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25 Apps to Help You Hack Productivity & Willpower

25 Apps to Help You Hack Productivity & Willpower


    Here’s the scene:

    It’s the middle of a typical workday in busy technology startup. Everyone is busy working and scouring the web for important resources — everyone except me. Instead of busily writing emails or tending to administrative tasks, I’m completely off the Internet and focused 100% on brainstorming new projects.

    It’s freeing and absolutely joyful.

    Despite all the time I spend online, (it adds up to more than I want to admit) I’m constantly reminded of all the precious time a few online tools save me every day. They reduce the time I spend on things like convincing myself to work out, searching for important information, and drilling down my to-do list. Not only do I spend less time doing the menial and brain-numbing tasks we all hate, but I reapply that time to more enjoyable pursuits — like coming up with new ways to grow my business or brainstorming new book ideas.

    Both web and mobile apps have been incredibly useful in these three areas. Let me share my favorites in the hopes that you can free up some of your time and mind space, too.

    Hacking Willpower

    1. Freedom — The ultimate tool to disconnect (for Mac). There’s something about willpower that sometimes we just can’t beat. In times like these, apps like Freedom help you completely disconnect from the online, allowing you to double down on work. I use this app when I really need to get offline things done in peace.

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    2. SelfControl — This app is just like Freedom, except limited to a set list of websites you’d like to block (also for Mac). I use this to block social networking sites (and especially Quora!) when I truly need to get work down. This means I can still use the web to find important information, but I’m blocked from the sites that steal my time.

    3. Batch Reply for Gmail — Lots of tools will help you manage email, but this free tool is awesome for dealing with mass amounts of email at once. Just select which emails you want to reply to, and compose your reply to all of them at once. Many emails dealt with all at once — awesome. (This version is for Chrome.)

    4. FancyHands — The one tool that makes “virtual assistants” easy to grasp and problem-free. This US-based service makes reminders harder to ignore. For example, have a hard time calling your grandmother? Easy — have an assistant at FancyHands email you every Thursday with a reminder to give her a call, along with a picture of you two on Christmas. Try deleting that email.

    5. Gratitude Journal — This iPhone app (and many others that are just like it) focus on reminding you to jot down what you are grateful for. The best part? It will give you a pop-up reminder to jot down your daily list. I love not having to worry about remembering this. When the app asks, I input my list.

    6. Google Calendar — Getting to the gym is harder than you think. In my experience, it’s even harder when you have to figure out which day to go. We spend so much mental power bargaining with ourselves over “Today or tomorrow? Today is busy, I’ll just hit it tomorrow instead, right?” Instead of depleting batteries on those decisions and evaluations, skip it by putting exercise on your calendar at the beginning of each week. Try setting up repeating fitness appointments for an even easier set up. (I work out four times a week at 6:30AM. If the calendar says it, I do it. No mental power necessary.)

    7. GymPact If putting exercise in your calendar doesn’t work, try betting on it. This website allows you to bet your exercise habits against a friend’s. You’ll both put cash into an account, and you’ll be reimbursed a portion of the pool every time you work out. Using money to hack willpower has helped lots of gym-goers over the years. I dare you to try it.

    Downloading Your Memory

    8. Evernote — One of the best tools to store data, Evernote is also a great place to capture creativity on the go. Whether you are on the treadmill, at a meeting, or just in a hurry, use Evernote on your phone to make sure you jot down whatever idea or new thought crossed your mind. Take the stress off trying to remember it later!

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    9. Dropbox — By now, most everyone reading this article is using or has heard of Dropbox. There are a ton of ways to use Dropbox, but downloading your memory onto it is a great way to start. My favorite way to do this is by using the iPhone app or web app (when I’m on other computers) to find important information from my computer. Why store things in my mind when it’s on every tech device I have?

    10. Google Drive — The new Google Docs is useful for collaboration, but also to keep old projects archived away when you don’t want them in your face. Also, super ultra searchable. I recently found a free template for keeping a cash flow calendar — absolute gold and absolutely free.

    11. Brewster — This awesome iPhone app is one of the few that replaces a native iOS app for me. What it does is bring together all of your contacts into one place — albeit from your phone, from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more. The best part? It reminds you who you haven’t connected with in a while! Thanks, Brewster, for downloading my networking abilities.

