Email and other so‑called productivity tools were supposed to make work more efficient. Instead, they’ve spawned a culture where people are drowning in administrative work. Scheduling, email and similar tasks can take up to 40% of an executive’s time, according to ServiceNow research. No amount of prioritization or saying “no” seems to lighten that load.
A growing number of apps help lighten the load by using AI to maximize individual productivity.
Booking meetings is one of the curses of organizational life. X.ai, which integrates with Slack, Zoom, Outlook, Office 365 and Google Calendar, deploys a handy AI assistant by the name of Amy or Andrew to help manage your calendar. Once X.ai is synced with these applications, you just cc the virtual assistant on an initial scheduling email to whomever you want to meet with. Amy or Andrew will take care of the rest, corresponding as if it were your human assistant.
X.ai has variable monthly pricing:
Another scheduling app, Clara, has been lauded for its natural language processing skills. Like X.ai, Clara is deployed via a cc in email. If the request is too complex for Clara to understand, she funnels it to a human who parses the language and fulfills the request. This has the added benefit of educating the AI, which learns from each human interaction.
Don’t want a virtual assistant named Clara because you have an annoying relative by that name? Pick any name you like (Cato? Moneypenny?) using the app’s naming feature.
Clara runs between $99 and $399 a month depending on the tasks and workload.
Life and work management
Fin is a digital assistant that blends human and machine intelligence to accomplish a broad range of tasks, such as making reservations, shopping for a gift, or finding houses with swimming pools on Airbnb. Fin is voice activated, so you can just ask it to find a sushi restaurant open at 3 a.m. or where to source the best python developers.
This blended human‑machine approach isn’t cheap: Fin operates on a per request model with most requests costing between $8 and $30. Here’s a list of common requests with price estimates.
Focuster uses AI to blend your calendar and to‑do lists by pulling from your phone data. It finds the optimal time to do a task, like picking up the dog or completing your FY19 sales forecast, and then creates a calendar appointment for the task. Focuster syncs with more than 1000 other productivity apps, including Trello, Slack and Gmail.
Focuster offers three subscription tiers:
Basic: $9.99 a month buys unlimited single day planning
Pro: $19.99 a month allows you to schedule appointments up to two weeks in advance
Transcription without tears
Even when you record meetings, it can be time‑consuming to track down who said what. Enter Otter, an app that records meetings on your iPhone or Android device.
Otter uses ambient voice intelligence to record and identify different speakers within a call. To get started, you speak a few sentences into your phone. Otter creates a unique voice print for you and any other speaker you might interact with—you can tag them in the transcript later on. It also produces a searchable transcript of the meeting, and generates 10 keywords to remind you what was discussed. Otter integrates with Zoom to transcribe and take notes on video conferences.
Otter is free for up to 10 hours per month, and $10 per month for up to 100 hours.
Smarter, safer email
Astro promises to extract signal from inbox noise with a chatbot that cleans up your email. The Astrobot watches how you interact with email and offers suggestions on how to manage your inbox.
It tells you what to prioritize and what to snooze, and will even suggest unsubscribing from that newsletter you never open. If the pipeline report is due at 4 p.m., Astrobot will remind you to get it done before the deadline. Astro debuted a calendar feature in January.
Astro is currently free.
Canary Mail is a Mac and iOS email app that touts its security features. You can encrypt emails sent to other Canary users with a single click. Canary also goes beyond security, sorting your inbox based on your behaviors and pulling the most important emails to the top. If you have a standard reply to certain kinds of emails, Canary lets you create templates so you don’t have to craft them fresh each time.
Canary has a one‑time charge of $19.99 for desktop and $9.99 for iOS.