Struggling to keep a schedule as you work from home? Try these time management apps

Working from home have you feeling stressed? One area that can help you adjust is time management. Studies have found that better time management habits translate to less anxiety and better performance. And less anxiety means more capacity to enjoy all that extra free time. 

Unfortunately, searching for a good time management app can be a stress-inducing endeavor in itself. There are hundreds of tools out there that claim to be the one-size-fits-all solution, but it’s hard to tell what most of them actually do.  

To be completely honest, most of them are pretty basic. Even the clunkiest apps are perfectly capable of creating to-do lists, tracking your time and blocking distractions. The best one for you comes down to which one you’ll actually end up using. 

How we found the best time management apps

In order to find out which time management tools would become part of your routine and which would fall by the wayside, we started by creating a list of apps that market their time management tools and rank in the App Store and Google Play for topics like “Productivity.” This gave us around 40 time management apps to check out. 

From there, we pulled each app’s user ratings in both stores, cutting anything with fewer than 100 reviews or a 4.0 average rating, leaving us with around 20 apps. We then spent about an hour each testing them out on an iPhone (and Macbook Pro when a desktop app was available), performing simple functions like to-do lists and time tracking. 

Because there’s so much overlap in functionality — and because they all essentially do the same things — we included screenshots of the apps in action along with a basic rundown of what they’re good at. That way, you can pick the ones that look like tools you’d actually use, rather than the ones we think are the very best.

PriceiPhoneAndroidDesktop appBrowser extension
TickTickFreeMac, WindowsChrome, Firefox
TodoistFreeMac, WindowsChrome, Firefox
Google TasksFreeChrome
Forest$1.99
Focus KeeperFree
TogglFreeMacChrome
Be FocusedFreeMac
Streaks$4.99Mac
HabitMinderFreeMac
Loop Habit TrackerFree

Best time management apps of 2020

  • TickTick: To-do lists with calendar integration
  • Todoist: To-do lists for desktop
  • Google Tasks: Minimalist task manager
  • Forest: Phone deterrent
  • Focus Keeper: Simple time management
  • Toggl: Time tracker for billable hours
  • Be Focused: Time management for Mac
  • Streaks: Achieve your goals
  • HabitMinder: Build good habits
  • Loop Habit Tracker: Daily tracker for Android

Best to-do list apps

TickTick

  • What it’s great for: To-do lists with calendar features
  • Available on: iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Chrome and Firefox extensions
  • Price: Free for basic version, $27.99/year or $2.79/mo. for Pro

With 4.8 ratings and thousands of positive reviews on both the App Store and Google Play, TickTick is one of the most beloved time management apps out there, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s one of the most intuitive and easy-to-use apps I tested, while still maintaining the ability to perform more complex functions. 

TickTick is essentially a task management app with calendar features. You can create to-do lists and goals color-coded by priority, organize them by specific projects and then share them with others if you want to collaborate. It’s also one of the only time management apps that allows you to add tasks with your voice. Just hold down the plus sign, give the task a name and TickTick will automatically slot it into your calendar. 

If you want more complex features like data visualizations of your historical progress and fuller calendar functionality, you can upgrade to TickTick Pro for $27.99/year or $2.79/mo.

The bottom line: If you’d like a calendar view of your tasks, go with TickTick.

Todoist

  • What it’s great for: Basic to-do lists, especially on desktop
  • Available on: iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Chrome and Firefox extensions
  • Price: Free for basic version, $3/mo. for Premium

Todoist is another unanimously beloved time management app, with stellar ratings for both its iOS and Android apps. It’s a little more limited in its functionality than TickTick — there’s no calendar view or data visualization — but that might be appealing for users looking for a simple way to keep track of their tasks. 

Where Todoist really stands out is its desktop app, which is available on both Mac and Windows computers. Using Todoist on my computer felt completely intuitive. It was easy to create new projects, populate them with specific sub-tasks and assign due dates. Like TickTick, you can use Siri and Google Assistant to add tasks to your schedule in Todoist’s mobile apps. 

