18 Apps You Can Actually Use

Categories Productivity

We are surrounded by technology. A pew study from 2015 revealed 64% of American adults now own a smart phone. Take into account an older population who may not have migrated to this newer technology, and I would venture to say nearly everyone reading this has at least one smart device or another.

So what do we do with these little computers we carry around with us everyday? Or the bigger computers on our desks for that matter? Are they really making our lives easier?

For some, these devices may not be much more than a vehicle for social media consumption. However, some of us are always on the lookout for a new app to help us accomplish some task, keep a better list, or remind us of an important appointment. But with more than 1.5 million apps on both the Android and Apple app store, how are we supposed to choose apps that actually help us in our day-to-day lives?

That’s where people like me come in. We do the work so you don’t have to. With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to share with you some of my favorite apps that I use on an at least semi-regular basis.

Many of these apps help me either improve a current workflow or create a workflow to be more efficient which is exactly what any good tool should do.

If you don’t need a big time project management app, don’t download one. If a piece of paper and pencil works great for you as a grocery list, don’t try to fix it with a pretty piece of software. Figure out the problem(s) that you would like technology to help you solve and look for an app that does that.

So without further ado, here are 18 apps you can actually (hopefully) use. 

FYI: Some of these companies provide some incentives for people like me getting people like you click on or use their app. I would never share a product with you that I didn’t believe in and use, but I just wanted you to know.

Task Management: Todoist

We all have a Todo list. This is the place where all those actionable items go to get them out of our heads. Things like: “Pick up dry cleaning;” “Don’t forget to make potato salad for the potluck;” or “Order the third book in the Twilight series (is that still a thing?).” That’s what Todoist does. It changed my productivity so much I even wrote an entire post about it. It’s clean, simple, and powerful. Todoist is my go to task manager. If there’s a simple todo that needs to be todone (see what I did there), it goes in Todoist. Todoist allows me to set due dates, add reminders, attach files, and pretty much organize any task that could ever need to be done. Stack that on top of the beautifully simple design and the fact that Todoist is on pretty much every platform imaginable, and you’ve got one of my favorite apps to date. As a matter of fact, if I weren’t working with a team at work, I might use Todoist to manage every project in my life, but recently I’ve felt the need to try something with a little different functionality. That’s where Asana comes in.

Project Management: Asana

If Todoist is my task manager, Asana is my project manager. It’s a recent addition for me, but productivity gurus like Mike Vardy have been using Todoist and Asana in tandem for some time. Asana allows me to communicate with a group from a team level all the way down to a specific task level with Conversations while also allowing me to see the big picture of each individual project. It does almost everything I need a project management app to do and at a fraction of the cost (free for what most people need) of some of the more corporate project management solutions out there.

Capture: Evernote

Now that I’ve nailed down which apps are going to remind me of what I need to do and when (Todoist & Asana), I find there’s often the need to capture and store information or lists in some way. Pen and paper still works (as it does for most of these apps), but it can sometimes be difficult to sort, file, and retrieve when you have a lot of notes written on scrap paper all over your desk. This is when the capturing and storage (see below) apps come to the rescue. 

Evernote is pretty much the gold standard for ubiquitous capture. It is a file cabinet for anything and everything. You can add pictures, PDFs, text lists, screen shots, emails, and the list goes on and on and on. Evernote is the place for ideas, records, receipts, web clippings, etc. I’m actually writing this post in Evernote. When I don’t know where to put something that I may need later, I put it in Evernote because the search feature allows me to pretty much find anything even if I can’t remember where I filed it. There are so many things Evernote can do books have been written about it, and I may dedicate a post to it in the future, but if you haven’t already set up an account, you should do that now.

p.s. You can get a free month of Evernote Premium by clicking here.

Storage: Dropbox

While Evernote is the place to capture pretty much any note, list, or other information you want to reference later, you’ll still need a place to store larger and more official file types like Videos (.mp4), Documents (.doc), and Images (.jpg). Enter Dropbox. There are alternatives out there (Box and OneDrive come to mind), but Dropbox was first, and it’s been my go to for some time now. I rarely save anything to my actual computer hard drive and pretty much trust Dropbox with all of my digital files. Obviously, a regularly scheduled back-up is a good idea, but if you’re looking for a place to store files that can then be accessed anywhere on any device, Dropbox is the way to go.

Pictures: Google Photos

Google Photos is worth a mention here because if you’re anything like me, managing all of those pictures we take with our cell phones can be overwhelming. That’s why I’ve set up my phone to automagically upload every picture I take to my Google account in Google Photos (this can be done by downloading the Google Photos app and checking the settings). My pictures are then searchable by date, and I can go in later to download, share, or delete until my heart’s content.

