The 15 best productivity apps of 2020

New tools for making work easier and more enjoyable, no matter where you’re working from.

BY JARED NEWMAN

1. A VOCAL CORD
Texting is impersonal. Video chat, invasive. Maybe what we need is good old-fashioned voicemail. Yac lets you leave voice messages that teammates can listen to any- time on a computer or phone. You can also add a screen share, in case you need a visual aid. [Windows, Mac, iOS, Android]

2. REAL-LIFE “DO NOT DISTURB” MODE
Announcing to your partner or roommates that you need privacy can seem a little confrontational. Oh Bother lets you set boundaries in a subtler way; the app signals whether or not you’re okay with being disturbed. [iOS]

3. A CREDIBLE CHROME RIVAL
Microsoft Edge blocks trackers, by default, from sites you haven’t visited, and offers even stricter tracking protection as an option. Based on the same source code as Chrome, it supports the same extensions. [Windows, Mac, iOS, Android]

4. A SIMPLER NOTE CATCHER
Tot is a great place to stash ideas in a hurry, thanks to its minimalism—just seven color-coded scratchpads and only a handful of formatting options—and how easily it imports text from other apps. [iOS, Mac]

5. A RADICAL EMAIL RETHINK
Hey, from the makers of Basecamp, reinvents email around the idea of permission. No one gets into your inbox until you approve them, read receipts are blocked, and you have to opt in to notifications on a per-contact or per-thread basis. [Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, web]

6. THE MOTIVATIONAL CALENDAR
Lightpad views the calendar as a kind of spiral staircase that you can scroll through, with dots that signify each day’s agenda. [web]

7. LIKE PHOTOSHOP, BUT FREE
An invaluable web-based alternative to Adobe Photoshop, Pixlr Editor loads quickly, feels responsive, and offers layer-based editing with tools such as clone brush, magic wand, and smudge. [Chrome, Firefox]

8. A PDF NAVIGATOR
No more toggling between the pages of your digital documents. With LiquidText, you can highlight images or text snippets, drop them into a pinboard for future reference, and jump back to the source of the snippet with just a tap. You can also pinch your fingers together to collapse the space between any two pages you want to look at. [iPadOS, Mac, Windows]

9. GET SOME TIME BACK
Reclaim.ai, a scheduling assistant for Google Calendar, lets you set windows for certain “habits” (lunch, writing, exercise), then automatically shuffles those personal time blocks around as meetings get added to your calendar. Others merely see that you’re busy. [web]

10. NOTES TO SELF
Chrome extension Draft by Slite turns your new tab page into a notepad on which you can post to-do list items, daily affirmations, or info from sites including Trello and Airtable, turning it into a bona fide productivity hub. [web]

11. INSPIRATION IN EVERY TAB
Or, replace your default new tab page with a beautiful, customizable new one from Tabliss, a free extension. [Chrome, Firefox]

12. SOOTHING OFFICE SOUNDS
For those who can’t adjust to the quiet of home, the Calm Office noise generator (part of a suite of offerings from mynoise.net) can help. Each volume slider controls a different office sound: copy machines, printers, chatty colleagues, clickety keyboards, and more. [web]

13. NOT JUST ANOTHER WORK TIMER
With Pomodor, you can set custom work and break times, track your work by labeling each session, switch between light and dark modes, and show or hide the timer in your browser’s menu bar. The app even works offline and syncs your stats across devices. It’s a great example of an old idea done newly well. [web]

14. A HIGH-TOUCH CALENDAR
Pencil Planner, which lets you jot down meeting notes, goals, daily highlights, and to-do list items with an Apple Pencil, combines old-school aesthetics with digital functionality. It’s not the only app that tries to emulate paper planners but it’s the best-executed. [iOS]

15. SUPERCHARGED SCREEN SHARING
Since we can’t huddle around a coworker’s computer while working from home, Screens is a powerful substitute. The remote desktop tool lets multiple co­workers control a single computer while chatting through voice or video. It also has a handy drawing tool so people can mark up what they’re looking at on the shared screen. Use it for anything that doesn’t already have Google Docs–style live collaboration built in. [Mac, Windows]

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