Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

My Top 5 Favorite Productivity Apps

As a serious productivity nerd, these are my favorite apps

Megan Holstein
Feb 1 · 7 min read
Author’s Note: These apps are for iOS. Some have an Android version, some do not. 

This means that, over the years, I’ve tried a lot of apps to enhance my productivity. I’ve tried switching from Apple to Android and back to Apple, I’ve tried many different kinds of productivity philosophies, and I’ve tried a universe of different apps and systems for managing what has to get done in my life.

The best philosophy I’ve found is this: Don’t do more than you have to.

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

— Peter Drucker

The best way to increase efficiency in your life is to cut out things that don’t need to be done in the first place.

Therefore, the apps that follow are not the most complicated, most advanced, most state of the art apps — they are the apps that help you cut out everything unnecessary, allowing you to focus on solely what you want the most.

1. Habit — Daily Tracker

The first, best app on this list is not a complicated to-do list or calendar system, it’s a daily habit tracking app. It looks like this:

Widget View | In-app View

It’s dead simple: Create a habit for anything you want to track within the app. If you’ve done it today, check it off. Done.

Most of the time, I don’t even open the app proper; I just use the widget to manage my habits. All I have to do is swipe to the left, see what I have and haven’t done, and check off what I have.

Tracking habits on a daily basis has made so much of a difference in my life that I wrote an entire article dedicated to habit-tracking.

2. Ulysses

Carrying around a physical notebook has always annoyed me. You’re beholden to carrying around some physical item, there’s no digital backup of what you’ve written, and the damn things just pile up once you’re done with them. Instead, I keep all my writing in Ulysses.

My Ulysses app. Let’s take a moment to admire the glut of unprocessed ideas I have.

Ulysses is, essentially, a markdown writer. But unlike other markdown writers, it has:

  1. An endlessly configurable internal storage structure (instead of just a stream of random files). This makes it great for writing long, chaptered work in markdown. My documents are sorted into categories (Medium, Fiction, Nonfiction, Fanfiction) and then into works (individual stories/articles), sections, chapters, and individual scenes.
  2. A powerful search-and-find function; I can select any number of sorting categories from above and then search what I’ve selected for an individual word or phrase. This makes organizing long work exponentially easier.
  3. An incredibly powerful export feature. The team at Ulysses has designed an IDE for books: Write in markdown, pair with a style sheet at export, and voilà! A full document in whatever style you desire. You can export a manuscript to send to a literary agent, a fully-formatted PDF to send to a business contact, and an ebook format to send to Amazon Kindle, all in the same fifteen minutes.
  4. Beautiful, powerful, highly efficient apps for the Macbook, iPad, and iPhone.

Twice in the last few years, I have considered switching to Windows and Android, and twice I have decided not to, in no small part because of Ulysses. Ulysses is literally so beautiful and so useful that I pay thousands more for Apple products just for the privilege of using it.

3. Things

There are a lot of todo apps on the market. My complaints about all of them boil down to two things. They are either:

  1. Too ugly
  2. Too complicated

Things is neither. Things is beautiful, fast, and easy to use. Things is powerful and comes with many great options, but does not require hours of configuration. It’s natural and easy to use.

My Things app. Name changed for privacy.

Using Things goes like this: First, you capture tasks in the inbox. Then, you sort your tasks into the appropriate Area of Responsibility (home, work, school) or Project (rebuild the deck, thesis paper). Then you mark when it’s due, if there is a due date, and when you intend to get it done (A specific date/Anytime/Someday).

This makes use of the very powerful Today view. In Today, you can see all the tasks you have marked as important for Today. There should only be three or four, and ideally, by the end of every day, all the tasks in your Today view are marked complete.

If you want more to do, you can check the Anytime view. If you want to see what’s coming up next, you can check Upcoming. If you want to see some long-term, aspirational tasks, you can check Someday. If you want to see what you’ve already gotten done, you can check Logbook. And, of course, you can always check each individual Area of Responsibility or Project.

4. QuietMind (Free)

Guided meditation is very in vogue right now. There are a lot of people out there with apps like Calm, Headspace, and Ten Percent Happier on their devices.

While I’m happy meditation is moving into the mainstream, I find guided meditations too challenging. They’re often too long, and they require me to watch educational videos beforehand, which I don’t like doing.

QuietMind is a non-guided app. It’s perfect because of how simple it is — choose how long you want to meditate for, choose how many soothing reminder bells you want to hear throughout your session, and start. I meditate for five minutes at a time and like to hear three bells (one at the start, one in the middle, and one at the end).

QuietMind only has one screen, because QuietMind only does one thing. Minimalism at it’s finest.

5. Day One

Earlier, when I said I keep all my writing in Ulysses, I wasn’t being totally accurate. I keep my personal journal, my commonplace notebook, and my work journal in a journaling app called Day One.

As you can see, I journal aggressively.

  • In my personal journal, my 1,818 journal entries over the last few years comprise over 1,300 full-size printer pages of text.
  • My commonplace book holds many quotes and passages of prose I use in my articles (and for personal inspiration).
  • My work journal catalogs screenshots and statistics about my career. With this, I’m able to look back at the past and see how far I’ve come.

Day One has, for about five years now, been a faithful companion in my journaling journey. Managing all my journals and thoughts would be a real clusterf*ck if it weren’t for Day One.


So, that’s it! These are my top five favorite productivity apps. Hopefully, some of them work for you as well.

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Assemblage

A collection of things or people. An object made of pieces fitted together. A work of art made by grouping found or unrelated objects. A publication on Medium.

Megan Holstein

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Articles about productivity, personal philosophy, and why we’re here. www.meganeholstein.com.

Assemblage

A collection of things or people. An object made of pieces fitted together. A work of art made by grouping found or unrelated objects. A publication on Medium.

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