How to be more productive: Proven approaches

9 min read

You used to be overwhelmed with endless tasks, always behind and stressed. Life isn't fun, and you're often not good at your job. You have no time for the things you love. Sound familiar? These are the words that described me a few years ago.

One day in January, I woke up and decided that I didn't want to feel that way anymore, ever. So, I started experimenting with different ways to get organized. It took a while, but I figured out what worked. Now I'm on top of things and actually enjoying my days. Today, I'm excited to share how I did it, and I hope it can help someone else feel less overwhelmed and more on track.

So.. "How to be more productive?" and "How to get the most out of my time, energy, and focus?"  Let's try to find the answers.

Benefits of being productive

To get something done, psychologists say you need to understand what you will get out of doing it. So, your first step is understanding how your life will change when you become more productive. 

Being productive has many benefits. First, it helps you get things done faster and smarter, giving you more time for fun, relaxation, family, and more.

When you're productive, you don't have to worry as much about work piling up because you're on top of it. This can make you feel calmer and happier, preventing burnout.

Also, good time management is beneficial for your personal and professional growth. It pushes you to set and achieve your goals, learn new things, and take on challenges that make you stronger. So, as you can see, productivity isn't just about work; it's about making your whole life better.

Key strategies for increasing productivity

So you've decided that you need these changes after all. Below, you'll find a few tips that will help you improve and manage your productivity. 

Note that I've broken the approach down into four distinct areas:

  • Managing time wisely
  • Setting clear priorities
  • Creating achievable goals
  • Reducing distractions

For time management, the Pomodoro Technique is a game changer. Work focused for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. It's simple but effective, and it keeps you refreshed and engaged.

Prioritizing is all about distinguishing what's urgent from what's important. The Eisenhower Box is perfect for this, helping you decide which tasks to tackle, schedule, delegate, or drop.

The Eisenhower Box

Goal setting is about making your goals achievable. Set SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Break big goals into smaller, manageable tasks to create a clear path forward.

To minimize distractions, start by identifying what distracts you – whether it's social media or noise. Tools like app blockers and noise-canceling headphones can help you stay focused. Set specific times to check email or social media to keep distractions at bay without feeling disconnected.

Tools to enhance productivity

Boosting productivity feels like a whole new world when you have the right apps at your side. I dove into the Setapp collection and, wow, what a difference!

Setapp is a great discovery for Mac, iPhone, and iPad users, filled with a variety of high-quality apps for just about everything you need. Instead of buying individual apps for task management, writing, photo editing, or coding, Setapp gives you access to a curated collection of software for a single monthly subscription.

So, here's my list of top apps I recommend giving a try to enhance your approach on how to be the most productive.

Time management

Timing: Track the time you spend in each app

Ever wondered where your day went? Timing offers a solution by silently tracking your activities on your Mac. It automatically records the time you spend on apps, documents, and websites, unlocking the mystery of lost time. However, the app is not just about tracking. Timing is about revealing your work habits and helping you optimize your day for efficiency.

Timing time tracker

Timemator: Track productivity per project

Another time management app I like is called Timemator. While both Timing and Timemator excel at tracking how you spend your time on your Mac, they offer different approaches to improving productivity.

Timing focuses on providing a detailed analysis of your activities across apps, documents, and websites, highlighting where your time goes during the workday. Timemator, on the other hand, focuses on automating the tracking process, relying less on manual entry and more on automatic calculation of actual time spent working. It's especially useful for those who are deeply involved in their tasks and forget to track their time. 

track productivity task by task in Timemator


Taskheat: Learn to prioritize tasks 

If you don't prioritize effectively, you'll waste a lot of your valuable time, energy, and attention on tasks that aren't super important, that are too much of a drain on you, or that aren't as urgent as others. In essence, if you don't prioritize effectively, you'll never be as productive as you want to be.

I recommend you try Taskheat, a task management app that helps you prioritize your to-do list by linking tasks together and creating a flowchart or list view. With color-coded tags and reminders, you'll never forget an important task again. The best part? Taskheat's AI assistant generates new tasks based on your existing input, making it even easier to stay organized.

Taskheat planner2Do: Schedule tasks and reminders 

After I tried out various task managers, 2Do won me over with its flexibility. It's the only app that truly adapted to my personal workflow, allowing me to create lists and prioritize tasks exactly how I wanted. 

It's super helpful how I can break big projects into smaller steps with subtasks, set tasks to repeat every day or week, and even add locations or people to my tasks.

2do planner

GoodTask: Sync to-dos with reminders

Starting to use GoodTask was a game changer for me. The app syncs seamlessly with Apple's Reminders and Calendar, effortlessly weaving task prioritization into my daily routine. It feels less like I'm using a separate app and more like it's enhancing what I'm already using, streamlining my tasks right where I need them.

