Because I’ve been working remotely and from home for over a decade, Mac and iOS applications have become essential to my daily workflow and productivity. And I must say that in the last few years, these apps have become more stable and feature rich. The developers effectively anticipate and address the needs of users. Nearly all the core apps I present below feature some form of automation, or they connect to other applications in ways that help me get work done. I also use other programs like WordPress, Divi Themes and Thrive Architect for web development, but these 20 applications are my essential tools.
I hope you the find this collection useful, and that you will share your favorite apps in the comment section at the end of this article.
Note: this page includes affiliate links. I appreciate you using the links if you decide to purchase one or more of the applications. Your purchases help support and maintain the growth of this site.
Update: after publishing this article, I realize that there were two very important applications I left out. So this article actually includes 22 favorites instead of 20.
Timing (affiliate link) is one of my essential applications for keeping track of my time on my computer. For the most part, Timing works in the background and records the time I spend in every application I use, not matter for how long. By tracking my application use, I use that data to create an invoice for my freelance clients. Timing also allows for manually tracking time that is not ruled by application use. So for instance, if I need to include off-computer time in a physical or phone meeting, that can be counted as well. The beauty of Timing is that it works in the background, and I don’t have to remember to set it each time I switch between tasks.
I’ve been using Hazel (intro article) for what seems like a decade. It’s the one application that works and automates completely in the background based on rules I set for various folder actions. With Hazel, you can set rules to move, copy, and even delete files from designated folders based on how long those files have been in a folder or after designated files are modified for any particular purpose. Hazel rules can be based on several dozens of criteria, including the file names, date creation, and type of file. Hazel is an essential application for any Mac power user and automator.
ScreenFloat(reviewed here) creates floating screenshots that you can save as files or share to other applications. I use ScreenFloat several times a day for not only capturing images that I want to use in articles, but to help me in other work I do. I use a BetterTouchTooltrigger to trigger the ScreenFloat shortcut since I need my hand on my trackpad in order to capture a part of my screen or window. I use ScreenFloat for capturing bits of information that I need to reference as I work, as well as to capture graphic designs that will go into my Swipe folder for inspiration and ideas.
I use BetterTouchTool (affiliate link) at least a dozen times a day to trigger keyboard shortcuts, menu items, and various other workflows and actions. BetterTouchTool saves me the trouble of moving my hand back to the keyboard in order to, for example, delete files, trigger a screenshot, pause or play music, switch between applications, and much much more. BetterTouchTool includes hundreds of preset actions and finger gesture combinations. Actions can be created for global and application-specific triggering. BetterTouchTool is one of the first applications I recommend for getting started with Mac automation.
iClip (reviewed here) is not only my clipboard manager of choice, but it’s a handy sort of notebook application that includes snippets of texts (e.g., bookmarks, email addresses, css code) that I can quickly retrieve because iClip remains parked on the left side of my desktop for easy access. iClip includes other features for copying and pasting selected text, creating clipboard sets, smart clipboard sets, and the ability to convert and paste formatted text into plain text. It’s also useful for quickly opening copied URLs with a single click. I use iClip practically everyday for the tasks I carry out.
I’ve been using Alfred (see more here) for several years now, because it enables me to quickly pull copied or saved snippets of text, run workflows, and perform Google searches without first opening a web browser. iClip is also useful for doing quick mathematical calculations and running Mac system commands, such as hiding and quitting applications, or shutting down your Mac. Alfred also has 1Password integration, which means Alfred can launch a website and insert your 1Password login information. Alfred is also useful for doing quick browser bookmark searches and controlling iTunes.
SuperTab (affiliate link) is another application to quickly allows me to open bookmarked pages, applications, and folders. SuperTab is similar to macOS Dock in that it you can create several docks and place items within those docks. But SuperTab stays hidden until you need it. You can create as many docks (rows) as you like, and manage the content of your docks anyway you like. SuperTab can also be used for pasting snippets of saved text like passwords, as well as triggering and capturing screenshots. I essentially use SuperTab when my hand is already on my trackpad, and I want to launch applications without opening the Applications folder or moving my hand back to the keyboard.
