Staying productive is crucial when you’re trying to manage a growing business.
As a business owner and leader, you’re constantly pulled in a thousand different directions. Between answering customer service emails, updating your store, and promoting your products, it’s hard to know where to focus to make sure you’re spending your time on tasks that move the needle.
Motivational quotes might be a nice top up to inspire action and get you through your day, but they’re not an efficient way to help you get things done in the long term. The best productivity apps, on the other hand, ensure you spend your time on the right tasks, getting things you don’t need to be doing off of your plate, and automating chores that aren’t worth anyone’s time.
To help you get started, we’ve put together this list of the 19 best productivity apps. We have two lists for you: the 11 best productivity-boosting apps for entrepreneurs and the 8 best productivity apps for small businesses. Each one will help you and/or your team boost your productivity in 2020. Even better—all of these apps are free to use.
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The 11 best free productivity-boosting apps for entrepreneurs in 2020
A great place to start when trying to boost productivity company wide is with your own time. After all, if you’re not managing your time wisely, you’re likely to be a blocker for other members of your team.
Use these 11 productivity-boosting apps for entrepreneurs to minimize distractions, manage your time wisely, and make sure you’re always working on your most important to-dos.
Best free productivity app for time management
RescueTime is a time management app that will track and calculate how much time you’re spending on different types of tasks.
For example, maybe you feel like you only look at social media for a few minutes a day. RescueTime can show you exactly how much time you spend scrolling through your feeds. The results may surprise you and show you that you need to minimize that distraction.
Or maybe you feel that cutting and pasting data from one app to another doesn’t require as much effort as you’re giving it and that it’s worth automating. RescueTime can show you how much time you’d save with an automation tool like Zapier.
If you feel like you’re working long hours but not getting enough done, RescueTime can help you see and understand where you’re spending too much time on tasks that don’t have enough impact. This lets you find opportunities to delegate those tasks, automate them, or avoid certain distractions.
Best free productivity app for blocking distractions
If you find that you’re wasting too much time on social media, news websites, or other online distractions, you can use StayFocusd—a Chrome extension—to completely block your access to those sites.
StayFocusd works by letting you specify how much time you’re willing to spend on specific types of websites. So if you want to limit your Twitter scrolling to 10 minutes a day, you can set that up in StayFocusd. When your 10 minutes are up, StayFocusd will block your access to Twitter for however long you tell it to.
StayFocusd also has a nuclear option that lets you block access to all websites—or to all but the websites you need to use (e.g., Google Docs)—when you must stay focused on a specific task. It’s a great tool for when you need to minimize distractions but are struggling with the willpower you need to do so on your own.
3. Boomerang for Gmail and Outlook
Best free productivity tool for eliminating email distractions
If you discover that email is one of your biggest sources of distraction, Boomerang for Gmail and Outlook can help. Use its Inbox Pause feature to prevent any new emails from arriving in your inbox during times when you need to focus. When you’re ready, unpause your inbox to let your email come in.
What’s great about Boomerang over just closing your inbox is that you can create delivery exceptions. Say you need to focus but are also waiting on an important email from your business partner or an investor. You can add those email addresses as exceptions so they’ll bypass your blocker and arrive in your account.
You can also send an auto response to anyone who emails you while your inbox is paused to let them know there will be a delay before you receive the message. This can be helpful for providing alternative contact information people can use if they need to get in touch with you urgently.
Best free productivity app for to-do list management
If you need an app to keep track of all of your to-dos, Todoist is a great option. You can use its free plan to create up to 80 projects, making it easy to segregate your outstanding tasks into as many different lists as you need.
For example, you could create separate lists for work to-dos and home to-dos and manage both lists from the same application. Or you can get even more granular, creating lists for work, home, errands, email, specific projects, long-term goals, and anything else you need to categorize into a distinct group.
The benefit of Todoist is its simplicity. Add a quick line describing what you need to do, then check it off when it’s complete. It’s basically a replica of a handwritten to-do list—but one that works wherever you are and on any device you happen to be using at the moment a to-do pops into your head.
Best free productivity app for the Pomodoro Technique
KanbanFlow gives you all of the benefits of a Kanban board with the tools you need to complete your tasks using the Pomodoro Technique.
Start by setting up your lanes and adding your tasks. When you’re ready to get going on one of them, you can click a couple of buttons to start a 25-minute Pomodoro. KanbanFlow notifies you when it’s time to take a break and even lets you log that Pomodoro to a timesheet if needed.
Another unique feature of KanbanFlow is that when you pause a timer before it’s complete, it asks you why you paused it. This can be helpful for finding out what is distracting you most often when you’re trying to focus so you can brainstorm ways to minimize your most distracting distractions.
Best free productivity app for managing email
Gmail is a great free tool for email, but its many features make it a great productivity tool, too.
Feel like you’re constantly answering the same questions over and over again? Save yourself the time it takes to type the answers by creating Canned Responses—saved selections of text you can add to any email in just a few clicks.
