How to be more productive on OS X
So now we come to it – the king of productivity platforms, OS X. I really don't know why so many different productivity programs have sprung up for Mac however it does give us the liberty of choice. To see what I mean, just head over to the Mac App Store, click on the productivity section and just take a quick look at the range of apps there – it's immense.
Obviously I can't cover every single app and productivity tip in great detail (that would take an awful long time and would become incredibly boring after a short while!) but I've tried to limit this broad range down to the top 5. Here they are.
Use GTD (Get Things Done) apps
We already touched on this briefly with our Android article and I already said that I couldn't live without them. There's a huge range for Mac however I'm going to focus on three of my favourite.
Firstly, Things, which is made and developed right here in our home country of Germany. Although it's a little pricey (it retails normally at €39.99) it's got loads of great features and isn't too difficult to use either. With Things you can organise your tasks into key areas: tasks that need doing today, tasks you want to schedule and be reminded of in the future and tasks that you want to focus on in more detail.
If you've got projects on the go, then Things will let you create them within the app, so you can keep track of each individual step in your project without going astray. It also comes with a free cloud synchronisation service built in, so if you've got an iOS device (it is also available for the iPhone and iPad, but unfortunately it isn't a universal app, meaning you'll have to pay twice if you want it on both platforms) you can sync it seamlessly.
Secondly, there's OmniFocus, which is the daddy of all GTD applications. It's also the most expensive, retailing at €62.99 but if you're serious about personal productivity, then this really is the one for you. You can use it to keep track of your goals and tasks, no matter where it's in your work or home life.
You can capture quick to-dos which sit in your Inbox until assigned to a project or context. OmniFocus will also help you categorise actions by work node and for each task you can assign it start and due dates and time estimates as well as set task recurrence schedules, so you don't have to keep manually adding tasks. There's also a free synchronisation service built in as well, so if you use OmniFocus on either your iPhone or iPad (again, it's not a universal app) then you can keep everything in sync.
And finally there's Wunderlist. This has the beauty of being really simple and easy to use – you can create lists and share them with others for loads of different things, from shopping lists to projects and to-do lists. The interface is neat and simple and best of all: it's completely free (and you don't even have to be at your Mac either – Wunderlist is available on loads of different platforms and there's also a web version of well).
Okay, there is one more thing, but I didn't want to put it into the list of my top 3 to not come across biased here. Apple has a beautiful Reminders application both on iOS and the Mac, which is fully supported by fruux). So instead of installing a separate application and moving your data into a propriatory system, you could just get things done like a boss with what you already have. fruux even natively supports sharing to-do lists and you'll benefit from full integration with Siri on your iOS devices as well as location based reminders. Want to know more?
Never underestimate app and file launchers
Just like my GTD applications, I don't know where I would be without app and file launchers. Before we start looking at these, I must confess that I'm not at all a fan of Spotlight, which was introduced all the way back with OS X Tiger in April 2005. It does get the job done, but it seems to combine the two things I look for the most: applications and files. I want them separate. Thankfully, there are two tools that are available, and both are a lifesaver.
To find applications quickly, there's Alfred. It provides an instant search for your applications, contacts and bookmarks and it can also search Google, Wikipedia and Amazon instantly. All you have to do is assign it a hotkey (mine is Command + Space) and Alfred pops up – no questions asked.
Alfred has tonnes of customisation options and one of the features I really like about it is that it is constantly indexing your applications, contacts and bookmarks (as long as it's running in the background), so if you install a new application, chances are it'll pop up almost straight away in Alfred. If you buy the Powerpack, which is available for £15 (around €18.50), you get the ability to search e-mail, your songs in iTunes and clipboard.
I'm a great fan of Alfred (as you can probably see in the screenshot above – I've used it on average around 23 times daily) and the best part about it is that it's completely free for basic use (as mentioned above, if you want to expand its functionality you can purchase the Powerpack). Alfred can be downloaded from the developer's website.
