Okay so here's the problem that I've recently solved with these 7 awesome productivity apps.
Like all of you I get a tonne of emails, I read a lot of books, I dive into online communities and I'm always learning online. Everyday this would mean switching between apps and just getting overwhelmed by the volume of content that was coming at me leading to my productivity taking a hit.
Over the past 10 years I've tried pretty much every productivity app for things we do everyday like emailing, note-taking and learning.
To save you a tonne of time here are 7 amazing apps that changed my life for the better and which I use everyday. I've grouped them into communication, learning, knowledge storage and health and I'll touch on how I use them and my workflow.
Everyone uses email all the time and it can take up a huge amount of your time. From reading to writing and replying everyday I get an insane number of emails. Waking up and seeing that red notification button with all your unread mail is super annoying and you'll either waste time clearing your inbox to zero or you'll just let that number creep into the thousands and then miss important mail.
Over the years I've used every email client from gmail to outlook to apple mail and superhuman in a quest to find something that saves me time on an activity that I do every single day on my mac and iphone - emailing.
Then a friend recommended Spark mail and I've been using it ever since.
Spark is cross-platform email client that is designed to filter out the noise - so you can focus on what's important and get you to inbox zero. With multiple businesses I have way too many email accounts and Spark allows me to bring these all together into a single inbox. Spark is free and is available on all platforms. I use the mobile and MacOS apps every single day as it has some unique productivity features. Firstly it has something called a Smart Inbox which automatically sorts new emails into personal, newsletter and notification categories for easy processing, placing emails from real people at the top of your inbox. This quick filtering system is super helpful and has saved me a tonne of time. The interface is really nice and fast and you can customize swiping on iOS to archive and delete emails quickly. The other features that I use to save myself a tonne of time are the signature system and the templates system. Signature allows you to switch between different email signatures that you can store quickly. This is really helpful for me with different businesses. More generally helpful is the template system. If you find yourself typing out the same kind of email again and again or copying and pasting emails you've already sent to email a bunch of people templates lets you save emails and email replies and then activate these with the click of a button rather than having to write out entire emails.
I've use this for everything from emailing investors and customers to sending out meeting or social invites. Spark also lets you schedule emails and set yourself reminders so you can set times to email rather than reactively emailing all day. I also use some of the team-based features where you can collaborate with team members on emails and assign emails to others which is great if you have a virtual assistant or are working on a business or project. Spark also integrates with everything from dropbox and gdrive to Readwise, Asana and Evernote where you can send emails as tasks. So if you get emailed a bunch of tasks for work or from school you can move these into a task management system and tick them off.
I've actually stayed on the free plan for about 3 years but if you do want to upgrade Spark offers a really nice home page on Mac and also the ability to block emails senders if you have any unwanted spammers and it also expands the team features too so it's well worth checking out.
I use Slack and Whatsapp all the time, everyday for communicating with team mates and running my businesses. But it's actually Discord that really changed my life. I'm a huge fan of online communities for learning and connecting with others. Whether this is for hobbies like gaming or for self-development Discord creates a place for everyone to stay in touch and communicate easily.
On Discord, you have everything arranged into servers, and these servers function as places where people in your group can easily meet and talk.
If you want to create your own server, all you will need to do is to click the server icon and give it a name and the logo of your choice. Once you have that figured out, you can easily invite as many friends as you want. There is then a huge range of automations and gamification elements to help you build a fun online community.
The biggest value I get from Discord is jumping into other people's servers. There are some amazing communities out there like the LoFi girl server where you can hop into virtual study rooms and I'm also a member of a bunch of mastermind communities for entrepreneurs.
Before Discord came along I was wasting loads of time jumping between facebook groups or individual forums or fragmented mastermind learning groups if I wanted to learn anything from a community.
With Discord you can find a server which matches your interests and then access it on mobile or web. The best servers have a mix of regular updates but also live streamed sessions to engage you and help you learn and communicate with others quickly and effectively.
