(Android/IOS, free/from $5)
Important emails have a habit of arriving at inconvenient times. Boomerang is a plugin for Gmail, Outlook and Android that lets you temporarily dismiss messages from your inbox, to reappear in a few hours or days when you’re better able to deal with them. You can also pause your inbox entirely, to suspend the torrent of interruptions while you’re busy, and schedule outgoing messages to be sent at specified times. You get 10 free uses a month; after that, monthly subscriptions start at $5.
This useful website and mobile app takes the pain out of scheduling meetings and events. The idea couldn’t be simpler: you set up a list of possible dates and times and then your invitees drop by the Doodle website and tick the options that work for them. You’ll quickly be able to see at a glance when everyone is available and since recipients don’t need to create their own Doodle accounts, it’s friction-free. For even easier scheduling, you can connect Doodle to your Google or Outlook calendar.
(macOS, $4.99, IOS, £4.99)
Much more than a to-do list, FocusList for iOS and macOS helps you plan your day, dividing it into a series of timed tasks. Once you start work a countdown timer appears, encouraging you to follow the “Pomodoro Technique” of working in 25-minute sessions with five-minute breaks in between, to keep your brain fresh and productive. At the end of the day, you can review how much time you spent on each task and track your productivity over weeks and months.
FocusWriter is a basic word processor for Windows, macOS and Linux that keeps distractions to a minimum, so you can focus on your work. The main screen is completely empty apart from your text (and, optionally, a tasteful background); controls and menus are tucked away at the edges of the screen. Spell-checking and word-count functions are built in, as well as a timer to encourage you to stick to a schedule, and files can be saved in industry-standard plain text, RTF or ODT formats.
(Android, from £0.99/IOS, free)
Genius Scan turns your Android or iOS device into a personal document scanner. Next time you’re handed a receipt, contract or other important piece of paper, simply snap it with your smartphone camera and Genius Scan will convert it to a high-quality PDF for easy archiving. Perspective and colour correction are automatically applied and a batch mode helps you quickly capture multi-page documents. The $8 Premium edition adds the ability to upload your scans directly to cloud services such as Dropbox and Google Drive.
Inbox by Gmail
Overwhelmed by email? Inbox is designed to help you stay on top of your Gmail account. Links, attachments and key bits of information are automatically extracted from incoming messages and once you’ve processed an email it’s archived and removed from view. You can also create timed “to do” reminders and all items can be temporarily “snoozed” for later attention. Companion apps for Android and iOS mean you can stay productive on the go – and if you don’t like it, you can simply switch back to regular Gmail.
(Chrome/Firefox, from $30 per month)
Most web browsers include a spell-checker that can save you from embarrassing typos, but grammar errors are harder to spot. Grammarly is a plugin for Chrome and Firefox that automatically flags common mistakes and suggests corrections as you type. You can also upload pre-written documents for analysis and get advice to help improve your written language. The premium service checks for more subtle mistakes and also gives style advice, but it’s expensive – a subscription costs $30 per month or $140 per year.
There is no shortage of teleconferencing services, but join.me is one worth knowing about. Meetings can be hosted directly on the join.me website, so no one needs to download and configure software (although Android and iOS apps are also offered). And as well as video and audio, the service supports virtual whiteboard and screen-sharing features. The free service supports meetings with up to three participants; paid-for plans, starting at £12 per month, raise this cap to 50 users and add scheduling and recording tools.
It’s smart to record meetings, interviews or lectures, but transcribing them is a pain. The oTranscribe website lets you type as you listen, with shortcuts to slow down or pause the audio without taking your hands off the keyboard. The editor itself is quite rudimentary, but it’s much nicer than constantly switching back and forth between applications. It works with YouTube videos as well as MP3 and WAV files and nothing is uploaded to the cloud, so your privacy and security are safe.
Papier is a lightweight Chrome extension that replaces the default “New Tab” page with an interactive notebook. Simply click and type to jot down notes or paste interesting links; there’s support for basic formatting, including headings and subheadings, and you can even insert tick-boxes to create to-do items for yourself. Best of all, there’s no need to worry about saving or syncing: the next time you open a new tab – even if it’s on a different device – your notes will be there.
(Android, macOS, Linux, Windows, free)
If you’ve ever wondered where your days go, RescueTime may be an eye-opener. Available for Windows, macOS, Android and Linux, it runs in the background and tracks the applications and websites you use. You can then generate reports to discover where your time is going and set productivity goals, such as spending less than an hour a day on social media websites. The $9 per month premium edition can also alert you if you’re spending a long time in a particular app and track time spent away from your computer.
Not to be confused with the team-management app of the same name, Shyft is an iOS-only to-do tool that is all about the work/life balance. It maintains two separate task lists – one for professional items, one for personal – and you can use swipe or 3D Touch gestures to add, edit, complete or defer tasks. Shyft isn’t as feature-packed as Todoist, but its reminders and interactive notifications might well be all you need and its approach is ideal for students and freelancers with irregular work schedules.
Slack is an instant-messaging and file-sharing system that is transforming the way teams collaborate. Messages and files can be exchanged via the Slack website or via bespoke apps for all major desktop and mobile platforms. It’s easy to send private or public messages or set up forums for specific projects; Slack can even handle voice and video calls. For free users, there’s a searchable record of their group’s last 10,000 messages; for £5.25 per user per month, you can upgrade to an unlimited archive.
Todoist is a powerful to-do list platform: you can create tasks and subtasks, attach priority labels, share and discuss items with friends and colleagues and set up recurrent events. You can access it via the Todoist website or a wide range of native apps and there’s even support for Amazon Echo and Google Home, so you can use voice commands to add and check list items. For £28 a year, a premium subscription adds reminders and lets you collaborate with 25 users, up from five in the free version.
This clever tool makes managing team workflows a breeze. Tasks are visualised as “cards”, which can be grouped into “boards” and assigned to individuals, so you can see at a glance who’s working on what. Cards can be updated with comments, links, attachments and other relevant information and automatic notifications ensure you’re kept in the loop. Paid-for plans bring enhanced security and larger attachment sizes, but the free edition should be powerful enough for most organisations, with support for unlimited users, boards and cards.
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