One of the blog posts that showed up a few days ago on my Zite account carried this promising title: “18 Epic Productivity Apps to Help You Live Your Dreams.” As I recently noted, this particular genre seems to be taking over the Internet like June grass in spring. Lists are hot. Long lists are hot. Lists that help you live your dreams are hot. And long lists that help you live your dreams… Well, you get the idea. We live in the age of hyperbole and abundance.
But I’m a little skeptical. I’m not sure that eighteen productivity apps, even if they are epic, will really help me live my dreams. In fact, I don’t think I have time during the week to use eighteen apps, epic as they may be. So I offer here my simplified alternative: “Three Productivity Apps that will Help You Increase Your Productivity.”
First, by way of disclaimer, I live pretty much within Apple’s walled garden. I purchased an iPad 2 about three years ago when I was traveling frequently and making presentations in two different languages (English and Spanish). I got tired of hauling around books and materials in both languages and the iPad was a means to lighten my load by taking everything I needed in electronic form. About the same time I traded in an HTC for a new iPhone 4. About a year later, when I needed to upgrade my old desktop PC, my children convinced me to make the switch and buy an iMac. So I am now exclusively Apple, and I’m good with that. It works for me, although there are still some things I miss that worked better in Windows XP or Windows 7. All of this is just to say that when I talk about apps, I am talking iOS and OS X.
Second, my list of Three Productivity Apps intentionally excludes the basic apps that come with an iPhone and that are pretty essential, like Calendar, Contacts, Messages, Camera, Clock, Mail. My big three are all apps that you need to download from the App Store. You may, of course, want to replace the imbedded Apple apps with apps that work better for you – I use Fantastical rather than Calendar, for example, because I love the simplicity of creating new calendar events by dictating in normal language. I also replace Camera with Camera+, Mail with Mailbox for reasons of personal preference. You may have other preferences for replacing the stock apps – apparently a lot of people prefer WhatsApp to Messages. But the fundamental purposes and functions of these apps are all pretty much the same. A good to-do list is an essential productive tool, and the stock applications include both Notes and Reminders. Reminders is a pretty good to-do app, but, like the calendar, to-do app preferences tend to be very personal. I currently use Any.do but I also like Wunderlist. And Reminders is actually pretty good, so I have not included any particular to-do app in my list.
So, here are my suggestions for three apps worth downloading that I think are actually useful in enabling me to improve the utility of my devices in a meaningful way.
Your device comes with a note-taking app, Notes, but Evernote, despite it’s name, is much more than a note-taking app. It has become my most used app and has materially improved my life (to the degree that something as insignificant as a app can improve life). Evernote is my memory dump, a giant file cabinet for everything. For example, when I ran across the post referenced above regarding 18 epic productivity apps, in two clicks I sent the entire article to Evernote. And because everything in Evernote is searchable, I don’t have to remember where anything is filed – Evernote will find it for me. I keep everything from appliance manuals to ideas about future blog posts in Evernote. All data is encrypted and stored in the cloud on Evernote servers, meaning it is always backed-up and my Evernote files on your phone, tablet, desktop, and laptop are always in sync. The basic app is free and and is sufficiently robust for most users. I just recently upgraded to the premium version as I am in the process of scanning several file drawers full of paper into Evernote and needed the additional capacity to move towards a more paperless office.
GoodReader is the only productivity app that I paid money for – the cost is $4.99. It is essentially a PDF reader with robust capability for annotation. Other popular apps include iAnnotate ($9.99) and PDF Reader (Free), but I have found GoodReader to be a good value. It was essential to my ability to leave books at home and travel with just an iPad. By using PDF versions of my books and manuals, I could mark and annotate just like their analogue counterparts. I can box or circle paragraphs, underline, highlight, at margin notes, etc.
I could, of course, just store all these PDF files in Evernote and eliminate the need for GoodReader, but Evernote’s annotation capabilities (via their own app, Skitch) is not nearly as robust. GoodReader enables me to have the same experience as having a paper document. I suspect that at some point Evernote will improve their annotation capabilities for PDF files, and when they do I will no longer need GoodReader.
In a sense, DropBox is a replacement for iCloud. It is what iCloud should have been – a cloud storage and syncing service that enables the user to store all types of electronic document and access them from any Internet-connected device. I use DropBox as the default storage location for Word files of writing projects and other critical files because it provides me a safe backup of critical files. But I include on my list of three because I use it to sync my GoodReader files and enables me to access all my GoodReader files from any of my devices.
So that’s it: Three Productivity Apps that will Help You Increase Your Productivity. They are not the only apps I use – I have a long list of specialized apps for specialized purposes – but these are the apps I can’t live without. At least, living without them would put a noticeable dent in my productivity.