scatterbrained. Thus, I decided to get my sh*t together and get organized.

Here are my top three tools which helped me get my life together and get more done.

Note: I use a Mac book, so the apps I'm recommending may work differently (or not be available) across other operating systems.

Notion

Notion has always been a tool I admired, but was frankly terrified of using. While the interface seems minimalist and user-friendly, the app is extremely robust.

Thus, I finally watched a YouTube tutorial to develop an effective workflow.

Create A Workspace Architecture

The first step was to take a piece of paper and sketch out my ideal workspace. I broke it down into eight categories:

  • Long-term goals
  • Short-term goals
  • Upcoming week
  • Vacation plans
  • Logistics & information
  • Conferences
  • Notes
  • Blogs

Notion

Within each of these sections, I have a multitude of pages. For example, underneath my Conference section, I have a page which contains an overarching list of all conferences I'll speak at, and their logistics. I also have subsequent pages for each of the three conference talks I have to develop. This helps me chunk relevant information together.

List of conferences

To-Do Lists

I decided to use Notion for my to-do lists as well. At the top of my workspace, I created a color-coded legend for different side projects. This allows me to quickly search for specific tasks.

Notion todo list

Week-At-A-Glance

Although Notion isn't my main calendar app, it's nice to include a calendar view alongside my other tasks, just to remind me of any important commitments I have coming up.

Calendar

Notion also has a mobile app, so I can keep track of my to-dos and documents across all of my devices.

Mobile app

Pricing

You can use the free version of Notion, but I pay for the Personal Account. For $4 per month, I get a few more features to help me stay organized.

Notion pricing

Spark

I have an absurd amount of email addresses. Between getting married and starting several side projects, I actively use six email addresses (yes, I'm insane, I know.)

So it was important for me to find an email application which can combine all of my addresses, while filtering out all the crap I don't care about.

Enter Spark.

Spark is an amazing email application, and I won't be switching back to anything else.

Spark

I love how Spark groups my Personal emails from my Notifications, Newsletters, and Pins (although they do have the catch-all classic inbox style if you're into that kind of torture.)

There's also a mobile app, which you can download for free.

Mobile app

Features

  • Smart inbox, which chunks emails by topic
  • Smart search (which works incredibly)
  • Email snoozing
  • Email scheduling
  • Email signatures
  • Reminder follow-up

Pricing

I use the free edition of Spark,which gets me:

  • 5GB of storage
  • 2 active collaborators
  • 5 email templates 
  • Standard link sharing

You can also upgrade to Premium for $6.39 per active user (billed annually) or $7.99 billed monthly.

Spark pricing

Fantastical 2

I've tried many calendar apps, and for some reason I always have trouble syncing my multitude of calendars across them.

Due to the fact that I have six email addresses (and associated calendar meeting invites with all of them), I needed an app which could gracefully combine them all.

My co-worker, Kahlil Lechelt, was using Fantastical, and I was immediately drawn to the UI. It's a gorgeous and easy-to-use application that looks quite similar to Apple calendar.

Fantastical

They also include a light and dark theme.

Light theme

Fantastical makes it really easy to add new calendar events and meetings. You simply start typing, select the date and time, and you're good to go. You can even select which email address you want to associate this event with.

New event

Pricing

Admittedly, Fantastical is a bit pricey, but I've found it to be worth the money. It's €54.99 for a one-time purchase, and that allows you to download across multiple Mac books. You also have to pay $4.99 for the mobile app, which is a bit of a bummer if you've already paid for the desktop application.

Fantastical

Other Notable Productivity Tools

Grammarly

Grammarly is a great tool that helps you with your English grammar and spelling.

There is a free browser extension as well as a desktop application.

Grammarly's free version allows you to catch grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, but if you're looking for more robust features, the premium account offers many more including:

  • Inconsistent writing style
  • Unclear sentence structure
  • Overused words
  • Ineffective vocabulary
  • Hedging language
  • Impoliteness
  • Insensitive or non-inclusive language
  • Inappropriate tone or formality level
  • Plagiarism

You can choose to pay monthly at €26.87 or annually which totals €10.46 per month.

Grammarly

Lightshot Screenshot

I use Lightshot Screenshot for all of my screenshot needs. It allows me to take quick screenshots and annotate them in-context.

It works on Mac and Windows, and it's free!

Lightshot screenshot

Spectacle

Spectacle is great for moving and resizing windows on your computer. Not much else to say, except it's free!