Unfortunately, Todoist withholds some basic features from its free version. You can’t add notes to your tasks, for example — a standard function on most of the other time management apps I tested. 

The bottom line: Todoist is simple, but it does what it does extremely well, especially on desktop.

Google Tasks

  • What it’s great for: Minimalist to-dos for Google users
  • Available on: iOS, Android, Chrome extension
  • Price: Free

Google Tasks is a fine task management tool for anyone, but those who are already heavy users of other Google products will benefit the most. Google Tasks is clearly designed to be integrated with Gmail and Google Calendar. You can still use it without syncing your account across those other apps, but at that point, it’s not much more than a basic to-do list app.

That said, while it’s a pretty basic app, it was easy to use and attractively designed. I appreciated how you can easily see completed tasks (or hide them), along with positioning some items as “sub-tasks” of broader to-dos. 

If you do sync Tasks with your Google account, it will automatically be added to Gmail when you use it in a web browser. That means if you get an email or calendar invite that requires some action, you can easily transfer it to Tasks. 

The bottom line: Google Tasks is one of the most basic task managers around, but it’s worth trying out if you’re a committed Google Calendar and Gmail user.

Best apps to help you focus

Forest

  • What it’s great for: Getting you off your phone
  • Available on: iOS, Android
  • Price: $1.99

On its surface, Forest seems almost too simple to be that useful. You set a timer, and when it’s up, you get a virtual “tree” in the app’s “garden.” (You can create reusable timers for things like “work” or “studying.”)

The default setting works on the honor system. If you stay focused on your task for the length of your timer, a notification pops up to tell you “Your tree has grown.” If you get distracted, you “give up” and your tree withers. (Forest also has a “Deep Focus” mode where your tree dies if you open your phone while the timer’s running.) The more trees you grow, the more coins you accrue, which allows you to plant different kinds of trees. 

This might not sound like a great motivator, but the cute graphics really did fill me with a sense of accomplishment. It was oddly rewarding to see my garden fill up with trees, and I was loath to disappoint my inner gardener by letting them wither. 

It’s not all virtual gardening, either. Forest partners with an organization called Trees for the Future that’s dedicated to revitalizing degraded land. When you earn enough coins by planting virtual trees on the app, Forest will plant one tree in real life. 

The bottom line: Forest is a fun and effective way to keep yourself on track.

Focus Keeper

  • What it’s great for: Simple time management
  • Available on: iOS
  • Price: Free for basic version, $1.99 for Pro

Focus Keeper is one of many time management apps that utilizes the Pomodoro Technique, which breaks your work into manageable chunks (traditionally 25 minutes) with short breaks in between. After four of these cycles, you get a longer break of 15-20 minutes. 

I used Pomodoro Technique apps for a few days while researching this article, and it absolutely worked for me. I found it easier to focus on the tasks in front of me, and the scheduled breaks gave my day a nice structure while working from home. 

Of the many Pomodoro apps I tested, Focus Keeper was the simplest to pick up. Its interface is clear and well-designed, there are no banner ads and you can see charts that visualize your progress. (These charts only go back three days; if you want a full picture of your progress, you can upgrade to Pro for $1.99.) Focus Keeper also nudges you with notifications like “Long break has ended. Get back to work!” These are easily disabled if that feels like overkill, but I liked having the option. 

That said, it’s simplicity might be limiting for some. You can’t label sessions for different tasks, for example, and there’s no real “to-do list” element to Focus Keeper. It’s a pure Pomodoro Technique timer, for better or worse. 

One unique feature I appreciated from Focus Keeper was that it shows you a number on the app icon for how many minutes you have left in your session. That way, you can check your status at a glance without actually opening the app. 

The bottom line: A great way to break your day into manageable chunks of work. 

Toggl

  • What it’s great for: Time tracking for billable hours
  • Available on: iOS, Android, Mac, Chrome extension
  • Price: Free for basic version

Toggl is a time-tracking classic. It doesn’t use the Pomodoro Technique or fancy visuals to help you stay focused. Toggl simply logs how much time you spend on each task — an essential tool for those who bill by the hour. 

