My top picked apps in 2019 (Part 1)

As I spent nearly a third of my life on my laptop and my phone, I’m very mindful and selective of what tools I use to conquer the digital world.  

“App” as they may sound, it turns out those tools do have effects in the physical one. And today I want to share with you those best apps that have significantly improved my life. 

This is the first article in this series. There will be 3 apps in each article, with a follow-up honorable mention of the next-best product. 

Productivity

Things 3

There’s not a single todo list app on the market that can compare to this app in terms of aesthetics and functionality.  It deserves the Apple Design Award.

I use Things 3 to quickly take notes of things I want to do in seconds. By “quickly” I mean “lightning fast”. With 2 simple keystrokes, I can “call” the quick-add pop-up and type my thoughts down. 

It doesn’t necessarily mean I will note down only todos. I use it to note down everything I want to remember and I will use the GTD method to later organize and prioritize the tasks I want to do. 

Want to buy some milk on the way home? Option + Command. Bam

Want to text your boss to ask about something? Option + Command. Bam

Want to say my article is cool? Option + Command. Bam

Please note that I can make all of that by keystrokes only. No mouse needed 

I know it may sound over-simplistic, but if you forget things often, you’ll get used to this feature only after a day of use, and then you’ll find yourself stuck with this app forever. 

Another thing that enslaved me to this app is its beauty. Things 3 is one of the most refined todo apps on the market out there. Every single animation is polished and synchronized seamlessly across platforms. All the shortcuts, badges, messages are designed so intuitively that my whole experience inside the app feels wholesome. I know it’s an emotional thing to say, but you gotta try it. 

I mean… look at it… 

Honorable mention: Tick Tick.

Super lightweight, not bloated with features (though it seems like it’s going in that direction), multi-platform and also beautifully designed. 

I’m in touch with the Tick Tick team and I know that they haven’t planned to stop developing the app. On the contrary, 2020 is gonna be the year of refinement and super cool features! They are quite fun on Twitter. You can easily win a Lifetime Premium account over there. 

Note-taking

Evernote

Think about it this way. If Apple Note or Google Keep is your mistress, then Evernote is your wife. 

She might not be the lightest or the most colorful, but she is reliable. She manages everything, she keeps the room tidy, she knows things inside out, she is always there for you to fall back on, to retrieve stories that you’ve told her once in a matter of seconds. 

(Disclaimer: I’m not telling that’s the duty of a wife. I’m saying that if a wife gets her hands on those things, she nails them) 

The truth is I don’t use Evernote on a daily basis, and never will I. It seems on the surface Evernote is never in my “productivity kit”. But she’s there. Sturdy and powerful, waiting to be used every weekend. 

The game-changing feature of Evernote is not notebooks, not the multi-platform capacity (which, I would say frankly, is a prerequisite for any app) but is its Searching power. Ohhh yes, the search!

Personally, note-taking is born so we can review/retrieve notes later when we need them. 

“A note (app) in need is a note (app) indeed”

Me, obviously.

When it comes to searching through its database, Evernote is top-notch. Combining with its tagging system, we can retrieve almost anything even with the slightest memory of the note in a blink.  What makes me want to go screaming over the tagging system is that I can customize it by my own need, in my own style, so I can increase the searching speed in my own way. 

For example, I define the template @[Word] tag for every note that is in the form of a @Collection, like @books I have read, @places I have been to.

When, say, I want to search for a collection of the movies I want to watch, I will simply use the tag @Movies and then type “to watch” and then here it is:

Evernote + Things 3 is the most powerful productivity combo for me. Why? using the GTD system I mentioned earlier, on weekdays, I will take quick notes by Things 3 using it super quick shortcut and todo-input system. Then, at the weekend, I spend time going through the Things 3 Inbox to categorize, tag and edit the todos into real notes in Evernote. That way, nothing escapes my mind. 

Honorable mention: Bear

Bear is beautiful and gives me an “Apple product” feeling. Its most impressive feature is the markdown system. With this system, I can easily format texts and paragraphs with my keyboard without having to use the mouse at all It increases the overall typing speed and well, gives me a nerdy, geeky look that I don’t mind having 😉 For those that works with HTML a lot like me, you should definitely check it out. 

Email management

Spark 

Do you know that feeling when you’re so used to a product that you start to love the whole operating system, and that you will have serious trouble when it’s gone?

That’s Spark. 

Spark makes me love Apple products because it’s built exclusively for Apple users. I have Spark everywhere even on my phone. 

In their FAQ page, they say they are going to develop it in the near future. But according to my humble experience, that’s never gonna happen Windows muahahah.

To its core, Spark is an email client that helps you manage all of your emails in one single platform. Say goodbye to logging in and out of your GG emails or having to go to different platforms to use its service.

These are the supported clients in Spark

Spark is fast, intuitive and beautifully designed. Going through my inbox has never been easier for me. Although it has some issue with SMTP connection with Zoho and email image display (Spark team you hear me!!), overall it’s the most well-thought-out app for email management I have got my hands on. 

Cool feature: Spark for Team lets you collaborate (through messages) with your co-worker right on the email.