Spectacle

TweetDeck

I recently discovered TweetDeck for scheduling tweets and siphoning out the noise of Twitter. It saves me a ton of time!
Tweet deck


What are your favorite productivity applications? Leave them down below!

Discussion

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Scott Simontis

I use Inkdrop for my MarkDown notes. If you set up a CouchDB instance, you have control over all of your data. I find it to be the most polished tool with sync capabilities.

I love org mode, but I don't know Emacs enough to stay productive with it. Something inevitably breaks and I realize I am spending more time messing around with Emacs than I am doing real work.

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Jesse Schwartz

I concur I have divorced myself from all proprietary note taking apps: Notion, Evernote, . . .

I use Markdown for notes and use Github private repos to back up. Then I can use Vim to my hearts content.

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Otto Vanluchene

Ticktick and Onedrive(Markdown files) here.
I also love markdown for notes.
Finished notes I export to PDF or word so Onedrive handles them better.
Onenote I use from time to time for quick notes or meeting notes.

I also use different apps at times but my rule is to always export finished notes and save them in onedrive. Notes in draft are written in the app of the moment :)

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Juneau Lim

Thanks for Freedcamp!
I'm using Basecamp for a job and wanted something like that for my own team, but it seems a bit overkill.

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Matthias 🤖

I use LanguageTool since it was recommended to me here. It also offers extension for Firefox, Chrome, Google Docs, MS Word, ... but is a bit cheaper compared to Grammarly.

It also has some easter eggs 😉:

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Adrian Mejia

Oh, I didn't know about this one. I was using Grammarly and Hemmingway. I'll check this one out!
Loved the easter eggs :)

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Madza

hahah, lol xdd
i wonder if the guys from grammarly have seen these xdd

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Evgeniy Alishevets

Notion is a great tool, but I was spending more time organizing my workspace rather than getting things done. It's a challenging tool for perfectionists 😅. I find Trello, TickTick (todo app) and Standard Notes enough for my workflow.

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securibee 🐝

I agree. For me managing notion is a job in itself. When I bought a year subscription I was very excited but I couldn't maintain it.

For now I use TickTick and still looking for a note app. I'll give Standard Notes a try.

I use Toggle to track my time.

Bookmarking is done by Pinboard, I've just started using this so don't have any tips.

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Evgeniy Alishevets

Standard Notes is good, but not the best note taking app. The reason I use it because notes are encrypted. I don't have any sensitive information, but I believe in online privacy and try to support people/companies/etc. who fight for it.

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Scott Simontis

I wish they would make it open-source, I feel like it would unlock so much potential. They have been talking about releasing a public API for many months and have it near the top of their roadmap, but won't say anything about it. It was fun for a minute, but I kept hitting walls and it is another Electron app eating my memory.

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Dennis Ploeger

I have now abandoned spark (and Airmail before), because of some missing mails and Spark's force to use mail threads (which I haaate)

But as I still do inbox zero I rely on fut.io for snoozing mail and landed in the arms of Mac Mail (and iOS mail respectively).

Never heard of notion, I may give it a try. Thanks, Emma.

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Juneau Lim

fut.io seems super interesting. I should try it out. Thanks for the recommendation!

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Dennis Ploeger

The good thing is, that it's completely client-agnostic.

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Juneau Lim

Right. When I saw it, I’m 😲.
”reply all” at the starting step(to get the options) was quite neat as well.

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Mike Ekkel

I've been wanting to get up and running with Notion as I've heard great things about it! Like you, I've found actually getting started a daunting task because there's so much you can do with it. So thank you for the tutorial and showing me your setup! Definitely maybe going to set it up now or later today (see, I really need it).

Do you use some sort of time tracking? Or is time boxing your calendar enough?

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Emma Bostian ✨ Author

I actually don't use any time tracking mechanism! I probably should... haha

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Xiaoru Li 🇨🇳🇩🇪

I use TopTracker to do all my time tracking. It's designed for freelancers but I mainly use it for tracking my studying hours.

Also WakaTime has a nifty VSCode extension for tracking time spent on different projects, or languages. Now I know I spend most of my time on markdown files in my note-taking Gatsby repo instead of real programming. 🤣

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Sascha Wolf 🌈

I really like Timing for time tracking on Mac. It tracks what apps you use and you can assign apps to certain activities.

As such you can then pretty much automatically track on what you spend time during the day. It's nice because it simply does it's thing in the background. Ofc only for digital activities.

