The 11 best productivity apps to make proactive changes this year, tried and tested by us

Download these best productivity apps to get more done in 2023...

Woman smiling using one of the best productivity apps, sitting at a wooden desk with large lamp overhead in a home office
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you want to achieve your goals in 2023, then turning to the best productivity apps is a great place to start. They can be a helping hand, nestled on your phone screen, that you can reach for every time you want to boost waning focus, organize swirling thoughts, or revive lax creativity. 

However, given the multitude of options available, it can be an overwhelming task to decipher which app can really help you organize your life and tick more off each day. What's more, they provide a variety of different tools depending on how exactly you want to improve productivity. For example, some work by saving you time, while others function by preventing you from getting distracted. 

So, if one of your New Year's resolutions is to be more productive with some of the best mindfulness apps while working, studying or simply getting more done daily, we're giving you a headstart this January by doing the leg work and discovering which of these apps will slot most seamlessly into your routine. 

Best productivity apps to get a head start in 2023

Forest productivity app logo

(Image credit: Forest)

1. Forest

Best productivity app for focus

Specifications

Cost: $1.99 / £1.99 one-off purchase
iOS or Android: Both

Reasons to buy

+
Incredibly easy to use
+
Blocks other apps to prevent distractions
+
Calming nature theme

Reasons to avoid

-
Must be purchased 

Forest describes itself as helping you "stay focused on the important things in life" and is the top pick on our list of best productivity apps. This genius little app certainly lives up to its claims, expertly and gently nudging you towards concentrating on the task at hand - whether that's finally paying your bills or meeting a tight deadline.

How does it work? You set a timer for however long you want to focus or press start on a timer, and it will keep you on track with an animated tree that 'grows' the longer you concentrate. Try to end a session too soon and your sapling will die.

As well as this motivational aspect, I found the app simultaneously blocks you from using the majority of apps on your phone so your mind isn't tempted to wander. The 'nature' theme also aids in calming your mind and recentering your focus.

Todoist app logo

(Image credit: Todoist)

2. Todoist

Best productivity app for organization

Specifications

Cost: Free (or $3 / £3 per month for premium)
iOS or Android: Both

Reasons to buy

+
Flexible to-do lists where items can be re-prioritized
+
Great for breaking down big projects
+
Ideal for organizing lots of small tasks

Reasons to avoid

-
You have to pay for the key task 'reminder' feature

Those interested in improving their productivity levels will know that a well-organized to-do list is key for getting more done. While the best habit tracker apps are great if you prefer to physically write tasks down, Todoist proves that ordering your tasks on its app comes with a whole selection of additional perks.

For starters, having your to-do list in app form means you will never misplace it. What's more, you can easily re-arrange your list as your priorities change, and there's nothing more thrilling than ticking off a job and seeing it disappear from your 'inbox'.

Got a big task hanging over you? You can break meatier items down neatly into their own sub-tasks. While the free version of the app gives you most of the core benefits, you'll need to upgrade for its invaluable 'reminder' feature and the opportunity to collaborate through the platform with other people on projects. 

Freedom productivity app logo

(Image credit: Freedom)

3. Freedom

Best productivity app for swerving distractions

Specifications

Cost: $8.99 per month
iOS or Android: Both

Reasons to buy

+
Effectively stops notifications from other apps
+
Create personalised 'blocklists' of sites you want to avoid
+
Ability to set timer for however long you need to focus

Reasons to avoid

-
Costs each month to use
-
Those who need access to many apps and sites for tasks might not utilize it

Often find your attention grabbed by phone notifications or temptations to go on social media? Freedom works by literally preventing you from accessing apps or sites from your device so you can avoid distractions and stay in a productive flow.

There's the option to stop yourself from accessing any platforms at all, or you can create a personalized 'blocklist' of particular ones you're keen to avoid - such as social media sites. What's more, you can set the timer on the easy-to-use dashboard for however long you want to concentrate for, unlike some of the competitors we reviewed who don't offer as much flexibility. 

However, I found Freedom to be so effective as one of the best productivity apps - too effective you might say - because if your work unexpectedly requires access to certain sites then you have to wait until the timer's up to reach them. Additionally, you may find you don't utilize its features enough and therefore may not get your money's worth.

Brainfm app logo and session view

(Image credit: Brainfm)

4. Brain.fm

Best productivity app for creativity

Specifications

Cost: $6.99 per month / $49.99 per year
iOS or Android: Both

Reasons to buy

+
Enlists science for optimum focus
+
Ideal if you like listening to music as you work
+
Can personalize soundtrack depending on task at hand

Reasons to avoid

-
Those who prefer doing tasks in silence may find it distracting
-
There's a monthly fee to use

Brain.fm is certainly one of the cleverest productivity-boosting apps around. If you work best to the sound of your favorite music or a bustling café, then your headphones could be working to help your brain function at its best.

The app enlists research in the fields of neuroscience and psychology to specifically play you music that contains gentle rhythmic pulses to support sustained attention. What's more, I found it also blends into the background without breaks between tracks to avoid any distractions, which I thought was great for helping me get my head down to work.  