ClickUp (affiliate link) is finally the one the task management that has nearly everything I need for managing tasks and projects. I’ve used Several task managers, including ToDoist, 2Do, OmniFocus, Informant, and several others. ClickUp pretty much contains all the features of older tasks managers, and dozens of features not found in other task managers. ClickUp is most useful for people who work in teams, but freelancers like myself will also find it powerfully useful. ClickUp includes several ways to manage and view tasks, including boards, calendar view, Gantt and timeline views. It includes a handy notebook and document creating features. Practically every week ClickUp comes out with new features and updates. (reviewed here)
Spark (intro article) has been my mail client of choice for over a year now, because it includes productivity features that Apple’s Mail is missing. Spark is most useful to me for snoozing emails for a later date and time when I want them to show back up in my Inbox. I also really like Spark’s mail template and signatures features, and how quickly I can move selected emails to mail folders for archiving. Spark doesn’t have the smart mailbox features found in Apple mail, but it snooze email feature is more useful to me than smart mailboxes. Spark also includes features for those who want to work collaboratively on emails. Spark has a clean user interface, and there’s no subscription fee for non-business use.
Though macOS has a Keychain application for creating complex passwords, I primarily use 1Password instead because it enables me to better organize my login accounts fore easier and faster access. KeyChain will often automatically insert login information when websites allow it, but when they don’t, it’s nice to be able to access 1Password from my desktop menubar or from the Safari toolbar. 1Password also enables me to store other pertinent information that I need when visiting like my banking and other financial accounts. I have even tagged my pertinent 1Password logins so my family can access easily access them in case of an emergency or my sudden death.
Next to BetterTouchTool, Keyboard Maestro (intro article) is of one most use Mac automation applications. I’m not sure I could actually use a Mac without having Keyboard Maestro (KM) installed. KM outpaces Apple’s Automator by hundreds of miles. In fact, there’s really not a comparison. I use KM for running day and time triggers for automatically opening applications and websites, string triggers for triggering keyboard shortcuts and other actions, and for various application triggers. KM also enables users to create floating pallets that include items for triggering from within any application. KM requires no coding skills, and it’s a must have application for any Mac power user. Check out my YouTub channel for what KM can do.
If you do a lot of typing on your Mac, you will definitely want to use a text expansion application like TextExpander (affiliate link). I type dozens of assigned abbreviations nearly everyday to expand snippets of text, such as my name, many of the application names used in this article, and even entire phrases I might use in emails or online comments. TextExpander is another paid subscription, but there are single payment alternatives like TypeIt4Me. You can also create text expansions in Keyboard Maestro, but I prefer to keep nearly all my expansions in TextExpander because it includes universal shortcuts for inline searches of my TextExpander library, and I can also quickly create text expansions using using PopClip. See my comparison of TextExpander and Keyboard Maestro about how and why I use both applications.
PopClip is another regularly used application tool for all sorts of computer actions. If you work with a lot of text, you’re no doubt copying and pasting and formatting text as you work. As its name implies, PopClip appears when you select a word or snippets of text and it gives you options for copying that text, formatting the text say in bold, italics, title case; performing a quick Google search of the selected text, or adding quotation marks around the text. PopClip allows for downloading and installing macros for your PopClip library. PopClip even has macros for TextExpander, Evernote, Bitly, Alfred, Todoist, and many other applications.
I recently wrote about Raindrop, a bookmarking application for both the Mac and iOS. Raindrop is beautifully designed and it useful for quickly bookmarking and managing webpages. I really like the visual presentation of bookmarks, particularly how it shows thumbnails of saved webpages. I use the Raindrop premium subscription because it allows for using nested collections, full-text search, cloud backup, autosuggested tags, and duplicate and broken links finder. I wrote an article about other bookmark applications I use, but I would probably say that Raindrop is my favorite.