Available in desktop and mobile app versions, plus extensions for Chrome and Mozilla, Toggl allows you to create projects and clients against which you track your time. You can also add other users and share reports and time logs with them. The paid version also offers the option to email reports, add unlimited collaborators and view project and employee profitability charts.

As a pure time tracking tool, Toggl is the best out there. But if features like to-do lists and scheduled breaks are equally important to you, you’re better off going with a more well-rounded tool like TickTick or Be Focused. 

The bottom line: Great way to track how much time you’re spending on tasks, especially for occupations that bill by the hour.

Be Focused

  • What it’s great for: Structuring your work on your Mac
  • Available on: iOS, Mac
  • Price: Free for basic version, $4.99 for Pro

Be Focused also uses the Pomodoro Technique to combat procrastination and fuel productivity. This is the best app of its kind for desktop users, but it’s unfortunately only available on Macs. I loved having the timer visible at the top of my screen at all times so I could see how long I had until my next break. 

The experience was still solid on mobile, but if you can remove your phone from the equation completely, you’ll likely see better results. 

The only thing about Be Focused that bothered me was banner ads on every page of the app, regardless of whether you’re using the desktop or mobile version. If you don’t want to see these, you can buy the Pro version for $4.99. 

The bottom line: No-frills productivity app that works best on Mac.

Best apps to help you build good habits

Streaks

  • What it’s great for: Helping you stick to your daily goals
  • Available on: iOS, Android, Mac
  • Price: $4.99

One of the winners of Apple’s 2016 Best Design Awards, Streaks is one of the most popular habit-building apps out there. The idea is fairly simple — add up to twelve daily tasks you want to stick to and your streak is extended every day you complete them — but it’s executed beautifully. Unlike a lot of time management apps, Streaks is a total joy to dive into.

I loved how you can set specific days for each of your tasks. If you only exercise during the week, for instance, you can set that goal for Monday to Friday without ruining your streak. It also integrates well with Apple Watch. If you set specific health goals like running five miles or walking 5,000 steps, Streaks automatically checks off that goal for you. 

Unfortunately, Streaks will cost you a one-time payment of $4.99. There are plenty of free habit tracking apps out there, but in our opinion, it’s worth paying a little extra for something you’ll actually use every day. 

The bottom line: Streaks is elegantly designed and a pleasure to incorporate into your daily routine. 

HabitMinder

  • What it’s great for: Free habit tracking
  • Available on: iOS, Android, Mac
  • Price: Free for basic version, $9.99/year for unlimited

If you don’t want to pay for Streaks, HabitMinder is a solid free alternative. You can choose from dozens of pre-set habits, or customize your own. Unfortunately, you’re limited to only three habits in the free version, but you can upgrade to unlimited for $9.99/year.

For some habits, you can simply check off the “I did it!” button to complete them. For others, you can link HabitMinder to your health app of choice to automatically log when you got your day’s steps in or meditated for 10 minutes.

As you work through your daily goals, HabitMinder builds you a dashboard of handsome visuals to show your progress. Again, the best of these is locked behind HabitMinder’s paywall, but I appreciated how you can still get a good feel for HabitMinder’s effectiveness before you commit to any purchases. 

The bottom line: HabitMinder is well-designed and fun to use, but you’ll have to pay for its best features. 

Loop Habit Tracker

  • What it’s great for: Tracking your progress on daily habits and long-term goals
  • Available on: Android
  • Price: Free

Loop is a free, open source app (with no ads) that helps you build better habits and achieve your goals. It’s one of the most well-liked time management apps on this list, with a 4.8 rating on more than 30K reviews on Google Play. Unfortunately, it’s currently not available on devices that run iOS or desktops.

Loop is like a to-do list for daily habits you want to build. You check off which of them you completed each day, and Loop shows your progress with beautiful graphics and stats. You can isolate specific habits you want to check in on, or view your progress as a whole. 

The bottom line: An elegant and effective way to build better habits, but only available on Android. 

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