Improve Your Workflow with These Productivity Boosting Apps for macOS (2018 Update)
Rystedt Creative is powered partially by Macs. Whether you like them or hate them, Macs have remained a favorite of creative professionals since Apple and Adobe brought vector graphics to laser printers in 1985. Today you are likely to find at least a couple of Macs in the offices of graphic design freelancers creating logos and business cards out of their homes; print-shops sending items to the presses; and web developers and writers (like us) delivering the creative digital content you need.
I (Joshua) have been a pro-user of multiple platforms and there are pros and cons to every operating system available (don’t be surprised if you catch me with a machine that has multiple operating systems installed). Yet macOS has become Gabrielle’s and my daily driver. We have spent a lot of time developing productive workflows with powerful apps to get us through our hectic schedules.
To help our fellow Mac users, here are Joshua’s favorite productivity boosting apps for macOS.
On Linux or Windows? Consider my alternative recommendations under each app.
Work faster, use more of your screen and keep your fingers on the keyboard using these apps:
Calculator apps are the sort of things that most of us take for granted. But the basic premise can be improved on to make your life a bit more pleasant.
Calcbot is a smart calculator app that includes everything from a history tape to scientific functions.
If you’re running a business or nonprofit you probably find yourself punching numbers into a calculator of some sort more often than you would prefer.
Calcbot is for those of us who need to get more done in less time.
Running multiple calculations? The history tape will keep everything stored for you so you don’t need to keep those numbers at the top of your head.
Better yet, Calcbot lets you copy and paste both results and whole equations from its history.
Doing business internationally? Calcbot can complete currency conversions on the fly.
Oh, and did we mention it has scientific functions?
Calcbot is only available on macOS. Get it here.
Linux and Windows users alike can try SpeedCrunch, a scientific calculator designed to keep your fingers on the keyboard. Windows users looking for a bit more polish can try pro calculator app Calc Pro HD to get these features and more.
macOS’ Spotlight may be the best native search app of any OS (mostly because of the speedy UNIX-like file indexing). Yet, it has some limitations.
Searching files, apps, contacts, and the web all at once may be convenient but it isn’t organized. When a search returns a lot of results it can become downright clunky. Spotlight learns what you look for over time but it cannot (and probably will never) do advanced searches that you launch right from your fingertips.
That is what Alfred is for. Alfred is a theme-able, extensible and customizable Spotlight replacement for macOS. Just want to search your files? Google? Your gmail? No problem! Just use the hotkeys. Launch apps, navigate your file system, copy contact info, search your email, open a file in a specific app and much more all without lifting your hands from the keyboard.
It is a little known fact that computer users are quicker at accomplishing tasks the less they need to use a mouse. This is especially true if you are using a large or multiple displays. Multi-touch gestures help but don’t eliminate the mouse productivity drain.
Alfred also allows users to write custom scripts and workflows to extend Alfred’s capabilities.
My instance of Alfred has been extended to show info about my Mac, tweet, toggle Bluetooth and wifi, show available disk space, copy Bible verses, search gmail, forcibly kill hung apps, tile windows, open recent downloads, show top processes, empty the trash, do unit conversions, and more.
Alfred has the power to replace multiple parts of your workflow and keep your hands on your keyboard.
The Rystedt Creative team is filled with habitual color slurpers. We love to slurp colors. Well, we creative professionals often have to grab the precise values of a particular color so we can reproduce it elsewhere. The default macOS Digital Color Meter is fine and all.
But what if we could grab color values using high magnification, automated copy, adjustable values, and saved color palettes?
Now we can, with ColorSlurp.
Oh, and now you can hear your colors being slurped up. We’re not sure if this is actually helpful but it sure is satisfying.
Whenever you move from one OS to another there are features you miss. Thankfully, you probably aren’t the only one and sometimes a developer has attempted to add that very feature to the OS you are moving to. That was my experience when moving from Windows to macOS. Microsoft’s windows previews and snap window tiling are features that are difficult to live without when first leaving Windows. HyperDock fills that feature gap.
