Following from my last post about The 10 Best Productivity Apps for iOS, I wanted to dig into the best for OS X as well.
I use a lot of apps on my Mac that automate tasks and keep me productive. I’ve narrowed them down to 10 with a few runner-ups.
Best Productivity Apps for Mac
- Todoist - I don’t need to talk more about Todoist. But here’s another screenshot.
- MindNode - This is a mind mapping tool that is beautiful and intuitive. Watching Travis Neilson from Dev Tips use it to map out a portfolio site he was helping new developers and designers build was enough motivation to download the trial and then finally purchase it. I use it for connecting different thoughts for the content I create.
- Hazel - I just realized the sheer power of Hazel. With Hazel 4, the guy at Noodlesoft has really stepped up his game. I have tons of files and I used to go about sorting them half-heartedly with Hazel— I’d dump old stuff into a folder on my external hard drive to sort through later. After listening to Mac Power Users #322 about Hazel, I knew instantly what I could do with it. The upgrade from Hazel 3 to Hazel 4 couldn’t have been cheaper— $10— a steal.
- Alfred - Alfred is where all my searches and app launching starts1. With the addition of workflows in Alfred 2, it made Alfred leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. It is also fast, faster than the rest. I tried Launchbar but the search syntax is bizarre. A lot of old time Mac users love Launchbar but it isn’t for me. With Alfred 3, everything has gotten flatter and more in line with native OS X UI, and the Workflow Editor makes it even more powerful.
- DEVONthink Pro Office - This is where all my digital information— documents, pdfs, videos, podcasts that I made, blog posts, web articles that I need for research, tutorials, all of it, gets stored in DEVONthink as opposed to Evernote which I used for 7 years. The turmoil within the Evernote camp and the fact it is difficult to get stuff out of Evernote led me to abandon it for Notes.app and plain text. Anything else gets stored in DEVONthink.
- Airmail - I just switched to Airmail 3 in the process of writing this article. My first choice, Mail.app, was a good option for a long time, but I missed Airmail, which I was using exclusively for a year and a half. The integrations, as well as the recently added snooze and send later features2 made it ideal for me again.
- BusyCal - This is an ugly calendar, for sure, but it is really powerful. The integration with BusyContacts makes it a definite must have if you are using BC as a contacts manager. Fantastical is the darling of Mac users currently— it’s beautiful and plenty powerful. But I use BusyCal and BusyContacts as a CRM so I stick with them. Now if Flexbits came out with a contact manager that integrated with Fantastical, I’d be all over it.
- Ulysses - This could be my favorite of all. I use Ulysses to write blog posts for my various blogs. I use an Automator app to publish to WordPress that Jennifer Mack wrote to post to all my blogs3. I also use it as a Markdown editor to update my portfolio, to write video scripts, and to compose my monthly newsletter.
- Keyboard Maestro - This is the swiss army knife of automation on your Mac. I have a lot of macros, some I built, some I downloaded from the Keyboard Maestro forums and from various Apple enthusiast websites. It is a great tool with a lot of power and is essential for productivity on a Mac.
- TextExpander - I know a lot of people have given up on TextExpander. I get a lot of value out of TextExpander— I have over a thousand snippets there. I don’t remember the shortcuts for all those snippets and some I downloaded and never used4. I pay a small monthly fee for a service/app I get a lot of use out of, so I won’t complain.
- BusyContacts - This is my contacts manager of choice. It is smart, powerful, and the backup feature is a killer feature that I’ve used a lot while testing an app and ultimately screwing up my contacts database. I recommend at least giving it a try and it you do, check out BusyCal as well. The integration between the two is what makes the whole widget work.
- Lynda.com Mac App - I love Lynda.com. I get a free subscription through my school and also our great public library system here in Pittsburgh gives free subscriptions as well. I have downloaded a ton of videos from the site, from developer, business, and graphics, to video and audio, this is the place you want to go to learn. The free Mac app is great. You need to have an annual plan to enable video downloading, however. At $360/yr that might be a deal breaker for some just for downloading the videos. Check out your library and see if they have access.
- Mail - The only reason I still use it is for DEVONthink Pro Office plugin.
