First Published: February 3, 2021 | Last Updated: February 3, 2021

The gist: productivity tools aren't magic tools that can solve all your productivity problems, but they're useful when you know what to expect from them. So here are the 9 productivity apps I'm loving in 2021 and what you can expect from them.

No one productivity tool will solve all your problems.

I like to say productivity apps are like bandaids.

They mostly cover up your productivity paper cuts.

But most people?

Expect them to heal productivity bullet wounds.

And that's where the problem with productivity tools come in.

Bandaids do serve a purpose, and can be fun. I have bandaids with unicorns on them, and I find them wonderful.

And productivity apps can be wonderful too...WHEN you know they're just bandaids.

When you only use them for your productivity paper cuts and not bigger bullet wounds.

With that in mind, let's talk about some of my favorite productivity tools for 2021.

From browser tools to Mac productivity apps and iOS apps, here they are:

Note: Some of these links are affiliate links. So if you decide to buy anything, I'll receive a commission. Most creators say something like "100% of this goes back into the business," but I'm not most creators. Some months it goes into the business, others it will be used to buy inappropriate amounts of chocolate. Remember, working brighter is about balance!

9 Productivity Tools to Try in 2021

1. Notion for all work management

First, let's talk about the app I use the most: Notion.

If you've checked out any of my other content about Notion, you know it's where I do most of my work.

notion dashboard 2021

At this point it's probably replaced or at least partially replaced half a dozen other tools for me.

  • Notion is where I do all project management and track my day-to-day to-dos.
  • It's where I plan all the content for my business, it's where I actually write that content, like the outline for this video.
  • It's also where I journal and track my physical and mental health, take notes on books and courses I'm learning from, and a lot more.

I think I spend about 5-6 hours a day inside of Notion, which is almost my whole workday and honestly a significant amount of my waking hours, because #chronicillnesslife

So obviously, highly recommend.

And of course if you're ever interested in Notion templates based on my own workspace, you can check out the Work Brighter With Notion bundle in the Work Brighter Shop.

2. Everyday for habit tracking

The next app I wanna talk about is a habit tracker.

If you've seen any of the other Work Brighter content about habit building, you know this is something I'm super passionate and intentional about.

While I do have a habit tracker in my bullet journal that I update every night, I wanted a digital habit tracker as well, and I had some very specific wants for it.

I spent months looking for the right habit tracker for my own personal needs.

So long that I think at the beginning of this journey, the one I ultimately picked didn't meet all the criteria I was looking for. But then the search when on so long that their app evolved into one that was perfect.

And that app is Everyday. habit tracker

It has almost everything I wanted in a habit tracker app.

First of all, it has versions for both Mac / web and iOS. This was important to me so that I could mark off a habit whenever I do it, regardless of which device I'm on at the time.

Second, it has the ability to update the habits for a day that has already ended, which is important since I'm a night owl. I'm often updating it after midnight for the day that has now ended.

That also makes it easier to update your stats if you ever do the habit but forget to track it.

And finally, it has an iOS 14 home screen widget.

That was important to me since I know that using widgets for as much as possible keeps me off my phone.

The one thing that I'd love is integration with iOS Shortcuts too, so I could just yell out to the phone using Siri to track habits.

But I have hope.

Everyday met more criteria than any other app I looked at, and let me tell you, I looked at a lot. A LOT.

So I trust them now.

(I always teach people to decide what they want out of a tool before they start researching and get distracted by shiny object apps. And you can check out Tool School in the Work Brighter shop if you want to learn how to come up with criteria like this of your own.)

Are you ready to start working brighter?

Productivity isn't black and white, it's personal as hell. And there's no single lifehack or framework to solve your problems. 

Sign up to get weekly tips and stories to help you create your OWN definition of productivity working better and brighter.

3-4. Woven and Fantastical for calendar management

Next, let's talk about calendars, because that's another productivity tool that changed recently for me.

Now, until 2020 happened I was using BusyCal on both my Mac and iPhone. And it was great for what I needed then.

The two features I really used that for were showing travel estimates based on current traffic, and weather.

But then 2020 happened and anything going on outside, from weather to traffic on my way to events, became very irrelevant to me, so...that all became less relevant.

And one thing that became more relevant was time blocking.