Graphic Design: Canva

I am not a graphic designer. I don’t have the extra cash or the need to pay for an expensive Adobe product, not to mention how little I would know about how to use it. That’s why Canva has been such a welcome addition to my app library. This one is a web app only, but it has given me the ability to design slides, blog headers, and social media graphics as easily as I can drag and drop. If you ever have a need to create a custom graphic but don’t know where to start, you should definitely take a look at Canva.

Budget: YNAB

For the first few years of our marriage, Beth and I used an Excel spreadsheet to manage our monthly budget. It worked (sort of), but it was a lot of work and was far too time consuming After a while, we fell out of the habit and gave it up altogether. Then, when we realized we desperately needed some way of tracking our income and expenses, I began to look around for an app that would meet our needs and found YNAB (You Need A Budget). It does cost a little ($5/mo), but it is well worth it for us to be able to have a better picture of where our money is going. YNAB is a web app that communicates with both Android and iOS, so we have our budget with us everywhere we go. The company also seems to have a really fun culture and the CEO Jesse delivers a Whiteboard Wednesday message every week to help keep you on track. If you don’t already have a budget solution, I highly recommend you check out YNAB.

Podcasts: Pocket Casts

This may seem like a small thing to many of you, but podcasts have been one of the things that has changed my life over the last 18 months. I’ll not get into totally explaining that statement here, but suffice it to say, I listen to a lot of podcasts. In order to subscribe and manage my intake, I was looking for an app that looked great AND kept my podcast queue organized. Pocket Casts fit the bill and then some. I’d put it up against iTunes for podcast management any day. There is a one time cost ($3.99), but that’s less than a trip to Starbuck’s and for an app that I use almost daily, paying a small amount to support the company for such a great product is something I’d gladly do again.

Fitness: FitStar

If you’ve ever struggled to know exactly what to do for a workout. If you don’t have a weight room in your garage. If you are looking for some direction on where to start to be a little more fit. I present to you FitStar. FitStar was created in part by former NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez and has recently become a part of the Fitbit family of apps. Basically, the app is Tony and some of his friends demonstrating various exercises for you as you go along. There are four primary workout plans along with various elective “one-off” workouts as well. Most workouts are limited to bodyweight movements (no weights required) and each workout usually ranges from 20 to 30 minutes. There are plenty of great workout plans out there, but I’ve found FitStar to be a great option for when I know I want to do something but just don’t know what to do. It travels well, too, since it’s available on the web and as an app on my phone, and at $5.45/mo, it beats a gym membership by a long shot.

p.s. You can use the referral code 4PRXX4 to get a free month of FitStar Premium

Sports: ESPN

As a sports fan, I like to stay up to date on what is going on with my favorite teams. ESPN makes that easy because I can customize the alerts I get for each team individually. For instance, if I want to know the end results of the Atlanta Braves games (because there’s 162 per year) but don’t want the final score of a University of Tennessee football game (because I’m likely to be recording it or watching it slightly delayed), I can do that. There was a time when the ESPN app frustrated me more than it helped me, but after a few updates, I’m back on board, and if you’re a sports fan, you should be too.

Calendar: Google Calendar

If someone wanted to know the best time and place to throw a surprise party for me, Google Calendar would be the place to check for my availability. If there’s an appointment, a phone call, or a meeting, it’s in there. In my opinion, it’s the best calendar app out there. It allows my wife and I to share our work calendars, collaborate on a home calendar, and even follow calendars from organizations (like our kids’ school, church related events, etc.). It syncs on all our devices, and sends reminders as either app notification, text message or email. Google Calendar is the single source of truth for our family schedules, and you don’t want to be the guy that forgot put a work trip on the calendar when your wife is trying to plan a Ladies’ Night Out (not that I’ve any experience or anything).

Passwords: 1Password

1Password is probably the most expensive app on this list ($25 for a single license), but as someone who used the same password for everything until these websites started asking for capital letters, numbers, and special characters (whatever that means), it’s been a welcome addition for me. I’ve heard some of my friends say they’ve had a good experience with LastPass as well, but 1Password came highly recommended. Basically, this app is installed on your computer, helps you remember passwords you’ve set, generates virtually unbreakable passwords based on specific criteria, and can even hold payment information to expedite checking out at your favorite online store. Even if you pass on 1Password, be sure you’re using some system to create and track good, strong passwords to keep your digital information safe.

Social Media: Twitter

I realize that I’m getting old because I’m mostly a Twitter/Facebook user in my day-to-day life. I keep up with the Snapchats, Periscopes, and Peaches of the world, but it’s just not where most of my friends congregate. With that being said, my favorite social media app by far is Twitter. Twitter gives me weather, news, sports, and more. I can follow beat reporters for my favorite teams, the local weather guru, and my favorite leadership and productivity accounts and since there is a limit on character count, I don’t have to scroll past the annoyingly long posts some other platforms allow. I know that everyone has their favorite, so I won’t spend a lot of time here, but if you haven’t signed up for an account yet, I recommend it.

