16 apps that will change your practice (and your life)

Smart practice

Friday 11 December 2015

Our guide to the best apps for increasing productivity and efficiency

When it comes to organising your business and your life there’s an app for almost everything. We explore 16 apps across four different business functions that can boost your productivity efficiency and free you up to do the things that matter most.

1. For making your time more productive

Our choice: Harvest (from US$12/month)

Put simply, Harvest lets you – and everyone in your organisation – keep track of every minute in their day. If you think that sounds like something that would only be interesting to businesses that bill by the hour, think again. After all, knowing exactly how much time it takes to complete a task – and how every person in your organisation is spending their day – is one of the most crucial components to running an efficient and profitable business. Harvest lets you do that in an intuitive and flexible way that works across pretty much any device. It’s so simple to use that it almost makes measuring the minutes in your day, well, fun.

Runner up: RescueTime (Free)

RescueTime was built on the premise that people can’t be productive unless they know where their time is really spent. So this app aims to give individuals and businesses an accurate picture by monitoring exactly how much time they spend on apps and websites every day. In other words, RescueTime comes at time management from the opposite angle to Harvest: rather than asking users to stop and start the clock, it does it all for them to show where they could be more efficient.

Honourable mentions: Similar to Harvest, Freckle (from US$19/month) tries to make your business more productive by making recording your  time as hassle-free as possible. Meanwhile, Microsoft-owned Sunrise (free) attempts to make you more efficient by bringing all your disparate calendars and tasks together in one app. It syncs with Outlook calendar, Evernote, Facebook, Asana (see below) and more.

2. For managing your work productively

Our choice: Asana (free for up to 15 users)

Asana is a project management and collaboration tool that’s flexible enough to let you use it pretty much any way you want. In one sense, it’s a shareable ‘to do’ list which lets you compile projects and tasks that you can assign to team members and then check on progress whenever you like. On the other hand, it’s a communication tool that lets you collaborate with your team without the need to use email. And in yet another, it’s an elaborate filing system that lets you easily search and archive every file you’re working on across the entire business. Throw in the fact that it links to time tracking apps (including Harvest) and file sharing software (including Dropbox) and you have all the foundations you need for a productive practice… and did we mention that it’s free for up to 15 users?

Runner up: Remember the Milk (free)

Getting organised is impossible when you have your information, ideas and projects stored across multiple devices and in multiple places. Remember the Milk aims to bring it all together, so that you can get it all done. It does this by syncing with a range of other apps like Gmail, Outlook and Evernote and then letting you rank every task in order of priority. You then get to bring in all the detail in the one place, add notes and tick off milestones as you go. As the name implies, the end result should be that you’ll never, ever forget the milk – or the deadline or the client meeting – again. Better still, you’ll become much more efficient by being armed with all the information you need to make every task a success.

Honourable mentions: Asana’s main rival is Trello (free) and one reviewer has called the debate between the two apps like deciding which is better between Mercedes Benz and BMW. Another project management option worth checking out is the intuitively designed Basecamp (from US$29/month), which pledges to do away with email and make every project more transparent and efficient. 

No matter what part of your business you’d like to improve, chances are there’s an app for it. And if there isn’t already, there probably will be soon.

3. For sorting out your mailbox mess

Our choice: Sparkby Readdle (free)

Spark boasts that it will get you to like email again. And while that’s a grand claim, it does make the process of sorting through your inbox at least a little less unpleasant. Built around the concept of ‘inbox zero’- or the idea that it really is possible to exist in a world where we have no unread emails – it aims to make every trip into your inbox a model of efficient ‘email-busting’. Spark filters and organises your messages into those that are important and those that probably aren’t. It then gives you the chance to trash or archive anything with a simple swipe. You can also deal with multiple emails simultaneously and even send quick one-word responses to emails you’ve received at the press of a button. The only downside is this app’s currently only available for iOS. But we figured that the app made us so much more productive with our email, that it was still a worthy winner.

Runner up: Outlook app for iPhone or Android (free)

It may seem like an uninspiring choice to go for Microsoft but, if its email efficiency you’re after, the Outlook apps are worth taking seriously. Outlook promises to save you time in your inbox by cutting out the clutter and to taking you only to what’s important. It does this through a combination of bundling similar emails so they can be dealt with together, giving you a ‘highlight’ function which means you don’t have to bother opening many emails before trashing them, and letting you set reminders and alarms so that you can come back to what’s important. Best of all, this Microsoft product doesn’t just work with other Microsoft products: Gmail and other email users will find they can use it just as productively.

Honorable mentions: You may be tempted not to fork out for Boxer ($7.99) given that other great email apps come free, but it does have a ton of features, that will make your inbox more efficient. These include a bulk editing function and quick response tool. It also promises to adapt your inbox to the way you work and integrates with Salesforce, Evernote, Cloud File and Dropbox. Meanwhile, CloudMagic (free) also offers inbox simplicity and integrates with Salesforce, Mailchimp and other leading business apps.

4. For staying up to date

The winner: Nuzzel (free)

We don’t have to tell you that there is so much content out there and so little time to read it.  However, with Nuzzel you can become much more efficient at finding the information that matters. Nuzzel works by giving you a tailored newsfeed based on what your social media connections – and their connections – are reading and sharing. And, while this may seem a bit random, when we tested it, we noticed an almost an alarming degree of correlation between what we’re interested in and what our social media connections were interested in too. Part of Nuzzel’s power is also its ability to draw from an unparalleled range of sources – from leading publications through to one-man blogs. And the ‘friends of friends’ function also threw up a few interesting reads that we wouldn’t have otherwise found. 

Runner up: Flipboard (free)

This beautifully designed app gathers content from social networks, blogs and some very reputable news publications (including the AFR, SmartCompany and the Harvard Business Review) and displays them as your own customised magazine. You subscribe to various topics, such as “Business”, “Technology” and the app then brings the stories together and makes them exceptionally easy to navigate through.

Honourable mentions: Australian-based inkl (from $10/month) aims to be the Spotify of news by bringing together all the world’s best news content on one platform and then charging a subscription fee to access them all. Meanwhile, Apple’s app Apple News (free) operates in a similar way to Flipboard and comes standard with iOS9.

The apps keep marching on

So there you have it: 16 different apps that are sure to make a difference to the way you work. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. No matter what part of your business you’d like to improve, chances are there’s an app for it. And if there isn’t already, there probably will be soon.

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