Most of us have wished for a few extra hours (or days) in the week — a desperate plea for time to catch up on work, make more time for family, or get in some personal improvement time, but perhaps it’s the small business owners who really can benefit from that extra time. With an average work week of 50 hours (60 for some), many small business owners find themselves with little time for anything but operational basics – a real problem for those trying to care for themselves or loved ones.
Of course, there is no magical time genie, and our calendars and clocks will continue to confine us to seven, 24-hour days, but that doesn’t mean those of us running against the clock are doomed to a life without relief. Improving productivity can unlock much needed time in your day, keeping your business, your personal life, and your mind on track. Here are a few user-approved apps that can transform your life.
How to Decide on a Productivity Tool for Your Business
There are a lot of different apps for productivity that focus on distinct solutions. Good productivity apps for business help entrepreneurs, freelancers, and small business owners make checklists, dedicate their focus, manage projects on their own, or enhance teamwork. Some are available as a mobile or web app, and some are browser extensions. Business productivity apps can allow your project management software to be available anywhere on your mobile device.
Business productivity apps can have free and paid plans, or one or the other. You may decide that a combination of several of the apps below will increase your personal or team’s productivity. A helpful productivity app should benefit your business, fit your budget, and make your work easier. Be sure to take advantage of a free trial if it’s offered before you decide which is the best productivity app for you.
There are numerous digital calendar and productivity apps available. However, Calendar stands out for its smart scheduling feature powered by machine learning algorithms. As a result, you get a virtual assistant that can learn your schedule and start taking over tasks like setting events, inviting others, and updating appointments as they change.
Another productivity-advancing feature is the ability to connect and share multiple digital calendars that sync across calendars and devices. You and whoever you designate to have access and editing ability for your schedule have the most current information available.
Other features include integration with email and other business productivity tools and platforms, calendar analytics, customization options, and the ability to embed your calendar on your website for easy customer appointment scheduling. All those features save you considerable time to ramp up productivity in other aspects of your business and life.
Productive was created to help users track and ultimately change their habits through customizable goals, schedules, reminders, and feedback. This Webby Award 2018 winner also offers a to-do list functionality that can help users incorporate their short and long-term goals into one easy-to-use interface.
Users can categorize and track a variety of habits including efficiency, health, fitness, and home habits, making it easier for business owners to compartmentalize and achieve goals that will increase their productivity across all aspects of their life.
Dropbox isn’t new, but it is certainly tried and true. Offering a central space for collaboration, Dropbox lets users store, edit, and share documents among multiple devices and/or multiple users, allowing you to create a seamless doc sharing process that can help you organize everything from receipts to company documents.
Individuals can use the basic version for free, but a professional and business plans (starting a $12.50) offer a variety of business perks including granular permissions for access control, account transfer tools, and even HIPAA compliance.
Managing your finances can take up A LOT of time, and though many may think of an accounting app as separate from productivity, the right one can do both. If you’re looking for a productivity app that can take control of your financial and accounting needs, FreshBooks is worth a look. Users can seamlessly manage their business by sending invoices, receiving payments, tracking billable hours, and even analyzing financial health from any device. FreshBooks also offers a time tracking feature.
Grammarly has been around for quite some time, and many users rely on it for desktop proofing, but this grammar and punctuation app is mobile-phone and tablet friendly, which means you can manage business communications at any time or place without sacrificing content quality.
Grammarly makes it possible to get editing advice on everything from emails and texts to LinkedIn and Facebook posts, all from your phone or any compatible device (desktop, tablets, etc.). And, since the app also offers explanations and tips, you’ll be able to improve your skills with each stroke of press of a key.
6. Office Lens
You never quite know when your next piece of inspiration will come or how valuable notes from a conference or simple weekly meeting may prove to be, but for many, taking perfect notes from a white board or collecting and organizing loose papers can be challenging. Office Lens addresses that problem.
Designed to “trim, enhance, and make pictures of whiteboards and docs”, Office lens acts as a scanner that helps users collect and organize receipts, notes, and more. Additionally, snaps can be converted to PDF, Word, and PowerPoint files, making it easy to move and use notes as needed.
