Smartphones are amazing things, aren’t they? I can’t picture my life without mine, and if I ever forget it somewhere, I feel as though I’m missing a limb or something. It’s a weird feeling. The relationship we develop with our smartphones makes them behave like an extension of our brain. As soon as the phone hits our palm, we immediately load it with the best apps we can think of, designed to help our lives, improve our productivity, enhance our connectivity, and provide us with endless hours of entertainment. But are there any apps that surface and make it to the best apps list? Here’s my take on it.
The Wonders of The App
Our phones hold our memories, archives, vital information and represent a portal to the world. News, events, all kinds of information exists, literally, at the tips of our fingers.
It is incredible, especially when you think that the first iPhone was launched in 2007, so just fourteen years ago from the time of this writing. The first Android phone appeared one year later, in 2008. So, here we are, ten plus years later, and these devices are an integral part of our lives, so much so that we rely on them completely to take us to places, reminds us of things to do, communicate, and keep us connected.
Of course, the phone’s primary function still is that of communication and connection. Although the pure phone call and text message has been enhanced significantly with various chat apps, video chat, and multiple other gimmicks, the communication feature is still the most important. But what else is essential? What else can your phone do to help you with your life?
The app, of course, is the generic name given to essentially a computer program that can run on your phone’s operating system. Today, except for SMS messages, all communications tools on your phone are apps. The app name itself is becoming a generic description for “something that runs on your phone and does something.”
The Apps Changed Our Lives
Back when the App Store launched, even Steve Jobs was taken by surprise by its immense success.
In this article, I want to explore some of the apps that I use daily and how they help me be more productive and effective in my life.
Now, a full disclaimer—I am an iPhone user. I do not own, nor have I ever owned, an Android phone. So, this article will be about the iPhone apps I recommend. However, most of these apps are multi-platform, which means that they offer Android apps and, in some cases, even desktop apps that run on Windows PC or Mac.
With that, let us dig deep into some specific best apps and why I believe you should use them to improve your life as a whole.
Best App Categories
As I said above, I won’t discuss the basic apps that come with your phone, such as calling, messaging, or contact management. Instead, I will discuss several apps you can add to your phone to enhance your productivity in several areas. These are:
- Time management
- Habit-forming and tracking apps
- To-do list management
- Project Management
- Writing & Journaling
Where are the health apps, you say? There are too many of those, so I am saving an entire article to discuss the best health apps.
Best Calendar Apps
I talk a lot about the importance of the calendar in your day-to-day life. The calendar is an integral part of your goal-setting process and time management methods, such as time blocking or calendaring. I cannot envision my day without my calendar. Here are my favorite best apps to track my calendar.
Default Calendar App
The calendar app that comes with your phone is pretty decent out of the box. It allows you to connect multiple calendars across multiple providers, including Google, Microsoft, and iCal. It has a pretty clean and professional look. It doesn’t come with a lot of bells and whistles, but it gets the job done. More often than not, I find myself going back to this default app because it’s convenient and does the job.
The Google Calendar is not a novelty for any Gmail user, but most likely, you know it as running in your browser. Overall, I believe that Google Calendar is by far the best calendaring apps out there. It’s versatile, easy to use, has a great UI, and lots of settings. The iPhone app mirrors the browser app very closely. It also has a spotless look, but it’s loaded with a lot more images and colors, making it feel more lively than the default app. I particularly like that you can enter information really quickly, which makes it very easy to use on the go.
Moleskin is a company that’s been around for a very long time, and you probably met their products while browsing the checkout aisles at Barnes & Noble. They are well known for making some of the coolest journals, notebooks, and planners—and I am talking about analog ones, as in pen and paper.
Over the last few years, adapting to modern times, Moleskin began developing many digital products. Among them is Timepage, a beautifully designed calendar app. Timepage is like a layer over your calendar that comes with a neat skin and a new set of capabilities.
In addition to the traditional timeline view, Timepage also provides a Heat Map view where you can see your busiest days by color density. It looks like the developers put a lot of thought into making this app very helpful and easy to use. Timepage is not free, but it’s totally worth it. I love the intelligent UI design and the easiness with which things work. I love this app.
