There are a ton of apps, products, blogs, and books that promise to make you more productive. But how do you know which ones are actually worth your time and money?
As a remote team, we’re always looking for new tools and strategies to help us work smarter and keep a healthy work-life balance at the same time. So we decided to put together a list of our favorites from 2015.
From note-taking and online learning to noise-cancelling earphones and portable standing desks, we share the tools and sites we’ve used this year. We hope they help you accomplish your goals in 2016!
Our favorite apps
A good note-taking app is a productivity essential. If you’re invested in the iOS ecosystem and love actually writing your thoughts out by hand, the GoodNotes app is one of your best options. The clean, intuitive interface is right at home on your iPhone or iPad and allows you to take beautiful hand-written notes, jot down your thoughts on PDFs, and even sketch out design mock-ups on-the-go. The only downside to GoodNotes is that it’s currently only supported on iPhone and iPad. However, they released a limited Mac version 1.0 earlier this year, and the team promises further improvements are coming soon.
I mostly use the GoodNotes app for creating design mockups on the go. Maybe I’m not the typical use case but it works great for me. I really appreciate the customizability and ease of use. It’s so much more than just a note app.
If you need multi-platform support and a more robust organizational system to capture and save more types of content, OneNote has you covered. The software is completely free and compatible with iOS, Android, Mac OS, Windows, and more. You can insert all sorts of objects into your notes—including audio, video, spreadsheets, equations, and symbols. And the app allows you to share notes and collaborate with others. The support for hand-writing is excellent too.
Platform: all of them
I’ve used OneNote for everything since high school. It has awesome support for all kinds of content, including the best inking, which I use a ton. It’s the reason I haven’t used pen and paper for a few years now.
If you’ve ever felt informational FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), Blinkist is a must-have productivity tool. It’s like a beautiful version of SparkNotes, boiling down all of the most popular books on business, self-improvement, productivity, and much more into a short summary of their essential take-aways. It’s a little on the pricey side, but it pays itself back in saved time and increased knowledge on any subject about which you’ll ever want to know.
Price: $49.99 or $79.99 yearly
Recommended by Jano (@), Developer
I think Blinkist strikes a perfect balance between summarizing the key ideas and storytelling, all beautifully packaged into an app with a super polished UX.
iSpeech Text-to-Speech App
One of the most distracting aspects of the Internet is the overwhelming amount of high-quality, useful information out there. It’s easy to start meandering through link after link reading articles instead of actually getting things done. With iSpeech Text-to-Speech-App, you can save hours a day by listening to those articles instead. The free service’s high-quality voice rendering lets you get all of the benefits of great articles on your commute or while doing household chores so you won’t lose valuable productive time during the workday.
Platform: iOS, Inova is a great alternative for Android
Recommended by Allan ( , COO
With iSpeech, I can listen to articles and posts from the web in the evening while I do household stuff. Usually I would read those during the day, so it frees up a lot of time to get other stuff done at work.
Udacity and Lynda
Lynda is such an awesome resource. It covers the gamut of categories that I would be interested to learn something about, whether it be from scratch or maybe just to brush the cobwebs off some old knowledge. I really love the learn-at-your own pace and jump-in-at-your preferred depth that Lynda offers.
I’m also a major fan of Udacity and got into it via Google’s recent Android Nanodegree program offering. I turn to Udacity for those University-style courses that work on a moving schedule with lectures and quizzes and tests and grades… and oh yes… classmates!
Pomodoro is one of the most popular productivity methods out there, and for good reason. This simple strategy of working in 25-minutes chunks with 5-minute breaks in between improves focus on a single task and helps you get back on track after inevitable distractions.
Pomodone is a simple, well-designed desktop pomodoro timer that keeps you on track. It also works with several of the most popular task management apps—including an awesome integration with Todoist—so you know exactly what you should be focusing on when.
Platforms: Mac and Windows
Recommended by Piotr, Developer
PomoDone is great for anyone using Todoist and the Pomodoro technique. Pomodoro itself is amazing, and with Pomodone I can plan my day in Todoist and then use Pomodore to go through tasks. Great combination.
