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Top 10 Essential Mac Apps – 2014 Edition

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MacBook Air

While there’s certainly some truth to the saying that the best tool for the job is the one you have, occasionally it pays to examine your processes and see if there are more efficient ways to do things. Sometimes the right tool can save you a lot of time and drastically increase your productivity. You have to be careful though as you don’t want to spend time fiddling with apps – you want to get stuff done! That’s why we’ve put this list together for you of the top productivity apps that we use at Asian Efficiency. If you’ve been looking for apps to upgrade your workflow, these are the apps that we believe can help you get more done and become Asian Efficient on your Mac.

If I have 8 hours to chop down a tree, I’ll spend the first 6 sharpening the ax.” – Abraham Lincoln

Here are our top productivity Mac apps for 2014:

OmniFocus Icon

#1: OmniFocus

We’re obviously partial, but with good reason – OmniFocus is the most powerful and polished task management application available for Apple platforms. I know people who have switched to the Apple ecosystem specifically so they could use OmniFocus. It’s a bit pricey and has a bit of a learning curve, but it’s worth every penny if you’re serious about getting your crap together.


If you’re already an OmniFocus user, you might be interested in the new OmniFocus Premium Posts which we’ve just updated for the new OmniFocus version 2 for Mac.

TextExpander Icon

#2: TextExpander

TextExpander does exactly what it says – expands text. It sounds really simple, but it’s one of those things where after you’ve used it on your Mac for awhile you get lost without it and everything just seems so much harder. In my opinion, those are the best kind of apps – the ones that increase your productivity without getting in your way.


We recently published a comprehensive video guide to TextExpander which will walk you through all the options and give you a few ideas on how to implement it into your workflow.

Alfred Icon

#3: Alfred (or Launchbar)

Users of one or the other may think it blasphemy to combine both of these as they each have very distinct features (Alfred = Workflows, Launchbar = Extensions), but I’ve used both and they have similar feature sets options not available in Spotlight (even the Yosemite version). I personally like Alfred a lit better, so it gets the nod here but they’re both great apps and you really can’t go wrong with either. Try them both out and decide which one you like best, but pick one and thank me later.


1Password Icon

#4: 1Password

Online security is more important than ever, and 1Password is the easy way to make sure your passwords are secure. It stores all your password information securely, and can even auto-generate complex passwords for you that are nearly impossible to hack. You don’t have to worry about remembering a random string of characters because because the app stores them for you, and is unlocked by a master password that you create when you set up the app.


Keyboard Maestro Icon

#5: Keyboard Maestro

What TextExpander is for text, Keyboard Maestro is for the rest of your repetitive Mac actions. It allows you to automate just about anything by launching macros via many different types of input triggers, like keyboard “hotkeys”, launching a particular application, even connecting a specific USB device. Keyboard Maestro takes automation on your Mac to a whole ’nother level, but doesn’t require any scripting experience to jump in and use.


Hazel Icon

#6: Hazel

Hazel is an automated file organization utility that can watch whatever folders you tell it to on your Mac and organize your files by whatever rules you create. For example, I have a Hazel rule that watches my Download folder and if anything is over 1 week old it labels it “Red” and moves it to my “Action Items” folder on my desktop, which I process daily. Hazel is also an essential part of pretty much any paperless workflow, and our good friend Brooks Duncan over at DocumentSnap actually has a webinar he does on the app.


PopClip Icon

#7: PopClip

PopClip is a utility that opens up an iOS-style interface whenever you highlight text on your Mac. It includes the standard commands like cut, copy and paste, but also has extensions that let you do a lot of different things. There’s even one to create an OmniFocus task straight from your selected text. You can send emails, post tweets, apply Markdown rules, etc. There are tons of extensions already available, and Brett Terpstra has even created a free utility to make your own called PopMaker.


