15 Top Personal Productivity Apps that Will Boost Your Productivity Without Breaking the Bank

October 20, 2021    •   minute read

Productivity apps help you with your work and personal life. In other words, they help you effectively manage your time, stay organized, and maximize your productivity.

There are many different types of personal productivity apps on the market. Some apps have been around since the early 2000s. Others have come as recently as last year.

You need to know which are the best and learn how to use them well. This is what this guide is all about. It introduces you to the best apps that you can use to boost your productivity in the following areas:

  • sleeping well to prepare for the next day
  • reducing distractions
  • stopping procrastination
  • managing email effectively
  • handling messaging appropriately
  • staying focused during deep work
  • managing my time
  • managing my tasks efficiently
  • creating my work for my clients
  • marketing my services
  • being mindful and become less stressed both at work and in life.

The mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.

Confucius

Recommended: 190 Productivity Quotes to Get Things Done (and Live Better)

But before we get to that, let’s get the basics done right.

Introduction: Why Personal Productivity Matters?

There are many benefits to being more productive. 

The first and most important reason for personal productivity is that we need to be productive to make a living. We need to show up every day and deliver high-quality work for our employer, which is why we need to invest time in finding out how we can work more efficiently.

Personal productivity can help you avoid burnout by being efficient with your time and taking proper breaks. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked “workplace stress” as the third most common health problem reported by Americans. As many as 60% of employees report feeling stressed at work, and more than 50% of them say they are burned out. 

You can also become more creative and take on new challenges if you have the time for it, making you more valuable to your company or business in the long run. So, personal productivity is your competitive advantage in the marketplace because the more productive you are, the more likely you are to stay committed to your goals and be creative at work.

Productivity means spending less time on tasks that are not important or do not bring us any value. As a result, we will have more free time and resources to focus on the things that matter: relationships, family, hobbies, and other activities.

Why You Need Personal Productivity Apps

This section briefly explains three reasons why there is a need for personal productivity apps and their benefits on our work and lives.

Let’s dive in. 

Productivity Apps are tools

It would be best if you had tools to do gardening. Similarly, productivity apps help you get the job done. They can also provide a sense of accomplishment when we finish a task. Many of these apps help us stay organized, but some will make you more creative and productive in your work. They can help us save time and effort by automating some of our tasks with the click of a button. 

They help keep you on task, reduce distractions, and save time.

They fill your skill gaps

Getting organized, time management, getting focused, and email management are just a few skills. However good you are at these skills, there are always areas where you can use productivity apps to practice and improve them. 

Achieving a balanced workflow 

A balanced workflow is a key to optimal productivity. Tools are crucial for achieving that balance. We all know that multitasking is not good for productivity. And yet, we still do it every day. With the right tools, it would be easy to monotask and take proper breaks. In other words, productivity apps could help you explore the rock bottom of things, stay on top of your career, and disconnect when you need a break.

Disclaimer: Since I share my hours of research and writing on productivity and self-improvement with smart people like yourself, naturally, my content may contain affiliate links for products I use and love. If you take action (i.e., subscribe, make a purchase) after clicking one of these links, I’ll earn a small commission to let me create more helpful content like this.

Apps for better sleep and mindfulness

If you wonder why I begin this post with this section about sleep, here’s my principle:

If you want to be productive tomorrow, sleep well tonight. Click To Tweet

Sleep has a significant impact on both our behaviors and performance, according to sleep research in 2009. Research also found that sleep deprivation affects our decision-making.

These are the apps I use to understand sleep and sleep better.

1. Sleep Cycle

Sleep Cycle

I’ve used Sleep Cycle for more than four years now. The app tracks our sleep patterns and wakes us up during our light sleep, making waking up easier than our traditional alarm clocks.

The sound of its alarm clock is so gentle yet persistent enough to wake you up.

You can snooze Sleep Cycle just by raising the phone!

2. Calm app

Calm has an entire section for sleep. It contains sleep stories, music, and natural tunes, and soundtracks to help you fall asleep.

My favorite is Sam Smith: How Do You Sleep? (Sleep Mix):

Sleeping with kids? Calm has a section for that too.

Actually, the app is mainly for meditation.

It comes with meditation practices and training for occasions:

  • Gratitude
  • Calm
  • Sleep
  • anxiety
  • loving kindness
  • breath
  • Relaxation
  • Confidence
  • forgiveness
  • mental fitness
  • productivity at work

These are just a few categories you’ll get.

  • Radical self-compassion
  • Embracing stillness
  • Better sleep
  • Conscious parenting
  • Gratitude
  • Peak performance
  • Discovering happiness
  • Breaking bad haibts
  • Creative living beyond fear
  • Mindful eating
  • Rethinking depression
  • The power of rest
  • Social media and screen addiction

More and more get added to the app from time to time.

