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6 Must-have Productivity Apps

Working remotely? Try these helpful tools

We have entered into a nationwide work-from-home experiment. Because of these events, major tech players such as LinkedIn and Twitter (as well as many other tech-oriented businesses) have mandated that workers stay home, conduct meetings and job interviews by video, and halt business travel for the foreseeable future.

Even if you’ve worked from home occasionally in the past, being forced to telecommute every day may require you to change some of your day-to-day habits to get work done. Fortunately, there are dozens of apps on the market designed to help you be more productive. Let’s take a look at three important areas of productivity (collaboration, note-taking, and efficiency boosters) that’ll improve your workflow out of your home office.

Collaboration

Microsoft Teams

The immense popularity of Slack makes it the measuring stick that every other comprehensive collaboration app is compared to. It’s clear Microsoft had Slack on the brain when they designed Teams, which takes all the best features of Slack (the usual chat rooms, as well as video conferencing tools, file sharing, storage, even embedded YouTube videos) and seamlessly integrates them into the greater Windows business environment.

Best of all, it offers something Slack doesn’t: a feature-packed free tier for up to 300 users, well within the size range of many smaller businesses. (At the free level you’ll get unlimited messaging, 10GB of storage, voice calls and a handful of integration features.)

If you’re on the fence about trying Teams, this is now the time to give it a spin: Microsoft has announced that they’ll be making Teams free for the next six months to support new full-time telecommuters.

$12.50/month per user, billed annually, products.office.com

Doodle

Need to schedule a meeting with lots of busy people? If you don’t have permission to view their schedules (such as outside clients or vendors), or you just want to know if they prefer early mornings or end-of-day huddles, Doodle will save you tons of time managing their responses and avoiding rescheduling.

It’s a voting system that gives your attendees a handful of date and time options and lets majority rule. (Hooray for democracy!) And while this is a paid service for the meeting organizer, attendees can use it for free.

$30/month per user, doodle.com

Note-taking

Google Keep

If you’re invested in Google’s suite of apps you may already be using Google Keep, but even if you’re not, Google’s entry into the note-taking space is worth a glance. Google Keep doesn’t have any of the drawing, screen clipping and audio features that you’ll find in heavier note-taking apps—try Microsoft OneNote if you need those kinds of options.

What it does do is sync everywhere, whether it’s on your Chrome browser extension or in your Gmail. You can pin notes to create a simple priority list, and a quick swipe to the right archives old notes, so it can work as a to-do list as well. And the colorful interface is also practical, allowing you to color code your personal and work notes in one place.

Free, keep.google.com

iA Writer

Every detail in iA Writer’s design is in service of creating a distraction-free writing environment, from the retro typewriter font to the distinctive blinking blue cursor. It all helps to focus you on your words—in fact, you can use its “focus mode” to highlight one sentence or paragraph at a time. Swipe left to view your library of notes; otherwise, they stay out of view. It even features an easy-on-the-eyes night mode for working after dark.

$19.99 for one-time purchase, ia.net/writer

Efficiency boosters

RescueTime

If you want to increase your productivity, understanding how you spend your time is the first step. And with so many people, projects and, let’s be honest, social media sites jockeying for our attention in our home offices, it can be incredibly helpful to do an inventory of how you’re spending it. The app monitors which applications and websites you’re using and how much time you’re spending on each one.

You can categorize each app as “productive” or “unproductive,” and RescueTime will generate a weekly report showing you how productive you’ve been. You can get the weekly reports with the free Lite plan; the Premium plan offers extra features and reports, daily alerts if you’re being “unproductive,” and a “Get Focused” feature that lets you block distractions in your browser (ahem, Twitter).

Free, Premium $6/month per user, rescuetime.com

Pocket

Staying on top of industry news is important to the pros. (Hey, that’s why you read us!) But when you start getting distracted by content that you come across throughout the day—whether it’s via email, Slack, or news alerts on your phone—it’s time to start using a content saving app like Pocket.

This handy app lets you save articles, videos, pictures, and even tweets for when you have time to check them out. You can also view all your content offline (except for videos). Pocket also notices what you’re reading and recommends other content that you might like.

The free version archives your content for three months; when you upgrade it saves all your content forever, even if that content is taken off the web.

Free, Premium $4.99/month per user, getpocket.com

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