The science is clear: sleep is one of the most productive things you can do in a day. But the late-night light from our computers makes it very difficult to do it well. That’s where f.lux comes in. It’s a neat piece of software that automatically changes the type of light your screen emits to match the time of day. At night, the warmer light reduces eye strain and signals your body to produce melatonin to help you sleep earlier and better.
Platforms: Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Twilight (an Android alternative)
Usually, I have a hard time falling asleep at night, but after I started to use f.lux I no longer have this issue. f.lux reduces blue light coming out of our screens—which is bad for us as it makes our body think it’s day. The f.lux trick means I get more sleep and can be a lot more fresh the next day!
Our favorite products
They say that sitting is the new smoking, but standing and adjustable desks cost an arm and leg. It’s also pretty hard to strap one to your back for a trip to your local coffeeshop. That’s where the StandStand comes in. This simple, crowd-funded invention uses three interlocking pieces of wood to create a portable platform so you can have a standing desk no matter where you work from.
Price: from $69
Ever since my husband had back surgery, I’ve been very conscious of the amount of time I spend sitting down in a day. The StandStand is the easiest way to incorporate a standing desk into your work routine. It’s beautifully and functionally designed so that you can carry and set it up it anywhere you are.
There are a lot of digital note-taking options out there, but sometimes you just need to disconnect and embrace the free-flowing creativity that comes from putting pen to paper. Moleskine offers a vast range of simple notebooks for capturing and exploring ideas on paper. You can always take a picture and add it to your favorite note app later.
Price: from $10
Recommended by Wallace (@), Designer
Moleskine is the best productivity product for me. Even in the age of the Internet, it still feels good to write and sketch things out on paper.
Shure SE215 Sound-Isolating Earphones
If you work in busy offices or crowded coffee shops (like our remote team often does), Shure SE215 Sound Isolating Earphones will be your best friend. They block out ambient noise while producing exceptional sound quality for the music you do want to listen to. Unlike over-the-ear headphones, these earphones tuck away into a small pocket and are easy to carry anywhere.
Recommended by Piotr, Developer
These headphones are great to use in busy places like coffee shops when you need to concentrate. They isolate a lot of background noise and allow you to listen to the music on low volume. But sometimes I just tuck them in without playing any music, and that’s enough for me to concentrate.
Amazon Basics Rucksack
Staying productive while traveling is a huge challenge. The right backpack can go a long way in helping you stay organized and sane on-the-go. The Amazon Basics Rucksack does the trick beautifully. It’s not flashy, but it allows you to pack a ton of stuff and keep it all organized in customizable internal compartments. It’s also very reasonably priced relative to other travel bags.
Recommended by Alex (@), Designer
This backpack is great for traveling. You can rearrange the interior, and it fits a lot of stuff. It says it’s for camera equipment but the different compartments work great for clothes or whatever.
Wearables were a huge productivity trend in 2015, and all signs suggest that smart watches will only get more powerful in the future. When used wisely, the instant notifications can cut down on your smartphone dependency, remind you of your urgent tasks, and help you develop healthier habits. The smartwatch brand you choose will depend a lot on your platform loyalty (iOS or Android, both of which Todoist supports) and aesthetic preferences. Our team uses and loves several different models including the Apple Watch, the Moto 360, and the LG G watch.
Recommended by Omar (@), Support team
With my Android Wear watch, it takes me less than a second to get whatever update I need with a glance and without breaking my workflow. The other major advantage is being able to pop a quick “OK Google… take a note” and in less than two seconds add a task right to my Todoist task list so I never forget what I needed to do—even if I’m in the middle of something important or spending time with the important people in my life.
Fitbit Charge HR
For health and fitness-specific wearables, Fitbit offers a wide range of bands to help you develop healthy habits. They cost less than a smartwatch, don’t include potentially distracting notifications, and are often more accurate in terms of monitoring your fitness. The Fitbit Charge HR offers everything you need to become healthier. It helps you monitor and improve everything from the number of steps you take in a day to your heart rate and even your sleep.
Recommended by Jan (@), developer
The Fitbit Charge HR is very affordable, not flashy and just works great, Windows included. The ability to automatically track sleep helps me sleep a lot more consistently.
