7 surprising apps that are rocking my productivity

These aren’t just productivity apps. These apps are making me smarter, more organised and a bit groovier. OK, I can’t really back that last one up.

1. Headspace – meditation

Guided meditation in 10minute chunks
Guided meditation in 10minute chunks

In my post about Project Happy, I mentioned that I have started using the Headspace app for daily meditation. My goal is to learn how to become more present in each moment—with more focus while I work and not thinking about work when I’m not working.

Headspace is the brainchild of Andy Puddicombe. Andy became a Buddhist monk at the age of 22 and ten years later set about demystifying meditation. His guided sessions make it very easy, and his voice is quite heavenly.

How it’s boosting my productivity

Being able to focus is a massive benefit to my productivity, as I’m not flicking away from my work to get my next ‘fix’ of social media or to check my emails. I won’t pretend I’ve got the whole meditation thing down pat, but after a month, I know my stress levels are down. I feel a lot calmer as I look at my bulging to-do list. I’m getting on with the job rather than wasting time in a state of panic.

The result is being able to get more done in the time I have. I am also feeling more relaxed during my evenings and weekends because I’m more present in those moments, which in turn is helping me be more productive. I’m freaking LOVING it.

How much does it cost?

Free for the starter Take 10 program—10 minutes of guided meditation for 10 days.
Monthly subscriptions from $5.74 to $14.95 USD per month.
I signed up for the $7.99-per-month package, paying $95.88 USD.
And they gave me a discount through an email campaign, so I paid even less.

I spent a few moments looking at what I spend my money on, for my business and for myself, and realised that less than a $100 for a year of guided meditation is a great investment.

2. Lumosity – brain skills

Playing games to be more awesome. Yahuh.
Playing games to be more awesome. Yahuh.

Apart from Headspace, Lumosity could be my favourite app of the moment. It’s brain training by playing games. But before you validate the time you play on Candy Crush, these are games designed by neuroscientists.

You’re presented with different games based on your priorities: improving your speed, memory, attention, flexibility or problem solving. They are fun, interesting and sometimes quite difficult. It comes with lots of graphs too, so I can see my progress in each area.

How this app is presented really impresses me. The games are not only cleverly designed; I’m also getting hooked in with lots of different engagement tools, like the progress charts, big graphical ticks on the days I do my ‘training’ and motivational messages that tell me how awesome I am. It’s smart.

How it’s boosting my productivity

It could just be the placebo effect of doing something, but I think my memory and attention span are definitely improving. Together with my daily meditation, I’m improving my focus and ability to think more clearly for longer.

Part of their marketing messages includes the idea that your brain is a muscle, and the more you work it, the more it improves. The science backs that up, and I hope this app not only helps me be more productive but also keeps my brain working long enough for me to become a cantankerous old lady who shouts at random people for amusement.

How much does it cost?

They have a basic account that is totally free. You’re limited to the number of games and features you can access, though. If you want more variety, you can subscribe for $73.26 USD a year. They also have lifetime and family plans.

Just like Headspace, I compared the cost of Lumosity with other apps I use daily and considered the payoff. More than anything, I think $75 is a good investment in my sanity!

3. Freedom – distraction remover

No internet? No way!
No internet? No way!

Speaking of getting more done, the main idea behind the Pomodoro Technique is working without distractions. The Freedom app doesn’t let me trust myself alone with social media and email. Freedom takes away my bat and ball, puts me at my desk and then tells my friends I’m busy.

OK, not really. What it does do is remove my Internet access for a designated amount of time (and that’s pretty much the same thing). I can’t override it without rebooting my computer. For real!

I also can’t get distracted with a cool meme or conversation on social media. Nor can a new copywriting enquiry or a blog post from my favourite writer distract me from the writing I simply must do.

How it’s boosting my productivity

On my first day of using Freedom, I realised how much research I do online. I also realised how much research I do as I write. That doesn’t mean the app isn’t a good fit. Instead, I’ve adjusted my process a little.

I schedule chunks of time to research and map out my ideas. Then, when it’s time to write, I shut everything out using Freedom.

As a result, I’m planning my copywriting out a little more, which is great for productivity, as I’m cutting back on rework and editing. I’m also being pushed to be a little more creative, because I can’t simply Google the answer.

H3: How much does it cost?

This baby is $10 USD, but it offers you a free trial (on Macs or Windows) with five uses. I figure that even if I don’t use it all the time, which I don’t, it will save me a lot more than $10 in the long term. It probably saves me $10 a day!

4. Scrivener – writing like a mofo

Does your writing tool make writing easier?
Does your writing tool make writing easier?

I do a lot of my writing in Scrivener these days. It’s promoted as a script-writing tool, but I know a lot of copywriters and authors who use it for their day-to-day writing projects. It was created to be used by writers, so it has a lot of freaking awesome functions like split screens, where you can see all your research while you write.

It’s super easy to use and has a stack of other great features. And when you’re done, you can export your words into a range of file formats. I love that.

How it’s boosting my productivity

In terms of my productivity, Scrivener doesn’t crash like my Microsoft Word installation does, so I’m not losing time rewriting, or wailing and cursing, for that matter. I have lost count of the times I have almost hurled my computer across the room because Word has crashed. I’m a great saver, but even so, it’s annoying as hell.

It also has a distraction-free mode for when I don’t want to be completely cut off (by Freedom).

How much does it cost?

This tool is $45 USD for a one-time purchase, and I think it’s worth every penny. They offer a free trial as well, so you can give it a go before you commit.

5. Spotify – music for motivation and focus

Music for writing when shit needs to get done!
Music for writing when shit needs to get done!

