MA — As students, we find ourselves juggling many different types of tasks and assignments simultaneously. For the past four years, I have tried out dozens of different productivity apps to try and see if I could make the perfect workflow for myself. While many apps deliver on their promises, some go above and beyond. As someone who has used many different options over the past few years, here are my favorite apps for productivity. Also, for any apps that cost money, I’ll include a free alternative!
Disclaimer: Some of the apps listed are only available in the Apple ecosystem
Platforms: All | Price: Free Standard Plan, $5/month Personal Pro Plan (Free with EDU email, access to all features)
Notion is the definition of a productivity app. It has so many features that let you do what you need to finish an assignment or organize your life. Notion can be thought of as a notes app + excel + website creator + calendar all in one app.
Here’s a list of just some of the things I have used Notion for:
- Creating my website — vasanth.fyi
- Notes for classes
- Tracking job applications
- Writing short school assignments
- Brain/evidence dump for papers
- And so much more!
Notion does take some time to get used to though. While the advent of having many features is excellent for the power user, new users may feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. I’ve had many people I know tell me they don’t get it or know how to use it. It took me a few weeks before I could piece together the different types of blocks into a fantastic page that did everything I wanted. If you are looking for some ideas, checkout r/notion or countless YouTube videos on the app!
Platforms: iOS, iPadOS, MacOS | Price: $10 iOS, $20 iPadOS, $50 MacOS
Yes, I know this app is pricey but hear me out. Things 3 is by far the best experience in task management on Apple Devices. Its simple UI makes it a joy to use, yet its features are some of the most powerful on the App Store. My favorite aspects about Things are its integration of your calendar and how it splits up your tasks.
Things 3 shows your calendar events in the Today view and in your list of upcoming events. I love this because, as someone who updates my calendar often, knowing my schedule for the day is essential to make sure I can finish my tasks on time.
Things 3 also has a unique way of splitting up your tasks. The two main methods are either by “area” or by “project.” An area is a category of tasks, for example, school or work. You can create tasks and move them to areas to better organize and know what parts of your life you have things to do. Things 3 also lets you create projects, either on their own or in an area. You can create tasks inside a project and give the project a deadline and date, just like a regular task.
Things has been my go-to application since I saved enough to afford the suite, and now I cannot imagine using anything else. Its UI and UX are the best, in my opinion, and I think the price tags are worth it if you see yourself using the app for years to come.
Free Alternative — Google Tasks
Platforms: iOS, iPadOS, Browser | Price: Free
Google Tasks was my go-to task manager before I moved to Things. It is straightforward with only a few features, yet it does those few things well. On Google Tasks, you can make multiple lists to split up your tasks, and you can create sub-tasks. You can give tasks a “due date,” but there is no way to split up a day you want to get reminded on vs. when the task is due.
I loved Google tasks because it is integrated into Google Calendar, which I use as my primary calendar. I could see all my tasks split by days on my google calendar, which let me easily plan out my day and move tasks around. While Google tasks doesn’t have all the features that Things does, it is a great place to start your task management, especially if you don’t see yourself needing a ton of powerful features.
Platforms: iOS, iPadOS, MacOS | Price: $9 iOS/iPadOS (One app), $2 MacOS
Notability is the best app for note-taking on the App Store. The app provides a smooth writing experience for those using the Apple Pencil by giving them access to various brushes. Notability also offers simple ways of organizing your notes, easy import of docs to mark up, and even different paper types to write on.
The main reason Notability edges out its competitors is because of its writing experience. The Apple Pencil’s behavior is extremely close to how the pencil behaves on Apple apps and thus provides the optimal pressure sensitivity and tracking.
Notability is a must if you will find yourself writing your notes or marking up homework assignments.
Free Alternative — OneNote
Platforms: All | Price: Free
OneNote is a popular notes application and is a part of Microsoft’s Office Suite. You have probably heard about it or seen it used at some point. While OneNote may not have Apple Pencil support to the level of Notability, it does still have a fair amount of tools to use since it has been optimized to work on Surface tablets.
The app lets you split your work into “subjects” and “notebooks” — similar to how you would organize your notebooks at school. Since it is so simple and easy to use, I believe it is an excellent option for anyone that is not looking to spend the $9 on Notability.
Platforms: All | Price: Free
Google Calendar meets all my needs for a calendar and has great apps for every platform. While it may not have the NLP of apps like fantastical, it provides a quick way to add events with an intuitive UI. There are also many colors to customize your calendar by event types, letting me recognize what is in my day even faster. Best of all, Google Cal automatically pulls in events such as flights or meetings from your Gmail.
Google Calendar was integral to me putting my life together in college and for many of my friends!
Platform: iOS, iPadOS, MacOS, Android | Price: Free
Spark Mail is one of the best email clients out there. Known for its great UI and smart features, it is already one of the most used email clients on the market. However, I love Spark because of how it has brought together features from many different email services. Spark has email scheduling, email templates, quick replies, snooze, universal search, and even an integrated calendar just to name a few.
Spark has let me get my emails written and sent on time, consistently. If you find yourself with multiple email accounts (such as personal and school) and sending a ton of emails, Spark is the way to go.
These are my top five productivity apps that I think all students should give a shot. Please shoot me an email @ email@example.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn @ Vasanth-Rajasekaran if you have any questions! Also, please send me your favorite productivity apps, I’m always looking to try something new!