Now I use Spark and Discord for communication and I use them everyday. I also learn lots from Discord communities and masterminds. So let's look at some more apps in the learning category and how I use them.
I've been reading apps on my Kindle and the Kindle app for over 10 years as it's accessible and easy to get hold of books and learning materials on the go.
While I like reading physical books, on Kindle you can highlight key pieces of information and then save these to your knowledge database. If I'm learning something I'll head over to the Kindle store and look for the most popular texts on the subject I'm learning. I'll also look for PDFs on google that I can download too.
I'll then skim through the chapters and bookmark key pages as a quick once over so that my brain gets an idea of how the information is organized and how useful it is. This keeps the cognitive load on my brain low as the ne information is organized, simplified and linked to existing concepts that I know.
I'll then highlight anything I don't know or any key points and save these. The problem is my notes are then stuck in Kindle. To get them into my Knowledge Storage system I've synced up Readwise which is a great app in itself and which then has a really nice API system that can push any of your notes to Notion, Roam, Obsidian or whatever system is your preference. To get the sync features of Readwise it's around $5/month.
While reading is great I'm often out and about during the day and so listening to audiobooks or podcasts is a great way to learn. One of the most impactful changes I made to my life was to commit to listening to audiobooks when I went out for a run or walk or if I'm driving somewhere. This might just be 30-minutes per day depending on how busy I am but it adds up over time and helps me to get through over 52 books a year and completely changed my life.
I'll switch up the speed to 1.5 to make this even more efficient.
I love Audible as it now integrates with Kindle so you can read and listen to a book at the same time. This is really nice a there is evidence in educational psychology research that shows that text and audio information are processed differently in our working memory so they don't compete for space or increase our cognitive load when used together.
The Audible app allows you to save audio clips too. Now I've not actually found a simple way to export audio clips to Notion or anywhere else but if you do have a solution let me know in the comments below.
If you haven't heard of Audible it's an audiobook streaming service that offers you the luxury of buying and listening to audiobooks. And with an audible subscription, you are offered one book per month for $7.99. Alongside this, an Audible subscription will give you access to a good number of Audible originals and podcasts.
Asides from the one book that you are offered every month, if you want to read more books you can go ahead and purchase more credits.
Sticking with the learning category next, we have Skillshare. It's pretty simple. Anyone can share their knowledge across a of range of topics.
Now Skillshare has been around for a while but it's really with the emergence of the creator economy over the last few years that it has really come into its own.
Lots of the things that aren't taught in school can be quickly be accessed like design, videography, photography and even cooking. Most of the classes are pretty short and quick and are delivered by people who are using the skills they are teaching every day.
As there is now a lot of content covering similar topics Skillshare has added learning paths which basically links courses on similar topics together by how advanced they are to guide you through.
For me I like how open Skillshare is. If I'm trying to figure something out or get some ideas I'll quickly search through and then, rather than going through a full course on a topic, I'll tend to jump directly into specific lessons that are useful for me. This is similar to what I do with books and the way Skillshare presents courses without any locks or unlocks really helps with this.
I'll save key points to Notion or Evernote and link back to lessons in my Knowledge Storage System.
Skillshare has a 7-day free trial period and it then costs $15 per month to access all the content. There is usually some kind of discount on offer so be sure to never pay full price.
Moving on from learning let's now look at how I pull the information together from all the learning apps and communication apps into a central knowledge storage system so that it's organised and I can use it for projects quickly and easily.
I touched on Notion recently when I looked at some of the best Note-taking apps. Notions database layer and block system has been a game changer for many people as it allows you to build and customise your own knowledge storage systems.
With Notion, you are provided with a single space where you can easily organize everything you need, from a simple space for note taking to a more complex interconnected system for a company wiki or publishing calendar.
I've been using Notion for organizing everything from social media posting, to project management and storing books and study notes.
When I'm researching anything I'll use the Save To Notion home extension to push information I encounter into the appropriate project.