App for reducing distractions

Part of how you can become more productive depends on your ability to reduce distractions.

I use Freedom for this. And the Master Class section is just so valuable with training on these:

3. Freedom

The app blocks distractions when you want to be highly productive in writing, drawing, or any other creative work.

It completely blocks all websites and apps for the period you set. There’s (almost) no reset button, but you will have to wait until the time is over.

This leaves you no choice but to focus on what you have to do in front of you.

Freedom helped me break bad habits of distractions in the first place.

It works on both iPhone and computer. I use it more on my Mac book than on the phone.

App for focus and attention

Distractions and focus are not two sides of the same coin.

I find myself feeling anxious if I clear distractions without knowing what to focus on.

For focus, I use Brain.fm.

4. Brain.fm

Brain.fm helps me focus on my deep work, mostly writing and other types of work, too, if my thoughts are scattered.

You can use it to help you focus on anything, from website design to drawing and sketching.

The music does what it’s supposed to do.

App for email management

Email management is crucial if you are a freelancer.

You need instant access to emails when you need to. But you don’t want to get drowned in them, so an app that lets you take back control of how you process your email should be part of your productivity habit.

Microsoft Outlook and Gmail app fall short when it comes to taming your emails.

After playing around with about 50+ email apps, my choice came down to Spark. I’ve been using it for almost two years now.

5. “Spark – Email App by Readdle” for Inbox Zero

Spark email by readdle

Spark has an app for both iPhone and MacBook. And Android too. The Windows version will come soon too.

These are just my few favorites about the app.

  • It syncs everything. Even the email accounts and signatures syncs seamlessly on all your devices. Set it up on one of your devices and you’ll get it set up every where.
  • Send Again.” You can choose any email you have sent or those that you have received and send it again. It’s a great time saver. Have you ever loved an email newsletter you received and wanted to use it as a template? This feature is a killer for this!
  • A single swipe for two actions (mark as read and archived). If you’re an inbox zero freak like me and hate to see unread emails in your archive, you will love this feature. I found most email clients requires two or even more touches to do this trick.
  • Send email later. Have you ever wanted to have your email sent at a later time? This feature will come in handy.
  • Follow up reminder. Spark also lets us set a reminder to follow up on your email if you expect a reply.
  • It’s FREE! Other apps that give you all these email capabilities (or even fewer) would charge you a few bucks but Spark is completely free.

I’ve tried 50+ email apps. Outlook, Boomerang, Polymail, and Gmail are just a few of what I’ve used. And of all of them, Spark is the best.

App for task management

Task management is another crucial aspect of personal productivity.

If you don’t plan your day, you will end up feeling both anxious and procrastinating excessively.

Of course, if you’re a paper-and-pen type of person, go ahead and grab your pen and paper to plan your day every day. Remember to carry them around with you everywhere you go; otherwise, it won’t work.

But if you’re like me – a tech-savvy guy who carries around your phone everywhere, go for an app!

A sophisticated app (usually not free) can capture and process your tasks in any adaptive way to your need.

The catch, though is that you must be willing to learn how to use it.

6. Todoist: Organize It All

Todoist

I’ve been using this app for more than a month as of this writing.

It took me about a few days to learn how to use the app effectively, but it’s worth it. Here’s what I love about it:

  • The calm and clarity of my day capturing all my tasks into a sophisticated task management tool
  • Reminder of my productivity habits using the recurring task feature
  • Managing project using the Project feature
  • The ease of finding the right tasks for the right moment. The label and filter make it easy to find your cluster of tasks. When you go out shopping, for example, you can easily filter out all your shopping tasks you’ve been capture since your last shopping time.

Todoist is a great task management app that’s worth all the hours I spent learning it.

App for time management and tracking

I tended to spend too much time writing and reading. This usually left me little time for something else and caused me to feel unhappy and anxious for not completing all my daily tasks.

So, I use time management differently than most people.

Instead of using time management to manage my day with all the blocks of time for all my tasks, I use it to time myself to limit myself from spending too much time on writing and reading.

7. BeFocusedPro

BeFocusedPro is a Pomodoro app.

Befocused Pro

I use it to time my writing because I spend too much time in total and in one sitting.

The default session with 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes break is just perfect for me. I’m still struggling to take a break even now as I’m writing this post, but BeFocused Pro has been excellent time management for me.

And while I use it mostly to limit my writing time and learn to take a break during my deep work, you can use it to experience the full effect of the Pomodoro Technique.

8. Hubstaff

Hubstaff automates the process of time tracking so freelancers can finish their projects without worrying about forgetting what they worked on.

The app records the exact amount of time you spend on different tasks and the apps and websites you visited while working. You can set it to automatically stop tracking after being inactive for a certain amount of time, which means you don’t have to worry about tracking time even when you’re not working.

