Top 10 best productivity apps for students

Close up of person holding a smartphone

Written by Tyler, student

Being a student isn’t easy, and with distractions all around us, it isn’t surprising that many of us find it challenging to organize our time or stay focused on our studies.

As a student, time management is not only an essential skill to find success in your academics, but it also allows you to make time for other passions, and to take care of yourself and your mental health.

Thankfully, there are some great apps out there to help you maximize your productivity! I’ve divided these student productivity apps into three categories: focus, time management, and note taking. Also, did I mention that these apps are all free (or almost free)?

If you’re looking to amp up your productivity, here are my top 10 best productivity apps.


Stay focused

Do you often find yourself with the intention of studying but end up scrolling through Instagram a few minutes later? These apps will help you follow through on what you intend to do, or even shut out the distractions entirely.

Forest logo.

Forest

iOS, Android, Chrome extension || Free for Android or available for purchase on iOS

This app takes on a creative approach to help you stay focused. Whenever you want to start a study session, you plant a tree in your in-app “forest”. As you work, the tree will begin to grow, but if you pick up your phone and leave the app, your tree dies! You can collect and add more trees to your forest the more you focus. The company even plants real trees in dozens of countries! It’s a win-win situation for you and the Earth.

 

Tide logo

Tide

iOS, Android, Chrome extension || Free

My personal favourite focus app, Tide, is the perfect fusion of productivity, wellness, and beautiful design. The app allows you to set up personalized Pomodoro-focus sessions, with a wide variety of nature sounds, white noise, and calm music. If you leave the app, you’ll “fail” the focus session! The app also features sleep, nap, meditation, and beautiful daily quotes to keep you motivated.

 

Motion logo

Motion

Chrome extension || Free for Personal Plan

As a university student, you’ll be using laptops A LOT, and if you’re using the internet to work and take notes, well, I hate to break it to you, but distractions are aplenty in your browser as well.

Motion’s free plan will block distracting sites like Facebook and YouTube. You’ll also receive a report on how much of your time online is productive or distracted.

 

cold turkey logo

Cold Turkey

MacOS, Windows (Works on all web browsers) || Free for Basic Plan

If you still find yourself getting distracted, this one’s for you. I’ve used this app in my browser and let me tell you – it works. Cold Turkey will allow you to start a timer, during which distracting websites will be blocked entirely.

Until the timer stops, there’s no way to unblock the sites and no turning back. You can even block the entire internet if you need to. Other apps have a way around website blocks, but not this one. Talk about tough love.

 

Manage your time

You’ll be in charge of your own time in university, so it’s important to stay on top of your schedule and things you need to do. If you never liked carrying a physical agenda around, give these apps a try.

google calendar logo

Google Calendar

Web application, iOS, Android || Free

Google Calendar is classic, simple, practical, and by far the most used app by all my peers. It allows you to organize all your classes, events, extracurriculars, and assignment deadlines across your phone and computer.

With its clean interface, you can easily see commitments throughout your day, week, and month. Set up reminders before events or for to-dos so you’ll never forget anything. Say goodbye to missed deadlines and forgotten meetings, and hello to an organized student life!

"Google Calendar is the way to go! Out of all the task management strategies and apps I've tried, it's easily the best!" - Kiko (she/her), third-year Biomedical Sciences student

 

to do logo

Microsoft To Do

Web application, iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows || Free

As a Waterloo student, you have access to all the Microsoft 365 apps at your fingertips, for free. Using Microsoft To Do, you can start each day with a clean outlook on the tasks you need to do, across all your devices.

Being a student involves balancing assignments, clubs, errands, and everyday tasks, so this app can help you get each task finished. If a task requires multiple steps, you can add subtasks under each one! When you’re done, enjoy the satisfaction of checking it off.

"Love it and talk about it often when asked about how to improve time management." - Joyce (she/her), Master of Accounting student

 

todoist logo

Todoist

iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows, multiple browser extensions || Free for Starter Plan

Todoist is for those who want that cherry on top in their time management. This app combines efficiency with simplicity, using its various task-keeping features. Set up different to-do lists under different projects, create reminders, and set different priorities on your tasks. Todoist’s language recognition will even automatically set a single or recurring time for your task. Type in “do laundry on Mondays at 8” and it’ll remind you to “do laundry” every Monday at 8 a.m. Now that’s power.

 

notion logo

Notion

Web application, iOS, Android || Free

Notion is a software that helps with scheduling tasks, managing files, setting reminders, and creating agendas to organize your life.

As a student, you'll have many things to remember, from paying bills to assignment deadlines. You can declutter all your deadlines and worries into the app and become organized with Notion.

"It is my favourite! I use the web application and the app on a daily basis to organize my week." - Aksaya (she/her), second-year Science and Business student

 

Up your note-taking game

University lectures can be overwhelming, but with a good note-taking system, learning, studying, and reviewing will be a breeze. Unreadable handwriting? Never heard of it.

one note logo

Microsoft OneNote

Web application, iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows || Free

OneNote is an essential digital notebook that you’ll find many Waterloo students using. Create separate notebooks for different subjects, which can be organized into sections, and further into pages. Highlight important ideas, record voice notes, make handwritten notes and doodles, and type out your lecture notes. OneNote’s flexibility, power, and paper-like look makes it perfect for any student.

 

evernote logo

Evernote

iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows, multiple browser extensions || Free for Basic Plan

Evernote is another powerful note-taking app that boasts a wide array of features that will allow you to make the most of your university learning. Along with the basic features of a digital notebook, Evernote allows you to also retrieve text from images, make to-do lists, scan physical documents, and save web articles and PDFs to annotate inside your notes. On your phone, you can even search, edit, and create notes straight in Siri or Ok Google.

 

Waterloo Portal screen on a mobile phone.
Your Waterloo one-stop shop

Navigating through university life can be intimidating, especially as a first year, but the University of Waterloo has got your back. As a Warrior, we’ve got a go-to app for all your Waterloo needs.

Portal

Web application, iOS, Android || Free

Once you arrive on campus, Portal will become your go-to app for everything Waterloo. Portal is connected to your Waterloo userid for the most personalized experience as a Waterloo student. View your class information, grades, exam schedule, deadlines, and calculate the grades you need.

If you’re a new Warrior, the campus map will be your new best friend. The map also displays places to get food and available classrooms for you to study in. You can also see your meal plan and flex dollars balance, campus life updates, and other important news as a Warrior! Downloading Portal is definitely a no-brainer.


And there you have it. You now know 10 apps that will help you improve your habits and make your productivity soar. However, downloading an app is not a magic formula for success, so our top time management tips can help you enhance your personal time management skills. No student is perfect, but hopefully these apps can get you back in control of your student life!


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