A Guide to the Top 15 Types of Productivity Tools
Productivity can be an elusive force; one moment, it’s on your side, helping you dig through the mountain of daily tasks threatening to overwhelm you, and yet the next, it’s replaced by the dreaded procrastination.
So what’s the deal?
To get productivity on your side, you need a system for staying focused, staving off distractions, and sorting tasks and projects by priority level.
What you need is an arsenal of tools that takes care of the heavy lifting, leaving you to focus all your energy on the task at hand.
Why use productivity tools?
Productivity is the fuel that keeps us moving forward so we can hit our goals and make progress.
If we’re not moving forward, we can stagnate and risk undoing any progress we’ve made. Productivity is essential for living a meaningful life with purpose and passion.
To meet the standards we set for ourselves, we should work smarter, not harder. Systems and shortcuts can help us quickly access a more productive mindset.
Tools can provide you with everything you need to get started, maintain productivity, and measure progress.
Let’s take a look at how productivity tools can help on both a personal and professional level:
On a personal level
Firing up the engine and getting started can be one of the biggest challenges you face in your personal life.
You’re tired from work and other obligations, and you have to contend with a million and one distractions fighting for your attention. Mustering up the energy to tackle your to-do list is often the last thing on your mind.
Productivity tools aren’t magic pills you can pop to feel more motivated. But they can provide you with an easy route to a more productive mindset. And that will help you tackle a few personal tasks a day without risking burnout.
On a professional level
In most companies, productivity is the ultimate goal. Productivity means getting more done, which drives up profits and, in theory, keeps everyone happy.
Yet there’s a balance to be struck.
Push your workforce too hard, and the business will ultimately suffer. Ignore productivity, and the business is doomed to low output and unsteady footing.
That’s where productivity tools come in handy.
With the right productivity apps tailor-made for the workplace, you can get the most out of your employees and also make it easier for everyone to stay on the same page.
1. Organization systems
Organization systems are the backbone of any productive person’s efforts to get the most out of every day.
The evidence is clear: clutter — whether physical or digital — can be detrimental to productivity, and any form of distraction can be incredibly difficult to recover from.
Stack is a spatial browser that can bring you that elusive quiet time even when you enter the online world.
As well as ridding you of that which constantly fights for your attention, Stack also groups your apps in one easy-to-access place. As such, you can more easily access flow state even while connected to the internet — a notoriously difficult feat to pull off.
Here are Stack’s standout features:
- Focus mode disables notifications for distraction-free internet use.
- Spaces groups project-based or similar apps, so you can better maintain a healthy work/life balance online.
- Switch lets you easily snap between tasks to maintain razor-sharp focus and multi-task the right way.
2. Project management software
Project management software is one of the most valuable tools for systemizing productivity.
The 2020 PMI Pulse of the Profession report revealed that organizations that undervalue project management report around 67% more of their projects failing outright, which speaks volumes about how necessary these tools are.
Project management software brings order to the tasks and projects that clutter your life and float around in your mind fighting for your attention. It’s a great relief and a necessity if you want to bring order to the chaos.
Trello is a project management tool with a minimalist solution to the productivity problem: a Kanban system that lets you see the progress you’re making on tasks, and separates them into contexts that make sense to you.
Here are Trello’s standout features:
- Visually appealing Kanban boards for clear workflows
- Customizable cards that allow you to add due dates, descriptions, and important notes
- Simple drag-and-drop functionality facilitating ease of use
3. Time Trackers
If one of the most valuable metrics for measuring productivity is time spent, shouldn’t we use a system for tracking our time?
43% of hourly workers admit to committing time theft at work; a shocking statistic that reveals how much time is squandered during work hours. The same undoubtedly applies to personal productivity efforts.
While some prefer to track productivity as a result of tasks completed or projects done and dusted, this can be an unreliable metric, as it assumes that each task and project holds the same value.
The truth is, 10 minutes spent filing your taxes isn’t the same as two hours invested in a course that’ll put you on track to reach your professional or personal goals.
As such, a time management tool can be a valuable investment in yourself.
Example: Toggl Track
If you feel like time is slipping through your fingers, Toggl Track is a browser extension time tracker that could represent a big leap forward in the effort to take back control.