- 1Password - The password manager of choice for so many Mac users.
- Chrome - As a developer, I use Chrome’s Dev Tools to help me figure out what is going on with the things I am building. Besides this, I use it to access Gmail and other web services that have integrations with each other.
- PDFPen - This is my pdf reader of choice. With plenty of power and a good looking interface5, it is the first choice in a world dominated by Acrobat.
- Safari - I read all my Apple news sites in Safari. I would keep them in Reeder for Mac but I want to keep my business separated from my other, nonessential reading.
Reading an article on The Productivityist, as I often do, the topic of digital decluttering or digital minimalism was broached.
Emilee McGee wrote the article and the first image was of a Mac desktop full of folders and files. It resembled a Windows desktop, as many Windows users use their desktops as file repositories for grabbing something later.
Emilee began to talk about how to declutter your digital life. I want to touch on a few things that I did today to do just that.
- Don’t use your desktop as a file repository. Your desktop should be a temporary holding spot for the fewest amount of files. If there is a folder you need to get at constantly, you can keep it on your desktop (my Git_Repositories folder is on my desktop). Otherwise, file those files in your Documents, Pictures, Music, etc. folders or on an external hard drive. [caption id="attachment_504" align="aligncenter" width="673"] My current desktop[/caption]
- Keep a strict folder hierarchy. The deeper your folders go, the harder it is to find things. I have one level of folders and in those folders several that have different purposes, for instance, Website Administration will have subfolders for plugins, themes, SEO, etc. I keep the appropriate files in each folder. Emilee suggests you keep only a couple folders in one, but I find that too limiting.
- Use Tags. I had a ton of files that I had before I came to Mac in 2014. Mavericks introduced the concept of tags. I have a myriad of tags that I use to categorize files that need more defined categorization. I still have a lot of tagging to do yet, and I do so every weekend.
- Keep every file in a folder. On my external drive, every single file I own is in some type of folder. The only files I have that aren’t in folders are library files from Photos and iMovie.
- Get a file launcher. There are file launchers out there more powerful than spotlight and speedier. My choice is Alfred which is powerful in itself but by buying the Powerpack, you unlock a ton of functionality, like workflows, which opens up a whole new world to you. I suggest giving it a trial run, as you can test it out before you buy. Workflows aren’t available in the trial version but if you get enough value out of the free version, definitely upgrade. Version 3 will be out very soon so you may want to wait.
- Backup. Backup. Backup. I don’t think I can say this enough. I use Dropbox for important files that I want to keep though Dropbox only retains 30 days worth of versions. I use Google Drive and Box as well. Box is a school thing 1 and you get 50 gb with the school account. I keep things that are extremely important in my Box account because of their commitment to security and I keep business things in my Google Drive account because of the IFTTT integration.I also backup with Time Machine, SuperDuper 2, and Backblaze which is cloud backup for $5/mo or $50/yr. You should have an offsite backup 3, a bootable clone, file storage 4, and Time Machine. This will save your bacon come tax time or in an emergency.
So what are you going to do to declutter your Mac?
- I went back to school but this blog will remain as it is. ↩︎
- SuperDuper clones your boot drive. You can boot from it if your boot drive goes bad until you can replace your Mac. It won’t be as fast but it is better than nothing. ↩︎
- Meaning in the cloud. ↩︎
- You can choose one— I am fanatical about file redundancy. ↩︎
ContactsMate by Cisdem is a supplemental contacts manager for Mac that can help you clean up duplicate contacts, delete contacts, fix suffixes, prefixes, and unusual character names or just a first name.
When you open ContactsMate you are greeted with a screen that asks for permission to access your contacts.
Once you do this, you have a screen that looks similar to this:
On the left you have all your iCloud/Gmail groups. In the main pane you have your currently selected contact.
Scanning contacts is relatively simple and fast, depending on how many contacts you have. I have around 850, with about 80-100 duplicates.
You have the option of merging, deleting, deleting the duplicates, or ignoring the conflict.
Batch merging of duplicate contacts froze the app. I had to force quit the app. This caused data loss— a lot of my contacts were simply deleted. Luckily, I have BusyContacts, which I will share a screencast on later. BusyContacts allows for multiple backups, which really saved me, and it syncs with iCloud and multiple services.