They have a trial, so check it out! timingapp.com/

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Mike Ekkel

I'd love to hear suggestions for one because I definitely should be using one 😂

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Jason Pettett

Hey Mike,
I made an app specifically for timeboxing tasks/plans (especially if they repeat multiple times through a week). I’m not sure if that’s what you’re after, but I thought I’d mention it. Check it out at potentapps.com :)

I’m working on tonnes of new flexibility within the app (and some redesign work) so if it’s close to what you’re after, let me know what does/doesn’t work for you!

Jason

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Mike Ekkel

I'll check it out! Let you know what I think of it :). Thanks

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Stephan Meijer

I've used toggl for quite some time. Dead simple time tracking. And free plan available.

toggl.com/

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vicky209

I've been using Notion but it's just for personal use only. When it comes to team collaboration, I myself prefer Trello for Boards and Quire for infinite to-do lists. Quire is a relatively young team compared to Trello and Notion, but they have quite an impressive package of features.

Trello is good if you're a diehard fan of Kanban board but it's lack of a list option. I prefer Quire because they have the infinite list that you can add as many subtasks as you wish. Notion isn't very good for collaboration and tbh when it comes to a task management app, Notion is still very primitive compared to Quire.

As a designer myself, Quire impresses me with its minimalist interface. Everything looks clean and super intuitive. Kudos to their designer team!

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Nisa JThani

I started using Quire a few days ago and it's made a massive improvement in my productivity. Thank you so much for recommending it!

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Tashinga

I love Forest which is in the vain of the Pomodoro technique which helps in increasing productivity when working by doing it in short bursts and resting in between. Basically for every time you complete a cycle you get to plant a virtual tree and every time you cancel a cycle you have a dead tree in your virtual forest and I find that so motivating. It also (at least on Android) blocks you from closing or switching to another app while the cycle is on unless you cancel the cycle which kills a tree (well; a virtual one but you get the gist).

yes... It's quite a cruel app but it's motivational as well so yea...

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Rooftop Slushie

I was looking for this comment! Didn't know growing a pretty garden was so satisfying and it's also a great environment-friendly app :)

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Tashinga

Yeyyy, glad it helped you 😊😊😊. I should honestly try and use it more myself...

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diegopulero

I would love to know how did you achieve the Medium -> Instapaper -> Kindle automation. Does it work with the Medium mobile app? I've been trying to do this for a while now.

EDIT: I just found how :) , link:
david-smith.org/blog/2012/01/13/in...

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Kevin Pennekamp

Love your suggestions. My list is:

  • todoist for todos;
  • Evernote for long term notes;
  • Spark for email;
  • AI writer for writing;
  • Fantastical for the calendar.

For checking my writing, I also use grammerly, hemingwayappa.com and grammarlookup.com combined.

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Navid Mirzaie Milani

Nice list of recommendations Emma, tnx for sharing. My personal problem is trying to getting focused and stay focus. For tools i use kanbanflow.com (which has a implemented promodoro timer) Its is totally free.

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Michel Renaud

I also use Spark for e-mail on mobile, but Thunderbird on the desktop. I use Antidote for grammar checking since it supports both French and English, and it integrates with several applications including Thunderbird. I've also found it better than Grammarly.

I use OneNote for organizing notes.

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Juneau Lim

I can't go back to life without Notion & Grammarly & Spectacle.
I only have 4 active e-mail accounts and It's manageable with default mail & calendar app so far.

Even though I love Notion, I'm still daily using some extra apps as well.
Todoist for to-dos. I just have used for a too long time (maybe +5y?), and love the keyboard shortcut. So really didn't want to stop using it.
Clockify for time tracking. I don't like micro scheduling, so just wanted to check spent time with an actual result. Since Pomodoro technic didn't work for me, I also use it to bind myself ensuring minimum time spent.

I heard TweetDeck but haven't tried. I should check it out.
Basically, I prefer default apps/functions. But should come back to this post again when I feel needed.
Thanks for the recommendations!

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Areahints

i use wpeditor.md plugin for markdown in wordpress, I've gotten used to always typing in markdown (GitHub,Trello,Dev,reddit) and frankly felt slow when using WordPress to write.

Trello is still my number 1 baby, but I also recently configured wekan on my server so I can have a backup, pretty similar - a few bugs.

Grammarly free + Hemingway writer is what I use if i need my writing edited. I use quillbot to rearrange sentences that are considered hard to read and edubirdie for plagiarism checks.

pymato is a cli python pomodoro logger. Useful for me. I use bluemail for email.

Buffer for Instagram, Tweetdeck for Twitter, schedule for the week then forget.

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Rahul Chowdhury 🕶

Have you tried Todoist, Emma?

