Who isn’t looking to be a little more productive and efficient with their time? Any time you can decrease the time it takes to complete a task or streamline some complicated process, everyone wins. If there’s a task to be done, rest assured there’s a piece of software aiming to help you do it faster, cheaper, quicker. From browser plugins to services that help you maintain important relationships, productivity apps aim to do it all, even if that goal sounds a bit ambitious.
I review a good deal of productivity software, and there are days when I’m not even sure what that classification means anymore. It used to refer primarily to office suites and their apps, like PowerPoint and Outlook, but now it can mean anything from dictation software to an app that replaces your standard Android keyboard for one that predicts text as you swipe-type.
At the heart of all great productivity tools is a solution to a specific problem. Some look toward efficiency, aiming to take an existing product, such as email, and make it easier to use so we waste less time futzing with it. Others seek to silence the noise of the net, bolster collaboration, or unite disparate data.
The 55 programs, mobile apps, plugins, and services in this list are among my favorites for helping anyone be more productive, from office workers to students. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, but I hope it lets you explore your options among the truly necessary productivity tools, as well as introduce you to some hidden gems that you might have missed while you were busy getting things done.
If you know of some great productivity apps we missed here, tell us
The free and very accessible Google Drive (formerly known as Google Docs) is the obvious choice among collaborative office suites in the cloud. You can create and edit documents, solo or with others, in real time and see everyone’s changes as they make them. Google Drive is accessible wherever you have Internet access and a Web browser. There’s also an optional, downloadable component, too, that enables file-syncing directly from computer. Other online-only suites, notably Zoho, have bigger feature sets, but Google Drive comes close to the ideal balance of features, speed, and convenience.
Platforms: Web, Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
With apps for more platforms than many of its competitors, Microsoft’s OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) is one of the most flexible cloud services for storing, syncing, and sharing files. On Windows 8.1, you no longer have to install a syncing utility for the service to work on the desktop and in File Explorer—it’s just there. OneDrive Mobile apps for iPhone and more recently for Android have gained the ability to automatically upload (privately) any photos you shoot on the smart phone or tablet—and not just photos, but videos, too.
Platforms: Web, Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Windows Phone
HyperOffice is a slick online-collaboration service that lets you store and access files, tasks, contacts, links, an documents—almost any digital file—on a HyperOffice-hosted website. A fully hosted alternative to building your own Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint servers, HyperOffice is feature-rich, but it has a few minor interface glitches that need to be worked out. HyperOffice is easy to set up as both an intranet and an extranet that lets co-workers, customers, and clients see specific data. If your company is thinking about cloud-based collaboration, you’ll be impressed with this inexpensive product.
Platforms: Web, Windows, Linux, Mac, BlackBerry, iOS