HyperDock installs as a preference pain in System Preferences. Once there (and given the appropriate permissions) it provides those functional Microsoft style window previews and window snapping a la Vista to your Mac desktop.
Although I have extended Alfred to do most of my window tiling this app is still useful for peeking at an open app.
It’s all too easy to lose focus on what you’re doing. This is especially true with notifications dinging us every minute and a dozen windows open at once.
HazeOver can’t help you with your endless email notifications (that’s what Spark is for) but it will help you focus on that one task you’re working on.
HazeOver dims all your open windows except what is "in focus" (the window you are currently working in).
Now you can let that Word document, open web page, or ebook be the only thing you pay attention to.
HazeOver is highly configurable with various intensities and settings. Once you try it you won’t want to stop using it.
HazeOver is only available for macOS. Get it from the Mac App Store here.
We haven’t yet found a true HazeOver alternative for Linux or Windows. If you do please comment below.
Google Chrome currently accounts for more than half of all desktop web browsing. It may be power and battery hungry but it is also stable, extensible and theme-able. Yet Chrome isn’t Chrome just because of proprietary Google code. Chrome is built atop of an open source Google project called Chromium. Chromium powers a few other excellent browsers but Vivaldi bests them all. Vivaldi is the new-ish web browser project of former Opera leader Jon von Tetzchner (hear the operatic connection in naming scheme there?).
Vivaldi does everything Chrome does and even supports most Chrome web store apps and plugins. Add to that solid browsing experience color coded browser history, in browser notes, millions of customization options (like side tabs with window previews), tab stacking and tiling (like window tiling for your browser), adaptive theming and quick commands. If you like Chrome Vivaldi is a safe bet. If you like getting more done in your web browser Vivaldi is a must-have.
A first for this list: Vivaldi is available for macOS, Linux and Windows. Cross platform geeks rejoice! Get it here.
Whether you like it or not emojis (or emoticons for those who have been on the Web for a while) are here to stay.
They’re even helpful for increasing email open rates and grabbing attention on social media – when used sparingly.
If you find yourself using emojis on macOS it’s time for you to graduate beyond the macOS "Emoji & Symbols" window.
Rocket, like the Slack emoji picker, allows you to just type ":" followed by the emoji name you want to enter.
Now you can add emojis everywhere.
With great power comes great responsibility…
Rocket is only available for macOS. Download it here.
The Gnome desktop environment for Linux now includes emoji support by default. Find out how to use it here.
Windows 10 users now have an excellent emoji shortcut using just the Windows key and the period. Get up to speed here.
Perhaps you write code. If so, Atom editor is for you – even if you only write the occasional BASH script or HTML markup. Atom Editor is another extensible and customizable app on this list. It touts itself as a “hackable text editor” because it is open source and it is easy to edit or extend on the fly.
I wrote this blog post in simple Markdown syntax, previewed the HTML output live while composing and exported it for publication – all using Atom. I also use Atom for writing Python and BASH scripts or for quick edits to Swift files I intend to incorporate into an XCode project later.
Atom Editor is also available for macOS, Linux, and Windows. Get coding. Download it here.
I (Joshua) currently have six email inboxes I check and use regularly. Between personal communication and business I am inundated with emails.
Who needs email notifications 1,059 times a day? I sure don’t!
Spark Email for macOS is here to make things a lot simpler.
Spark is stuffed full of features – many of which are going to greatly reduce how stressed your inbox makes you.
Spark has a "Smart" inbox feature that sorts emails by "Personal", "Notifications", "Newsletters", and your "Pinned" emails.
Smart inboxes combined with a unified place for all of your email accounts (each color coded) will make organizing your email a breeze.
Spark’s best feature, by far, is its "Smart Notifications". Smart notifications mute all email notifications that are from strangers or an automated account.
I may need to immediately see that my client from Silicon Valley emailed me. But I don’t need to immediately know that an Amazon seller has a sale on snow gloves.