I have been using it for a long time and it's hands down the best to-do list app that I have ever used.

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Emma Bostian ✨ Author

I have been meaning to try it :)

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Rahul Chowdhury 🕶

You should give it a try. Let me know if you need my help with tips and tricks. 😁

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Olivier Chauvin

I guess if you like Todoist, you might also like Workflowy or Quire.

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Thomas Güttler

I like the n-days-later method 1. But unfortunately up to now I could not find a mail user agent who supports this.

Does anybody know a mail user agent where I can do +N. Which hides the mail for N days?

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John Halsey

I love Spectacle, use that all the time. Also, Alfred for mac is really handy.

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Luisa Rojas

Bear App

I absolutely recommend Bear for those of you looking for a notebook-like application in Markdown. It also uses tags to categorize your notes, which can be exported in a variety of formats. As a bonus, it has a very clean UI.

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darrie

I have been using Todoist for my personal task. Lately, I am trying to find a project management tool that can help my team and I improve our work productivity. Todoist is not suitable, I think it's more of a personal use app, and the other reason would be the price cost.

I found about Quire a while ago, it's a wonderful to do list app or project management software, whatever you want to call it. I love its clean and simple interface. Overall, Quire helps me put my personal tasks and work assignments together in one place.

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Carlos Saito

Love those tips. I was already using spark —Best mail client for Mac I've used ever— and had given a try to Notion after I've read this.

I am using notion now as digital replacement of "passion planner". Also for planning stuff that I want to share like a travel. I always felt I needed some tool like confluence but more "observablehq-esque" and for personal things. 👌

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Thabata Almeida

I didn't know Notion, I always tried to fit several apps into my daily life, to get organized, but it never worked out because the information was separate, which is boring, not productive.
But Notion is all I needed, thank you so much!

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Glenn Carremans

👋Emma,

Spark looks very cool, how does it handle multiple email accounts? I can't find any information about that on their website.
Does it show them all together or can view them separately (kinda what GMail does).

I also noticed that Spark has a build in Calendar, is it any good? As a free option.

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Emma Bostian ✨ Author

It puts them all in to the same inbox :) I like that though. I haven't used the calendar though!

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Nguyen Kim Son

I would add SimpleNote simplenote.com as noting app. Doing one job and doing it very well. For several years of heavy usage, I never encountered a bug. That might explain why Matt Mullenweg , Wordpress founder, has loved it so much :).

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Joelito

Thanks for the notion video, I’ve tried it so many times but it just doesn’t stick :( Do you have experience with it being clunky at times? I like Bear App because of the simplicity and how fast it is.

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Emma Bostian ✨ Author

No tools there, just authenticity!

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/*Sharkie*/

I'm still trying to figure out the best way to organize myself, and all the tools that work best for me. It's... an interesting struggle.

I haven't heard of a couple of these, so I'll have to give them a peek! Thanks for the great post.

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Olivier Chauvin

If you love using Markdown to take notes and track your tasks, you can consider using Quire. They have a very clean user interface and the workflow is very smooth. They have pretty much every feature that a small team needs for a task management software: Kanban board, task list (infinite nested task list), attachment, sorting and filtering.

My team uses Quire at work alongside with Github to track issues. They work like a charm together.

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dhanush 

I'd like to add OneNote to this list. I am using a windows laptop and an iPhone. I use sticky notes a lot on my laptop to take quick notes. It gets automatically synced with the OneNote app on my iPhone. You also get the other perks off using OneNote. For people using Windows and iOS, check out Microsoft apps. They are on par with Google services.

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Chris Raser

Wow! Thanks for posting this! I've been looking for a calendar I actually, y'know... like, so I'm definitely going to check out Fantastical. And I already love Spark on my phone, so that one was an easy sell, too.

I'm surprised that nobody here has yet mentioned TextExpander. It's an amazing snippet tool that can expand little keyboard sequences into bigger text blocks, control keys, etc. And it'll run shell scripts or JS & emit the output. For me, it's absolutely indispensable.

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GruSer

I recommend trying the iSmartLife app. I use this app to planning my goals, tasks, projects. This is a very simple and free web app. You can see the demo and decide whether it suits you or not...

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Maxime Gaston

Hi Emma,

I really agreed with your previous article about productivity and was curious about Notion since I wasn't satisfied with neither Google Keep nor Evernote.

After this article and the overview of Notion, I decided to give it a try and use it to organize all my ideas and personal projects.

Thank you for giving feedback and advices on this tool and on productivity in general. I'm looking forward to your next article

Maxime