As I've mentioned I'll use Readwise to pull together highlights from Kindle and other apps as I'm building out knowledge repos. This is great for creating book notes and study notes and the Readwise Notion export can be configured to automatically sync new highlights to Notion. When you link your notion account to read-wise what it does is that it creates this special read-wise page which just brings together all of the highlights all of the insights that you've gathered from books articles podcasts and tweets and this is really cool.
Notion has been a game changer for me as it's easy to use and allows me to run businesses, create content and work together with my team. The best bit is Notion is completely free of charge, you only pay for notion if you're working with a team so if you're an individual if you're a student you can use notion for free for however long you want for whatever you want it's absolutely fantastic.
Now while communication, work and learning are things I do everyday which is why these apps are so awesome and have been very helpful for me I also always make sure I look after my health because if I'm not hitting the gym or looking after myself I won't be able to communicate, work or learn effectively so let's look at health apps.
Now there are millions of health apps out there but the one that really changed my life was Calm. I'd previously never really practised mindfulness but after first downloading the Calm app way back in 2015 I've used it pretty much everyday.
As we're all so busy the hustle has become so much of a priority, that rest and looking after ourselves gets shoved to the back of our minds regardless of how important it is. With mental health a huge problem for students and healthcare professionals it's really important to make time to declutter your busy mind and this is where Calm come in.
I'll use Calm in the mornings as a break between work where I'll usually switch on the daily calm or practise a quick focus mindfulness session for the day. This helps bring focus for the day ahead and reminds me not to get too bogged down with work. In the evening I'll then switch on a sleep story as part of my evening wind-down routine which I find gets me off to sleep really quickly.
Calm premium costs around $15 per month but there are always discounts on offer so make sure you grab one of these.
Calm has recently added specific goals and a more CBT-like course programme if you want to improve personal growth, stop overthinking and more.
Linking back to Notion and how I integrate all of these apps I'll usually add in a calendar time block for practising mindfulness and there are some great mindfulness trackers for Notion you might like to try too. There is some evidence that deep breathing can help you to perform better at work and when studying and so these Calm sessions are usually at the start of a work session for me.
Calm also syncs to Apple Health with mindful minutes logged so you can see your progress and see how regular mindfulness impacts your physiological data and well-being.
BONUS: FitBit App
As a quick bonus app in the health category I want to mention the FitBit app. I'm a huge apple fan but I really like the low profile design of the FitBit Charge model and this brought me to the FitBit App which has pretty much all the features of apps I've previously used to death like My Fitness Pal. The FitBit app has borrowed quite a bit of design from My Fitness Pal and it's interface is simpler and easier to navigate than apple health.
I have my bluetooth scale synced to the FitBit app and the Charge also tracks my sleep. When I'm doing a HiiT class or crossfit or going out for a run I'll set my FitBit and track my calories burned.
Prior to picking up a fitbit and really tracking my food, calories and exercise I had virtually no clue about nutrition or training despite having a medical degree.
When you track your health data you can then start to set yourself more specific training goals. Whether this is lower your heart rate through more cardio exercise, dropping your body fat or just making sure you're getting enough sleep the FitBit app has changed my life.
Just like with all the other apps on this list I integrate a lot of the health data together and use it to set myself training and fitness goals. A great app here is called Power Sync which automatically syncs your fitbit data to apple health and keeps everything co-ordinated. You can then also pull data into Notion using Notion's API and a service like Zapier if you want to really automate everything!
Bringing It All Together
So to summarise I have some key apps that work for me covering things that I do every single day being communication using things like email, learning, knowledge management and health. I'll then integrate these apps all together using APIs and tools like Readwise or Powersync that automate the transfer of data from one app to another. This all means that I can spend more time on actually doing things and being productive and less time on switching apps and losing time and information.
Now these are the apps that work for me and I've found to be the fastest but you can switch them out for the apps that work for you. The main thing is you make sure you have a similar process that integrates and automates things for you so you can focus on what matters.