Forest is designed to help users distance themselves from their smartphones, a problem many of us face. Users can select a period (between 10 mins and 2 hours) they wish to remain focused, and a digital seed (displayed as an image on your phone screen) is planted, gradually growing into a tree over the selected phone-free period of time. If the app is closed out prior to that time, then the tree wilts and dies.
The Pomodoro timer approach mixed with the simple growing tree successfully keeps users from breaking their focus, and the app is starting to crawl up on top productivity lists everywhere.
The best thing about this app is that its merit extends beyond the desk, as users can “grow trees” in an effort to spend more time with family, focus on “me” time, or even use it to increase collaboration and focus among multiple users.
When you’re working on a team, keeping everyone connected in real-time can have a huge impact on your productivity. Instead of waiting on email replies, you can try Slack as a communication tool. Slack is a platform that organizes messages and chats among remote or in-office teams. In your broader business workspace, you can create channels for specific topics and invite the people who work on those items so not everyone is getting spammed with unnecessary information.
A Pro Plan costs $6.67 per user per month when billed annually (which jumps to $8 when billed monthly). You can pay a few dollars more per user for the Business+ app that contains more advanced features.
Asana can act as a project management tool for you and your team and increase productivity by keeping you organized. Whether you’re a freelancer handling lots of different clients or on a team that manages multiple projects at once, Asana helps you track your work. Users can see their tasks in a kanban board, as a list, or in a calendar.
Pricing depends on which plan you choose. The free Basic Plan gives you all the essentials and integrations into over 100 apps. Pay $10.99 per user per month when billed annually (cost rises to $13.49 when billed monthly) for the Premium Plan that also includes features like the timeline view and an automated workflow. The Business Plan will get you things like advanced reporting and portfolio views for $24.99 per user per month when billed annually (and $30.49 when billed monthly).
Todoist is a lot like what it sounds like: a digital to-do list for increasing your productivity. You can add tasks that you need to accomplish each day and cross them off as you go. If you have a task each week, you can format it as recurring so you don’t have to re-enter each week. View your to-do list for Today and Upcoming, and create any filter that would be useful for your work.
Todoist is free for up to five projects and five collaborators. For the Pro Plan, pay $4 per month when billed annually (and $5 per month when billed monthly) for up to 300 active projects and 25 collaborators. Bigger teams can pay for the Business Plan, which costs $6 per month when billed annually and $8 per month when billed monthly. You’ll get up to 50 collaborators and 500 projects with the Business Plan.
Trello is a similar collaboration tool to Asana except it’s somewhat simpler to use in the beginning. It’s a project management system that uses the board style of organization. On each board, you can create lists labeled with larger work areas and then break these down by writing cards for individual tasks. You can include due dates and notes and easily share with your team members.
Trello has a free plan that gives you unlimited cards and up to 10 boards per workspace. Upgrading to the Standard Plan costs $5 per user per month if billed annually ($6 if billed monthly) to get more customization options. If you need access to other views or for teams up to 100 people, you can get the Premium Plan for $10 per user per month if billed annually ($12.50 if billed monthly). More security and control will cost you around $210 per user per year, but you’ll have to talk to the sales team for specifics.
Zapier is all about automation. Although Zapier is not technically a mobile app, it connects the other task management apps you’re using. You can automate your workflows on over 5,000 apps using Zapier’s technology — with no coding skills required. Automate mundane business tasks: your social media, your Slack messaging, your sales outreach, you name it. Zapier categorizes some apps as premium and may be more expensive to connect to.
There is a free version that gives you five single-step Zaps (or work processes) on the regular apps. To add more Zaps, you can choose between the Starter, Professional, Team, or Company Plans, but the price increases significantly the higher you go.
RescueTime is an app that automatically tracks your working hours. You can start Focus Sessions when you need to hunker down and RescueTime will block out everything else for you. The app can also give you a time management report so you can see what you use your time on and where it’s being wasted. You choose how each use of your time is classified. This app can be especially useful to remote workers in preventing burnout.
RescueTime offers a 30-day free trial, a free option, a premium option, and a team option.