Oh, and Spark also includes integrations with digital calendars (like iCloud and Google Calendar), integrations with virtual conferencing services (like Zoom and GoToMeet), custom email templates, and team collaboration.
Take control of your inbox with Spark.
Spark is only available on Apple devices. Get it from the Mac App Store here.
We haven’t yet found an email app with this many productivity features for Linux or Windows. If you do let us know in the comments below.
However, Geary is one of the most polished Linux email clients we’ve used (I, Joshua, use it daily on my Linux powered MacBook Air) and Thunderbird is a classic power email client for any desktop platform.
Apps you probably already have installed but don’t use enough
48 years ago in AT&T’s Bell Labs development began on what would become known as UNIX. This versatile OS originally lacked a graphical user interface (GUI). The first GUIs were also being developed in the 60s and 70s but a GUI wouldn’t be released for UNIX until the 80s. Three decades after UNIX development began Apple released a UNIX based OS – macOS (then called OS X).
All of that geeky history is to remind all of us that personal computing had rich functionality long before any of us knew what a “window” was.
Operating systems like UNIX still serve as the foundation for our modern systems and their “terminals” and “command lines” are still included.
The macOS Terminal app is a combination of rich UNIX functionality and modern macOS commands. It can do most of what your computer does but without a GUI – and it does it very well.
You don’t need to be a geek to boost your productivity (and personal troubleshooting prowess) with Terminal.
Even the most casual of users can use Terminal to navigate the file system quickly (even hidden directories), disable unwanted drop-shadows in macOS screenshots, view file system usage, and see how much free disk space is remaining.
Alright, I admit it, this isn’t an app. This is a system setting and one that (depending on your current Dock settings) could give you roughly 5% extra of vertical screen real-estate. The macOS Dock by default resides on the bottom of your screen. Our 16:9 displays give a preference for multimedia consumption over web browsing and document composition. Those latter activities are best done with as much vertical screen real-estate as possible.
If you don’t like hiding your Dock consider placing it on the side. This will give you extra vertical space even when the Dock is visible.
Scroll less, fellow Mac users.
This built-in Apple feature is underused by coworkers on Apple devices. AirDrop allows Apple users to drop files back and forth via bluetooth and wifi. Some snippets of my day:
Me: “Here’s a proof of that logo we discussed. What are your thoughts?”
Gabrielle: “Check out this document about millennial entrepreneurs.”
Me: “What do you think of this revision to the proposal?”
If we aren’t in a shared Google Drive folder we are dropping files back and forth from across our office.
This won’t only save you time – it’ll also save everyone data. Instead of uploading data to servers and having your coworker download them (and back and forth and on and on) consider just dropping them to one another and avoid the Internet altogether. The environmental benefits of reducing our data usage alone is worth it.
“I love Excel so much now I have to doodle on graph paper” – Gabrielle.
Well Excel is more than fancy boxes to fill but you see how much we love it.
Excel is included in every copy of Microsoft Office but a depressingly small percentage of users open it regularly – and even fewer use it well.
Excel spreadsheets should really be thought of as a basic local database solution. Create graphs of data, track your funds, compile statistics, do basic error reporting and more.
If you have Microsoft Excel but are not using it regularly consider learning some more about this powerful software at a site like GCFLearnFree.
Make your workflow more productive
Whether you are on macOS, Linux or Windows you can turn your machine into a productivity powerhouse. You just need to know what software to use. We have spent years building our list of useful apps and tweaks but we aren’t done yet. A computer workflow can always use improvement.
What are your favorite productivity boosting apps? Let us know in the comments below.
Our team uses productivity boosting macOS apps like these to produce creative content for uniquely great businesses and nonprofits. How can we help you?
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At Rystedt Creative, we believe your web experience should be simple and straightforward. Whether your life’s calling is to make custom lawn gnomes or host conferences for pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge, we can help you handle the details of maintaining your online influence.