The 7 best productivity apps to help you through the pandemic


A disclaimer: it’s okay not to be productive during a pandemic. It’s a pandemic, not a writer’s retreat. You don’t have to buy into the hyper-capitalist always-be-optimizing directive when people are literally dying. 

But for those who do want to use this at-home time to learn a language, exercise or stay focused, there are a ton of apps that will help you do just that. You can also redefine what you mean by productivity – there are meditation and mindfulness apps to just help you get through this. 


Is everyone going to come out of this pandemic speaking a bunch of new languages? They will if the persistent little green owl, Duolingo’s mascot, has anything to say about it. That owl likes to tell you when haven’t been practicing one of its 30-plus languages, but the bite-size language lessons are fun and gamified that it’s easy to keep up. You learn vocabulary in a few different ways and pronounce words by talking into your phone. The only thing it’s missing is the fluency experience of talking to a person instead of an app. Maybe you can try that when travel one day returns. We can dream. In French or Spanish. Get it here


To help people through the pandemic, meditation and mindfulness app Headspace is free for all K-12 teachers, school administrators and supporting staff here in Canada. It’s also free for health-care professionals and unemployed people in the U.S. It can get pricey otherwise, but there a bunch of free meditations and resources in a category called Weathering The Storm. There’s a free tier that works well as an intro to meditation if you’ve never tried it and you’re curious. Then you could take those skills to one of the other free meditation apps like Insight Timer or Calm (which also costs, but has free resources for COVID-19). Get it here.


Habits and routines are important during the pandemic, especially when the days blend into each other and your phone or computer, with all their doomsday news, are nearly always within arms reach. This ad-free, open-source, privacy-friendly app helps you create positive habits and keep them up, before during and after your distancing time. Set some goals – like, say, learning French on Duolingo – and set reminders to make sure you do them. And then you can check your stats and charts like you’re checking on your fantasy sports team. Gotta get your stats somewhere. Get it here


It’s hard enough to keep from getting distracted on the best of days, but it’s even harder during COVID-19. So, if you need to focus on a goal, input it into Serene and let it break it into several mini-tasks, set time limits and block out all your emails, Slacks and texts. Deep focus isn’t an easy thing to achieve right now, so this will help. Get it here.


This app takes a more positive-minded approach to keeping you focused – and away from your phone. When you want to focus, plant a digital tree. It will continue to grow for 30 minutes, but if you stop to check your Instagram or something else on your phone then it will die. Plant a bunch of trees through the day and you could end up with a forest. It’s not just digital – grow enough and Forest will plant real-life trees. Get it here.


Home workouts have exploded during the pandemic, and there are plenty of live classes, YouTube videos and apps to help you exercise. Or you can FitOn, which is like Netflix for fitness. Set goals and parameters, like time of workout, and can create a free program of videos. Or just scroll through and pick one you like. There’s also a section for celebrities, so if you want Gabrielle Union or Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness to whip you into shape you can do that here. Get it here.


An app for those of us who hit the snooze button six or seven times before we even think about getting up. There’s no snooze button here, and you have to prove you’re really awake in body, mind and motivation before it leaves you alone. You have to get up and take a picture of something across the room, do a little puzzle and choose a goal for the day. So you might appreciate this app, or you might hate it every morning. Get it here

With files from Lucas Giovannetti



Richard has covered Toronto’s music scene for over a decade. He was once called a “mush-brained millennial blogger” by a Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter and “actually a pretty good guy” by a Juno-nominated director.

Read more by Richard Trapunski

May 14, 2020

6:38 PM