To find files almost instantly, there's Found. Why this app is completely free is totally beyond me as, like Alfred, I find myself using it multiple times a day to find something on my Mac. Found indexes all the files on your Mac and to bring it up, all you need to do is assign it a hot key (the default one is double-tap the left Control button) and it'll pop up. Start typing a filename and Found will display all files that contain that filename, across your whole Mac (including any connected hard drives and network locations).
If you really want to expand the functionality of Found, you can link it up to your Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive, Evernote, Google Drive, Google Docs and Gmail accounts as well. When you first install Found it'll take a while to index all your files, however this only needs to be done once and doesn't take long (depending on the size of your Mac). You can then launch it from any part of OS X to find precisely what you are looking for. Found can be grabbed from the Mac App Store and is completely free (it also receives regular updates as well, another bonus!).
Keep all your notes in one place
Yep, it's that old chestnut again – keeping your notes in one place really is a fantastic idea (and keeps your desk and clipboard free of loads of post-it notes). Since Mountain Lion, OS X has had a Notes application but it is, in my opinion anyway, crap and the font really leaves something to be desired for (why Apple has only given us the choice between 3 fonts is an absolute mystery to me…). Luckily, there's a couple of other decent options out there. Evernote aside (which I've already plugged in our Android and Windows posts), there's Springpad and Simplenote, both of which are free.
Springpad lets you create notebooks for any subject and the neat thing about it is that when you add something to your notebook, it'll pool the Internet and grab more information about your entry. So, if you enter something about a restaurant, Springpad will find you a map of where it is and reviews on it. Add a movie and it'll give you the showtimes for cinemas in your area. You can also share notebooks easily with anyone on Springpad and users can comment on each other's contributions, making it particularly useful for team collaboration, whether in the office or elsewhere. At the moment, there's no native OS X app for Springpad but there's a fantastic web version (which is completely free) – you can also download apps for your iOS or Android device as well (both are free).
Simplenote is another favourite of mine to store notes. It works off the same principle as Evernote and Springpad with instant searching and you can also add tags to your notes to make finding them easier. Any lists or notes that you've created in Simplenote can be shared with others and one of my favourite features about it is the multiple backups (similar to Versions in OS X) – if you want to go back in time in your notes simply drag the slider back. Simplenote is web-based however integrates well with several third-party OS X clients, such as Notational Velocity, Nottingham and JustNotes (the full list can be found here) and judging by their website, there is a native OS X client in development as well. Simplenote is completely free (however ad-supported).
Cutting corners is good!
We know that cutting corners in life is normally a bad thing, but when it comes to productivity, it's now a good thing! Saving a few minutes each time you want to do something is great and we've already looked at a couple of ways above with Alfred and Found. My two favourite ways of cutting corners on OS X are TextExpander and 1Password.
Sometimes, typing the same thing over and over again can get pretty tedious, especially in the world of business. If I got a euro every time I typed the phrase, "If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact me", I'd be a (fairly) rich man by now. TextExpander lets you save custom abbreviations for commonly used phrases, so for my phrase above I could simply type
;ify, for example, and TextExpander would fill it in for me, no matter what application I was using.
The possibilities with this great app are endless and for those who are really obsessed about productivity, the app keeps stats on how many keystrokes you have saved. And it doesn't just stop with text, either. TextExpander can also be expanded (get it?) to include images as well, so say you want to use your company logo in your e-mail signature (as far as I know, Mail in OS X doesn't support pictures in signatures - please correct me if I'm wrong), you can set this up in TextExpander. Unfortunately, this great little utility isn't free (it'll set you back $34.99, or about €27) but for such a useful tool, you really don't mind paying for it. If you fancy trying it before you buy, then you can grab a free 30-day trial from their website.
