The Productivity apps I use in 2023
I often get asked what my favorite tools are and how I use them to get my work done, and I’m writing this both to answer that question, and also for me to just paste a link to this post next time I’m asked. Efficiency!
I wrote about this last year and realized that I both didn’t include everything I wanted to, and also had more to add, so let’s dive in!
Also: This post will not cover my code editor(s), terminals, or other developer tools. This is just a list of the tools I use daily to get my tasks done! Also, all of them work across operating systems. I use both a PC and a Mac, so that’s important to me. There might be better options out there for one machine over the other, but that’s not my jam.
I take notes with Obsidian, write my newsletter with Obsidian, write blogs with Obsidian (like this one), keep track of projects with Obsidian, plan classes with Obsidian… I’m alllllll in on Obsidian.
It’s a local-first markdown editor. I love that I can keep everything local to my machine (so I don’t have any slow load times), and just write markdown without anything getting in my way. Beyond that, they have an open plugin + theming setup, and you can pay for syncing across devices as well. I often jot down quick notes on my phone, and then I access them later on my computer to flesh them out, and it’s perfect for that.
When I use Centered, I get more work done, simply put. I was a little slow to get into it at first, I had to give it a second chance, but now I can’t imagine getting all that I want done without it. I often have trouble focusing throughout the day when I have a lot to do, and Centered helps a ton with that.
Centered is a flow state to-do app. It’s kind of hard to explain quickly, because it does so much while being pretty simple, too. You plop in your to-do list for the day/session/whatever, each task has a certain amount of time assigned to it, and then you hit start. It’ll play some music designed to help you focus, and it has a coach that speaks to you about how much time is left in your current task, gives you breaks, and pokes you when you’re distracted. It also has an optional thing where you can have your camera on while you work, which is weirdly good at keeping you feeling focused.
I made a group in it if you’d ever like to flow with me! Other groups in there include students, web developers, special interest groups, and you can make private groups with your friends as well.
Raindrop is an all-in-one bookmark manager. It’s one of those apps where I used the free version for about 5 minutes before deciding to pay for it forever, because it works perfectly. It works as a browser extension, as a mobile app, and as a desktop app on all the platforms, and lets you very easily and quickly tag and categorize your bookmarks.
It lets you do public bookmark collections, so for example if you head over to cass.run/ref, that’s a public collection of my referral links to various services. It also lets you save permanent copies of your bookmarks (so if something goes offline, you still have access to it, I’ve saved some of my favorite blog posts this way), does a full text search of the pages you save, and annotate web pages, too.
Cron is a keyboard shortcut-powered calendar app. I’ve tried a bunch of calendar and scheduling apps over the years, and Cron is my current favorite. It lets you quickly use keyboard commands to see your teammate’s calendars, share availability, view multiple timezones, and create events. They were bought by Notion recently, so I think we can expect some interesting integrations from them soon. My only complaint with this one is that it only works with Google Calendar so far (and I’ve been wanting to move away from Google for various things), but it’s not the end of the world.
This is a shameless plug, but I use todometer for task management, and… I built todometer.
todometer is a meter-based to-do list for your desktop. I use this to keep track of things that I’d like to get done throughout a given day or week, without the restrictions of a flow state session. I made it because I am motivated by progress bars, and sometimes I just need a simple list prominently on my desktop of what I need to get done. Plus, it’s local-only, so you don’t have to worry about loading times. Here is the repository if you’d like to see how I built it (full disclosure: I want to maintain it more, I have a roadmap in mind for a few things, but I’ve got other things to do, so if you make an issue, I’ll get to it… someday).
Dabble.me is a private. email-based journal. I’ve been using Dabble.me for literally over a decade and it’s the only journal I’ve been able to consistently work with, probably because it’s just super convenient. It emails you regularly (depending on the frequency you set) asking how your day went, and will occasionally remind you of previous entries saying, “one week ago you wrote…” or “two months ago you wrote…” etc.
I have absolutely loved this service and is probably my favorite one overall, just because it’s a treasure trove of memories for me at this point. Sometimes my entries are super short like, “I played way too much Minecraft today, ugh.” and sometimes they are very long essays of me ranting about work or life or food or something. It’s not so much a “productivity” app so I wasn’t sure if I should include it in the list, but it’s a consistent enough tool for me that I thought it deserved a shout.
I’ve tried a lot of different tools over the years, and this is just my current “stack.” I do think that it’s worth reassessing your tools fairly regularly. I used to use other ones, like Bear, and Notion, and Vimcal, and Trello, etc, and they all worked for me at the time, but figuring out what you like and don’t like about your “stack” is super helpful for upgrading how you work over time.
It’s not just the applications, it’s the dedication to them that really make them work for me. If something is scheduled on my calendar, whether it’s flow time or dedicated time to one specific task, I follow it. If I put a task in todometer, I have to get it done that day.
If you don’t commit yourself to your tools, or try to over-engineer how you use them, they become extra overhead to getting things done. You don’t want the perfect work setup to get in the way of you actually working. Keep that in mind as you hunt for tools that might work for you!
Until next time!