Merging contacts one by one resulted in deleted contacts as well. Some were missing names, some were missing numbers, some were just flat out deleted. What I needed from the app is to merge the contacts, which it did not do well.
Fixing Other Problems
As with the other fixes, I lost names, numbers, and other data that could tell me who was who in my contacts. I had to restore from another BusyContacts backup to get my data back. I didn’t try to delete the duplicate as I wouldn’t know which one was being deleted. It doesn’t give much control over which one is the right one, or other granular controls.
The app is slow and has frozen up a couple times when moving around it. If you have a lot of contacts, fixing them all is something that will freeze the app, causing you to force close it and lose data. It doesn’t give options for granular control over your contacts and if you are a power user, like me, this is a deal breaker. I would not recommend this app, right now, as it is. I hope the developers improve the app to make it more feature rich, and consider speeding it up, fixing the bugs that left me without the contacts I most needed for a while.
Reading Asian Efficiency Blog is a real treasure. You get great productivity tips and services from some of the top Productivityists in the game.
I got a newsletter from them entitled The 4-Step System You Need to Be Less Stressed At Work and I came across another article linked to it from Asian Efficiency about Time Tracking. I intended to get an Excel spreadsheet and instead got introduced to Toggl.
What Is Toggl?
Toggl is a time-tracking app. One-click time tracking, so it is easy to track time without much thought. The only thing you need to remember is to actually start the timer.
Toggl is free and there is a premium version for more features.
Here is the Toggl interface in the Chrome browser. I set my Toggl up much like the example at The Asian Efficiency Blog. I have a list of projects, perhaps some more specific than what is required but it works for me.
Setting up your projects is key. You want to track every minute of your day to get a sense of where your time is being spent so you know where you are most and least efficient with time management.
So far here I hadn’t done well. But that’s okay. As a new user, I just need to get a sense of where my time is going.
This is the timer part of the interface, which is self-explanatory. Select a project and start a timer.
You add projects on this screen. As you can see I have plenty, and you can add as many as you want. You can also add clients to any project and have a team of up to five people for free. You can color code the projects as well.
My basic setup is: Work, Personal, Excess, Non-essential. You can basically assign these categories as tags. I am currently working on this myself but Work is anything that will help me further my goals. The tasks or projects under this tag need to be important and urgent. Most of the things I am doing do not fall under this category currently.
Personal is for things like important but not urgent phone calls and emails. I also list reading and podcasts under this but that may change.
Excess is TV and Netflix, cleaning (while necessary doesn’t actually help me achieve my goals), sleeping, relaxing, etc. While a rested body is important to success and is important, it doesn’t necessarily count as urgent unless you are sleep deprived. Let’s hope that isn’t the case for you.
Non-essential are for things like blogs I maintain that while being a great endeavor, are just for fun and are neither important or urgent.
You can get weekly reports as well as detailed reports that will breakdown the time you spent on each logged project as you can see here:
Toggl integrates well with other services like Gmail, Freshbooks, GitHub, and Todoist, which are services I use. It also integrates well with Quickbooks, Trello, and Asana.
Here you can see the integration between Todoist:
Right from the task list you can start a timer and it will show up on Toggl on web, mobile, and even their desktop app. You can’t actually use to Toggl/Todoist integration on the Todoist desktop app, and they don’t have any plans to integrate that right now.
This is how you use Toggl in Gmail:
One thing I noticed about this is that when you start a timer for an email, you aren’t able to start again for that same email. I don’t know if this is a bug but it would be nice to see this functionality fixed or come to the app.
Coach.me is a brilliant way to keep track of your goals. While Toggl can help you determine how much time you are spending in getting to your goals, Coach.me helps you list them and gives you a little gamified motivation to do so with keeping up with your friends and answering questions.
It is web and mobile based but so far I have only used the iPhone version. You can pay coaches for their services but I find I don’t need the coaching.
These are two of my favorite apps to keep track of time spent towards achieving my goals and actually listing out each goal as I go along.
Did I miss your favorites? Let me know in the comments.