With GoodTask you can speed up the creation of tasks with quick actions, templates and text snippets, add subtasks and attachments, and organize everything with tags.

GoodTask reminders

Goal setting

Awesome Habits: Build better habits

Before I could dive into setting my goals, I knew I needed to shake up my routines with some new habits. That's where Awesome Habits came in. It's simple: you list the new habits you want to adopt (or old ones you want to ditch) and track your progress with the app.

What stands out to me is that Awesome Habits isn't just about monitoring. The app is designed to cheer you on to success, making the whole process of building or breaking habits really fun. On top of that, it made me realize that building solid habits is the foundation for achieving any goal. Awesome Habits makes sure I'm set up to do it.

Awesome Habits

NotePlan: Build connections between your tasks

Ever feel like your notes and tasks live in separate worlds? NotePlan is the bridge I didn't know I needed. It's a comprehensive tool where my daily tasks, long-term goals, and all the little reminders in between find common ground. By linking tasks together, NotePlan has become my planning powerhouse!

NotePlan daily planning

Headway: Master microlearning

I stumbled upon Headway while diving into a how-to on microlearning on Setapp, and it's a perfect fit for me. This app brilliantly blends skill development with motivation through its 15-minute book summaries. Headway's approach allows me to absorb valuable insights and apply them to achieve my goals without feeling overwhelmed. You have to try it!

Headway onboarding

Blocking distinctions (focus)

Focus: Block distracting websites and apps

In today's world, distractions are everywhere. From the moment we wake up, we're bombarded with notifications, endless social media feeds, and the lure of just one more article or video. It's a wonder we get anything done at all. But then I found Focus, a lifesaver in the chaos of digital distraction. This app blocks out the sites and apps that normally draw my attention, allowing me to dive deep into my work with undivided attention. Focus has changed the way I approach tasks, given me back control of my focus, and dramatically improved my productivity.

 Be Focused: Use the Pomodoro Technique to increase productivity

If Focus piqued your interest, but you're looking for something with a structured approach to managing work and break time, there's an alternative app worth exploring: Be Focused. This tool uses the Pomodoro technique to provide a disciplined framework for alternating periods of focused work with short breaks.

Be Focused pomodoro app

Lofi Garden: Elevate your workspace with the sound of productivity

When it comes to getting work done, the little things can make a big difference – the comfort of your chair, what's on your desk, and especially, the sounds around you. 

So, here's one of my favorite productivity hacks: Check out Lofi Garden. Just hit the Play button from the menu bar as soon as you power up your computer and set your sights on tackling your tasks. Dive into a sound environment that's both calming and conducive to productivity with just a single click.

A few more productivity helpers

SideNotes: Create quick notes that don't distract you

SideNotes is my go-to for quickly jotting down thoughts and organizing my day. It's super easy to use and helps me capture ideas and organize my tasks in no time. This app is perfect for keeping track of what's important and making sure I'm always on top of things. Whether it's a sudden burst of inspiration or a reminder I need to set, SideNotes has me covered. 


NitroPDF Pro: Edit PDFs and save time

Nitro PDF Pro has become an indispensable part of my PDF management toolkit. It may not be the first thing you think of when you think of productivity, but it's a game changer for efficient document handling. From editing and converting PDFs to securing and sharing them, Nitro PDF Pro streamlines all the processes that used to slow me down. It's especially useful when I need to tweak contracts, reports, or any other document I receive in PDF format. 

Nitro PDF Pro

TaskPaper: Write quick to-dos

If you like plain text, you'll love TaskPaper. Just write your to-do items, starting with dashes, and the app organizes them into neat lists. Add due dates, projects, or tags like @work or @study to organize your tasks quickly. TaskPaper makes it easy to stay organized without the hassle.


MarginNote: Learn faster

Ever had a hard time keeping track of your digital readings or notes? MarginNote is a lifesaver for me. It organizes all my eBooks and documents and lets me add notes right where I need them. It makes learning and remembering things so much easier. Plus, it's great for planning and accomplishing my goals because I can see everything in one place.


How to increase productivity: Final thoughts

Being productive isn't just about getting more tasks done; it's about making more meaningful progress on the things that matter most to you. It enables you to manage your time effectively, ensuring that you can balance work, personal development, and leisure. This balance is essential for both achieving your goals and maintaining your well-being and satisfaction.

Starting your journey to become more productive and organized feels a lot easier when you've got the best apps to help you out. Having the right tools means you're halfway there!

Fortunately, you can test all the tools mentioned in this article for free for a week with Setapp. It's a platform that lets you use over 240 apps on your Mac, iPhone, iPad, and online, all designed to help you work smarter.

As you move forward, I hope your days are filled with progress and your goals come closer with each step you take. Good luck!

240+ apps for $9.99
per month

Sign up to Setapp and try them for free.