    12. Pocket — Time is hard to come by, but awesome content is not. Everywhere I look, there is great content out on the web. Pocket lets me save it for reading or viewing later when I have some more time. One click and I no longer have to worry about remembering that link I saw on that blog that one time…

    13. Instapaper — What I love most about Instapaper isn’t just the fact that you can save links for saving later. What I love most is the fact that it lets you strip down each screen to an advertising-free reading experience. Nothing else to focus on but text — talk about a rest.

    14. Dropbox again — This time, for phone photos. Dropbox on your computer now allows you to create a folder for photos that automatically updates each time you plug your phone into the computer’s USB drive. No thinking, just saving memories — awesome.

    Automate Tasks

    15. TeuxDeux — A no-frills app that will help you keep track of your to-do list. My favorite thing about this app is that, if you don’t get something done today, it’ll automatically just slide over to tomorrow.

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    16. Things — A super simple but super strong to-do app. With Things, I set up plenty of recurring reminders and tasks — mostly so I never have to worry about keeping track of what to do when. Things reminds me to pay rent, pay staff, prune my client list, check up on Google Analytics, and much more.

    17. Manilla — Imagine being notified of when your bills are due. No more taking note of which days to pay electricity and which days to pay cable. Manilla will handle it for you, and let you know if you are about to be late.

    18. Meeteor — Networking takes a lot of effort, and I love Meeteor for automating the introduction process every single day. Each day that I log in, Meeteor matches me up with relevant contacts who are willing to connect. Networking without the hassle — awesome.

    19. FancyHands again — This time, to outsource important tasks. If you don’t have time to book a hotel or find a restaurant, let FancyHands take care of it for you. This also works for doing research, if that isn’t really your favorite activity.

    20. Asana — This awesome tool for managing team tasks will help you spend less time on managing and more time getting things done. Also, it’s free for smaller teams, and the interface is beautiful.

    21. Trello — For the more visual people out there, Trello allows you to move task cards around from list to list. It helps me view all of my projects and tasks on one dashboard according to their status. It also helps me visualize my cashflow! Highly recommend this free tool.

    20. IfThisThenThat — The best way to automate mundane and detailed tasks that don’t add much value. For example, why spend time saving or keep track of your photos on Facebook, Instagram or Foursquare? Let IFTTT take care of it for you, saving all your photos into a Dropbox folder automatically. How about checking the weather? It’s an annoying search each morning, so get notified if it’s going to rain in your area or if it will cold/hot, etc. Set your recipes and forget the rest.

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    21. Zapier — This is just like IFTTT but more oriented to business users. There are very powerful recipes like Paypal sale notifications, creating tasks in Trello, moving users around Aweber, and more. Check it out for automating your business life.

    22. Buffer — Managing social profiles can be a difficult thing to remember. Buffer is especially powerful if you sync it up with IFTTT, by the way. My favorite “recipe” is sending my Google Reader starred posts to Buffer for my Twitter followers to read. Sharing articles is awesome, and automating the actual sharing part is even better.

    23. Dragon Dictate — Sometimes, there’s no time to sit down and write. Speaking is just that much faster. With this app, you can talk into your phone and use it for writing long documents or even email. Imagine how quickly you can get things done if you don’t have to type it out!? Genius.

    24. UsingMiles — This awesome website lets you manage your entire database on awards and miles in one dashboard. You can also search for flights using those very miles! I don’t know about you, but, if there’s an app that can help me remember what I’ve earned and where, I’m down to use it — especially if it helps me travel for free!

    25. F.lux — Meddling with the computer’s brightness is annoying but necessary. We spend a lot of time staring at the screen, and this app focuses on making sure the brightness is at the best possible brightness for your eyes to feel awesome for longer. Don’t you love it when apps automate making your life better? (I do.)

    I hope this list helps you get your willpower, tasks, and memory all in order using the latest technology. These are the tools I use to keep my brainpower free of the mundane and more focused on what really matters to me and my business.

    With that taken care of…what will you spend your extra time on?

    (Photo credit: Robotic Arms Building “Done” via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on November 3, 2020

    20 Best Mac Apps for Productivity You Need in 2020

    20 Best Mac Apps for Productivity You Need in 2020

    Whether you use your Mac for work or just for your personal projects, you’ve likely found yourself wondering how to improve your productivity. There are only so many hours in a day, and so much mental stamina you can muster before you run out.