Our favorite crowd-funded campaigns
The BetterBack is for anyone who sits hunched over their computers eight hours a day but hates standing desks—particularly those who experience back pain. This simple, crowd-funded invention helps you build better posture and relieves back pain without requiring the small fortune of an ergonomic office chair.
Recommended by Steven (@), Developer
I had a terrible back posture. BetterBack makes me feel better when putting it on. The thing is you have to form a habit of using it. It’s not something you’ll use for the whole work day, but correcting your posture for 15 minutes every day makes a difference.
A Song a Day
A Song A Day is a godsend for the busy music lover. Sign up for the daily newsletter, and get a song delivered to your inbox every day. All of the selections are hand-curated by an actual human being! The Indiegogo campaign got $7.1K in funding, which will help the team automatize the process and add some cool features.
Recommended by Hugo (@), Marketer
I’m a bit biased here, as I’m curating electronic music and have helped to grow the project since January. But I do think A Song A Day is an awesome service for anyone who loves discovering new music and is otherwise too busy to invest the time it takes.
The World’s Best Travel Jacket
Anyone who travels frequently knows the pains of trying to carry everything you need at once. It takes forever to rummage through your bags, and you’re liable to have something stolen out of a pocket while you’re not paying attention. This World’s Best Jacket promises to take (at least some of) the stress out of travel. With pockets for everything from your passport to your tablet, you can keep your arms and hands free to enjoy exploring new places.
Price: from $149
Recommended by Clarissa (@), Marketer
Ok, I might not be the most fashionable person in this jacket, but it’s amazing for the frequent trips I do to write travel articles. I used to lose some time (and a lot of patience) trying to look for this things in my backpack when I needed to take notes on a trip. Now I have something with me that is very comfortable and lets me carry all of my stuff (passport, pen, phone, wallet) while leaving my hands free to take pictures or write. And I like the fact that it’s also an eye-mask.
For anything you can’t fit into your Travel Jacket, the BlueSmart carry-on has you covered. One of the most successful crowd-funding campaigns of all time, BlueSmart is a high-quality carry-on suitcase that you can control from your phone. From the app, you can lock and unlock it, weigh it, track its location, get notified if you’re leaving it behind, and find out more about your travel habits. You can also charge your phone six times over with a built-in battery. BlueSmart is a game-changer for anyone who needs to stay productive on frequent business trips.
Recommended by Brenna (@), Head of Marketing
The BlueSmart Indiegogo campaign, created by a friend of mine and Amir’s, has been a huge inspiration not only in the amount of funds it’s raised but in the way it seeks to revolutionize the travel luggage industry. They have created a cutting edge product that will have a huge impact on how people travel in the future. I can’t wait to use it :)
This recommendation takes some liberties with the definition of “productivity,” but we’re huge believers in the idea that making time for play makes us all better at our work. Exploding Kittens (a team favorite at our company retreat this year) is a quirky and fast-paced game for “people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats.” It’s perfect for taking your mind off of work and doing some team bonding.
Recommended by Allan (@Zjellstrom), COO
I love Exploding Kittens because you can be in dire straits, but with just one move you can flip the entire game. I love conditions where you can never rest on your laurels.
Blogs and podcasts
Remote work comes with its own unique challenges. How do you build a team culture? How do you strike a work-life balance when you can work anywhere, anytime? How do you not become a remote-work hermit? If you’ve ever found yourself asking these kinds of questions, we recommend signing up for the Remotive.io newsletter.
Recommended by Hugo (@), Marketer
I always find the articles in the Remotive.io newsletter super useful, as I’m constantly looking for tips on remote working and productivity to improve myself at Doist. Highly recommended for anyone who works on a distributed team.
First Round Review
- We’ll get out of the way and let experts speak directly to you about what they believe is most important. (That’s why we choose not to use bylines.)
- Every article will serve up tactics that you can use today to change your company and your career.
- We will never be boring. The stories you find on here are crafted to teach, to engage and to stick.
If you’re a tech entrepreneur yourself or you work for a start-up, pretty much every article is a must read. We suggest starting with “Why Radical Candor is the Secret to Being a Good Boss.”
