Nine apps that will improve your productivity at work

Manage your time, stay calm, avoid distractions, and more.

iPhone office
Your smartphone can help you do your best work.Alvaro Reyes via Unsplash

When you're having an off day at the office—one of those times when you can't seem to focus or get anything done—your phone often distracts you even more. But technology can also have the opposite effect.

Specialized apps offer to reduce your stress and keep you focused and productive. We collected nine to help you track your time, schedule breaks, collaborate more smoothly, and maybe even enjoy yourself at work.

1. Toggl

Toggl
Toggl tracks your time.Toggl

Networking, rote tasks like invoicing, and general distractions can eat up your work day. To figure out just where the time is going, you'll need to track it. That's where Toggl comes in.

This app is intuitive and easy to set up. First, define the categories for your various types of work—helping clients, performing tasks, and so on. Then, as you move from job to job throughout the day, start and stop the appropriate Toggl timer. Once you've collected enough data, you can dig into charts and reports showing how you spend your time.

For more analysis, add a premium subscription, which costs from $9 to $18 per month on the annual billing model. Depending on the plan you choose, you can get reminders, support from the Toggle team, profitability information, and more.

Toggl for Android and iOS, free with extra features for $9 to $18 per month

2. Calm

Calm
Calm helps you take a meditative break.Calm

The office can be a hectic, high-pressure environment. To avoid brain overload, take a break with a meditation app like Calm.

This program provides guided meditations and stress-busters. Clips range from three to 25 minutes long, which makes them easy to fit into your day. In addition to these one-time exercises, Calm offers longer courses that last a week or more.

Although you'll get a limited number of meditations for free, you can unlock more than 100 with a paid subscription. This costs $13 per month, $60 a year (which breaks down to $5/month), or $300 for a lifetime subscription.

Calm for Android and iOS, free with extra content for $5 to $13 per month (or $300 per lifetime)

3. MindMeister

MindMeister
Visualize your ideas with MindMeister.MindMeister

It's not always easy to get ideas out of your head and into an understandable form. Visualizations like flow charts, decision trees, or spider diagrams can help you connect and organize your thoughts—but when you draw them by hand, they often turn into lame scribbles on a whiteboard. To create cleaner digital versions of these tools, try an app like MindMeister.

Your diagrams, which the app refers to as "mind maps," might describe current work projects, future product ideas and timelines, company strategies, or any thoughts you need to share with your colleagues. The beauty of MindMeister lies in its flexibility: You can customize a map's appearance and layout with all kinds of fonts, colors, and shapes, giving you a customized result. Or you can opt for a simpler format and use the app to take straightforward written notes.

The app lets you manage three mind maps for free. To unlock unlimited projects—as well as bonus abilities like adding attachments, having a chat function, sharing with multiple team members, and backing up data—you'll need to purchase one of Mindmeister's subscription plans. Depending on the mix of features you select, this will cost between $5 and $13 per month, paid annually.

MindMeister for Android and iOS, free with extra features for $5 to $13 per month

4. Trello

Trello
Organize your tasks with Trello.Trello

Sure, paper to-do lists let you track your tasks. But for a real productivity boost, you should be using Trello. This deceptively simple app lets you keep each task on a card.

Because Trello's cards are digital, you can share them with fellow team members, attach images and files, set due dates and reminders, and add detailed descriptions and links. To organize them, give the cards colorful labels and sort them into individual columns. This card-and-column approach acts as an advanced to-do list that will keep you on top of upcoming jobs, meetings, emails, and more.

These features all come free. However, if your employer wants to integrate third-party apps like Google Drive and Slack into your Trello cards, you'll have to upgrade to a team-management plan for $10 to $21 per month (when you pay annually).

Trello for Android and iOS, free with team-management versions for $10 to $21 per month

5. Dropbox

Dropbox
Dropbox helps you get your files anywhere.Dropbox

If you ever work from home, you'll need access to your files no matter where you are. To sync your data between multiple devices—phone, tablet, home laptop, office desktop—use a cloud-storage service like Dropbox, which is simple to install and configure.