Moom Icon

#8: Moom

If you spend a lot of time on a laptop, you probably spend a lot of time resizing windows and if so, you need Moom. Moom allows you to quickly move and/or resize windows by either hovering your mouse over the green “Maximize” icon or by keyboard commands. It allows you to resize windows according to pre-determined grid sizes, and has a ton of customization options.


nvALT Icon

#9: nvALT

Even though this app hasn’t been updated in awhile, we still consider it an essential tool for quick capturing on your Mac. Developed by Brett Terpstra, nvALT is a quick way to take notes using just your keyboard. Just hit a keyboard combination and nvALT opens, ready to capture your notes. As you type, it will search your existing notes and if you want to create a new note just hit “Enter”. It’s a very simple, lightweight program and best of all it’s free so there’s no reason not to try it.


f.lux Icon

#10: f.lux

If you’re not sleeping well, you’re probably not very productive. Using your Mac (and iOS devices) at night can disrupt your sleep, as it’s proven that the blue light from electronic devices messes with your body’s natural circadian rhythms. f.lux is a tool to help with that by changing the color temperature of your screen from bright blue light to softer, orangish light to help your body get to sleep faster and increase your quality of sleep when you’re ready to call it a day.


If you’re interested in learning more about how you can get Better Sleep, we actually have a 31-minute audio on the subject.

Best of the Rest

There are many other apps that we use and recommend:

  • Bartender – an essential utility for cleaning up your menu bar icons by hiding them, rearranging them, or moving them to Bartender’s bar.
  • MailMate – my email app of choice on the Mac. It’s not pretty, but very powerful and supports Gmail keyboard shortcuts.
  • Postbox – another alternative email app that is very powerful. Postbox has great Gmail support and offers Dropbox integration for your attachments.
  • Day One – a journaling app that lives in your menu bar. Also syncs with iOS versions and supports Markdown.
  • Dropzone 3 – comes with several pre-made actions for sending files to certain locations automatically (i.e. FTP) by dragging them over an icon in your menu bar. It also allows you to “stash” files you know you’ll need later to a temporary “drop bar”.
  • Tapes – allows you to select part of your screen and immediately start recording up to 3 minutes of video. The video is then sent to the cloud and you are instantly given a share link. An indispensable support tool.
  • Tweetbot – Tweetbot is widely considered the most powerful Twitter client available by Mac nerds. If you don’t like the standard Twitter app, give this a try.
  • Fantastical – if you don’t need a ton of power user features for your calendaring needs, you can’t go wrong with Fantastical. It’s a beautiful application that sits in your menu bar, and its natural language recognition is the best in the business.
  • BusyCal – if you do need something more powerful for your calendar, check out BusyCal. It has a lot of options, including a customizable week view. If you want more info, check out our Asian Efficiency Guide to BusyCal.
  • Byword – I love Byword because it’s a beautiful writing app with great Markdown support and has an auto-publish to WordPress option. You can even attach images in Byword and the images get posted to your WordPress post as well.
  • Ulysses III – an interesting writing app that also has great Markdown support. The developer of Ulysses (Soulmen) worked with Brett Terpstra to develop the “Textmate Bundle”, which is a way to include images and other files within a Markdown package so that it can be shared with other apps. Kind of technical, but the point is this: they’re constantly working on making things better for the entire Mac writing community, and I really respect that.
  • MindManager/Mindnode Pro – MindManager is what we use here at Asian Efficiency and is easily the most powerful mindmapping tool we’ve seen, but it’s also pretty pricey. MindNode Pro is not as powerful as MindManager, but much more affordable and still has a lot of features. It also syncs via iCloud with the iOS versions.
  • Screenflow – the program we use at Asian Efficiency for producing our screencasts. Screenflow has a lot of powerful options but is still pretty easy to use.
  • Total Spaces – if you didn’t like the changes Apple made to Spaces with Lion, you’ll love Total Spaces because it gives you Snow Leopard-like control of your desktop spaces and brings back the selectable grid that many Mac geeks (like myself) miss.
  • Scrivener – an incredibly powerful long-form writing application. I know a lot of writers who swear by Scrivener, and when you give it a try it’s easy to see why.
  • Reeder – best RSS reader on the Mac, hands down. The design is beautiful, and it supports a ton of feed services like Feed Wrangler, Feedly, Feedbin, Fever, FeedHQ, Readability, NewsBlur, etc.
  • Cloak – a very easy to use VPN service that will automatically run on unsecured networks (like coffee shop wi-fi) and keep you safe online.
  • Ember – If you do any sort of design work, Ember is a great tool for storing assets and screenshots. It’s basically a digital scrapbook that keeps photos, images, websites, etc. organized into relevant collections which are available on iOS and can be easily annotated.
  • Little Snitch – this is a software firewall that allows you to monitor applications, permitting or preventing them to connect to individual networks through advanced, customizable rules. Great for monitoring who’s trying to access your computer.
  • Marked – another app by Brett Terpstra, Marked is a Markdwon previewer that runs alongside your text editor of choice. It can live update, so if you are editing a file in a program like Byword or Ulysses you can instantly see what your changes look like when formatted.
  • PDFpenPro – from the makers of TextExpander, PDFPenPro is a very powerful PDF editing program. Allows you to OCR documents, redact information, even edit the text of PDF files.
  • Vitamin-R – a great app for tracking your productivity if you use the pomodoro technique. Allows you to set timers and then log what you worked on and how you did.
  • You Need a Budget (YNAB) – IMHO the best budget software available for Mac. If you’ve never done a budget before, YNAB is a great place to start.
  • Rdio/Spotify – We’ve written previously about how music can make you more productive, and both Rdio and Spotify are great options for streaming music services.
  • Witch – from the makers of Moom, this application lets you switch easily between not just applications but also program windows using “Command + Tab”.
  • Sublime Text – an insanely powerful text editor. It has too many features to even list, but if you deal with a lot of text you should definitely check this out.
  • BetterTouchTool – this is a free tool that allows you to configure many gestures for your Magic Mouse, MacBook Trackpad, or Magic Trackpad. It supports a lot of new gestures and it can really increase your productivity when using one of these devices.
  • Default Folder X – enhances your open and save dialogs with tons of options by attaching a toolbar to the right side of these dialogs in native Mac applications. Using this app, you can quickly access your favorite and recent folders using keyboard shortcuts.