Recommended by Allan (@Zjellstrom), COO
What I love about First Round Review is that it’s rare they publish a post that doesn’t strike a chord with me. There is always some sort of takeaway to reflect upon that relates to our current state as a company.
Derek Sivers’ Blog
Derek Sivers’ blog‘ on work and life never fails to be succinct and poignant. He writes the kind of posts you think about for a whole week and want to share with everyone you know. We recommend starting with his post “Getting Out of a Bad Place.”
Recommended by Jano (@), Developer
Derek Sivers doesn’t post too frequently, but every time he does he makes a big impact. I think this is due to his unique ability to simplify matters, reflect and share highly valuable insights on his posts. These are usually focused on a single but powerful idea, that helps people in thinking more clearly, being more efficient, or simplifying.
The GTD YouTube channel
First published by David Allen in 2001, the Getting Things Done productivity method revolves around getting every task you’re responsible for out of your head and into a trusted system. Millions of people swear by this system to get more done while feeling less stressed and overwhelmed. At the end of the day isn’t that the dream? The GTD YouTube channel packs everything you need to know about GTD into manageable videos, and all of the information comes straight from David Allen himself.
Recommended by Aygul (@), Head of Community Management & Support
GTD is hands down one of the most powerful productivity methods in the world/for over a decade! Being a huge supporter and fan, I really enjoy watching videos on the official channel. My favorite video series is “Two Minutes with David Allen,” useful tips to consume in small chunks. Highly recommended!
Tim Ferriss’s Podcast
Tim Ferris is well-known as a productivity guru himself, but he’s also a master interviewer, getting productivity and business experts to reveal fascinating insights into their unique approaches to work and life. If you enjoyed reading the Four Hour Work Week, you will get a ton of information out of listening to Tim Ferris’s Podcast.
Our team particularly enjoyed his interview with “Chris Sacca on Being Different and Making Millions ” and “Five Morning Rituals that Help Me Win the Day,” a look into Tim’s own productive habits.
Recommended by Amir (@), Founder and CEO
The Tim Ferris podcast is full of interesting persons, inspiring tricks and tests, a lot of them related to productivity or personal improvement. It’s also a very fun podcast that you can easily consume in the morning or at night.
Invisible Office Hours
This insightful podcast is made for creatives, remote workers, entrepreneurs, and all who want to take a nontraditional approach to work. Veterans of Internet entrepreneurship, Jason Zook and Paul Jarvis entertain as much as they inform in “Invisible Office Hours.” They speak from personal experience and never fail to make you think a little differently about how to approach meaningful work.
We suggest starting with their episode on dealing with the feeling of discomfort that accompanies any worthwhile creative endeavor.
Recommended by Alex (@), designer
What I love about this podcast is that Jason and Paul talk about topics that are very interesting for me and my remote work. I found them on social media and was hooked from season one. They talk about stuff around work but also their personal goals and experiences. What I like the most is that they include the audience. You can send questions; they answer them. It’s always a fun listen.
Our favorite books
15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management
Recommended by Amir (@), Founder and CEO
15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management presents productivity tips and tricks from ultra-productive people (billionaires, Olympic athletes, straight-A students, and over 200 entrepreneurs). I found it really inspiring to hear how other ultra busy people are organizing their days. You’re guaranteed to come away with actionable strategies to get more out of your time while feeling less overwhelmed.
The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up
Recommended by Becky (), Marketer
When I picked up The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up last summer, I thought the title was an exaggeration. It’s not. Marie Kondo’s organizational principles changed my life. I now own about half the things I did before, everything has it’s place, and all of it brings me joy. Getting my physical space organized has helped me get organized in my work life and feel less stressed and more in control in general. If you’ve ever wanted to get more organized, read this book! You won’t regret it.
Getting Things Done – 2015 Edition
Recommended by Clarissa (@), Marketing
The Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology remains the same from when David Allen first published Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress-free Productivity, 15 years ago. But with this new version, he accounts for our changing relationship with technology by providing contemporary cases, examples, and suggestions. There’s also a new chapter about GTD and the cognitive sciences, which wasn’t in the last book. It’s a great approach to a classic productivity method!