All you need to do is choose the 'Focus' setting, then pick between 'Deep Work', 'Creative Flow', 'Study & Read' and 'Light Work', and select the period of time you want to focus for. Prefer to hustle away in silence? You'll be better suited to another one of these apps, or even a pick of the best productivity planners for total offline planning.

Engross productivity app logo and screenshot of session homepage

(Image credit: Engross)

5. Engross

Best productivity app for simplicity

Specifications

Cost: Free (or $3.99 / £4.49 one-off for premium)
iOS or Android: Both

Reasons to buy

+
Incredibly simple to set up and use
+
Features stopwatch for tasks of unknown length
+
Handy 'distracted' feature so you know how often your mind is wandering

Reasons to avoid

-
Costs to access certain key features
-
Less sleek interface than competitors

For a productivity app that does what it says on the tin, you can't go wrong with Engross. It brings together a Pomodoro timer, a to-do list feature, and calendar all in one place, providing what it claims is a "complete tool for an efficient and organized work/study life".

It makes up for in functionality what it lacks in sleekness, I found. Its free version lets you select the timer or stopwatch (the latter for tasks you don't know the length of) and both come with a 'distraction' feature which you press when you feel your mind wandering. There's also a daily to-do list and calendar so you can see upcoming tasks and plans at a glance.

However, you'll need to upgrade for certain key benefits. These benefits are similar to Brain.fm in many ways, so if you like the sound of these more than the other features, that one could be a better choice for you. They include access to a focus-boosting white noise soundtrack (like an on-the-go version of these best white noise machines) as well as the option to start the 25-minute Pomodoro timer right from your to-do list.  

BeFocused productivity apps

(Image credit: BeFocused)

6. BeFocused

Best productivity app for Pomodoro Technique

Specifications

Cost: Free (or $4.99/ £4.49 one-off for premium)
iOS or Android: iOS only

Reasons to buy

+
Ideal for fans of the Pomodoro Technique
+
Incredibly easy to set up and use
+
Free version provides virtually everything you need

Reasons to avoid

-
There are adverts, unless you upgrade 
-
You are confined to 25-minute bursts of working

Want to boost your productivity using the Pomodoro Technique? This time management method alone is one of the best productivity apps. It involves 25-minute stretches of working, with five minutes of rest in between, and was developed by Francesco Cirillo (opens in new tab) in the 1980s. The idea behind it is that regular breaks prevent mental exhaustion and help you get more done overall. 

The BeFocused app is designed around this precise productivity hack. It is already set up with a 25-minute timer that you just need to press start on. Alternatively, you can select tasks in the in-built to-do list and the clock immediately gets ticking. 

While I found it was great for those who want to stick to the technique in its purest form, it's not flexible for tasks that you may want to focus on for longer than 25 minutes. Additionally, although the free version of the app gives you the majority of the benefits, upgrading removes the on-screen adverts and automatically backs up your account daily. 

Evernote productivity app

(Image credit: Evernote)

7. Evernote

Best productivity app for organizing notes

Specifications

Cost: Free (or $8.99/ £5.99 per month for premium)
iOS or Android: Both

Reasons to buy

+
Allows you to add note widgets to phone home screen
+
Ability to quickly jot down thoughts and categorize notes later
+
Can add images and audio to notes

Reasons to avoid

-
Have to upgrade for certain key features

If you often find yourself swamped with notes you don't know what to do with after meetings - be that work or family-related then Evernote could be an ideal solution. It helps you get what you've written into order so you can save time on actioning tasks.

Much like the best journaling apps, the app allows you to jot down what is on your mind onto a virtual 'scratch pad'. There are also useful templates for certain note-taking scenarios, like 'to-do list', 'meeting note' and 'monthly goals'. One of the unexpectedly helpful perks, I found, was the option to add images and audio to notes. 

Additionally, I loved how you can also create widgets that sit on your phone's home screen (so you don't even need to open the app), meaning you can see important reminders or your to-do list at a glance. It's worth noting (no pun intended) that the premium version provides several key perks including offline access as well as bigger space for file uploads.

Google Calendar app logo and calendar screenshot view

(Image credit: Google Calendar)

8. Google Calendar

Best productivity app for managing schedule

Specifications

Cost: Free
iOS or Android: Both

Reasons to buy

+
Entirely free to use
+
Simple to view days, weeks, months 
+
Sync bookings (like flights or restaurant reservations) automatically from Gmail account

Reasons to avoid

-
Those without Gmail account will need manually add bookings

If your email experience automatically became more seamless with Gmail, then you'll discover the same life-changing results with Google Calendar. It can help you plan your days, weeks and months at a glance, with the option to color code certain events in your schedule for visually pleasing results. 

On a daily basis, the app can help you engage in the productivity hack called 'time blocking', where a period of time is divided into smaller segments for specific tasks. It's techniques like this, research from Concordia University (opens in new tab) shows, that will help you better prioritize your time, improve your wellbeing, and allow you to quickly realize if you're over-stretching yourself. 