Do you have emails you always need to add to a reference folder or send to your accountant? Create filters to automatically label or forward emails from a specific person or with a specific subject line (e.g., “Invoice”). You can also use them to keep your inbox clear by creating filters to automatically archive or delete certain emails.
You can use one of Gmail’s many add-ons to create tasks in project management apps like Trello or Asana, send emails directly to Slack, or add emails to Evernote without leaving your inbox. This makes it easy to process emails as soon as they arrive and get them where they ultimately need to be.
Best free productivity app for staying organized
Every piece of software you use has its own method of saving information. Files on your computer are saved to your hard drive. Google Docs are saved to Google Drive. You bookmark webpages you want to save in your browser and file away emails you might need to reference again in your email app’s folders.
The problem with this approach? It’s hard to know where to look when you need to find something you remember saving. Evernote solves this problem by giving you a central source for all of the notes and documents you need to save.
Evernote lets you take notes via text or voice on any device and save them to your account. But you can also integrate it with Google Drive, Gmail, and Outlook to save documents and emails you might need to reference later, or use its web clipper to save full copies of webpages to your Evernote account.
Then, when you need to look for something you know you have, you don’t have to guess where you saved it. You can just search your Evernote account.
Best free productivity app for password management
Using the same password across every site you visit is a bad idea for anyone, but it’s particularly problematic for business owners who need to make sure hackers can’t get into their business documents, websites, banks, and accounting programs.
But coming up with and remembering unique passwords is a task in and of itself. That’s where LastPass comes in. With LastPass, you can generate long, strong, unique passwords for every site you need to log in to. It saves those passwords in your LastPass account so you never need to remember a login or reset your password.
LastPass’ free plan lets you save log-in details for up to 20 accounts, so you can use it to secure your logins for your most important tools. Or you can upgrade for only $3/month to create and save secure logins for everything.
Best free productivity app for automating your tasks
Zapier is an app connector that makes it easy to move data from one app to another with no coding expertise. It connects with more than 1,500 apps to help you automate your workflows.
For example, Zapier’s Shopify Zaps will automatically add new orders to a spreadsheet, add new customers to your email marketing tool, create tasks in your project management tool for new orders, and post new products on social media. This ensures these tasks are completed but requires no work on your part.
Any rote tasks on your plate that consist of copying and pasting data from one system to another can likely be automated with Zapier. Setting up these automations takes only a few minutes and will give you back some of your time to focus on more important to-dos.
Best free productivity tool for minimizing apps
Need to quickly convert currencies, find out what time it is in a country that’s an ocean away, or perform complex math calculations? You don’t need separate apps for any of these tasks, you just need Google.
Google has tons of features that appear above its organic search results and help you quickly perform tasks you’d otherwise need a separate app for:
- Type a calculation into the search bar to get the answer as a result.
- Find out what time it is in Australia or see the time difference between Australia and New York.
- Convert US dollars to euros or yen.
- Find the cheapest hotel in a city you’re traveling to.
- Set a timer for Pomodoro or a stopwatch for tracking time spent on a task.
These search tools limit the number of apps you need to have open on your screen and the number of times you log into and out of different programs throughout the day.
11. Hemingway Editor
Best free productivity app for clear, error-free writing
Writing is time consuming enough without having to worry about whether or not you have spelling and grammar errors—or if what you’re writing will be simple enough for others to understand.
Hemingway Editor relieves you of those worries by pointing out spelling and grammar mistakes, showing you which of your sentences are too hard to read, and pointing out words and phrases with simpler alternatives.
You can either write directly in Hemingway Editor or, if you don’t want to be bothered with its recommendations while you write, paste your text into the tool to clean things up when you’re finished writing. It’s a good way to capture your thoughts without the distraction of trying to get things perfect at the same time.
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The 8 best free productivity apps for small businesses in 2020
Once you’ve turned your own time management into a science, you’re ready to start boosting productivity across your entire team.
Use these eight free productivity apps company wide to make sure everyone across your business has access to the tools they need to complete their work as efficiently as possible.
Best free productivity app for assembly-line workflows
If you’re managing projects that need to move from one person or team to another before they’re complete, Trello is the ideal project management productivity app.
With a Trello board, you can create different lanes for each step in your process, move tasks from lane to lane as each one is completed, assign tasks to the people who need to complete them, and see the progress of each outstanding task at a glance.
Trello is ideal for workflows like content marketing, where you have writers, editors, and graphic designers involved, or like hiring and recruiting, where HR and hiring managers both need to complete specific tasks during different parts of the process.
Best free productivity app for small teams
While Trello is great for assembly-line workflows, Asana’s free plan gives you a little more flexibility in how your team chooses to work.
Asana’s board view works exactly like Trello’s, letting your team manage tasks and projects on a Kanban board. But if that view isn’t right for your team, you can also view tasks on a more traditional to-do list or even on a calendar.
Another advantage of Asana is that you can manage multiple projects from a central view. In Trello, you need individual boards for each of your workflows, but Asana lets you assign tasks from any project to anyone in your organization from a central dashboard.
The downside of Asana is that its free plan only accommodates 15 team members, so if you have a larger team of people who need to collaborate, you’ll need to upgrade. With Trello’s free plan, there is no limit to the number of people you can add to your boards.