    There are dozens of tricks you can use to improve your own productivity and outlook, but if you’re looking for a more objective, comprehensive fix, the best thing to do is equip your Mac with productivity apps designed to help you do more in less time.

    This Lifehack-exclusive list has some of the best productivity apps to help you feel less tired, improve your energy, and ultimately help you get more done every day.

    What Makes For the Best Productivity Apps?

    Beyond productivity tips, there are dozens of productivity apps to choose from too. With that in mind, here are some of the core aspects of ideal productivity apps that have formed this list.

    • Non-intrusive – you want a productivity app to weave seamlessly into your workflow and not cause disruptions. From using the app to the overall display, it shouldn’t cause any interruptions.
    • Good interface – Again, you want to be able to use these apps easily and have them benefit you. The easier you can navigate around these apps, the better.
    • Fair pricing – Many of these have free trials that allow you a good chance to test before you buy. If you do decide to pay for it, the monthly pricing plans should be reasonable for what you are getting.

    1. Todoist

      Available for all iOS devices, Todoist is a note-taking and organization app that can keep you on top of all your projects—both personal and professional.

      Its best features are all free to use, including browser extensions, task creation, and interactive boards you can use to organize all your notes.

      If you want to pay the optional $29 yearly fee, you can get even more advanced features like backups and automatic reminders. Even with the free version, you’ll stay far more organized.

      Download: Todoist

      2. 1Password

        You may not realize it, but you probably spend a ton of time recalling your passwords, especially if and when you forget one to an app you use on a regular basis.

        1Password is an app for Mac that saves and remembers all your passwords for you in one place, so you can access all your favorite sites with a single click.

        You’ll save time and keep all your accounts secure simultaneously. A personal plan is $2.99 per month.

        Download: 1Password

        3. Bear

          Bear is a unique kind of note-taking app designed to make it easier for Mac users to jot down notes on the go. With it, you can create to-do lists, give yourself reminders, and outline concepts for future brainstorming sessions.

          It comes with many different inline styles so you can customize your notes to your personal preferences, and remember the context in which you wrote them. The core version is free, with a $14.99 per year version available as well.

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          Download: Bear

          4. Hazel

            Hazel by noodlesoft is an automated organization tool designed for Mac that will help you automatically organize your files based on any custom rules you want to create.

            For example, you can set it to move untouched items from one folder into another folder labeled “action items” if they haven’t been addressed within a week. It can save you hours of organization over the course of a few weeks. A single license is a flat $32.

            Download: noodlesoft

            5. Alfred

              Alfred is an all-in-one app designed to save you time with Mac shortcuts and convenient custom actions. You can use it in a variety of ways.

              For example, you can access Alfred’s clipboard memory so you don’t copy and paste the same material over and over, or set up custom workflows to automate some of your most repetitive tasks.

              It’s a paid app, with multiple price points based on the features you desire.

              Download: Alfred

              6. TextExpander

                TextExpander does exactly what the name suggests; it allows you to type a short snippet of text, and expand that text automatically.

                For example, you can create a custom expansion that allows you to conjure a full paragraph you type repeatedly by simply typing a unique abbreviation. Once you get used to your custom combinations, you’ll spare your fingers from typing thousands of words.

                An individual account is $3.33 per month.

                Download: TextExpander

                7. Backblaze

                  If you’ve ever experienced a crash, or theft of your Mac, you know how much time a system restore can cost you. You’ll spend hours replacing the files you lost, and lose thousands of files that are irreplaceable.

                  Backblaze is an automated, inexpensive way to back up your entire Mac for just $5 a month.

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                  Download: Backblaze

                  8. Keyboard Maestro

                    Keyboard Maestro is an older app that still has the power to make your life easier. With it, you can automate any number of tasks based on a certain trigger (such as a hotkey combination, or an event like connecting to a wireless network). A single license only costs $36.

                    Download: Keyboard Maestro

                    9. Snagit

                      There are many applications for a good screen-capture app, whether you’re trying to illustrate a tech problem you have or just want to make an interesting meme. Snagit makes it easy, with built-in editing for both still images and video. A single license covers two machines, and costs $49.95.

                      Download: TechSmith/Snagit

                      10. Bartender

                        Bartender is the cleverly-named app that helps you clean up and organize all your menu bar icons. You can also access them quickly with keyboard shortcuts.

