I know, I know – it's February already. Where did the first month of the year go? Most likely, in loads of planning for the year to come, and a healthy amount of procrastination too. As usual, the New Year came with its usual amount of hopeful resolutions, and hopefully you’ve been including a boost in productivity in those.
Well, fear not – for here we have below the list of the best apps to boost your creativity and keep you productive in the year to come. And the most exciting part? They are all absolutely for free.
The best free apps for creative productivity that you can download today
Whether you are looking for computer apps or mobile apps, you’ll find a lovely selection of both cases before, and of course most of the below can be found on both devices as well.
From focus to inspiration and new ways to organise your days, the apps below will give a big kick to your procrastination devil and send it off your shoulder for the foreseeable future. Well, at least they’ll try.
Just a clarification before we start: this post does not include any kind of sponsored links – I just really love these apps!
But first, a shoutout to this beautiful artwork by Beatrix Hatcher. So quirky!
Let’s start with one of my personal favourites and certainly the best discovery I made in 2020. When I was struggling to remain focused all by myself for long amounts of time – be it due to noises in the room or just the sudden push to adapt to remote working – I found this beautiful little mobile app called Forest that helped me out quite a lot for at least one month straight.
You plant a tree. If you pick up your phone before the timer stops, your tree dies.
Forest lets you choose a time limit for your focus sessions and plants a tree when that same session starts. If you pick up your phone before the end of the time limit, your tree dies. A simple but arresting concept that kept me pushing through all my tasks at the busiest time of my year. All your trees, dead or alive, will then be added to a lovely virtual garden where you can see and label all your successes and failures. You can even add background noises such as rain and wildlife to help you get in the bubble.
Since using Forest, I have personally found my own balance in terms of time management – but I found it so much useful while I was using it that I can’t recommend it enough. Bonus points: if you want, you can plant actual trees with your focus sessions.
From the Forest website
As the name suggests, Freedom breaks the shackles that keep you anchored to all those lovely distractions in your workspace and literally blocks anything that gets in the way of productivity.
Too much time spent clicking on that background tab with Facebook? Freedom can block that site for you. You can use Freedom’s own block lists or create custom ones, blocking everything that prevents you from focusing on what matters the most. If your own free will won’t do it… Why not let an app do it for you?
From the Freedom website
I found Unroll while doing some preliminary research for this piece and I can confidently say that I found a new best friend. You know all those email subscriptions and newsletters that keep popping up in your inbox? We creatives tend to accumulate dozens of those in a lifetime, and then we never get around to removing each subscription once and for all. Well, Unroll makes it embarrassingly easy.
If you are struggling with a busy inbox, just sign up for Unroll and you’ll be able to scroll through the endless list of your subscriptions, choosing the ones that you want to keep. And if you absolutely want some of those to be highlighted for you, you can add them to Unroll’s own “Roll-up”, a daily digest of the newsletters that you care about the most. Just splendid.
From the Unroll website
I always say I should use Notion more, but I never really get around to doing it. Truth is, I’m using the paid version of Ulysses to organise my writing and it seems to work pretty well for what I’m doing. But if I had to recommend one free tool to boost your productivity, Notion would be at the top of that list.
It has incredible integrations, great functionalities and markdown features. With little to no effort, Notion lists can be made beautiful to navigate, manage and organise, with to-do lists and documents filled with ideas for you to complete. The free version used to have a limit of 1,000 blocks of content – but that has been recently removed for individuals, meaning that you can literally use most of the best features of Notion as much as you want.
In fact, you know what? I’m going to make it my 2021 resolution to start using Notion more. I’ll let you know what happens.
From the Notion website
And on the subject of organising content and ideas, where oh where would I be without Trello? I used to run daily content in my personal blogs and here on Creativepool entirely following the whispers and suggestions of my heart, but I owe much of my newfound sanity to Trello and its organised boards. It is an excellent tool to organise tasks by category, planning labels and cards and everything that matters in your project management process.
Also, not many people know this, but Trello has a very neat add-on called Calendar that lets you scatter content over months and months of work. Especially useful if you are a writer, but equally fundamental for freelancers with a plethora of projects to handle simultaneously. Adding one single add-on to your Trello boards is absolutely free too, and one is all you need to get started on your next project!
The welcome board from when I opened my own Trello account, about 5/6 years ago now. That's why it's in Italian!
Of course Pinterest made it on this list – there just aren’t many apps out there that work this well for inspiration. Alongside the usual Dribbble and Behance, Pinterest is obviously one of the best sources of creative outputsand an incredible way to find some quick references for your work.
And you can literally use references for anything, from motion design to illustration – even writing, if you desperately need to visualise your characters before you plunge them into your story.
From the Pinterest homepage
There are tons of studies that link productivity to mental and physical well-being, and even if they weren’t there, you probably noticed that you can be way more productive the less stressed you are. Sleep Cycle of course does what the name suggests: it measures your sleep and tries to ensure you are keeping your sleep cycles healthy and under control.
The paid-for version lets you unlock stats that dive deeper into your sleep patterns, but the free version will still have everything you need to get started. Sleep Cycle can gently wake you up to avoid traumatic interruptions of your sleep patterns (man, how much I hate that Radar alarm tone), with bespoke tunes and melodies to make you start your day on a sweeter note. And of course it can communicate with the Health app on iPhone, seamlessly integrating with your medical history.
From the Sleep Cycle homepage
Finally, a little thing slightly specific to writers, though any visual artist could gain great advantage from this too. Daily Prompt is, in a pretty self-explanatory way, an app that gives you a different writing prompt every day. Sometimes these prompts will paint images in your head, sometimes they will be a dialogue, sometimes they will be something else – but there are often contest to test your writing skills, and the community is most certainly growing.
If you want to, you could use those prompts to write and submit stories in the app… Or you could take them as a way to fuel your illustrations, art and visuals, as they are certain to evoke strong images or stories in your head to get you started. A neat little tool for inspiration, and one that might even have the potential to get you out of a creative block.