Reading: Feedly

I actually don’t use my RSS aggregator very often. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, RSS stands for real-time syndication, and it is basically the way to keep up with the latest posts from your favorite writers and websites. Feedly is the best out there in my opinion. It takes all the blogs you want to follow and gives you the latest articles in an easy to read interface. Every time I remember that I’m not using it very much, I think that I may start using it again, but I’ve found that most of the articles I read come from either a social media link or an email list I’m subscribed to. With that being said, if you’re looking for a way to organize all the blogs you like, Feedly is the ticket.

Communication: GroupMe

I’ve tried to limit all of these categories to one app, but this one is probably the hardest to narrow down. I settled on GroupMe but Google Hangouts, MightText, and Slack were close runners-up. GroupMe is basically a group messaging app. I know those are a dime per dozen, but there are a few features that I like specifically about GroupMe that keeps it hanging around in my phone. First, it considers the non-techie among us. If you have someone in your family, sports team, or small group that doesn’t have a smart phone (gasp) or doesn’t want to download another app (understandable), GroupMe can communicate with that person as a standard text message (SMS). For everyone else, the app divides conversations into your different groups and allows you to see them all in one place. We’ve used it for our son’s soccer team, my event team at work, and even our family during family vacation. If you are wanting to communicate with a group and want them to be able to communicate back to the group (keeping in mind not EVERYONE has an iPhone), GroupMe is my group messaging app of choice.

Schedule Meetings: NeedToMeet

Ever tried to set up a meeting with one or more other people only to get lost in a seemingly endless stream of emails or texts? And then, once you finally think everyone has agreed on a time, that one guy who hasn’t said anything reminds you that he’s out of town that day. This is where NeedToMeet makes your life simpler. NeedToMeet allows you to set your availability and then send a link to all the other people to choose their availability. Once everyone responds, you can see which days/times work the best and BOOM, it’s scheduled. I like NeedToMeet because it isn’t complicated. It just does what you need it to do. If you ever find yourself trying to coordinate a bunch of different schedules, check it out.

Music: Spotify

I’m not an audiophile like many of you, I’m sure, but if/when I want to listen to music and my computer is near, Spotify is my app of choice. I chose Spotify because it lets me look up specific artists and songs as well as offering a ton of radio stations or mood related music to stream while at work or at home. Admittedly, though, this isn’t a best ever endorsement from me because I haven’t tried out some of the new ones others to hit the market like Rdio [which has apparently already been acquired by Pandora]. If I’m choosing between Pandora, Apple Music, or Spotify, though, Spotify wins for me.

Travel: iExit

Of all the apps in this list, iExit may be the one I use with the least frequency, but I find I’m always glad to have it when I need it. At the most basic level, iExit determines what interstate you are traveling, asks you North/South/East/West, and then gives you a list of gas stations, restaurants, and markets you will find at upcoming exits. The lists are grouped by exit so you know exactly how far you are from the next Cracker Barrel! As a father of two small kids, being able to know the difference between a gas station and a GAS STATION and exactly how many minutes it will take you to get there is akin to a Christmas miracle.

Grocery List: Bring!

Beth and I used Todoist for a while to manage our shopping list, but we’ve recently switched to Bring! because I wanted a more dedicated shopping list rather than have the milk and bread clutter up my todo list. After some searching, I reduced our choices to either Capitan or Bring!. We’re trying Bring! but because we haven’t been using it for long, I can’t give it my seal of approval just yet. So far, though, it looks promising. If you’ve got another suggestion for this category, I’d love to hear it (just not for a few months, so I don’t go app jumping again). 

Well, there you have it. My “not exhaustive but possibly exhausting” list of apps that I find useful. There are obviously some I had to leave out, but you never know, maybe they’ll show up in another post down the road. Remember, though, apps are just a tool. Tools are only as useful as the person wielding them, so be intentional to use technology to better your world not complicate it.

Brandon is the founder of A Life to Lead. He is also the husband of Beth, father to Ethan and Kate, and the coordinator of the D6 Conference.

4 thoughts on “18 Apps You Can Actually Use

  1. I love PocketCasts. I use todoist every day. The better I become with Evernote the more amazed I am at just what all it can do. I’m pretty much invested in the Google environment so Google Drive, Google Music and Google Docs would make my list.

  2. Using Evernote Web Clipper (for Chrome), I quickly saved this article to my “IT Related Articles” notebook. Thanks for the list. Great stuff!

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