Best Apps for Habit-Forming and Tracking
The second category I am going to look at is habit-forming. Creating good habits and removing bad habits is a staple of everyone’s process and aspiration to live a healthier, happier life. Habits have long been regarded as the secret to life fulfillment for many reasons. So, there are many habit-forming apps out there that can help smooth this complicated yet rewarding process. I’ve tested dozens over the years, and below are the best apps for habit tracking that I’ve identified in the sea of all possibilities.
Strides is a no-fuss, no-muss, highly customizable activity tracking app. It allows you to set up multiple categories and actions you want to track, set goals against them, and define when or for how long to do them. Its UI is clean, and most tracking is done at the press of a fingertip. Tracking your daily, weekly, or monthly activities is painless, which is a critical factor. Habit tracking in itself is a habit, and if the app makes it easy, that’s a plus. This is the habit tracking app that I’m currently using.
Habitify is another powerful tool to track and implement good habits. It’s a bit more complex than Strides, but it hits all the essential functions that I’d expect from this app. It’s multi-platform and can sync between all your devices which is another plus. Overall, the UI is beautiful and easy to use.
Unlike the two apps above, Beeminder doesn’t solely rely on your ability to motivate yourself to use the app. Instead, it adds another carrot: if you don’t stick to your habits, you’re going to pay for it—in cash.
So, if you cannot get yourself motivated to stick to your habits, perhaps the possibility of losing money would. Besides having this extra “sting,” the Beeminder app is one of the most connected apps I’ve seen, integrating with almost every other tool out there. That means that data collection is a breeze, and there is less administrative work for you.
Habitica is not for everyone. I used it for some time, but I eventually gave it up in favor of the much simpler Strides. The difference between Habitica and all other habit trackers is that it is a habit tracker designed as a game.
It is inspired by RPG (role-play) video games. You are an avatar, and you must complete levels. Your advancement is directly linked to your habits, and, therefore, it makes habit tracking fun and less like a chore. If you don’t like to play video games, this might not be for you. But, if you do, you’re in for a treat.
Best To-Do List Apps
The next critical activity for being productive and getting your stuff done is solid task-list management. As much as I hate the “task-list” name, I can’t find a better one for it. The reality is, we all got crap to do. Every day, week, and month. If you don’t keep track of it, those things just won’t get done. Here are some of the best apps for task management and to-do list management.
Todoist is not only my favorite to-do list management app; it’s also one of my favorite apps of all time. Why? Because it’s simple, clean, beautiful, and simply works.
There’s a lot of power built into the Todoist app, from the predictive text, which makes data entry a breeze, to the slick responsive UI, but all is as intuitive as you’d want it to be.
Overall, you can get by using the free version of Todoist, but if you want to invest in any app, I highly recommend choosing Todoist.
TickTick is similar to Todoist, but I find the app a bit “heavier.” The simplicity of the UI is not entirely there but don’t be fooled—TickTick packs a lot of power and has a wide variety of features. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of preference because you can accomplish very similar things in both TickTick and Todoist.
Back in the day, there used to be a web-based tool called Wunderlist. Later, it morphed into an iPhone app, and shortly, Wunderlist became one of the most loved to-do list management app, embraced by droves of users.
However, sadly, in 2015, Microsoft acquired Wunderlist and put it to rest to revamp it and rebrand it as Microsoft To-Do. I was very skeptical, knowing Microsoft’s history of buying great products and turning them into mush, but I have to say, they did a pretty great job with To-Do.
If you are a Microsoft Office user, you will love that this app integrates across the entire Microsoft Universe. From a functionality perspective, it does everything that you’d expect such an app to do.
It doesn’t have the modern look and feel of Todoist and TickTick, and there’s an obvious “Microsoftness” to it, but if you don’t hold that against them, it’s a great app. Plus, it’s free.
Best Note-Taking Apps
With the abundance of information that hits us every single day, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep up with it. Our brains can only focus on a limited number of things, and our memory, although good, cannot maintain the level of information avalanche that is today’s world.
So, having a solid application where you can store, organize, and search for your digital information is critical. In addition, having this “cabinet” of information available at all times is also essential. So, here are some of the best apps for note-taking that I know of.
Evernote is one of the first note-taking apps that appeared back in the day. It was initially a stand-alone application that expanded to a full-fledged browser app and, today, as an app on almost all platforms you can think of. The strength of Evernote lies in its ability to accumulate any type of information, tag it and categorize it, and retrieve it when needed.