And, for keeping all your passwords in one place, there's 1Password. I have so many different passwords for my accounts on the web that remembering them all can be an absolute nightmare, especially when some sites are fussy about the kind of password (some requires letters and numbers, some require special characters and some require a combination of upper and lowercase letters – you know the drill!). 1Password allows you to securely store login details for almost any internet site, including online banking and if you do a lot of online shopping, you can also store your favourite card details as well so you don't have to reach for your wallet every time you want to make a purchase.
All you have to do is select the site from your 1Password library and the app will automatically fill in your username details and password. It's much more convenient than trying to remember your username and password for each internet site and it's also a lot more secure – your data is encrypted securely so no-one can hack into it and you also can use 1Password to generate secure passwords from 1 to 50 characters (which can then be saved against websites), keeping your data even more secure. Like TextExpander, 1Password unfortunately isn't free (it'll set you back $49.99, or around €39) but for such a great utility and for that peace of mind, I certainly wouldn't mind paying for it.
Know Mountain Lion from the inside
Mountain Lion represented, in my opinion, a radical shift of OS X towards iOS and was Apple's attempt at trying to bring the two operating systems closer together. Most of the new features in Mountain Lion were features already seen in iOS, such as the Notification Center (which I hardly use), deeper iCloud integration and iMessage on the Mac. However, there are a couple of features that I felt were slightly overlooked yet really help enhance your productivity, and all just from the operating system. Here's what they are.
Use VIP in Mail
I get a fair few e-mails each day however I'd hazard a guess that 85% of all the mail I receive isn't that important – it's mostly the standard mix of newsletters, promotional mailings and the like. However, there is some mail (the remaining 15%) that is important and that I want to be notified on. Both iOS 6 and Mountain Lion brought in the VIP function in Mail, which allows you to set certain contacts as "VIPs". Any incoming mail from them (as long as their e-mail address is stored in your Contacts) will be marked with a star and diverted to a special inbox. It's fairly easy to assign a contact VIP status in Mail – when you receive an e-mail from somebody, simply click on the e-mail address of the sender and then click Add to VIPs.
You can also choose to receive notifications only from people in your VIP list – to this head over to Mail's Preferences (or just hit Command + , from within Mail), click on the General pane and select VIPs from the drop down box New message notifications.
This way, you'll only receive alerts via the Notification Center from people in your VIP list, which really does help if you receive a large volume of mails per day.
Mountain Lion came with an OS X version of Reminders (which, thanks to iCloud, syncs with the Reminders app on your iPhone or iPad) and although I use apps such as Things and OmniFocus to keep track of tasks for work and university, the Reminders app is especially useful for keeping track of things around the house (such as remembering to take your dinner out of the oven, something which I have almost forgotten on occasions!). There's nothing awkward about Reminders – simply enter your reminder and at what time you want to be reminded and it'll alert you.
And remember, with Reminders and fruux you can share reminder lists easily via e-mail. To do this, check out our complete guide (you'll need the OS X 10.8.2 update to do so, though).
OK, you may feel like a bit of an idiot talking to your Mac, but the Dictation feature in Mountain Lion is surprisingly accurate and works system-wide, not just with certain applications. It's usually enabled by default (to access it, hit the Function (Fn) button twice or select the Start Dictation option from the Edit menu of your app) and to customise it, head over to the Dictation and Speech section of your System Preferences panel.
It may take a while to get used to (and have some inaccuracies), but if you're writing long passages of text then it can save you a huge amount of time (and typing!). Dictation also adapts to your voice and learns from what you say, so over time it becomes a lot more accurate.
Until next time!
Congratulations, you've made it till the end! I hope that this guide helps you sift through all those productivity apps out there for OS X and makes you work better with your Mac! Of course, fruux supports all versions of OS X for calendar syncing, and versions 10.6 (Snow Leopard), 10.7 (Lion) and 10.8 (Mountain Lion) for contact synchronisation. To sign up and get syncing, head over to our website.
For our last piece, we're going to be looking at how you can be more productive on your iOS device!
And remember, if you've got any questions, thoughts or comments about this piece (or if I've missed something out) then drop me an e-mail: james [at] fruux [dot] com.