We’re not going to pretend that screen addiction isn’t a very real thing, or that apps can’t be a major time suck, but there are many that can in fact be used for good. These are the organizing, motivating, generally useful apps to turn your smart phone into a brilliant assistant. (Meanwhile, here are some other day-improving apps and services we love, too.)
Organization / Time Management
A total stand-by for anyone who’s religious about Inbox Zero, Followup.cc functions like Boomerang, but it works across all email systems and on your phone. When you send an email, you’ll enter the date you want to be reminded about it in your cc line, and Followup.cc will bring the email back to your inbox on that date. If you still don’t want to deal with it, you can choose a “snooze” option and defer it to a designated time.
An acronym for “If This Then That,” IFTTT is an incredibly powerful tool for automation. The commands (they’re called “recipes”) create automatic actions–for example, you could create a recipe that saves the goop newsletter to your Evernote reading list the minute it comes into your inbox (hint, hint). It’s compatible with practically every app on your phone, so tasks like saving all of your Instagram posts to Dropbox, or making high priority emails from your boss into tasks in your project management software, become (literally) no-brainers.
Calendar applications like Google, Outlook, and iCal don’t always play well together, which can be a nightmare when you’re trying to work with clients, spouses, or team members who operate on different systems. Enter Sunrise: It’s a visually beautiful and easy-to-use app that syncs appointments from all calendars in one place.
The prettiest and most straightforward to-do app we’ve ever come across (from developers who have a great sense of humor).
For $5, a freelance Shyp “hero” will come to your door and pick up anything you’d like to ship—they’ll package it for you, send it through one of the major carriers, and send you the bill. To make it even better, Shyp gets bulk shipping discounts, so they get better prices from big-name shippers than you’d find without their help.
If you have a long list of blogs and websites you need to click through before you can be productive in the morning (guilty), Feedly is a guaranteed game-changer. It aggregates new content from all your go-to sites into one reading list where you can read, dismiss, or save articles and posts. The mobile version rocks.
Matchbook is a well-designed library for storing your restaurant history and recommendations. We use the ample notes section to keep track of our favorite menu items.
Mail to Self actually lives inside your browser—once you install, it creates a new button in the Safari share menu. Use it to forward important or memorable websites to yourself with one touch (no more copying and pasting links in your phone or keeping 25 tabs open so you won’t lose a good article).
This social app for the hyper-fit crowd lets you virtually race other runners and cyclists on your favorite routes by showing you average times and splits. Users compete for the coveted “King of the Mountain” title, which is given to the fastest runner. Even if you’re not at “King of the Mountain” status yet, Strava can help you connect with athletes in your area that are at your level, making it a great resource for finding new training buddies.
An alarm clock on steroids, Sleep Cycle allows you to designate a window during which you’d like to wake up, and tracks your movements throughout the night so the alarm goes off when you’re not deep in your REM cycle (no wearables required). Not only will it make waking up in the morning a lot easier, but it will also give you a record of your sleep patterns over the course of the time you use it. Bonus: It has awesome options for wake-up noises. Note: Make sure to keep your phone in airplane mode overnight.
It makes sense that the millennial mom-to-be would really benefit from an easy-to-use ovulation and fertility tracking app. Ovia is one of the more streamlined, user-friendly options we’ve found.
Nike’s Training Club app has an enormous library of workouts that are all surprisingly easy to follow. It’s an especially great tool for sneaking in hotel room workouts on the road, because you can tailor the routine to how much time you have (everything from five minutes to a full hour), and nothing requires fancy equipment. If you’re looking for a lengthier program, you can sign up for one of their six-week plans. In true Nike fashion, the supremely functional app is also beautifully designed.
There are plenty of meditation apps out there, but this is one of our favorites. The daily ten-minute mediations are easy to follow and the longer programs are wonderful if you want to dig in a little deeper. The alarm clock, which will wake you up with affirmations and positivity to start the day off right, is a fun—and surprisingly helpful—feature.
The Environmental Working Group is our go-to resource for checking beauty and wellness products for toxic ingredients. Their app allows you to check for toxicity in real time at the store.
For only $10/month, Fetch’s team of professional shoppers find the cheapest place on the internet to purchase the item you want and place your order for you. They include shipping costs in their price comparisons (you can specify if you need rush), and keep your account on file. Side note: We were totally shocked to find that even with prime, Amazon isn’t always the cheapest option. This is life-changing at Christmas.
An indispensable, encyclopedic resource for anyone concerned with the environmental and social footprint of everyday consumer products. It’s kind of hard to believe the amount of helpful info on everything from diapers to makeup to food items packed into a single app. The grading system is a great in-store shopping tool (the barcode scanning function is pretty brilliant, too) but the long-term goal is to encourage companies to produce better, cleaner products by buying better, cleaner products.
Instacart’s personal shoppers go to the grocery store for you, pick up your items, and deliver them to your door within an hour. The best part about this service is their website, which makes it really easy to compare products (including ingredient lists and prices) side by side.
This pre-loved furniture selling/buying system is kind of like Craigslist, but infinitely easier to use and 100% creepy-stranger-free. Start by submitting an item you are hoping to sell via the app, if it gets accepted, a Move Loot truck will come by to pick up. Once the sale is made, you get a 50% payout, which you’ll probably put toward an in-app purchase as the selection is extensive and genuinely good. As of right now, the service is only offered in select cities in California, North Carolina, Georgia, and New York, but more are expected to get in in the action soon.
You really don’t have to be a frequent flyer to appreciate TripIt, which compiles hotel, flight, and rental car confirmations, dinner reservations, etc. into a single master itinerary. The best part is that you can access your trip without being connected to the Internet.
GTFO (which stands for Get The Flight Out) is like Hotels Tonight, but for flights–which drop significantly in price when you get close to the departure date. If you’re into spontaneous travel, it’s either a fantastic tool or an evil temptress.
Okay, we admit that this is highly specific, but if you’ve ever driven to the airport to pick someone up only to realize that their flight is delayed by two hours, you’ll happily shell out the $2.99 for this app. Based on your location, local traffic, and any flight delays, Just Landed will alert you 10 and 5 minutes before you should leave for the airport. It takes into account congestion at the airport and notifies you if the flight is delayed or cancelled.
Elance lists freelancers of all stripes, but we’re particularly fond of using their travel planners for support when putting together trips (some are full-time travel agents IRL). In your post, you can request someone who is actually a native or has visited your destination.
We were iTunes podcast app devotees until we realized how much precious space those downloads were hoarding up on our phones. Overcast uses a cloud service to access podcasts, so they won’t clog up your memory space.
Elevate’s quick brain games are great for boosting your memory, creativity, and short-term information retention. Fair warning: they’re also insanely addicting.
Amazon’s delightfully easy to navigate Audible is far and away the best audiobook app out there, mainly because it lets you listen across all devices and swap books for free if something isn’t to your liking. The 180k-strong roster makes traffic jams, treadmills, and overflowing sinks not just bearable but downright pleasant.
Rooster’s mission is an admirable one—get busy people to actually read novels, in full, by divvying them up into easily digestible, 20 to 30-page chunks over the course of a month. The $5 monthly membership gets you one classic and one contemporary title, which are consistently excellent and not too overwhelming. The July offering, for example, included Muriel Barbery’s Gourmet Rhapsody and The Fat and the Thin by Emile Zola. Now, if that still sounds like too much of an undertaking, the Blinkist app functions as a virtual Cliffs Notes.
Related: Good Apps for Work