Apps & Hacks from A to Z: 26 Tools to Boost Your Productivity in 2017

Michelle Tandler
7 min readJan 17, 2017

Love and work… Work and love. That’s all there is.

— Sigmund Freud (1856–1939)

I think Freud pretty much nailed it with this quote. So much of our time and mental energy is consumed by these parts of our lives. While I am not an expert in either topic, I have put much effort into researching ways to make work more productive, fun, and enjoyable. Part of this is pragmatic (e.g., improve self 💪🏻) but more so, it’s aspirational, or dare I say, philosophical. I believe that if we use tools we love to get things done more efficiently, we’re likely to be happier and more fulfilled by the work we do.

So, in that spirit, I wanted to share some of my favorite productivity hacks, apps, and tricks — organized in a list from A to Z. Hopefully something in here catches your eye, or that of the productivity ninja living inside you!

Without further ado, A is for…

Airtable: If Trello and Google Sheets had a baby, it would look a lot like Airtable. This next-gen spreadsheet lets your organize things in a fluid, searchable way. Need some inspiration? Here are some templates to get you started.

Brain.fm: Chill music to facilitate focused vibes.

Calendly: This is probably the best addition to my productivity suite in the past year. To use it, you simply set your availability preferences and share your personal link with the person you’re scheduling with. They pick an available time and the event invite is automatically sent. 🙌🏻

Do Meetings: Do integrates with all your favorite business apps (e.g., Google Apps, Office 365, Slack, Evernote) to ensure your meetings are run effectively and efficiently from their platform. Fans of Do swear by it, claiming they could never go back to holding meetings without it.

Extensions for Chrome: I’m a huge fan of Evernote web clipper, Pinterest, Save to Pocket, Send from Gmail, Mattermark, 1Password, Bitly, and Momentum.

feedly: When Google Reader was killed, a sizeable number of internet users wept. I was among them. Luckily feedly came along, providing a highly functional RSS reader to blog-addicts. (On that topic, here are some of the blogs I like.)

GTD (aka Getting Things Done): Any productivity nut knows this acronym, and has likely read this famous book. I am overdue for a refresh, but I do remember their most famous suggestion, which is to make sure ideas/to-dos/action items are written (or typed) — somewhere — outside your brain. This action frees up your mind to focus on other things, and ensures you don’t forget something important.

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”

David Allen, Author of Getting Things Done

Headphones: Wireless ones preferably — with a solid microphone. I particularly like these ones by Bose. Life’s too short to spend time untangling cords.

😡

Inbox by Gmail: This app replicated some of the best features of Mailbox (acquired and then shut down by Dropbox) and Acompli (acquired by Microsoft → Outlook app), and added some bells and whistles. My favorite features are Snooze (sends off the email to reappear at a defined time) and Smart Reply (three suggested replies that can be inserted via a quick button press). Save those thumbs!

Jotting things down on paper: I know it sounds entirely too retro, but I’ve been obsessed with these notebooks since I first entered the working world as a wee business analyst at McKinsey. Most everyone at “the firm” used them, and I soon understood why. That little left-side column running down the side of every page is clutch. Action notes, follow ups, anything you want to make sure not to miss later, you put in that column.

My favorite notebook

Keyboard shortcuts: If you ever spent time in banking or consulting, you might have had your manager take your mouse away during training. A shockingly high number of minutes are wasted every day moving your mouse around, when keyboard shortcuts can do almost everything on the fly. The Gmail ones are lightening fast, and Microsoft surprisingly allows you to use those same ones in O365. Excel shortcuts are a must, as are Chrome ones if you spend a lot of time in a browser. To learn them I recommend printing them out, posting them somewhere visible, and forcing yourself to avoid that mouse!

No mice allowed!

Lock it up: 1Password/LastPass: Whether you need help remembering passwords, creating passwords, or just securing your devices, both of these apps work extremely well.

Measuring & Metering your Moments: Gmail Meter is pretty neat. So is the app, Moment. Both give you insight into where your time is going.

Notational Velocity is an open source note-taking app that most notably (pun intended 😎), connects with the app Simple Note. The Mac app is very simple, and slim enough to sit alongside whatever else you’re working on. The PC version is similar, not as sleek, but functional. If you use multiple devices or live between PC and Mac, this software helps keep things in order.

Off buttons. They work surprisingly well. Particularly if you’re trying to read a book.

Pocket: All those articles you come across on Facebook/Twitter/email can be highly distracting. By sending them to Pocket, you can access them later from a Pocket app or web browser.

Quip: Great tool for document editing and collaborative work.

Reading up & getting inspired: I love this post by Ash Fontana of Zetta. Product Hunt always has a bunch of great new apps. I also like the blogs/email newsletters Barking Up the Wrong Tree, Lifehacker, Lifehack & Zen Habits. Shine Text is also pretty neat. It’s a bot that sends you a daily text via Facebook Messenger to help you “crush your life goals”.

Saying No. I am actually quite tired of people telling me that I must “learn to say no”. But, in all seriousness, I’ve done some research on the topic, and think this piece by my friend Alexandra Cavoulacos is incredibly insightful and helpful. Another Muse piece here has some more tips.

Trello: Oh Trello, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. This product can be as sophisticated or simple as you need it to be. Integrations? Check. Mobile-optimized? Check. Boards to provide inspiration as you move your entire life and workflow into Trello? Right here. Also, big congrats on the big exit, Trello! 💥⚡️

Unroll.me is an email lifesaver. It automatically identifies subscription emails, pulls them out of your inbox, and delivers them to you once a day in a very neat little “rollup”. From there you can easily view & “unroll” (aka unsubscribe) from the various emails. According to my stats, I have rolled up 1,700 subscriptions, which equates to roughly 15 batched emails/day.

V is very, very… extraordinary. Great song.

Wunderlist: hard to say why I like this to-do app better than TeuxDeux or Remember the Milk. But I like the layout, and the ability to categorize things, and have high hopes for their integrations with O365.

X.ai: I’ve tested a few different AI schedulers, and this is my favorite one. Amy Ingram is solid, and as long as you’re very clear, she executes. At $42/month, she provides pretty great value too.

Your phone layout: This one I have been trying to figure out for years. Some people organize by color, or frequency of use, or take all apps off the home screen except two or three to avoid distraction. I have a hybrid approach. The home screen holds apps that I use 2x/day+ (some of which are in a folder to optimize screen real estate). The second screen holds all the non-daily use (or particularly distracting) apps. One other thing I’ve done recently is disable most notifications. Very little besides SMS needs immediate attention, and all those red bubbles are irritating.

Zero — as in Inbox Zero. Oh that elusive dream. Only a few among us ever get there, but there are ways to cut down on the noise. I love Sanebox to help automatically filter potential clutter, (as well as Unroll.me, and gmail shortcuts 🤓).

So there you have it, lots of new apps and articles and more to check out. If you think I’m missing something great please add it in a comment. Thanks for reading, and may you have a productive start to the year! 🚀

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Michelle Tandler

Category Manager at Thumbtack. Formerly @Trinity @Yammer & @McKinsey. SF-native. Will always leave my ❤ here.