Best free productivity app for real-time communication
Slack is a chat app that lets teams communicate with each other in real-time. Individual team members can send instant messages to each other to chat when the asynchronicity of email just isn’t fast enough, and entire teams can create their own discussion channels for full-team collaboration.
But where Slack really shines when it comes to productivity is with its massive library of apps. You can connect Slack to just about any other app you use to do things like creating support tickets from Slack discussions, saving attachments directly to Dropbox or Google Drive, or adding to-dos received in Slack to your to-do list.
There are also Slack apps that help you automate the process of getting information from your coworkers. You can add an app that automatically collects updates for a daily standup, takes food orders for a catered lunch, or sends weekly employee engagement polls.
Some of these apps are free and some are paid, but the large library of Slack apps gives you plenty of options to choose from.
4. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides
Best free productivity apps for real-time collaboration
Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides make it easy to collaborate with others to build text documents, spreadsheets, and slideshows. Contributors can work together on these assets in real time, seeing where others are currently making changes so no one overrides what someone else is doing.
You can also control what others can do to the assets you create, giving them permission to view, comment on, or make edits to your assets. Use suggest mode to offer changes for the document’s owner to accept or decline, or leave comments when there are questions or further explanation is needed.
The best thing about this suite of tools is that all historical versions of the assets you create are saved and accessible. So if someone makes changes you don’t like or you need to return to a previous version, you can not only see all of the previous versions, but you can also revert back to them in just a few clicks.
5. Google Drive
Best free productivity app for sharing files and folders
While a lot of businesses use Dropbox, Google Drive is a better deal if you’re looking for a free file-sharing and storage tool. Dropbox Basic’s free plan gives you only 2 GB of storage, but you get 15 GB with Google Drive (though that space is shared with your Gmail account, if you have one).
Google Drive works more naturally if you also use Google tools like Docs, Sheets, and Slides. The files you create with these tools are automatically saved to Google Drive. You can create shared folders in Google Drive and automatically give anyone with access to the folder the same access to files within that folder.
Google Drive’s Backup and Sync tool also makes it easy to automatically back up any files you save on your computer to your Google Drive and to access those files without having to open your Google Drive web app. It’s another way to get everything you need in a central location so you don’t have to guess where files are saved.
Best free productivity app for team knowledge management
One of the best ways to keep your team productive is to make sure everyone has easy access to the information they need to do their work. That’s a difficult feat when every team uses a different system to document and store their knowledge.
Notion fixes that by making it easy for teams to build internal knowledge bases that anyone in the business can search and access. Create different workspaces for different groups, like HR, marketing, sales, and customer service, then search them all at once to quickly find knowledge documented by any team.
With Notion’s free plan, you can add unlimited team members and create up to 1,000 blocks of storage, which is perfect for growing companies that want to collect company knowledge early on but don’t have big budgets.
Best free productivity app for simple business accounting
Wave is a free, feature-rich business accounting tool that lets business owners and their finance teams work together to keep track of sales, invoices, expenses, and profits.
With Wave’s free plan, you get unlimited bank account transactions, invoicing, and receipt scanning, making it easy to collect and consolidate all of your business expenses and revenue. Add your employees’ business credit cards to capture their expenses, and have them submit pictures of receipts using Wave’s mobile app.
You can also accept payments through Wave (though transaction fees apply) and automatically convert payments in foreign currencies. Finally, add your accountants and bookkeepers to your system so you’re all working with the same data, and set permissions to make sure everyone sees only what you want them to see.
Best free productivity app for sharing screenshots
Screenshots are helpful for communicating clearly both internally and externally, but sharing screenshots can be burdensome. CloudApp makes it easy to capture and share screenshots and short videos and share them with anyone you need to via a web link. It helps business owners provide clear, visual instructions to their employees—and for employees to provide the same to customers.
To use CloudApp for free in your business, each employee who needs it will have to create their own free account. While this won’t keep all of your business’s screenshots in the same place, you can easily share them amongst each other via links that can be password protected if they display secure information.
Choosing the right productivity apps for yourself and your business
While having the right productivity apps can help you stay focused on tasks that move the needle, having too many apps can become its own drain on productivity.
So before you start downloading apps and sending them to your teams, take some time to determine what your biggest hurdles are to becoming more productive.
Are distractions your biggest barrier to productivity? If so, tools like RescueTime, StayFocusd, Boomerang, and KanbanFlow could help.
Is your business’ overall productivity suffering because people aren’t sure what their priorities are or because they can’t find what they need to move forward? If so, get your teams set up with apps like Trello, Asana, Google Drive, or Notion.
Are you struggling to collaborate efficiently? Tools like Slack, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Drive, and Wave Accounting may provide the perfect solution.
Are you struggling to communicate clearly? Try Hemingway Editor and CloudApp. Or if you’re struggling to remember too much information, rely on tools like Evernote, Todoist, or LastPass.
Determine the root cause of your imperfect productivity, and you’ll have taken the first step toward increased productivity in 2020.