This third-party program, not affiliated with Google, Apple, or Microsoft, works as well as a proprietary service. It effortlessly syncs files between your physical devices and the cloud, and it can cache data so you can access it offline. Dropbox also comes with Paper, a well-integrated tool for document editing and collaboration, which may come in handy when you're working on projects with your colleagues.

The free version of Dropbox provides 2GB of storage space. For more room, bump up to a subscription model: $8 a month for 1TB or $17 a month for 2TB. That's if you opt for annual billing; both plans will cost slightly more if you pay on a month-to-month basis.

Dropbox for Android and iOS, free with extra storage for $8 to $17 per month

6. Google Keep

Google Keep
Google Keep is a versatile note-taking tool.Google

As well as super-charging your to-do lists, apps can improve your ability to take notes. You'll find several strong contenders in this category, but we like Google Keep: It works across multiple platforms (iOS, Android, and the web), has a simple color-coding system to organize your jottings, and lets you attach reminders and images to your notes.

In addition to tracking your thoughts, Google Keep lets you share your notes and easily collaborate with other users—family members might edit a list of chores together, and colleagues can add their ideas to the agenda for your next meeting. On top of that, Keep is a Google product, so it comes with a powerful and speedy set of built-in search tools—and it's completely free.

Google Keep for Android and iOS, free

7. Noisli

Noisli
Noisli will play ambient noises on demand.Noisli

Offices teem with audio, from the chattering of your cubicle neighbor to the rumbling of the mail cart. Ambient background noise can smooth away some of these distractions. To drown out the room with soundtracks ranging from the murmur of a coffee shop to the whistle of wind in the trees, give Noisli a try.

With this app, a simple slider system gives you full control over which sounds you hear and how loud they are. The app also includes a timer feature so you can use the background noise to manage your productivity sessions. If you don't have a strong internet connection, it's no problem: Noisli works offline, and it can even save combinations of your favorite sounds to reload later. The app costs a flat fee of $2.

Noisli for Android and iOS, $2

8. Doodle

Doodle
Choose the best event date for all participants, with help from Doodle.Doodle

Finding a meeting time that works for everyone can involve hours of emails and calls back and forth. Doodle makes this process so simple it feels like cheating.

To create a Doodle, you don't need an account. Just enter a description of your meeting, as well as potential dates and times, and invite your guests to respond. They will receive a link they can follow to either the app (if they have it) or the website, where they quickly check off the options that work for them. This shows you at a glance which date and time will be best for everyone. For an even faster process, import calendar information to see suggested times when people are free. The app also integrates chats so you can thrash out the agenda for a specific meeting.

The free version of Doodle works perfectly well on its own. However, if you have a yen for custom designs or you prefer an ad-free experience, you can buy a premium account for $4 to $6 a month, billed annually.

Doodle for Android and iOS, free with premium plans for $49 to 69 per year

9. Shapr

Shapr
Think of Shapr like Tinder—but for networking instead of dating.Shapr

In every profession, networking is of paramount importance. Forging connections with people who have shared interests might push you up the company ladder faster, lead to a new job opportunity, or otherwise further your career. And Shapr helps you meet new people from your sofa.

This app gives business relationships the twist of Tinder-style swiping. As on the dating app, you swipe left or right on various profiles—but in this case, you're looking for useful professional connections. If you match with someone, you get the opportunity to join them for coffee, lunch, or another type of business meeting.

The Tinder-like technique won't work well for everyone—but Shapr's basic version comes free if you want to try it out. If you enjoy the app, you might consider signing up for a paid account, which costs $8 to $20 a month (depending on whether you purchase one, three, or six months at once). A subscription lets you search locations other than your current area, see if someone is interested before you swipe, undo your most recent pick, and more.

Shapr for Android and iOS, free with extra features for $8 to $20 per month