11 top productivity apps to own your day

How do you feel about cash gifts?
(To be clear: I’m not going to offer you one in the next line).

We tend to like the idea of good versus evil.
Things are either good for you, or they are bad. Money tends to be good.
Whenever my nan gives me a gift, it’s cash. It doesn’t matter how old I am, it’s always been cash.
As a teenager, I used to love it, and as an adult I now appreciate the meaning behind the gesture. I’m sure she sees potential in that gift.
“Money is always good, and he can spend it however he likes.”

money-shower

But money is just a tool. It’s not good, and it’s not bad. How we use it makes it so.
When I was 22, I was saving up to spend a month studying in China: it turned out to be a life-changing experience. That money was good. But had I spent it all on crack…I’m not sure I would be as enthusiastic (and neither would my nan).

You get my point.

When it comes to the quality of your daily life, most people disagree on where smartphones stand.
Are smartphones making us more powerful and our lives more connected, or are they making us weaker and distracted, our lives a jumble of sudden requests and notifications?

The answer is: yes.

Smartphones are amazing. They make it easier for us to be makers and share our creations with the world. You can pick up new skills on the go. Keep in touch with friends, no matter where they live. You can set reminders to create new habits, or capture how much you eat or sleep every day. Wow.

But then there’s the dark side. They blur me-time and work, so that you’re rarely immersed in either. They provide SO MANY avenues for someone else to distract you. Late use disrupts your sleep, early use disrupts your day. And because they do so many things, it’s nearly impossible to use one function without having to deal with the rest.

This is just the potential of your smartphone: it’s up to you to make sure you maximise the pros and minimise the cons.
Master the tool, or the tool will master you.

So if you do have a smartphone in your life, how can you make sure that you make the most of the positives?

Here are my favourite 11 iPhone apps, and how I like to use them to make my daily life better.

My favourite apps: the official 2016 collection

mapstrMapstr Android | iOS

Do you know when you want to go for a meal somewhere, but you can only think of the same 3 places you always go to? Mapstr allows you to capture and organise your favourite places as well as those that you want to try out. I use it to keep a list of the cafés I like to work from, or new places I want to try out. Very useful when travelling, too.

IFTTT productivity recipesIF by IFTTT Android | iOS

Link your apps and automate tasks: from having flight reservations automatically redirect to your offline Evernote notebook, to recording at what time you leave the house in the morning, IFTTT is your invisible assistant.
A few more of my favourite IFTTT recipes are: post Instagram photos to Twitter natively, log every time I leave my city, record my tweets, send me a personal text every 1st of the month, create a reminder to pick up an umbrella if it’s going to rain.

sleep cycle power nap appPower Nap iOS

The restoring power of them has been proven over and over again, with study participants outperforming the rest after a 20 minute nap. But choose the length of your nap carefully or you’ll wake up groggier than before.
Power nap lets you choose between Power Nap (up to 20 minutes), Recovery Nap (up to 45), and 1 Sleep Cycle (up to 2 hours), and then uses your phone’s accelerometer to analyse your sleep and wake you up at the right moment.

instapaper productivityInstapaper Android | iOS

I use Instapaper to save articles that I want to read later. This gives you time to enjoy you reading and better consider whether to actually read a particular article or not: just make sure it doesn’t become a bottomless pit of never-read words. I particularly like the clean interface (which has a night mode), the browser extension and…the ability to send the collection of articles to my Kindle.

overcastOvercast iOS

Developed by the original creator of Instapaper, Overcast is my to go podcast app. The interface is very clean and intuitive, and you can customise which podcasts to subscribe to, control playback speed, use smart speed to skip silent bits, and boost voice with the custom audio equaliser.

focus keeper appFocus Keeper Android | iOS

I mentioned Focus Keeper in my guide to the pomodoro technique: set your focus time (it doesn’t need to be 15 minutes!) and leave your phone on the table as the app counts down. It will alternate your focus bursts with 5 minute breaks for you to recuperate. A productivity game changer!

fleksyFleksy Android | iOS

Fleksy is a custom keyboard that allows you to type much faster, integrating swipe gestures to make everything faster: swipe up or down to switch between suggestions, swipe right for space, and left to delete.
You can also customise it and add an extra row of number of emojis at the top. Oh, and if you’re on a bigger screen it supports one-handed typing, moving the keyboard closer to one side of the screen.

evernoteEvernote Android | iOS

I use Evernote to remember everything: blogpost ideas, sketchnotes of courses I take or talks I attend, ads that caught my attention, documents, flight tickets…anything! If you don’t use Evernote, here’s what makes it so good: everything is synced across your devices and -pause for effect- it can search everything in the document, whether it’s the original or just a snap. Even your handwriting!

fantasticalFantastical iOS

Ah, Fantastical. This has been my go-to calendar app on both Mac and iPhone for years now, and it keeps improving.
I really love the smart input function, which allows me to type everything about each appointment without having to tap anywhere else. For example, “Chat with Danny next wed at 2pm at PLY for 2h /ti” will make sure the event has a map location, a person ready to be invited, is the right length, and in the right calendar.
I also love the iOS widget which allows me to see my appointments at a glance.

headspaceHeadspace Android | iOS

Headspace is how I was first introduced to meditation in 2013. It’s never left my home screen since.
The app offers several guided meditations, some with a specific focus, such as stress, happiness, focus, and many more.
The first 10 introductory sessions are free forever, and you can pay a small monthly or yearly fee to unlock all the other packs. If you still haven’t tried meditation or if you want to make your practice more stable, download Headspace now!

streaks appStreaks iOS

Streaks is a habit tracking (and building) app that is very simple and…it works!
Set up to 6 habits that you would like to track, and when you complete one, tap and hold the icon until the circle completes to mark it done. This is a little reward in itself, and Streaks motivate you to keep up your good habits and not break the chain. The app also learns when you tend to complete each item, and sends you smart reminder notifications at the right time.

These apps make a big difference in my daily life and how I use my phone, and they will revolutionise your day too.

Now, a question for you: what’s the biggest distraction coming from your phone?
Sent me an email and let me know.

— Matt

inbox management