I was never a fan of planning out my day in detail on my calendar, but then once I stopped leaving the house and the days ran together, it started working for me.

And an app that makes that very easy, like I mentioned in my last post, is Woven.

They have an appointment template feature that makes time blocking really simple. This way, you don't have to create the same events over and over again from scratch.

woven time blocking templates

So that's the calendar tool I use on Mac, but like I mentioned earlier, I love being able to use iOS homescreen widgets.

So on my iPhone, I'm using Fantastical.

I don't really use my iPhone calendar app for anything other than looking at an overview of my day when I first wake up in the morning, and with a widget I don't even need to open the app to do that.

5. Spark for email management

Now that my calendar is out of the way, let's talk another staple of productivity tools: my email app.

To keep email under control, I'm using a combination of the Spark app and strong personal communication boundaries.

spark email folders

I have it downloaded on my iPhone, but I don't "check email" on mobile.

It's just there if I ever need to reference an email when I'm not at my computer, like a shipping notification or takeout order confirmation.

So I mainly use it on my Mac.

I can have all my main email accounts added, any rules I set up in Gmail are also applied in Spark, and I can pin the folders I access most (or at least should access most) to the sidebar.

It honestly has more features than I need.

Like I try not to snooze emails too often and there's team features when my business is still just me.

But I do love the schedule message feature since I'm a night owl who mostly works outside of normal business hours. That lets me write emails when it's convenient for me, while sending it when it's convenient for the recipient.

And without setting the expectation that I'll reply to email at all hours of the day. Because in reality, I won't. My set hours are just different from most people's.

So Spark is great for all that.

6-7. Toggl and Timery for time tracking

Let's talk about time tracking next. For this I use Toggl on desktop, and the Toggl client Timery on iPhone.

toggl time tracking

I don't do any work where I necessarily need to track my time, like I don't have do time-based client work.

But as someone with ADHD, I do deal with time blindness, and I've found time tracking helps me with that.

Number one, it helps me be intentional and make decisions about how I'm going to spend my time. In order to start the tracker, I need to make a decision.

And number two, if I happen to get lost in a time black hole and either forget what I was supposed to be doing or get in the zone and lose track of how long I've been doing that, the time tracker on my phone's home screen or my MacBook menu bar can remind me.

So I use Toggl's Mac app for the majority of my tracking, but if I'm tracking non-work activities, which I do also do, I use Timery, usually through the home screen widget or Shortcuts talking to Siri.

Are you ready to start working brighter?

Productivity isn't black and white, it's personal as hell. And there's no single lifehack or framework to solve your problems. 

Sign up to get weekly tips and stories to help you create your OWN definition of productivity working better and brighter.

8. RescueTime for productivity tracking

In addition to tracking my time, I also track a lot of other stuff.

For tracking my productivity, I use RescueTime's Mac app.

rescuetime dashboard

Think of it like Screen Time, but way better and more detailed than screen time.

You can categorize the different apps and websites you use based on how productive they are, then the app tracks how long you spend on each of those services each day to give you a daily score.

It also has other features to help you be more productive like blocking unproductive websites that I haven't gotten into yet, but may in the future.

9. Exist for personal stat tracking

And finally, the app Exist is kind of an aggregator of everything I track everywhere else.

It integrates with things like my calendar and RescueTime and my Fitbit, and I can also add custom tags to describe what I do each day.

And then, here's the cool part, and why I don't do this manually somewhere like Notion...

It then analyzes all of the different data from different places and shows you trends and correlations. dashboard

And that has been so great for understanding my chronic illness and how different activities impact my energy and productivity.

It's not just about productivity

So those are the apps that I'm using on the regular right now to be productive.

But of course, productivity isn't everything.

And working brighter is about recognizing that.

That's why a lot of these apps bleed over into personal use and why I included things like health tracking.

Too much productivity advice, especially the Work Smarter stuff from Hustle Culture, assumes that your work and productivity are the only things you care about in your life.

But working brighter instead of smarter is about balancing productivity with other things, like rest, self-care, and fun.

Are you ready to start working brighter?

Productivity isn't black and white, it's personal as hell. And there's no single lifehack or framework to solve your problems. 

Sign up to get weekly tips and stories to help you create your OWN definition of productivity working better and brighter.