Ask the grumpies: Favorite apps for life/productivity

Leah asks:

Do you have any favorite apps for life/productivity?

This is a timely question!  This summer I have decided to try Trello with two of my summer RAs and Github for another project.  These are both project management apps and for myself I have a Trello board that I’m using like a to-do list (sort of kanbanish, but not quite).  I am liking Trello very much.  Github is more complicated but it can do more and has better integration with things our university owns, particularly in terms of file attachments.  After working with both for a few weeks, Github’s project management software is not very good, nor is it as well-integrated as it should be with the repo.

DH uses Pivotal Tracker for work and likes it.  My university doesn’t have it for free so I haven’t tried it, though it’s probably available in some limited fashion for free.  Jira is also popular, but the free version is limited to 10 people so I haven’t tried it.

Probably my biggest productivity app is the leechblock add-on for firefox.  This keeps me from reading twitter and other common sites except during scheduled breaks and outside of work.

I’m eager to hear what productivity tools people in Grumpy Nation have found helpful!  Three years ago it seemed like only a few people were using project management software (preferring low-tech things like google docs or to-do lists), but suddenly it seems a lot more common.

What do you all recommend or find not worth the effort?

20 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Favorite apps for life/productivity”

  1. Michael Nitabach Says:

    My favorite is Gmail. I use various labels as to-do lists & it keeps me from fucjeing everything uppe.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s what I had been using, but my students have been worse and worse about being able to follow my system over the years, so I’ve given up on trying to get them to reply to an email chain instead of writing a new email. So far they’ve been understanding that they shouldn’t make a new card in Trello to address an issue/card.

  2. gwinne Says:

    I’m still very much analog. I have tried Asana for longer range project management–I like the sub-tasks function. I use it for a while and then stop (this time the stopping was pandemic related….I should see what’s there).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’ve only been not-analog for about 3 weeks, but Trello seems to be sticking better for me than previous non-paper systems.

      Asana is another one I didn’t know about.

  3. steph Says:

    I used to use Habitica, and I loved it, except that if you have more than 10-20 to-dos, it becomes unwieldy. Currently I’m using Workflowy, which I like a lot. It’s an outlining/bullet-style system with tagging and drag-and-drop capabilities.

    I currently use Forest to lock myself out of “unproductive” apps on my phone or sites on Chrome. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a scheduling feature, so I do rely on my own willpower to turn the blocking on. I used Leechblock in grad school, and had some entertaining reminder images that would show up instead of blocked sites.

    I tried Todoist, in concert with Habitica, but I didn’t find it worth the effort or money. It was hard to sort tasks and projects the way I wanted. Their karma system also lead to low-level bad feelings when I didn’t get my tasks done, instead of rewarding me when I did accomplish things.

  4. First Gen American Says:

    I use minimalist on my phone. It’s a very very basic to do list. I’ve bought a bunch of other more complex ones with bells and whistles and I deleted all the others. This is the one I end up using the most because it’s quick and easy to jot notes down and honestly it was too time consuming to fill out all the extra stuff in the others like categories etc.

    I’ve been struggling with organization lately as I swear the Outlook search feature is getting worse and I can’t find things that I know are there. (It may have something to do with how my company archives things or just the sheer volume of email I get). I used to use personal folders religiously but not anymore. I probably touch over 100 customers a year, and I’m struggling how to file all the one offs.

    I’ve started to use One Note and it’s great but not sure how feasible it will be to continue the habit of documenting projects once I start traveling again. It also isn’t very useful when I am sharing my screen and therefore can’t take notes when I am on a customer call.

    I used to be so organized but I don’t know if I’ve just lost my mind a little Since having kids or just the quantity of work is too large to organize effectively.

    The most surprising productivity tool has been my phone camera. Taking pictures of a trail map before a hike or where I parked my car, or snapping a picture of an item I may want to price compare later.

  5. middle_class Says:

    For personal. i use a mix of Cozi calendar, trello and paper.
    For work, I use excel and a little trello.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:


      What is special about cozi calendar?

      • middle_class Says:

        Cozi is designed for families and is easy to use. My husband and I share calendars and shopping lists. It has taken a HUGE mental load off of me since we both started using it about 8 (?) years ago. I use the free version. There may be other ways to do the same thing but I think it is super user friendly.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:


        DH and I use google calendar for calendar stuff (he’s in charge of that) and have paper for our grocery list.

  6. Cloud Says:

    FWIW, I find that Trello is the option that people who don’t like productivity software tend to stick with. I am not sure why it is so much easier for people to stick with than other kanban-like things, but it seems to be.

    I use Trello for some long term things outside work, but have to use so many different things at work (basically, I have to fit in with whatever my customers use and then we have some internal reporting requirements, too, and our developers use JIRA so I have to use that) that what I find I actually use to manage my own time is reminder tasks in my calendar and an small paper notebook for a daily to do list.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Trello I’ve noticed requires fewer clicks than other programs I’ve tried, so there’s less waiting. It’s even less of a hassle to get to than google docs. Everything is just there and you can move it around easily without wasting time for pages to load.

  7. undine Says:

    Leechblock, Excel, paper, and Google Docs sheets for the team. I’ve looked at Trello but haven’t wanted to put yet another thing on the plate for the team.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My students also seem to be liking Trello. I have one trello for each project. I haven’t introduced it to coauthors yet though… I’m using Github with one of my coauthors and her team, but she’s a computer scientist so that’s what she usually uses so it’s new to me but not to her.

  8. CG Says:

    I tried Things but it was more work to set up than just remembering stuff on my own. I had to use Trello for a committee I was on and didn’t have any desire to continue using it after. When things get busy I use a word doc with to-do lists on it and when I’m collaborating I use a google doc with lists on it. That seems to be the level of technology I require. :)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I have never heard of things!

      I’ve never stuck with google doc todo lists long. I generally end up reverting to paper. And then losing the paper eventually so I have to re figure out what I called files etc.

  9. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    At work, I use Trello for my own to-do list. For personal life, I mostly inbox-zero things in gmail.

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