I am seriously late to the Spotify party, I know that. But I’m here now, and I’m having a great time.

If you haven’t heard, Spotify is a commercial music-streaming service that gives you access to shed loads of music. You can listen to it online or offline, and it has pretty much made my music collection irrelevant.

You can create a station or playlists based on an artist or song, which I find kinda cool as I’m crap at putting cool playlists together.

How it’s boosting my productivity

I’m slowly creating different mood jams for different times of the day and for different types of copywriting projects. Sometimes I need silence to write, but if I have some ambient noise happening, I can focus more easily with some music drowning it out. No lyrics, though. I can’t have lyrics.

Through the process of play, Spotify is helping me work out what my most productive working conditions are—and creating them.

How much does it cost?

On mobile, you can listen to artists, albums and playlists in shuffle mode. Or choose a readymade playlist to suit your mood. On tablet and computer, you can play any song, any time.

If you pay $9.99 USD a month, as I have, you can get more access across more devices. Oh, and no ads.

Finally, some two not so surprising apps….

6. Wunderlist – task list

Ahh can you feel the sense of order?
Ahh can you feel the sense of order?

I love the process of task management. Seriously. OK, I might be a bit weird, but I love the process of organising and the feeling of accomplishment when I cross things off my list. Yes, I am one of those people who will add something to a list only to cross it off.

I’ve used quite a few list apps over the past few years, but I’ve stuck with Wunderlist the longest.
You can create tasks, add notes and subtasks, and assign a deadline and a reminder. You can drag and drop between days, and it’s just really easy to use.

How it’s boosting my productivity

Being realistic about my to-do list is part of my move to be happier day to day. So while it’s really easy to move tasks between days on Wunderlist, I am trying to assign only an achievable amount of work to each day (rather than just pushing whatever is left over to tomorrow).

More than anything, I’m using Wunderlist to facilitate my other productivity (and sanity-maintaining) processes.

How much does it cost?

They have an awesome free version, but they also offer a Wunderlist Pro version for $4.99 USD a month. I’m using the free version and find it’s more than adequate!

7. 30/30 – task timer

Tick Tock Tick Tock
Tick Tock Tick Tock

Regular readers and followers will know that I’m a fan of the Pomodoro Technique, and the 30/30 app is helping me use it.

Sure, I could just use a timer, and I have done so in the past, but I’ve found that simply setting a timer for 25 minutes (work time) and then again for five minutes (break time) was making it too easy to lose focus. I would quickly check emails, and before I knew it, I’d spent 15 minutes replying to things that definitely weren’t more important than the brochure I was writing.

At the start of each workday, I look at Wunderlist and break my workload into 30-minute chunks: 25 minutes of work with five-minute breaks. Then I have a break for lunch and do the same again for the afternoon.

How it’s boosting my productivity

The reason 30/30 is working so well for me is that I am forcing myself to be realistic about how long a task is going to take. That’s great for planning and quoting.

The ticking clock, together with the Pomodoro Technique principle of ignoring all distractions for 25 minutes, is helping me get a lot more done. It’s a productivity WIN.

How much does it cost?

It’s freeeeee, but it’s available only in the App Store. Sorry, my Android friends.

And we’re done

That was a long post. If you’ve made it this far, I thank you! What do you think?

Are any of these apps new to you? Do you think they could help you? Perhaps you’re already using some of them.

Let me know in the comments. Especially if you’ve got some awesome productivity apps to add!

The Copy Detective


  1. says

    Great article Belinda, not the usual list for productivity but some apps with different focus. 30/30 is a new one to me, but on my Wunderlist for the day.

    • says

      Thanks Paul and thanks for stopping by. I’d love to get your thoughts on 30/30 if you try it. I don’t use it every single day because some days I need a little more unstructured time.

      Being so productive all day is tiring! :0

  2. Gidget Media says

    Evernote is one of my favourite productivity apps. I use the ‘checklist’ functionality to get that awesome ‘ticking something off’ feeling once I’ve completed a task. It syncs across all my devices and helps me organise my thoughts (and my life!)

  3. Kirsty Wilson says

    I too love Wunderlist and Spotify and it was your ‘Project Happy’ post which introduced me to Headspace which has been lulling me off to sleep at night! Will have to now check out some of the others listed!

    • says

      Hey Kirsty and thanks for stopping in. I’m glad you’re giving Headspace a go – I’m trying to share it’s awesome! The sleep meditation is luscious and something I’m trying to be able to do without my earphones stuck in. Even if I get to the counting… I never last very long. I suspect that’s the point 😉

      I also need to give you props for introducing Wunderlist to me!

  4. says

    Great list Belinda! I’m going to check out the 30/30 app because I love the Pomodoro technique. My biggest problem is I never want to stop working when I hit 25 minutes!

    • says

      Let me know how you go with it Clinton!

      I know what you mean about being tempted to work through. I’ve started making my 5minute breaks more physical with a quick set of push ups or squats while I get a drink. All that activity makes the 5minutes seem like 2, I’ve got some oxygen around my body and then I’m back to work!

  5. JMK says

    Hi. I used to use Scrivener and had for many years, and even wrote a few novels with it. It’s a great app, as you know. But I found that the Ulysses III app helps me “rock my productivity” even more. You should look into it. It’s great!

  6. Freya Liston says

    Thanks for such a great list! I’m already in love with Scrivener and Wunderlist but the others are new to me. I would also add http://www.prowritingaid.com to this list. My writing has improved massively since I started using it. It totally calls me out on all my bad writing habits.

    I’m with you though. I tried Evernote and just couldn’t get into it. It seemed like it was making simple things more complicated. I don’t want to give up on it though since so many people seem to love it!

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