If you’re using Windows, head over to Mozilla Thunderbird. Similar concept with a 90’s look. (lololol)

Honorable mention: Tempo

As a newbie to the email playground, Tempo has surely secured its ground as the most minimal email manager that I have ever met. It’s simple from the landing page to the design to the actual use. I love products that have a discipline or design philosophy that they coherently stick to in and out, and Tempo has definitely made the list.

The downside of Tempo compared to Spark, is that it only supports Gmail and google apps, and also it’s not free to use. However, I think it’s worthwhile for such minimalism and creative concept. Beauty never comes without cost, eh? 

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Sooo that pretty sums up the apps in my productivity kit. What do you think? Do you want me to review any app?

I’d love to hear about your picks for this year. Drop me a comment 👇 and let’s catch up ☕️!

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5 thoughts on “My top picked apps in 2019 (Part 1)

  1. Thanh Sơn says:

    All great apps for sure. I love experimenting new productivity tools, and I’m still doing it every day, just not with separate apps but mostly add-ons within my programming tools. I do have some favorites though.
    For a to-do list, Wunderlist is where it’s at. I love the simplicity, smooth motion and sleek interface. The fact that it does not (try to) have too many features like note taking, and only one level of importance is why I prefer it over other apps. Microsoft is shutting it down though, and Microsoft To Do is taking over with pretty much the same feature set. I haven’t try Thing yet as it is not free, but you are right, that awesome UI makes me want to give it a shot.
    For note taking, I use Apple Note 🤷🏻‍♂️ yeah… I’m telling you, not having to download a new app after setting up a device feels good. I’m thinking about using Apple Reminder to keep track of my to-dos for the same reason. It’s gotten pretty nice on the latest updates.
    For email, Outlook is what I use on mobile (not a heavy user so it’s enough for me). I switched to it from Gmail and haven’t looked back since :)) Microsoft is really back to the game.
    Hey, I know I know, booooring list. That’s because I don’t rely on these types of app on my daily work. Maybe I’ll talk about my favorite top 10 VSCode add-ons some day, who knows :))

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    1. tuanmon says:

      Eyyy your suggestion about Wunderlist makes me want to go back to it. I tried it and couldn’t really stand its design at first glance. Maybe because I tried it years ago?

      I use Apple Note daily. You know what makes it really stand out? The attention to detail. Remember the rough paper background? It makes me feel like I’m really writing on a physical note. Apple Note still has a long way to go. If it integrates Markdown, I’ll consider very very seriously to switch from Bear.

      Oh Outlook. It got mentioned twice ever since this post came out. Funny thing is I used to use it on my company laptop, and I couldn’t stand its blocky Windows 98 design. Why did you like it?

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  2. Đinh Ngọc says:

    Great review Mon 😉 A quick few thoughts and my personal experience on the apps below hen 😉

    Not sure if you have known this yet but Spark also has the team feature, which is awesome. You can share an email to members of your team (who also use Spark and is added to the team) and you can have a group chat with your teammates regarding the issue mentioned in the email (privately, for sure, the sender will not know about it). Or, say, you are drafting an email and you want your boss to give some feedback on it before sending? Spark lets you add your boss to the draft, you two can chat and your boss also can edit your draft, realtime, just like Google Docs. Cooooool, rite?

    For productivity, I’m using Remember the Milk (they have a cow on their logo, lol). If I want to note a task which is due on 5pm Monday? ⌥ + ⌘ + M (or any hotkey you want to use) – Call client 5pm monday – enter. Done, you are all set. One more thing that I love about this app is that I can set priority for the tasks. For me those are enough for a to-do app, as simple as it is.

    The funny thing is when seeing me using to-do app, there are people said that to-do apps will not work as they have tried plenty of to-do apps but end up quitting them after a few days/weeks. Don’t know what the pain points are, but for me Remember the Milk is still doing a great job. I’m not using it everyday – but like Evernote – she is always there.

    Looking for your part 2 lah :3

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    1. tuanmon says:

      Hihi love your reply and also your recommendation! Remember the Milk reminds me of OneNote style on the Mac which is a bit blocky and old-fashioned (?), but its minimalism really nails it on the phone.

      I think the pain point of people using to-do app is that they waste too much time creating tasks that are either unnecessary or too complicated to be accomplished. It all comes down to the fact that they haven’t got the slightest idea of how to use it most efficiently.

      As far as I know, Team feature in Spark will require you to upgrade to a paid plan won’t it? Is the price worth it?

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      1. Đinh Ngọc says:

        Yes agree, Remember the Milk has a kinda old-fashioned UI. The solid blocks, buttons, icons and its blue color remind me of something like Window in the 2000s. Things 3’s UI really makes me wanna give it a try. One thing I love about Things 3 is that you can be able to break a task to sub-tasks – which is a bit troublesome in RtM.

        Also agree with you about the pain point of ppl using to-do app. Open up an app, note down the task, set a date for it, enter, etc., such redundant steps compare to open up a notebook and write it down using a pen. But only if they knew the how-to, open up a notebook would seem to be redundant.

        Spark still let you use their Team feature with a limitation of 3 members in free plan. You shall give it a shot I think 😉

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