I use several bookmarking applications (all reviewed here), but I would say that Raindrop and Liner are my favorites. Liner has a clean user interface, and I use it to color passages in articles I read. I have a difficult time reading a long article without highlighting content. Liner filters all my highlights for an article which makes it easy to review them later. As you might expect, Liner also allows for managing articles in folders, and the application and service is cross platform, which makes it very useful. The only con about Liner is that it has a very expensive subscription for premium features, so I might not renew it next year.
I’ve been using the journaling app Day One for at least decade. It’s another beautifully designed application that constantly gets updated with new features and tools for keeping a digital journal. Day One can also be used as a notebook as well. There’s tons of features in Day One, but a few of my favorites includes the ability to drop photos and videos in journal entries. You can also create individual journals within Day One for different purposes. I particularly like the On This Day feature that filters all my past journal entries with the current date, which is like a trip down memory lane.
I have been using Scrivener for about eight years. It’s most useful for writing longer articles and books. The application has been around for probably more than a decade. It allows for breaking content into sections so that you won’t get distracted by pages and pages of text. Scrivener includes other features for project related notes and research. Drafts of writing can be viewed in split view and or as virtual index cards. I especially like the Typewriter mode which you typing in the center of the page as you type. In other text editors, you type to the end of the page and then have to manually scroll up to keep text at eye level. Projects composed in Scrivener can be exported to various formats, including EPUB and Word.
I've been using Amazon Kindle since it was first released back in 2001. I've always been an avid reader, and over the years I view it is pretty significant library of over 2000 books. But since I started using the Kindle app on my iPad and iPad mini, I have purchased less paper books, and now enjoy the experience of digital books. I find the latter so much more accessible, and I no longer clutter up bookcases with paper books. Though I'm not a big fan of Amazon, the company does make it easy to view sample copies of books before purchasing, and all my e-books can be downloaded and accessed on all my devices, including the Mac. I don’t like the fact that my Amazon books can only be read using the Kindle reader, but there are really no affordable alternatives for purchasing and reading e-books.
Feedly is another one of the bookmarking apps and services I use to keep updated on the websites I subscribe to, and to manage the articles I read and archive. Feedly has a clean user interface, and it too is cross platform. I’m very put off about the annual subscription price, but because it allows me to easily save and manage articles for later review, I pony up the money. Feedly includes an annotation tool, and it allows for sharing content to social network sites. Feedly also can be used collaboratively with coworkers. I recommend premium version of Feedly if you subscribe several dozen RSS feeds and you want to keep up with them.
Drafts is my go-to notebook application for writing, pasting, and tagging notes and quotes. I find Drafts easier to access and Apple's Notes, though I do that as well. The premium version of Drafts allows for creating workspaces and developing complex automations for managing and sharing notes and other content. When the Mac version of Drafts was finally released, I couldn't resist not paying for the premium subscription. I especially like how I can share and append notes and copy content to existing notes. And the tagging and search feature of Drafts makes it pretty easy to locate and review content.
I stopped watching television over ten years ago, so most of my content assumption is based on podcasts and YouTube videos. I use the podcast aggregator app, Overcast, because it allows me to easily manage my podcasts and play them on both my iPhone and Apple Watch. Typically l listen to podcasts when I’m out walking, riding my e-bike, or cooking dinner. Overcast includes a feature for skipping a designated amount of time at the beginning and end of podcast episodes. It also allows for continuous play, which reduces the need to manually start new episodes.
Again, because I don't watch television, I use some of my spare time to watch videos on YouTube. The content shared in that space consistently helps me learn how to use all types of software, hardware, and gadgets, and it's a place I go to for news and issue related content. I very much appreciate the people who take the time to share their content in the YouTube space. And just as most people pay a cable bill, I subscribe to the premium version of YouTube to avoid the ads. The premium version also includes access to Google music library listen to throughout the day while working.
Now that I’m shared my favorite productivity applications, I hope that you will share yours. I know there are dozens of applications that probably should be on this list, so let me and my readers know about them.
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Bakari Chavanu is a freelance writer and long-time Mac users. He's written hundreds articles about Mac applications and Mac automation for general users. He's also the author of "The Awesome Guide to Mac Automation" (MakeUseOf.com).
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