Here are Toggl Track’s standout features:
- Unlimited time tracking, projects, and clients so you can manage company time effectively.
- 100+ integrations with a wide range of software tools so you can add time-tracking to your current setup.
- Exportable, detailed reports which provide you with a breakdown of how you’ve spent your time so you can measure productivity with precision.
4. Collaboration tools
A collaboration tool for teams can make it a lot easier for colleagues to be productive on a collective project.
These tools can aid the transition to remote work, as 56% of employees say that how they collaborated and communicated changed when they started working remotely. Communication tools can help promote cohesion regardless of distance.
Whether it’s direct communication in the form of video calls and instant chat or indirect communication such as labels or notes on tasks, collaboration tools facilitate discussion and make it simple for several people to work together on a project.
Slack allows users to interact with one another using a multi-channel system, greatly simplifying communication and providing context for each interaction.
Here are some of the features that make Slack a top collaboration tool:
- Channels create central spaces to set up conversations with various people and teams.
- Huddles provide ad-hoc audio calls that anyone can join in on and add their input.
- Send video clips or direct messages, and communicate in a way that makes the most sense for you and your coworkers.
5. To-do list apps
Just 11% of people have the confidence that they never miss or forget tasks they have due, and 20% say they ‘regularly’ miss tasks. As such, implementing a to-do list system is vital for keeping up with your workload — personal or professional.
It’s an excellent way to prioritize your time and focus on big leaps rather than baby steps.
Todoist takes the to-do list and transforms it into a fully-fledged productivity powerhouse.
Here are Todoist’s standout features:
- Color-code tasks and projects according to categories you define.
- Add due dates so you never forget a deadline, or use recurring due dates for repeated tasks.
- Use priority levels, labels, and notes to provide a clear idea of what needs to be done and when.
6. Workflow automation tools
Workflow automation is about leaning on AI to free up time and resources you can spend elsewhere. We’ve all experienced it before: a backlog of emails to send out, a mounting workload of repetitive tasks, or mind-numbing data entry threatening to eat into our precious time.
Automating workflows that require no creative input but take up way too much of your time. In the long run, using automation tools can save you or your business money and give you your valuable time back.
Zapier integrates with most software solutions, allowing you to automate core workflows that set you back countless minutes and hours every day.
Here are Zapier’s standout features:
- Automate workflows across 4,000+ apps.
- Use customized if/then logic for your workflows.
- Format data in the way that works best for you.
7. Focus music
The concept of music that helps you focus might be hard to wrap your head around at first, but there are plenty of apps out there championing this genre of audio.
Whether it’s one of the many Lo-fi playlists that accumulate millions of views on YouTube or apps that allow you to listen to nature-themed soundscapes or binaural beats, it may be possible to hack your brain for productivity.
Brain.fm uses patented technology to encourage ‘strong neural phase locking,’ or in simpler terms, provides sounds that help the brain focus on a single task.
Here are brain.fm’s standout features:
- Science-based beats for when you want to: ‘focus,’ ‘sleep,’ ‘relax,’ or ‘meditate’
- Natural soundscapes that last 30, 60, or 90 minutes, or go on in a continuous loop
- Various music genres including ‘post rock,’ ‘electronic,’ and ‘classical’
8. Mindfulness apps
While sitting still and doing nothing may seem counterintuitive, if your goal is increased productivity, it might be the missing ingredient you need to get more done.
There are studies to suggest mindfulness improves focus, but more than anything, it’s a useful tool for a full reset and a return to a relaxed state.
Stress can become a poison that strangles your efforts to be productive and becomes a heavy burden. Likewise, a lack of sleep can undermine your attempts to build momentum.
Headspace is a mindfulness app — and now a Netflix series — that provides guided meditations to help you sleep, focus, and relax.
Here are Headspace’s standout features:
- A large library of courses and single meditation sessions
- Progress-tracking system
- Mindfulness videos for different purposes
9. File sharing
If you work in a team, efficiency is key.
Sending back-and-forth emails with files is overly time-consuming, and cuts into time that could be spent productively. Document sharing using tools like Google Drive is important for effective collaboration — they allow real-time editing and commenting so you can integrate colleagues’ feedback instantly.
Being able to drop files into a cloud-based system enables straightforward task management while working in a remote team dynamic.
