My favourite productivity apps

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I lead a pretty exciting and crazy life.  I am a Dutch Australian, working part time as a marketing communications lecturer at The Hague University of Applied Sciences.  I am also studying there part time towards a Masters in International Communication Management.  I’ve run my own business, Zestee, for 7 years now and though I now only have time for a couple of clients at the moment alongside my time at Uni, I love working with them.

My lovely Dutch husband and I have been married 10 years already and we have two gorgeous girls aged 6 & 8 so I’m experienced at balancing work and family.  That’s not to mention my hobbies of blogging, photography, museums and yoga….and more!  So how do I do it?  One of my “secrets” is that social media is my superpower.  Another is that my iPhone, iPad, Macbook Pro and iMac all sync my favourite productivity apps.

At first, I was searching for the “ultimate app” which did everything, but have found I work best with a combination of apps for different tasks.  Here are the ones I use daily to keep me organised and on top of things.


I use this both personally and professionally and love it.  I was a very early adopter and most people I know now use it too.  If you don’t, I highly recommend it!


Initially, I only used gmail personally, now I also run most of my business email accounts through there as well so that I can read all of my mail in one place. I have it set up so that I can decide which email address I want to reply from, and I have various rules in place to sort my mail automatically into folders.  I also love how gmail sorts out what’s important for you (and is pretty good at it).  Email is one of the biggest time sucks ever, so if you can work out a way to deal with it more efficiently, it’s going to save you a little time each day, which will add up to a lot.  They also have a fairly new app called Inbox which I like but am not totally comfortable with yet – but it has big potential to make email even more efficient.


This is my 2nd brain.  Everything I need to take note of long-term from the electricity bills and when they were paid to Christmas card lists and favourite recipes.  I use the free version but am considering upgrading to be able to access my notes offline if I need to.  Dropbox I use more for actual files, while this is all the general records of, well, everything.  I also use the Evernote Scannable app to scan in documents and save them either in Evernote or Dropbox (or both, and if they’re important, often email to myself as well).


This is a really simple app but I love it. It’s built in to iOS. I have a “today” list, “soon” and “brain dump”.  I just type in and tick off things in one of those three, depending on importance.  At first, I had them all mixed up in one list but find, having three separate lists means I can keep my mind clearer.  For example, if I’m having a really crazy day, I don’t even look at the “soon” and “brain dump” lists and just focus on “today”.   I try to keep the today to under 15 items, the soon to under 25 and the brain dump is kind of unlimited.  I have it on the home screen of my iPhone and iPad, so I can just add in anything which comes to mind.  A couple of times a day, often when I have made a cup of tea, I will take a moment to just scan through and (re)prioritise things.   Though Evernote can be used for similar lists, I like having this as a separate, simple place with just a few lists.   I have put extra lists in here sometimes, like “people to see” and “blog posts to write” but have learnt this can overwhelm me sometimes and is best kept as simple as possible.


Not so long ago, I remember carrying around a little agenda that I would write everything in.  Now, this is the digital equivalent.  Again built into iOS, I have it synced with Facebook events, so if I rsvp for something there, it will automatically show.  I also have a calendar for me, one for my girls and one for my husband.  He and I sync so that we can cross-check things.


Another iOS standard, I had considered abandoning this app and using Evernote, but keep coming back to it to jot down things like shopping lists and notes when I’m listening to something like a presentation.  They recently added in a few new features like being able to draw and add in photos which is kind of handy, but I think I would like to just keep it as simple as possible.  I like that I can email myself the notes I’ve taken, or email them to someone else if relevant.


Ok this may be an oxymoron.  Facebook is often associated with being unproductive and I’ve probably spent more hours than I care to admit watching cute baby animal videos or scrolling through meme’s.  However, particularly with friends and family around the globe, this app has changed my life and the way I communicate.  Sure, I’d prefer to meet face to face with people, but that’s usually not possible, particularly when my parents are in Australia!  With Facebook, I can keep up to date with people I care about, anytime, anywhere.  I can shoot them a quick message if there’s something I’d like to share, ask a question or simply feel like I know what’s going on in their life. That to me is a productive use of my time.  I also love that when I catch up with friends who I’ve not seen for a while, we kind of already know what’s been going on with each other.  It’s the groups feature which I find most useful though, as for a number of projects I’m involved in, there is often information to share, questions to ask and tasks to take care of regularly.  Using Facebook groups is a much better way to co-ordinate these time of things efficiently than streams of emails.  Also, I use Messenger often with people I’m working with to sort things out quickly when we’re not in the office.


Being able to quickly message people to organise things, ask questions or even share locations if you’re meeting in an unfamiliar place has saved so much time.  I actually use it most often with my network of parents at the local school.  If one of us is running late from work for example, we’ll message each other to ask to pick up each other’s kids.  We also use it to plan playdates and parties.  I like how, when I was still getting to know other parents from my children’s class, they would message me to let me know how my kids were doing at a playdate, or to ask about allergies.  My nanny uses it for the same kind of thing.  For a busy working mum, having an app that allows for this kind of quick, efficient communication makes my day much more productive.


As someone who seems to misplace my phone regularly, this app saves me time searching!  Thankfully, my iMac is harder to lose, so all I need to do is log on and play a sound on my iPhone and then retrieve it from the kids room/car/under that random cushion.


I know a lot of this is Mac-foccused, but in general, I do love how all the Mac apps work together so efficiently, that’s kind of the whole point.  I’ve included Safari here, as I am actually old enough to remember life before the internet.  Wanted to find out opening hours or a recipe or what that strange rash was?  Goodbye hours spent tracking this down, hello Google (or your other favourite websites).  Knowledge and information is literally at your fingertips in seconds.  Sure, this can make you more inefficient as you have to deal with information overload, but if you can learn to stay focussed on what you need to know at that point in time and set a time limit on finding an answer, most things can be solved in seconds.


Again a bit out of the box thinking in terms of productivity but as I nearly always have my iPhone on me, taking photos of stuff I want to remember clears up so much space in my brain.  For example, that newspaper article, that sign in the shop window, that product I want to consider buying later.  It’s funny, so many things I think I might need to know and remember, I rarely return to.  However, should I need them, I can just scroll through my previous photos (which I download via the Picasa app on my iMac regularly, and are automatically backed up onto my Apple Time Machine).   Otherwise, I can just do a purge at some stage later.

So that’s my favourite apps for productivity.  Do you use any of them?  All of them?  Others?  I’d love your comments.


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