The 10 Best Productivity Apps of 2021

These PC apps will help you get things done

Productivity means getting more done with core tools that are often task-specific. If you're writing a report, you need a word processor, and if you're designing a car, you need computer-aided design software. What most jobs have in common is the need to plan tasks, schedule, and keep notes. Here is a look at some of the best Windows productivity apps for organizing your projects and getting things done.

01
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The Industry Standard for Best Organization Apps: Microsoft Outlook

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

  • Categories can be used for GTD contexts, projects, and more.

  • Complex filters.

  • Syncs with mobile devices.

  • Notes are handy for capturing ideas.

What We Don't Like
  • It can get overly complex.

  • GTD setup is a bit of a hack.

Microsoft Outlook is a popular calendar and email system in the business world. It follows the 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 the Blackberry.

Features such as Categories allow you to tag and filter items in any way you 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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02
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Free Alternative Productivity Software: Google Calendar

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 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 (Getting Things Done) implementation period. The cloud-based system is great for shared calendars.

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03
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Sync Data Between PC and Phone Productivity Apps: CompanionLink

CompanionLink Syncs Outlook to Android graphic
What We Like
  • Syncs Outlook to Android or iOS.

  • Complete sync, including categories.

  • Syncs custom fields.

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

  • There are further costs for cloud-based sync.

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

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04
of 10

For Serious Project Management: Microsoft Project

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.

  • It 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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05
of 10

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

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 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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06
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An Alternative to Notepad: Windows Sticky Notes

Windows 10 Sticky Notes
What We Like
  • Simple, distraction-free note taking.

  • Syncs with Android.

What We Don't Like
  • No iPhone sync.

Sticky Notes ships in Windows 10, 8, and 7 and can be downloaded from Microsoft. The app enables you to make notes that reformat to fit a window of any size, much like a text file in Notepad. It's possible to apply more formatting, such as bullet points, but the biggest difference is that everything is stored in one location and can be synced with an Android device.

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07
of 10

A Great MindMapping Productivity App: SimpleMind

A MindMap in SimpleMind
What We Like
  • Visual notes.

  • Structured hierarchy.

  • Syncs across all platforms.

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

  • The software is pricey.

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 you to create MindMaps on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. Created and finished maps can be synced via Dropbox or Google Drive so that you can access them from any device.

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08
of 10

Productivity Software That Brings Kanban Boards to the Cloud: Trello

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

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09
of 10

Simplicity With Calculation: Microsoft Excel

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 is also an excellent tool for planning projects and scheduling time; you can easily list tasks, together with the time required to complete them. Excel can then 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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10
of 10

For When You Want Simplicity: Windows Notepad

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, simple is often better, and you can't get simpler than Notepad. Few tools give you a way to get your thoughts down in writing without being distracted by formatting or software features.

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

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