There are also a couple web services that have native Mac apps that are great:

  • Evernote – Evernote is a great tool for keeping reference material. Aaron has written before about how he uses this in his agile workflow as well.
  • Dropbox – great for storing and sharing files.
  • Backblaze – ALWAYS have a backup! Backblaze is a native Mac app and the team is ex-Apple engineers.
  • Droplr – allows you to upload a file to the cloud and gives you a private share link that you can send to someone via IM or email. Perfect for sharing large files.
  • RescueTime – a tool that tracks how you use your Mac and rates your productivity. If you spent 15 hours on Facebook last week, this app will tell you that.

So that’s our essential Mac apps list for 2014. What productivity apps would you add to this list?

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Posted by Nicolas  | September 22, 2014 at 9:21AM | Reply

Nice post! For me, it will be:
-Todoist (instead of Omnifocus because of the multi devices/OS support)
-Bywords – Text editor with Markdown support
-aText (instead of TexExpander for the price)
-Sunrise – Calendar
-BetterSnapTool – to resize the windows

Posted by Mike Schmitz  | September 23, 2014 at 10:29AM

Thanks Nicolas! Todoist intrigues me because of the ability to support teams, and Mailbox looks like a solid app but I personally just can’t get into it. My inner David Allen dies a little bit every time I “snooze” an email.

Posted by Kay  | September 24, 2014 at 10:23PM

ToDoIst is awesome. But it doesn’t support Evernote. So I may be ditching it.

Posted by Andrew Cato  | September 22, 2014 at 1:16PM | Reply

As a college student, iStudiez Pro is utterly essential on both my Mac and iOS devices.

Posted by Mike Schmitz  | September 23, 2014 at 10:25AM

I’ve heard good things about that app, just don’t personally have a use for it at the moment.

Posted by ryan  | September 29, 2014 at 3:12AM | