Work can be engrossing. Enthralling. A platform where you learn more about the world, and yourself.
But let's be realistic: most of the time it's just a chore which you'd like to complete just as quickly as possible.
Good productivity tools can really help – and we've found 10 of the best. Whether you want to generate more ideas, plan a project, work better with others, minimise distractions or just make the best possible use of your time, there's something for you here.
If you're having trouble starting your project, give XMind a try. This comprehensive mind mapping tool helps you to express, structure and organise your ideas, then present them in attractive, professional diagrams.
The program is surprisingly versatile. Click File > New and you're presented with templates for To Do lists, flow charts, timelines, cause and effect diagrams, project plans, org charts, plus even more personal projects like weight-loss programs or travel plans.
Once you've finished, there are options to export your work as images or HTML files, and you can even save the project to Evernote for easy access anywhere.
Whether you're shopping for groceries, planning a wedding or building an airport, you'll probably start the same way: with a list. Wunderlist makes this easy. Type items and press Enter to add them, click a checkbox when they're done.
But you can also highlight important items and give them due dates or reminders. Lists may be shared with family and friends, and a persistent text chat feature acts like a simple web forum, allowing everyone to make comments and give advice on your various list items. Factor in real-time syncing of lists across all your devices and the ability to make lists public with one click, and this is one powerful tool. Go download it immediately.
Everyone needs a good Office suite, and LibreOffice is one of the best – and it's totally free. With a powerful word processor, spreadsheet, presentation tool, database, drawing and flowcharting application, there's something here for almost every need. Whatever you're doing, tools like a chart builder and mathematical formula editor help to produce professional, top-quality results.
The program can open and save all Microsoft Office file types – Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations or Visio drawings – allowing you to collaborate on projects with friends or colleagues. Better still, regular updates mean LibreOffice is improving all the time. For example, presentations don't have to be boring flat slides – they can now include animated 3D models.
4. Cold Turkey
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – it's hard to get work done when there are so many online distractions, but Cold Turkey may be able to help. Just give this clever free tool a list of the most tempting websites and it'll block access to them all for the time period you specify.
Whatever browser you're using, the results are the same – enter one of the forbidden URLs before the time is up and you'll be told that the site is unavailable. The terminally lazy could still browse from their phones, of course, but Cold Turkey is still a useful way to remove common PC temptations.
Time is money, especially for large-scale and business projects, so if you're taking on a complex task then it's important to use the right software. GanttProject is an industrial-strength cross-platform (Windows, OS X, Linux) project manager that provides everything you need to stay in control. Create and organise tasks, add milestones, set priorities and costs, allocate resources, monitor your colleague's workload: it's all here.
Well-presented Gantt and PERT charts keep you fully up-to-date with progress. Optional cloud storage makes it easier for others to work on the project, while capable PDF reporting helps you share the current situation with the rest of your team.
No matter how well organised you are, sometimes you'll be in one place and the files or people you need will be somewhere else. And that's where TeamViewer comes in. Once set up, this amazingly powerful free-for-private-use tool allows you to access and use remote PCs as though you were sitting in front of them.
You can hold web meetings with audio, video and text chat, a whiteboard, file sharing and more (meetings can even be recorded for reference later). Best of all, you can do this from almost any device. TeamViewer has clients for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iPhone and iPad, and you can attend meetings through your web browser without installing any software at all.
Windows has given us Explorer, the taskbar, Start Menu and the Start Screen, yet it can still take an age to find the files you need. Launchy aims to change all that by indexing your core files and allowing you to launch them with a few keystrokes.
To use the program, press Alt+Space and start typing whatever you're looking for: an application, file, folder, document or bookmark. As you type each key, Launchy displays its best match; press Enter when this is correct and the application, file or folder will be launched right away. The program also includes a simple calculator (try typing 2+2=), and a range of plugins provides even more power.
8. Mozilla Lightning
Mozilla's Thunderbird isn't just a great email client. Add Lightning's comprehensive scheduler and it becomes an open-source Outlook, a powerful tool for getting your life in order. At Lightning's heart is a well-designed calendar. Add one-off or recurring events, set up reminders, even invite friends or family to join in.
It's just as easy to set up tasks, attach web pages or documents and set a priority or status to help manage your activities. Working with others? Lightning can import and export calendars in the popular ICS format, or you can publish your calendar for everyone to view in a couple of clicks.
Productivity isn't just about getting more done at your desk. Ideas and inspiration can happen anywhere, which is why you need Evernote to tie them all together. Whether it's a quick to-do list or a lengthy essay, you can add it to your Evernote workspace. Grab photos, screenshots, links, the interesting bits of a web article – anything that can help with your current projects.
Any note can have a "reminder" attached, optionally sending an email alert for important tasks. Smart search tools scour everything you've collected to find the details you need. And Notebooks can be synced across all your devices as required, enabling you to view and work on them anywhere.
How much time do you waste typing the same words and phrases over and over and over again?
The free (for personal use) PhraseExpress saves keystrokes by expanding abbreviations into full text snippets. "ADR" could expand to your address, "SIG" might be your email signature, "RPLY" could become "Dear customer, Thank you very much for contacting us". Snippets may include formatting, pictures, tables and more, and you're able to paste them into almost any application.
That's great – but it's just the start. PhraseExpress also learns and automatically auto-completes full sentences on demand. There's a system-wide spellchecker, a clipboard manager, calculator, program launcher and much, much more.