The UI has had a recent overhaul, but it’s always been very user-friendly and intuitive. The nested tagging system and the fact that you can create multiple nested notebooks give Evernote a lot of power.
Remember, it’s not all about being able to capture information; it’s how you keep it. Any archive’s strength lies in its ability to be searchable and return accurate results. Evernote accomplishes this, and it’s one of the best apps out there.
Notion is way more than just a note-taking app; it’s almost like a digital “skin” across your life. The app serves many functions, including note-taking, task management, writing, project management, etc.
But I decided to put it in the note-taking category because I feel it has some unique features that make it particularly good in this section.
I’m planning to write a separate tutorial on how I use Notion and some of its unique features, but for the time being, I want just to mention that Notion is an excellent alternative to Evernote. The database powers inside it give it a lot of organizational strength, making it one of the most flexible and adaptable apps out there.
A word of warning, though. As you start using this app, you’ll realize quickly that there’s a bit of a steep learning curve. But, don’t despair. There are by now hundreds of YouTube videos with tutorials on how to use Notion. So, if you want to go down that road, know that you won’t be alone!
This is Microsoft’s answer to note-taking and has been a staple of corporate productivity as a part of Microsoft Office for a very long time. I think it has most of the features that a solid note-taking app needs, and, best of all, it’s free.
I think it deserves a place on this list, although I am not its biggest fan. I can’t tell exactly why, but every time I’d attempted to use it in the past, it eventually wore off. It’s just not… cool but worth trying, so long as you don’t mind a bit of corporate perfume.
Best Apps for Project Management
If task lists allow you to take care of the bulk of your activities and deal with recurring tasks, project management is a subset of apps dealing with particular projects. A project has a start date and an end date, and in between those dates, there are many interconnected and interdependent tasks that you have to do for the project to be complete. Some projects may get very complex with dozens of sub-tasks and interconnected milestones.
That’s why a good project management app is a great addition to your arsenal of tools. I know that “project management” sounds very corporate, and perhaps you might feel like it doesn’t belong in your life. Give it a different name then, like, getting crap done from start to finish. Either way, here are the best apps for getting crap done one step at a time.
If I were to start from scratch and create a project management app and spend a few days putting down all the features that I’d want, I eventually would wind up making ClickUp. That is one of the most versatile apps I’ve seen in a long time.
The functionality is just there for everything you need, and the UI is smartly designed and user-friendly. I use ClickUp as a project management tool for my blog, where I track each article’s stages as part of one central “writing” project.
This app is handy if you share projects with other people and want to keep the progress all in one place. I love this app!
Trello uses the Kanban method of tracking a project. That involves a board where different stages of a project appear vertically, and each column contains various tasks. Ownership can be shared, and tasks can be dependent on each other.
Trello accomplishes this beautifully in an app that is both user-friendly and functional. The drag-and-drop system is potent, and the vertical and horizontal scroll ensures that there is enough screen real-estate no matter how large the project is.
Every time I get overwhelmed in some parts of my life, I go back to Trello and put the information there. The display and organization help my brain see the big picture and also dig deep into the details.
Asana is a lot more than a simple project management tool. It’s also a team management system that allows teams to organize, track, and manage their projects in a cohesive manner.
I include it here because I believe that their free version can be of use to individual users. That’s because their UI is easy and powerful, and the features are unbeatable. There is a learning curve here, but overall not too challenging to tackle.
Best Apps for Writing & Journaling
Writing in general and journaling, in particular, are activities that are high in the hierarchy of things that make our lives better. Through writing, we can express ideas, unload our thoughts, unleash our creativity, and practice our communication. Therefore, I wanted to include some of my favorite writing tools for your phone. These best apps for writing will make it easy for you to write on the go or… hell yea, in the bathroom!
For anyone who is involved with writing, Scrivener is not news. Over the past few years, it has become the golden standard for writers of both fiction and non-fiction. Initially designed as a Mac app and later as a Windows app, the company eventually launched a mobile app for those writers who write on the go and don’t want to carry a laptop.
Although I am not a frequent user of the phone app because I always have my laptop, I think it’s a great tool to have if you find yourself stranded with your phone and want to write a few things that you can later easily sync to your cloud account.
