The 10 Best Productivity Apps of 2021

These PC apps will help you get things done

Productivity means getting more done. Your core tools are often task specific. If you’re writing a report you’ll need a word processor and if you’re designing a car you’ll need computer-aided design software. What most jobs have in common, is the need to plan tasks, schedule, and keep notes. This article looks at some of the best Windows productivity apps to organize your projects and get things done.

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Microsoft Outlook: The Industry Standard for Best Organization Apps

Screenshot of Microsoft Outlook
What We Like
  • Powerful system integrates calendar, tasks, notes, and email.

  • Tried and tested format.

  • Categories can be used for GTD contexts, projects etc.

  • Complex filters.

  • Sync with mobile devices.

  • Notes can be used to quickly capture ideas for processing later.

What We Don't Like
  • Can get overly complex.

  • GTD setup is a bit of a hack.

Outlook is by far the most popular calendar and email system in the business world. It follows the tried and tested productivity combination of calendar, tasks, notes, and contacts. It has been possible to synchronize this type of data across mobile devices for many years, starting with the Psion Organiser in 1984 and continuing with Blackberries.

Features such as categories allow you to tag and filter items in pretty much any way you might like, making it a powerful tool for getting things done. A common system is to prefix contexts with the '@' sign, for example, "@home," or "@work." This means you can quickly filter your task list to see only tasks that are relevant at a particular time.

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Google Calendar: Free Alternative Productivity Software

Screenshot of Google Calendar
What We Like
  • Simple and easy to use

  • Great for shared calendars

What We Don't Like
  • Lack of task categories makes GTD difficult

Google suite provides a much simpler calendar and task system than the one in Outlook. Google Calendar can make it easier to use although it isn’t possible to use categories for a proper GTD implementation period. The cloud-based system is great for shared calendars.

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CompanionLink: Sync Data Between PC and Phone Productivity Apps

Screenshot of CompanionLink
What We Like
  • Sync Outlook to Android or iOS

  • Complete sync including categories

  • Sync custom fields

What We Don't Like
  • It costs $49.95 just to sync your phone

  • Further costs for cloud based sync

To keep all your data synchronized between Outlook on PC and your phone, CompanionLink is the best app. Most other solutions will only sync some of your data, so features such as categories may not be synchronized. CompanionLink syncs everything in the standard Outlook database and even allows you to configure custom fields.

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Microsoft Project: For Serious Project Management

Screenshot of a Microsoft Project Gantt Chart
What We Like
  • Industry standard project management

  • Schedule critical activities

  • Balance resource allocation

What We Don't Like
  • Steep learning curve

  • Can be time consuming

Complex projects involve multiple activities happening at the same time, activities that can’t start until others are completed, and multiple resources that must be allocated. For this type of project management, Microsoft Project is the industry standard. However, while it’s a powerful piece of software, it can be time-consuming.

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Google Keep: For Keeping Post-it Notes in the Cloud

Screen shot of Google Keep
What We Like
  • Flexible visual note taking

  • Create reusable checklists

  • Set reminders by time or location

What We Don't Like
  • Locations must be a single location

Google Keep has been designed to look like post-it notes, but it does a lot more than that, as it also supports sketches, photos, text, and lists. It's available online, primarily for PC use, and it syncs to Android and iOS.

Reminders can be set by time or location, but it can only be a single location. It's also a shame this feature isn't better integrated with Google Maps—it would be great to be able to say "remind me at a gas station."

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Windows Sticky Notes: An Alternative to Notepad

Screenshot of Windows Sticky Notes
What We Like
  • Simple, distraction-free note taking

  • Sync with Android

What We Don't Like
  • No iPhone sync

Sticky Notes are a Windows 10 feature enabling users to make text notes that reformat to fit a window of any size, much like a text file in Notepad. It's possible to apply a bit more formatting, such as bullet points, but the biggest difference is everything is stored in one location and can be synced with an Android device.

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SimpleMind: A Great MindMapping Productivity App

Screenshot of a MindMap in SimpleMind
What We Like
  • Visual notes

  • Structured hierarchy

  • Sync accross all platforms

What We Don't Like
  • Presentation might get in the way of ideas

MindMapping is a way of brainstorming and note-taking designed to resemble the way the brain works, and is said to improve memory and creativity. SimpleMind capitalizes on this by enabling users to create MindMaps on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. Created and finished maps can be synced via Dropbox or Google Drive, so you can access them from any device.

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Trello: Productivity Software That Brings Kanban Boards to the Cloud

Screenshot of Trello
What We Like
  • Simple visual system

  • Great for distributed teams that need to visualize their workload

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't do complex scheduling and resource levelling like Microsoft Project

  • Doesn't allow context reminders like GTD in Outlook

Kanban uses visual cards to keep sight of the jobs you need to do. Trello, however, replaces cards on a physical board with a digital Kanban board that lives in the cloud. This is great for distributed teams who need to keep track of what they're doing, while also being aware of what other teams are up to.

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Microsoft Excel: Simplicity with Calculation

Screenshot of Excel showing morning schedule
What We Like
  • Simple and flexible for planning

  • Easily calculate workload and schedule

What We Don't Like
  • No reminders

Microsoft Excel has many uses for organizing data and performing calculations. It can also be a great tool for planning projects and scheduling time; you can easily list tasks, together with the time required to complete them. Excel can then quickly calculate the total time required, as well as target start and finish times. It’s easy to cut-and-paste tasks and adjust times as you plan your project.

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Windows Notepad: For When You Want Simplicity

Screenshot showing Windows Notepad over another app
What We Like
  • Simple distraction free notes

  • Flexible

  • Included free with Windows

  • Text reformats to fit in any sized window

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't automate anything

  • Doesn't sync with mobile devices

When it comes to brainstorming and structuring a plan, simpler is often better, and you can’t get simpler than Notepad. There are few tools that give you such a pure way to get your thoughts down in writing, without being distracted by formatting or software features.

Another huge benefit of Notepad over other apps is text reformats to fit a window of any size, allowing you to make the most of whatever space is available on your desktop. It’s easy to forget about Notepad, as it’s been there since the very first version of Windows in 1985, but sometimes you can’t beat the original. 

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