The Focus@Will app targets users with attention-deficit disorder (ADD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by playing music optimized for focus. If you have ADD, ADHD, or have trouble focusing without background noise, you can choose from among 2,000 tracks. Focus@Will is especially useful for users who work in open offices or who work from a loud home. There’s a built-in tracker for productivity and time management.
It costs $52.49 (discounted from $69.99) for one year or $7.49 per month (discounted from $9.99), but you can cancel anytime. The app is reasonably well rated across the Android and Apple stores. You can save by signing up for the two-year billing plan.
Hypercontext is an app for managers to run better meetings and increase their team’s productivity, even over Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Using Hypercontext, managers can create agendas that anyone can add to, include meeting notes that are emailed to the team automatically, and track next steps for easier follow up. The ratings on the iOS and Android app are only so-so, however.
Pricing is based on how many users you have on your account, but there is a free version with unlimited meetings.
IFTTT (which stands for If This Then That) is similar to Zapier in that it provides a way to automate your work so you can focus on more important things, but there’s an app to go with it. You can automate your social media posts, send a message in Gmail every time you get a review, or send team notifications. The iPhone app is very highly rated (4.6 stars out of 5) but the Android app is also well rated at 3.6 stars out of 5.
There’s a Free Plan that offers five Applets (which are the app’s version of work processes), but if you need more than that it also offers a Pro Plan, and a Pro+ Plan that have a monthly fee.
If you’re the type of person who listens to music while you work but are tired of the same old Spotify playlists, check out Brain.fm. The music is specially designed with rhythmic pulses that support focus (the company calls this patented neuromodulation). It doesn’t take your attention away from work like a lot of other music does.
You’ll get unlimited access to its music categories (including offline access) by paying a monthly fee of $6.99 or an annual fee of $49.99.
Spending your days scheduling meetings is a drag, but Calendly can help. This incredibly well-rated app (4.8 stars on both Apple and Android) automates your scheduling for one-on-ones, group meetings, and co-hosted events. You send a Calendly link, or embed it on your website, and others can schedule time directly on your calendar without you having to play the middle man.
There is a free Basic Plan if you want to test it out, but there are four more advanced tiers if you’re looking for more customization and integrations.
Serene is an app that helps you block out distractions while you focus on work in one click. It’s only available on Mac currently, but the Windows version should be coming soon. You can choose which websites you want to block, like social media sites, while allowing access to productive sites like Google Docs or Google Spreadsheets.
You can try Serene for 10 hours for free, and then it’s $4 per month billed annually.
FacileThings uses the self-management system called Getting Things Done® where you can quickly capture all the tasks floating around in your head in the app. Then you can clarify each task and organize your results. You can connect FacileThings to other apps like your Outlook calendar, Google Drive, Dropbox, and more.
FacileThings has a free 30-day trial and then the price depends on whether you pay for one month, three months, six months, or one year.
Evernote is a well-rated online notepad that has been around for years. It’s a great way to jot down thoughts and reminders when they come to you. The app syncs your notes across your devices, and you can add PDFs and other documents to your notes. It can help you keep all your small tasks in one place to make productivity easier.
Evernote has a free plan, but that plan is limited: you can’t connect it to things like your Google Calendar, sync more than two devices, or add due dates. There are three tiers of paid plans, but if you’re hoping to add your whole team, you’ll have to pay $14.99 per user per month, which can add up quickly.
If you need reminders to get things done in your life (and don’t we all), look into Due. It’s a highly-rated app that allows you to create reminder lists with due dates quickly and easily. There’s a snooze feature for those tasks that you can’t quite finish yet and it will continue to remind you until you mark the task as complete or postpone them.
Due is only available on Mac, but you only have to pay a one-time fee of $7.99 when you download the app. You can purchase an Upgrade Pass to unlock advanced features, however.
All information about these productivity apps has been collected independently by Nav. This software is not currently available through Nav.
Make Your Next Move With Nav
Using these methods to increase productivity should also bring an increase in your small business sales — which means it might be time to expand your offerings or your services. Nav can help you establish business credit scores or find the right business credit cards or small business loans to make your next move more manageable. Sign up with Nav to get started.
This article was originally written on August 6, 2018 and updated on February 8, 2023.