                        If you’re like most Mac users, those icons get cluttered quickly and stop you from working efficiently. It’s free to try for 4 weeks, after which you’ll need a $15 license.

                        Download: Bartender

                        11. Otter

                        Otter is the Mac app for the note taker who hates typing. It’s an intelligent voice-recognition system and note-taking app that will help you transcribe your conversations, keep notes during meetings, and even take contextual notes to yourself in your own time.

                        Best of all, it’s free to get started!

                        Download: Otter

                        12. Flux

                          Do you often find yourself feeling tired throughout the day, or feeling unable to get to sleep after a day of staring at your computer? That could be because of the unnatural blue light that radiates from your Mac.

                          Flux naturally adapts your display to emit light that matches the time of day, so you can sleep better and feel less tired. It’s also free!

                          Download: Flux

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                          13. PDFpen

                          If you deal with PDFs on a regular basis, you probably find yourself wishing for some kind of tool that can let you mark up those PDFs however you want. Without a dedicated app like PDFpen, this can be difficult.

                          PDFpen lets you edit PDFs in almost any conceivable way, giving you more power and saving you time. A single license is $74.95.

                          Download: Smile Software/PDFpen

                          14. OmniFocus

                            OmniFocus is all about task management. It has a clean interface that allows you to tag your tasks, schedule events, and even automate certain features.

                            It’s one of the most comprehensive solutions on the market, so there’s a bit of a learning curve to get the most out of it.

                            A standard license is $39.99, while the pro version is $79.99.

                            Download: OmniFocus

                            15. Franz

                              It’s tiring to switch between dozens of different chat programs like Facebook Messenger, Slack, and WhatsApp, whenever you want to have a conversation with a different contact.

                              Franz’s solution is simple; offer access to all these apps in one convenient package. And best of all, it’s completely open source.

                              Download: Franz

                              16. MindNode

                                If you’re the brainstorming type, you need an app like MindNode to help you efficiently organize your thoughts. There are dozens of tools you can use to connect ideas in a mind map, or simply jot down notes for future reference.

                                The core app is free, with in-app purchases available.

                                Download: MindNode

                                17. Focus

                                  The internet is a wonderful thing, but it can be awfully distracting. And if you’re like the majority of us, you’ve interrupted work on a project because of some attention-grabbing site or bad online habit. That’s where Focus comes in.

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                                  This app allows you to block the worst offenders with custom time limits and other constraints, so you can focus on the task at hand. A single license is $19.99.

                                  Download: Focus

                                  18. CleanMyMac

                                    Chances are, your Mac isn’t working as fast as it could, thanks to gigabytes of clutter and unnecessary files on your system. CleanMyMac helps you scan your Mac, monitor its health, and ultimately clean it up—so you can handle all your tasks that extra bit faster. A single license is $39.95.

                                    Download: CleanMyMac

                                    19. Grammarly

                                      A spelling error or grammatical mistake can cost you big time. It could be the source of a worse grade on a big paper, or compromise your credibility in the workplace. Thankfully, Grammarly can help you.

                                      This Mac-integrated writing assistant monitors all your writing and makes live corrections, so you’re alerted to your potential mistakes before they become permanent.

                                      A free version exists, but the premium version will cost you between $11 and $30 a month, depending on how you pay.

                                      Download: Grammarly

                                      Focus To Do

                                        Focus to-do is one of the top productivity apps for your iPhone around. It even has a desktop client that you can connect to effortlessly. The app is built around two things: the Pomodoro technique and task management. It achieves these things with amazing balance. All that you have to do is create a task and then set the timer right within the app itself.

                                        There is also great flexibility with the Pomodoro technique as well. You can choose whether to take a 5 minute break, take a longer one, or even skip it. On the task management side, you can also create reoccurring tasks, reminders, and place a priority on tasks too.

                                        Download: Focus To Do

                                        The Bottom Line

                                        These productivity apps should help you squeeze more productive hours out of every day, but they aren’t the only tools you’ll have to help you find success.

                                        Make the time to learn about and experiment with all the life hacks that can make you more productive. By improving your devices as well as your outlook and focus, you’ll be able to get far more done in a day, and feel better doing it.

                                        More to Boost Productivity

                                        Featured photo credit: Patrick Ward via unsplash.com

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