Dropbox is one of many cloud services that lets users upload and share files in a single interface for streamlined team productivity.
Here are Dropbox’s standout features:
- Secure cloud-based file storage
- Share files of any size
- Track file updates
10. Social media management software
A social media management tool can help business owners cut back on the time spent overseeing endless social media posts. The right tool can help you schedule the posts you publish and automate the process, freeing up time to think about other important aspects of the business.
The same applies to personal productivity: if you spend a lot of time posting on social media, a manager could help you do things faster so social media doesn’t become a time sink.
Hootsuite allows you to take control of your SMS messages, social media, WhatsApp, Live chat, and apps and manage your output from a single place.
Here are Hootsuite’s standout features:
- Schedule social media posts
- Access image assets in the interface to use in posts
- Track social media engagement and trends
- Monitor brand mentions on all major social channels
11. Note taking
Note-taking apps are useful for getting your thoughts down on paper so you can structure your productivity efforts and keep track of everything you have going on.
One of the greatest obstacles to maintaining productivity is often a lack of organization, which can leave you scrambling as you struggle to pick up the thread where you last left it.
Evernote lets you consolidate all of your notes into a single app and make the most of audio, images, and more to summarize key ideas, create to-do lists, and organize all the information related to your work and personal projects.
Here are Evernote’s standout features:
- Sync notes to all your devices
- Add text, audio, images, and more to notes
- Search function to find your notes quickly
12. Accounting tools
Balancing your books and organizing your finances can turn into a time-consuming, frustrating process without the right system.
That’s what makes accounting software such a powerful tool — it helps you worry less about money, and focus on making more of it. The more productive you’re able to be, and the more money you earn, the bigger the problem of tracking your finances becomes. So it’s never too soon to start using an accounting app to stay on top of things.
FreshBooks is an accounting software solution that lets you manage your finances online or through an app, alongside your accountant.
Here are FreshBooks’ standout features:
- Double-entry accounting for compliance
- Automatic checks and balances
- Invite your accountant to check your finances in the software
13. CRM platforms
If you’re a business owner or you work in sales, a CRM could help you optimize your current processes and make the most out of the leads you acquire.
By systemizing the lead nurturing process, you can quickly identify bottlenecks that impede progress, while providing superior customer service to keep your existing customer base on board for the long haul.
Salesforce is a popular CRM tool that offers one-to-one customer interaction at scale, so regardless of the size of your business, you can streamline your processes and boost productivity levels.
Here are Salesforce’s standout features:
- All customer support interactions in one place
- Thousands of app integrations
- One-to-one customer engagement at scale
14. Email organization tools
There’s no telling the amount of time we waste on trivial emails every day.
We’re constantly bombarded with email newsletters from companies we dealt with once, spam from companies who’ve paid for our email address, and other undesirable content in our inboxes.
To avoid getting swamped by emails and creating an overwhelming inbox that slows down your email response time, an email organization tool can come in handy.
Primarily used for unsubscribing to email newsletters en masse, Unroll.me also offers other inbox organization features such as creating a daily digest email with all the emails you do want to receive.
Here are Unroll.me’s standout features:
- Clear inbox clutter quickly
- Unsubscribe from newsletters in bulk
- Create a single email digest from emails you wish to receive
We’ve come full circle, as we’re back to the topic of digital decluttering and maintaining focus in an increasingly busy online space.
Distraction-blockers are apps designed to help you stick to your promises to stay off technology or certain apps throughout the day. Carving out time for productivity is a waste of time if you’re subjected to a barrage of email notifications and apps screaming for your attention.
KeepMeOut allows you to limit your mobile usage and schedule periods of time where your phone will be ‘locked’ so you won’t be tempted to scroll during productivity time.
Here are KeepMeOut’s standout features:
- Quick Lock for carving out time without your mobile devices
- Schedule Lock for designating future phone-free time
- Overview of app usage
With a hand-picked suite of tools by your side, it’s hard not to feel inspired to take action, since there’ll be no distractions or roadblocks left standing in your way.
Remove distractions, create systems, and measure project progress with key metrics, and you’ll be well on your way to living your most productive life.
Sign up for the Stack waitlist to be first in line for the spatial browser that promises to clean up your digital clutter and set you up for success in the online space.