Werdsmith is a no-frills, no-thrills, pure text editor with a beautiful and simple UI. It allows you to take an idea and expand it to a whole project, sync it with the cloud and, of course, edit it on the go. When I find myself stranded somewhere and have some ideas lingering inside my brain, I often fire up Werdsmith and jot down those thoughts. It’s a great writing app, and I’m sure you’ll love it, too.
If you are looking for an app specifically designed to be used for journaling, look no further than DayOne. It’s one of the most beautiful apps out there. The UI is clean, simple, and easy to grasp.
But that doesn’t mean that it lacks functionality. This app is packed with features, even in the free version. If you struggle with journaling, I highly recommend using this tool. In time, you’ll learn how to switch the habit of flipping through Facebook news to writing your thoughts in DayOne.
There comes a time when your hands are busy, and you cannot use them to write. That could happen on your commute or when you are taking a walk or exercising. There’s one part of you that’s still working during those times, and that’s your mouth.
Unless you are in an environment where you must stay quiet, you can always talk. That’s when speech-to-text apps come into play, and Dragon Anywhere is the golden standard when it comes to that space.
It works on the desktop as well as on your mobile. Regardless of the platform, it allows you to dictate and transcribes your words directly into your favorite writing app.
It takes a bit of time to get used to it and learn all the unique ways to talk to it, but once you do, it becomes an essential tool for any writer on the run. I’ve written several first drafts while being stuck in traffic using Dragon Anywhere.
Best Apps for Reading
Last but not least, reading. Despite the vast expansion of video, we still do most of our learning through reading. As e-readers appeared, the ability to carry your entire library with you became a reality. Then came audio. Now, there’s almost no excuse not to read. Below are some of my favorite best apps for reading that I use daily.
There is nothing in the world, in my opinion, that will ever take the place of a good-old book, but Blinkist comes pretty close. For people like myself, who want to read a lot more during the year, Blinkist is an essential tool.
The people behind the company realized that one way to read more is to have the core of books summarized and delivered. By reading a solid summary that captures the main ideas, you either reject the book, retain the outline, or move on to read the entire book.
I’ve gone through all those phases, and I haven’t regretted it once.
Blinkist will give you access to thousands of book summaries that you can either listen to or read for a fixed monthly fee.
In the last year, it has been a vital tool for me and my exploration of the written word.
I doubt there’s any person in the known universe who hasn’t heard of Kindle, but I’ll mention it anyway. Kindle is, of course, Amazon’s default app for reading their proprietary e-books. The phone app is quite decent and has all you’d expect from an e-reader. When you purchase an e-book on Amazon, that book can be delivered to your e-reader (such as a physical Kindle e-reader) but also to your Kindle App. That means that, depending on where you are and what you have, you can switch reading between your e-reader and the iPhone app.
Much like Dragon Anywhere allows you to speak when your hands and eyes are busy, Audible allows you to read. As one of the oldest and most comprehensive audio-book platforms, there are hardly any books you won’t find on Audible.
From fiction and non-fiction, from long to short, from famous to less famous, Audible has something for everyone. Over the past year, I’ve listened to books on Audible almost five days a week, every week. It’s fascinating how some books that were very difficult to tackle in print are much easier to digest as audio.
Use Apps Wisely
Apps are here to stay, and I’m confident that soon there will literally be an app for everything. With almost 5 million apps combined between the App Store and Google Play, it’s not difficult to get lost and be confused about which ones to use.
I went through a phase when I had so many apps on my phone that it was hard to keep track of them. Over time, I learned how to trim my app library and go back to the essentials. That’s how this list of best apps came to be.
I wanted to capture the categories where I think apps are critical, and using them can significantly improve your life. Of course, apps evolve faster than we can blink, and tomorrow some of these best apps can become obsolete. That’s okay. There will be then another list for another time.
What are your best apps?
Other Best Apps Resources
- 12 Apps to Help You Win at Life
- The Best Productivity Apps for 2021
- 15 best Android apps available right now
- The best iPhone apps (April 2021)
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- What are some of the best apps you use on a daily basis?
- Is there an app you wish existed but it doesn’t?
- What are some apps that you’ve given up after a while, and why?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!