Similarly, it can also help you recoup time that would otherwise have been spent inputting certain events. Gmail users making bookings - such as for flights, restaurants or concerts - will find that these are automatically synced into their calendar. 

Minimalist productivity app logo and homepage

(Image credit: Minimalist )

9. MinimaList

Best productivity app for to-do list widget

Specifications

Cost: Free (or $0.99 per month for premium)
iOS or Android: Both

Reasons to buy

+
Stylish, minimalist design
+
To-do lists can appear as widget on phone screen
+
In-built Pomodoro timer and stopwatch

Reasons to avoid

-
Can be a bit fiddly to use
-
Need to upgrade for many key features

Exploring ways to recover from burnout this year? Streamlining your life is often an effective approach and the MinimaList app is a great place to order your thoughts without the risk of overwhelm from too many buttons and features. 

I loved using this pick of the best productivity apps thanks to the key selling point, which is as you might have guessed, the minimalist monochrome design. It revolves around a to-do list feature where you can reorder tasks based on your priorities order and tick them off when completed. Each item is also linked to the in-built timer, which you have the option of engaging with as a Pomodoro timer (in 25 minutes), as a normal countdown timer of a length you choose, and also a regular stopwatch. 

Other perks include that when you pick up your device it flashes up helpfully with 'Put your iPhone down and go back to work' notification, and you can also create a widget to view your to-do list from your home screen. However, you'll need to upgrade to create multiple lists and use your voice to add tasks. 

Noted app logo and homescreen

(Image credit: Noted)

10. Noted

Best productivity app for voice memos

Specifications

Cost: Free (or £3.99 per month for premium)
iOS or Android: Both

Reasons to buy

+
Saves time if you don't like typing everything 
+
Marks key moments in an audio recording 
+
Uses software to improve quality of file

Reasons to avoid

-
Upgrade needed for most useful features

The Noted app can transcribe audio from lectures, meetings, interviews, and conferences to save you precious time writing everything out, and you can also 'time stamp' the most important parts to go back to later.

However, you'll need to upgrade for some of the most useful features. This includes dictation and also what it terms 'intelligent playback' to improve quality of the sound. The latter means automatically getting rid of unwanted background noise and skipping gaps, to help you listen back to the recording - if necessary - more quickly and efficiently.

What's more, I loved using this app because it's essentially a time-saving service with a difference, it likely isn't a great option for those who prefer to type out their notes in the first place.

Trello app and homepage

(Image credit: Trello)

11. Trello

Best productivity app for study

Specifications

Cost: Free
iOS or Android: Both

Reasons to buy

+
Great for seeing your progress at a glance
+
Ideal for collaborating with others 
+
Quickly view which tasks need completing

Reasons to avoid

-
Can be a little fiddly to use at first

Trello is a well-known platform for improving productivity as part of a team, allowing several people at once to collaborate on a project. However, it is also ideal for individuals and particularly for students who are trying to break down their revision or coursework into bite-size amounts. 

The app allows you to create 'boards' for particular projects, in which tasks can be added as 'cards' and moved between various columns. This can allow you to see, at a glance, the progress you are making and what still needs to be completed, making Trello one of the top goal planners for the year too.

One of the main perks, in my opinion, is that you can move between different boards at once - as opposed to sticking to the same to-do list - which is ideal if you've got several subjects or modules to study for. Additionally, it is free to use for most people. 

Do productivity apps work?

Productivity apps are essentially what you make of them. I discovered that the more effort I put into using the various ones I tested properly - like religiously filling out the to-do lists, or sticking to the 25-minute Pomodoro Timer - the greater the benefits were. 

One of the key perks of using apps to achieve more is that they are usually designed in a seamless way to make your life easier - be that widgets on your home screen, or automatic back ups. What's more, unlike a physical planner or timer, access to them will always be in the palm of your hand. This is something I really started to appreciate.

I found that some categories of productivity apps were more useful than others. The options that aimed to improve focus by eliminating other digital distractions were, personally for me, the most effective (hello Forest!). Then there was the clever way in which some used tools like audio to enhance creative flow (looking at you, Brain.fm).

Additionally, the apps that enabled you to save time - be that using clever timers (like MinimaList) or routinely adding bookings to your schedule (such as Google Calendar) - were also incredibly helpful. And, finally, cost was also an important factor, because I found that it wasn't always necessary to upgrade in order to enjoy the main perks.

Lauren Clark

Lauren is a freelance writer and editor with more than six years of digital and magazine experience. In addition to Womanandhome.com she has penned news and features for titles including Women's Health, The Telegraph, Stylist, Dazed, Grazia, The Sun's Fabulous, Yahoo Style UK and Get The Gloss. 


While Lauren specializes in covering wellness topics—ranging from nutrition and fitness, to health conditions and mental wellbeing—she has written across a diverse range of lifestyle topics, including beauty and travel. Career highlights so far include: luxury spa-hopping in Spain, interviewing Heidi Klum and joining an £18k-a-year London gym.