I love the Mac and great apps. While researching and testing them can become a distraction, finding the best tools on the market allows me to go faster and stay focused. Here are some of the tools I’m using now and loving.
New principle: The app must be OS-native
Before we jump into the list, I have a new principle I’m living by: I want to use REAL Mac apps. Over the past few years, I’ve tried container apps like Shift, Todoist, and Nozbe. But something isn’t quite right when you use their Mac versions. It’s a web app in a Mac window container. Go to preferences and all you see is a few checkboxes. Nope.
So from now on, I’m looking to use more robust apps that integrate with a Mac workflow, not containers.
My anecdotal results are faster computer performance and battery life, no computer fan turning on, and stability: less crashing and glitches.
I used to be ALL IN on Google Chrome. However, I heard guys at Mac Power Users Podcast talk about how it uses a lot of system resources and how Safari is more economical. I switched to Safari — I’m a believer.
Although some websites work much better in Chrome, most actually work great in Safari. I think in 2014–2019 there was a time where Safari was terrible, but I think they fixed it. Every now and then I may have to jump over to Chrome if I’m having an issue, but I’m finding 95% of the time, Safari is fantastic for my workflow. AND... my computer fan doesn’t get loud or hot anymore! I’ve noticed a HUGE performance increase.
I’m not throwing Chrome out the window but I’m not leaving it open in my dock anymore. When I’m done using it, I’ll quit it. If I don’t, I feel like my computer fan or battery will start to drain, even if I’m not looking at anything.
If like me, you ditched Safari for a while, it may be time to revisit. I love it. Because it’s hardwired into the system, it works better with 1Password and integrates well with the share function (box with upward arrow). If you’re not using the Share button for productivity on your Mac, you’re missing out.
I love email apps and have tried them all. In an email app, I’m looking for low-data storage, fast launch time, fast performance, and keyboard shortcuts (I use the Gmail standard shortcuts: e for archive, r for reply, a for reply all, etc).
I did some Google searching, read a few blogs, and saw that Airmail came up over and over again as being designed for speed.
It’s also a native Mac app that has a ton of great features in the preferences that have allowed me to tune it for my performance.
I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a fast app.
Two email apps? Yup.
I’m using Apple Mail in addition to Airmail because of how I’ve decided to approach email in 2020. I’m using it for less time-sensitive correspondence and for reference items for my Mobile Me account. Something feels right about checking my me.com address in Apple mail and I enjoy using it. I only store 30 days of data so that space doesn’t get bogged down. I also delete and unsubscribe to all non-essential promotional material. I have a very clean inbox and it’s fun to check it.
I am noticing an issue where Apple Mail will randomly open and I haven’t found a fix.
I used to have multiple email accounts all download in one singular app so I could have a unified inbox. I tried this from 2011 through 2019 and never found a solution that worked for me. By the time I added more than 2 email addresses, the app AND my system would get slow. (The only solution that was ever fast enough for me was the native Gmail iOS app, but I have made a commitment not to check email on my phone since 2018. When traveling, I may download it for access to travel docs, but then delete.)
I’ve been a long time Dropbox user but recently made the switch to go all in. Instead of using Google Drive as my main Cloud service, Dropbox has been faster and more reliable than my experience with Drive. Link sharing also is much more usable and their support for audio and video files is LEAPS beyond Google Drive.
As someone who creates, shares, and refers to a lot of media files, Google Drive was no longer robust enough for my workflow. Yes, it worked, but not good enough, especially with multiple computers, creators, and clients.
I really like the Smart Sync feature and how fast it is. With Google Drive, download speeds are capped at a certain limit and it takes forever to get my files down. It’s easy to get them uploaded; horrible to get them downloaded. The other issue I had with Google Drive is that if you try to download a large folder with your contents, it creates multiple zip folders that cap out at about 2GB... and then splits the contents into multiple zips. A nightmare if you’re trying to keep your original file folder structure!
Dropbox keeps all the folder structures intact and the Smart Sync feature allows you to see all of the files without having them downloaded locally.
I’m sure OneDrive, Box, and other platforms are great, but I went with Dropbox. Dropbox is used by New York Times and Saturday Night Live — and regardless what you think of their content, they put out a lot of it, and you’ve got to know they’re using tools that are fast and reliable.
I’m using the 3TB Dropbox Professional subscription.
It just works for me and I’m very happy!
When I started my productivity journey, OmniFocus was the first tool I used. It felt cluttered and clunky, but then I learned how to properly use it. It was very powerful.
Then I grew discontent.
I switched to Nozbe, Todoist, Things, 2Do, Nirvana, Remember the Milk, Things, and eventually decided... maybe I should go back to OmniFocus. SO glad I did.
OmniFocus is not for everyone.
If you’re looking for a general todo app, check out Things and Microsoft Todo first (Microsoft acquired Wunderlist which was another great app, RIP).
OmniFocus maps well to my GTD-style system and it’s fast, syncs with my phone and iPad, and works for my brain. If the interface doesn’t scare you, give it a try. Some people just don’t like the way OmniFocus looks. I find it to be appropriately complicated. With a Pro subscription, I can set up different perspectives that only show me what I want to see very quickly.
I took MacSparky’s course on OmniFocus 3 to learn how to get the most out of it. Highly recommended.
Drafts is a text input device that works really fast to get text into other places. You can quickly take notes and then store them in Ulysses, Evernote, Dropbox, or whatever reference tool you want to use.
I have a paid Drafts account as well — which allows me to start notes on my phone and pick up on my Mac. I do not use Drafts to store notes. It’s a text starting-point.
Its speed is why it’s worth having. If I have an idea, I want to capture that idea as fast as possible and decide later where it needs to go. With a few clicks, I can save it to Ulysses and know it’s there for later. It’s a great tool and I really liked learning from its developer on this podcast episode.
Ulysses is a great text writing and reference app. I followed the methodology at the Sweet Setup and learned how to get the most out of it. I highly recommend their course.
You can download Ulysses for iOS and Mac and try it for free but I use a paid account.
What’s nice about Ulysses is it looks simple AND it’s super powerful. The ability to set targets, goals, tags, reference notes, sheets, and groups is just wonderful.
I love the ability to search for text and export it quickly. It has become my text-reference-tool and a great place for long-form writing and reference.
It also uses markdown, which I switched to in 2016 for my formatting. Markdown is well supported and is very clean and easy to read, even as the web changes. If you’re not writing in Markdown, you should consider it. Stop resisting! It’s cool! MacSparky has a great guide for how to learn.
Here are some others…
A few more I am loving that you should check out:
- Clean My Max X
- Affinity Product Suite (Designer, Publisher, Photo)
- Pages, Keynote, Numbers
- Trip Mode
- Audio Hijack
- Carbon Copy Cloner
- Mind Node
Tools I use A LOT, but not super happy with right now…
I’m using Fantastical but looking to switch. BusyCal on iOS is my favorite calendar app I’ve used but the Mac version doesn’t have the same punch.
So I’m continuing to use Fantastical for now... It works fine and It’s always open. I use natural language to schedule appointments. I am not happy about their new subscription model and their “weather” feature. Basically, they want people to subscribe to view the weather on their calendar? Weird.
Evernote’s Mac App is horrible — but I’ve decided to continue subscribing because I have so much content in that platform. Their handwriting scanning functionality is second-to-none and is super convenient for locating handwritten notes years later.
That said, I know the Evernote team is working on some new versions of the apps, so there is hope…