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Tools: Should I choose a free one or pay for it?

Tools: Should I choose a free one or pay for it?

I got a question from a friend who reads my blog (one of the few souls who does that 😜).

Q: I strongly believe in the idea of how a well-designed workflow can improve the overall productivity, whether be it for an individual or a team. When you have tools like Apple’s stock Reminders app, why did you go for a Todo list app like Things and same with Pocket casts or Evernote? When Apple and Google give you similar products, why pay extra for these. Do those paid products provide additional value to you personally?

A: I love this question because it is from my favourite topic, Productivity.

First, let me get the cat out of the bag. I don't trust Google for my productivity related apps. Google kills products and gives no shit about some customers. Time and again, Google has broken many hearts and workflows, with such decisions. From the very old Google Reader to Inbox and recently, Google Trips. They abandon the product if they don't see any traction or revenue out of it. I have no problems with using GSuite products or Google Photos. Google makes money when we pay for extra storage space. Chrome and Android might not go away because they are the ads pumping infrastructure. To put it simply, I am skeptical of any free tool by Google that is crucial for my workflow.

Second, if some tool is crucial for my personal productivity or workflow, I choose to pay it. It is an investment for me. I get the best value out of it. I'm also at peace that the developers have an incentive to give their best and keep running. If a tool is essential, I pay for it.

I truly believe in this maxim: “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us”. It's better to choose the best tools for our needs. It need not be a costly tool, but it should be best for our needs.

Now let me explain the choices in my toolstack and why I pay for them.


Things is one of the best to-do lists management tool. Period. I want my to-dos to be organised in projects and areas. This separation is crucial for me to do weekly reviews. But the most important aspect I like about Things is the fantastic user experience. The UI is neat, clean and clutter-free. They have very lovely shortcuts and tools to capture your to-dos. Yes, they don't have an Android and web version of their tool. But for my workflows, it fits in beautifully. If I get a thought to followup or do something, I love how I can capture it in Things. In desktop, I press"Ctrl+Space" and type the todo and save it. In mobile, it is just two taps away. I also love the shortcut with which with Apple Watch I say "Hey Siri" and add it to Things.


Evernote is my go-to note-taking app. Evernote is my second brain. I don’t mean it lightly. A couple of years ago, I took a course called Building A Second Brain. It opened up the possibility of using a note taking system as a cognitive prosthetic. It is where I structure my projects (active, dormant, brewing) to store all info related to my research, work, blog. I declutter in my life through Evernote. All relevant physical documents are scanned and saved in Evernote. All my favourite articles are highlighted, organised and saved in it. Every tweet I mark as "Like", gets stored in Evernote. Every photo of mine in social media gets archived in Evernote. Before I kickstart any project at work or home, I first search in Evernote. I mostly get the first level of research from my Evernote. If I vaguely know about a topic, I first search in Evernote. If I don’t know anything about, I Google about it.

Pocket Casts

I got addicted to podcasts more than three years ago. At that time, the stock podcast app in iOS was terrible. Pocket Casts (or Overcast) are one of the best podcast clients in the market. It has this feature of smart speed. They trim long silences in the podcast. They have an intelligent way of listening to the episode at 1.2x or 1.3x rate without losing the context and beauty of the original. Another essential feature of Pocket Casts is a kickass web version. I spend an awful lot of time in my desktop at work as well as home. If I come across any podcast recco, I can subscribe to it with zero friction. I will choose to download or ignore any episode on mobile, and it is available for listening during my commute.

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