I’m often asked what are my favourite apps for productivity and creativity on the go. I’m constantly adding and deleting apps for find out what works for me, so come back to this page occasionally to check out updates. Also please note that I am an iPhone user so use the iOS version. Most are also available on Android and I note in the separate app descriptions where they are iOS specific.
OneNote is the ultimate Jack of All trades. If I catch a passage in a book that I want to note, or see something inspiring out in the real world, I can photograph it and add it to OneNote for further examination on my laptop at a later date.
I love the fact that it’s an endless worktop and I can annotate and modify my notes as if I have everything on a wall like Cops have in the movies when they are looking for patterns to crimes. I also love its ability to turn photos in to text.
When I’m working with people and I’m out in the real world, I find that hiding behind a laptop or scribbling on to a screen inhibits my ability to be present. So I use the Livescribe 3 pen to capture all my coaching notes and meeting actions, and the Livescribe+ app synchronises with my pen to download all of my notes digitally.
These can also be exported in to OneNote so you can expand upon them. If you write neatly, your handwritten notes can be converted to near perfect text, which is such a time saver when taking minutes and actions that you want to send out to others. You can even record audio which is synchronised as you write; perfect for taking notes at a lecture.
Another wide category, here I look for apps that make it easy (or easier) to explore new ideas, ones that help me zone out of the every day stuff that gets in the way, and letting my mind off the lead so to speak.
Forest is a wonderful little app that I discuss at length here. In a nutshell it encourages you to put aside the distraction of the Smartphone so that you can focus on doing one thing with productivity and creativity.
Set a timer and whilst your phone is left alone, a tree grows. Start using it before the timer expires and your tree dies. Grow enough virtual trees and you can spend the in app currency on real trees which are planted by the company on your half. I use it when I want to be present with people or to focus on work without the temptation of Social Media, and I find it very effective and know many people similarly taken with its clever gamification of being present.
It’s not often that I’m caught somewhere without my Surface Pro, in which case I record my mind maps using OneNote and Mindmap for OneNote. But in those rare situations where I do want to explore an idea in a mindmap, then SimpleMind+ is a great little mind mapping tool that works well despite the limiting screen acreage of your average smart phone.
There is a paid Pro version with more features but the basic free version is probably enough for casual use and is great for those unexpected moments of creativity.
These are apps that help me get in to a balanced state of mind, which is really important for coaching, presenting or facilitating, because it gives you the most effective access to all of your knowledge and skills, with the calm mindset that supports good decisions.
The Inner Balance Sensor and App from Heartmath is the single most effective tool for developing your coherent breathing. The sensor features an ear clip and the main unit clips to your shirt and syncs with the app to teach you how to breathe at the right pace and focus your attention such that your physiology slips in to the state between sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomic nervous system (ANS) activation known as coherence.
The app itself provides vocal guidance, a breathing pacer and simple and advanced visualisations of your heart rate variability (HRV) and level of coherence. As your skills develop, you can adjust the challenge level to keep improving. 5 minutes a day is enough to see improvement, which is tracked through the Heartcloud system, so you can see your progress and share it with others should that be your thing.
The default breathing app on the Apple Watch is as simple as it is effective. With the setting to adjust how many breaths per minute, the little app can effectively guide you in to state of coherence at 5 breaths a minute. The haptic feedback not only keeps pace but also changes strength to give you a good feel of the breaths beginning and ending.
The great thing about having this app on your watch is that you can use it stealthily in meetings and the like to maintain a cool head when all around you are losing theirs. Additionally the app reminds you periodically to breathe again, and keeps track of how many minutes per day you are breathing right. It’s amazing how a few minutes of balanced breathing can improve your productivity and creativity immediately.
App comes as standard on the Apple Watch.
Heart Rate Variability Apps
Your ability to work productively and with creativity is directly affected by the state of your nervous system. So understanding your state and what you can do personally to improve it is important, and Heart Rate Variability is the simplest, most accurate measure that you can take at home today.
ithlete is a simple app designed to measure and track your HRV using either a standard Bluetooth chest strap (such as the Polar H10), or their proprietary finger sensor. The finger sensor is convenient in that it can be quickly slipped on, so that you can take your HRV in the morning before getting up, which is, in my opinion, the best time to take HRV, before your daily life starts wearing it down.
The app provides only HRV measurement and none of the interesting data and statistics behind it, unless you upgrade to the pro version. The ithlete finger sensor is available from their online shop. The app is available for around £7 on iOS and Android.
Sweetwater Health’s app is full of geeky statistics and calculations for proper Heart Rate Variability nerds. It’s not as user friendly as ithlete but comes with a cloud login that lets you dig in to the detail. The app works primarily with chest straps, but is also compatible with the Lifetrak HRV wrist sensor, which is a new product that is currently only available in the US. The app also charts stress levels as a separate data point, based on proprietary algorithms, but I have found this measurement to be inaccurate when someone is practicing balanced breathing.
One of the added benefits of the Sweetbeat HRV app is its ability to track food intolerances, with a specific function that lets you track the impact of particular foods on your HRV (which dips for some hours after the consumption of a food that your body dislikes).