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Having to keep track of your day to day work, habits, goals, achievements and misses can feel like a full-time job much of the time. And that's why most people just don't bother to do it at all and live life hoping that it just works out in the end. Or they keep a notepad on their desk and randomly doodle important notes when they remember to do so.
But there is a better way. Multiple better ways in fact. It's just a matter finding the right combination of tools that work for you and for the way that you personally think and track down your knowledge.
Going into the new year, here are my top picks for productivity apps that I have used pretty much on the daily all of last year, and that I am continuing to find useful going into 2024.
When it comes to to-do list items, I am a huge fan of focusing on the day's goals and that's it. I might have 100 other things to do this coming Friday or next month, but those will have to wait for now. And Todoist so far has been the standout app when it comes to simplifying my daily work and routine.
And let's start off with the basic step of having to add a new task to a project. At the forefront, you have only what you need in order to manage a task, that being the title, the due date and the priority. Anything else is really kind of extra, at least for most peole.
The beauty in this simplicity though, is that Todoist hides functionality in plain sight through the use of various shortcuts and A.I. based text detection. If you for example add a task with the following text:
"Publish a new article by Tomorrow at 12pm"
Todoist will automatically create a deadline for the task for "tomorrow at 12pm". If you were to type @followup to your task item title, then Todoist would assign this task with the "folloup" label, all without you having to take your hands off the keyboard.
And once you're done, the task is removed from your visual space, unless you decide that you want to see it for whatever reason.
What I like
Clean simple layout - The standout feature for me is the fact that the layout is kept super simple with just the necessities. Todoist doesn't make it a challenge to get to where you need to get to, and much of the organizational thinking that other more complicated applications have is taken out of the equation.
Multiple projects - If you're on the free tier than you are allowed up to 5 personal projects. I initially started off with the free tier, however, pretty quickly I decided that the app was good enough for me to upgrade my account to the Pro tier. And luckily, Todoist is super cost effective coming in at $4 per month for the Pro tier and $6 per month for the Business tier.
Shared projects - I don't always share my projects, but when I do, it's pretty straightforward to do so on Todoist. Once shared, you are able to assign specific tasks to individuals as well.
Labels - One of my favorite features is the ability to include custom labels right as you type and then being able to filter by these labels later on. And the fact that it's kept hidden until you actually need it is icing on the cake.
Overall, this is my top pick for daily to-do lists and best of all, you can start off on the free tier and test it out for yourself. You can download Todoist for free over on their official site.
I've been an avid Notion user for the past several years now and it has only gotten better with time. The developers there have done an amazing job at continuing to pretty much add everything and anything into the list of features.
But I don't use it for any kind of to-do lists or task management in general. Notion can do amazing things as a complete package, such as organizing entire companies documents, but when it comes to super simple things, like keeping track of the daily tasks, things get lost in the weeds pretty fast.
I do use Notion for pretty much everything else though. Most of my projects are managed in Notion currently as it's the only app out there really that allows me to customize how I manage them individually.
What I like
Pages - The fact that anything and everything can be its own separate page, is amazing and it doesn't get the credit that it deserves. This makes Notion one of the most configurable platforms out there today, because you can essentially organize your data however you wish with no limitations. If you need a brand kit, you can set up a custom page for it, and if you need to manage a project, you can set up a page for that too.
Templates - Because Notion is so vast and it definitely does take some time to learn how to navigate and figure out, it's often the case that I find myself browsing through templates that some good soul out there spend time setting up. And the fact that more and more templates keep getting added to the overall library all the time, means that eventually you're going to pretty much be able to set up a page for anything with a single click.
Collaboration - I have used Notion in a professional setting in the past and the collaboration features are very well designed and intuitive.
And much more - I can keep listing feature after feature that Notion brings right out of the box, but then the fun of discovery goes away for the reader. The best way to really see if Notion is for you though is to set it up yourself and just see which templates, components, widgets make sense for what you are working on and let it build itself up from there.
You can download Notion for free on their official website.
When you search for 'Notion alternatives' these days, you are bound to hear about Obsidian. And that's exactly how I found out about it. Not because Notion wasn't doing the job, because it has been and that's why it's on this list. But more so because I'm constantly surprised that no other company is out there really innovating in the world of productivity and note management.
And then there's Obsidian, which I will say now, isn't a Notion alternative at all. Not even close. It's a completely different beast unto itself, and that's why it's on this list.
Obsidian isn't a task manager, a to do list, a project management tool or anything in between. Obsidian is essentially your knowledge (in whatever category you have) organized as a collection of interlinking nodes. Which is kind of technically how our brains work, so it just makes sense when you see it on the screen.
I'm currently only a few months into using Obsidian, but so far, I've used it on the daily and it hasn't disappointed me just yet.
What I like
Local data - When it comes to privacy and data storage, you're either for the cloud or completely against it. We've seen plenty of hacks during the past few years that would point a finger against any kind of cloud based storage. But at the same time, we've also seen just how convenient it is to have our data synced across all of our devices.
Obsidian kind of merges both worlds by putting its offline local storage at the forefront, but still offering up a way to sync your data if you need to. I've kept my data offline since I started using it, and so far have not found myself needing to sync it to any other device.
Links - The idea of linking one content piece to another isn't anything new. In fact, it's called a Hyperlink and we use them everyday. But I don't typically get to hyperlink my personal notes and thoughts very often. And Obsidian allows me to do it with just a few clicks.
Graph - The Graph view is definitely an interesting way to visualize your notes. We often get flooded with dozens/hundreds of text files organized sequentially by name or date but we rarely get to see just how these data points are connected.
Canvas - This is one of the more recent features of Obsidian and to me this seems like a feature worthy enough to have its own separate application. It is essentially an infinite canvas that allows you to store notes, images, web pages in a single view and to link the various different elements together, such as other notes. And the most impressive part (to me) is that all of this is done locally with a minimal footprint and file size which means that it is fast. I've you've ever used any cloud based canvas systems in the past, you might have noticed that the bigger the canvas, the bigger the lag time there will be when loading elements. But so far, my human eye has yet to notice any real tangible lag using Obsidian.
You can download Obsidian for free on their officiate site.
The productivity world is a billion dollar a year industry, and it's for a good reason. Because it isn't easy. Organizing daily life in 2024 looks drastically different than it did in 2004. Things are complicated now, because most of our daily management involves digital data that we have recently created and that wasn't around 20 years ago.
But lucky for us, there are plenty of companies out there looking to solve this challenge in modern times and they are doing a great job so far. These are my top picks for the year though and they will hopefully continue to get better. If you're using a productivity app not mentioned on this list, feel free to leave it in the comments below.
Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.
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