Finding the best productivity app is no easy task, that’s why I have made this guide. By asking yourself some basic questions, you can narrow the playing field and be confident that you have made the right choice.
This is not a ranking of apps with a table of features. There are a lot of those out there. Instead, this is a list of questions to ask yourself to make sure that you are looking for the right app to suit your needs, and to make sure that you have made a safe choice.
How to find the best productivity app
Finding the best productivity app is not only about features and pricing. You have to know what issues you want to solve. Are you working alone or on a team? Do you need to delegate or share tasks? Do you follow a methodology like GTD? What platform are you on? Let’s start with the very basic.
1. Are you following, or do you want to start following, the GTD methodology?
If the answer is yes, then you will need a software that enables projects and contexts.
If the answer is no, then these two features are nice to have, but not a showstopper.
2. How are you working?
- Do you work alone or in a team?
- Are you looking for a personal productivity app or a system that enables your team to share and delegate tasks?
- If you want to use the system for a team, then it is important to be able to delegate tasks. Task comments should also be on your checklist as this makes it easy to add important information.
- If you have a large team or a lot of delegated tasks, you should make sure that it’s easy to follow up on the tasks that you have delegated.
3. What platform are you working on?
You might think that this is easy since your company has standardized on Windows. But, you still need to think about things like smartphones and the need to share information with people outside the organization.
- Should you provide an independent solution? Think about web apps.
- How about cell phones: Android? Apple?
- Does your companies security policy affect your choice?
(In the company I’m working in we are not able to install Windows 10 apps.)
4. How do your tasks end up on your list?
- Do you need a place to park your own ideas?
- Then easy capture is a big issue.
- Are a huge number of the items on your to-do list originating from emails, or being solved using email?
- If the answer is yes, then email integration should be near the top of your list.
5. How do you like to view your tasks?
- To-do list, kanban board, or both?
- Minimalistic, or cluttered with details?
6. Do you need reference documentation?
- Are you dependent on Microsoft OneNote or Evernote for documentation related to your tasks?
- If so, then make sure that these applications are easily integrated with your productivity software.
7. Can you easily separate your private tasks from your work-related tasks?
If you are going to use your productivity app for both private tasks and work-related tasks, it is important to be able to separate the two categories based on where you are at the moment.
- Can you set up hierarchical projects?
- Can you use contexts or other types of filters to view your tasks?
8. Does the company behind the productivity app offer support?
- Is there documentation on how to get started?
- Do they offer a dedicated support channel?
- What do their current users say about their support?
9. What do the reviews say?
Google is a good resource in cases like this. Search for “<app name> review.” Be sure to pay attention to the date of the reviews. You want reviews that are no more than one year old.
10. What about integrations?
11. Is there a paid option?
Seriously, if you are going to put all of your plans, projects, and important stuff into one place, you should be willing to pay for it – if they have a plan that suits your needs and are not ruining your finances. My point is that if the company is going to be around in the future it has to make money somehow. Remember: If you are not paying for the product, you and your data is the product.
12. Is your data safe?
When you think you have found the best productivity app, there are two more questions you should ask yourself.
- Is my data safe?
- Does the app offer any kind of export option for your data?
- What about backup?
- Is the company behind the productivity software going to be around in five years?
How to test a productivity app
So, you think you have found the best productivity app. Congrats! Here is what to do next:
Use the free trial period
Before starting your free trial period, make sure to note down the functionality that you need to pay to get. Your main task in the trial period is not only to test the application but to find out if you need the paid features. This is especially important if you have more than one paid plan to choose from.
Move a complete project or set of tasks into the new app
In order to test the system, you really need to use it in a real-life setting. Move a complete project or set of tasks into the new app and try to manage it from there. Try importing and exporting information. Try to change due dates and other information on a set of tasks.
Test all relevant platforms
Try working with the system on all relevant platforms. Install the app on your phone and on your tablet, if you have one. Test it on your laptop as well as on your big monitor. You want to find out if the synchronization between the web app and your phone is good enough.
Test offline functionality
You want to have a system that works offline and that does not cause any issues when you are getting back online. Try by setting your phone and laptop in flight mode. Add and update some items before turning flight mode off.
Listen to your gut feeling
At the end of the day, choosing productivity software is about more than just technical specifications and measurable sizes. When you are going to spend a lot of time using a productivity tool, you have to like it. If you don’t it is going to have a significant negative impact on your productivity. It does not matter if you have found the best productivity app if you are getting annoyed using it.