Hubstaff has apps for both desktop and mobile.

9. Toggl

Toggl makes time tracking free and easy.

There are free and paid plans. You might use the free plan if you only want basic utilities to track your time and generate a simple timesheet for your clients. It also comes with a Pomodoro timer – my favorite!

The paid plan lets you set your billable rates for different clients, create projects, and track your team hours.

Toggl works on both mobile and desktop.

Also read: 7 Best Time Scheduling Tools for Easy Appointment Booking.

Apps for creating

Productivity would be nothing without a meaningful creation that comes as a result. In other words, we must use our personal productivity to create something meaningful for our work and business.

Apps for creating vary depending on what type of work you do. If you are an author, the app could be Scrivenor.

A graphic designer would need Photoshop, but if you’re not one but want to do the work yourself, like me, Canva would be a great choice.

Microsoft 365 would be necessary for office employees.

Here are the apps I use for creating.

10. Microsoft 365

If you freelance with corporate clients, the chances are that you will need office applications by Microsoft.

In fact, Microsoft 365 is a must-have productivity suite for office work.

It comes with necessary tools for work productivity:

  • Office apps (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) that come with continuous updates
  • Reliable email hosting with up to 50GB of storage
  • Chat, call and meeting platform for team collaboration
  • 1TB of OneDrive storage!

Most of my business email accounts and my clients’ are hosted on Microsoft 365.

It is worth the investment as a serious freelancer.

11. Google Docs

Google Docs is a great personal productivity platform for online work and collaboration.

Its simplicity and light weight make it a fantastic tool. And the Personal plan is entirely free!

I’d use it when I need to collaborate on documents.

In fact, I use it a lot to work with my remote team of facilitators.

12. PDF Expert

PDF Expert

PDF Expert is one of the personal productivity apps by Readdle.

I use the app on both my iPhone and MacBook.

Here are just a few features I like about it:

  • Signing without printout. This is my best favorite feature as I often have to sign and send out documents for work and business. The signature I have created in the app is just perfect!
  • Annotations. The app has markers, pens and notes to make notes on PDF.
  • Speed. PDF Expert opens the fastest compared to other PDF apps I’ve used.
  • Password protection. You can create a password to protect a PDF file you create with the app.

This app is worth the money I paid for.

13. Scanner Pro (for iPhone)

I recommend Scanner Pro for freelancers. I think all freelancers should use it because we need to scan documents all the time.

Three reasons I love this app:

  • It replaced my need for a scanner device!
  • It’s even much more efficient because this app is a scanner in a pocket that I carry around everywhere.
  • My scanned documents sync on my OneDrive cloud so I can access them anywhere.

The app is a one-off purchase. I got it for 7 dollars and have used it for more than two years now.

Just a nifty scanner app for freelancers (and everyone)!

14. Canva to design anything!

Canva

I really can design anything with Canva now!

Most (if not all) of my designs were done using the app, from logos to quotes, name cards, flyers, and social media post images to reports, CV/resume, business proposals.

Yes, I’ve used it for all these and even more. 

These are what I like about it:

  • Brand kits that contain the fonts, colors and logos
  • 60+ millions stock images, photos, videos and graphics that let you design anything
  • You can do your design on your phone (although it would be easier and efficient to do it on its web app.
  • The 60,000+ templates are available for any kind of design you can think of.

Of course, if you’re willing to master the art of design, go ahead with Photoshop. And if you have a budget to hire a good designer, it would be ideal.

But if you want to ride with the 60,000+ templates to make your life easy, Canva will be a great option.

App for password management

Security

I have had to create some 200+ passwords since I got on the internet in 2002.

Using the same passwords for everything is not an option.

And I don’t want to store all the passwords in my head. Storing them all in a notebook as I did back in the old days isn’t secure.

An excellent option for me is to be able to…

  • store my passwords in a secure place
  • not have to remember most of my passwords

After long research and consideration of several password manager apps, my choice came down to two 1Password and Dashlane.

1Password didn’t have a free version, so I ended up trying Dashlane and using it as my permanent password manager since 2017.

15. Dashlane

Dashlane

The app is easy to use and makes my life online very secure.

My favorite features of Dashlane:

  • Great user interface. Adding passwords, changing them, autofills… these make it so easy for me to log in to all my websites that I use and create.
  • VPN. I use its VPN a lot for secure browsing when I use a public wifi. In fact, I use it a lot as I work mostly remotely.
  • Syncing seamlessly with all devices. I install the app on all my devices and they sync so compatibly with each other.

At the price of one Americano a month, Dashlane is an excellent investment.

Now over to you

That’s all for the personal productivity apps for freelancers.

Now I’d like to hear from you:

  • What apps from this post do you want to try out first?
  • What other apps did I miss?

Let me know by leaving a comment.

And check out my guide to iPhone configuration for productivity.

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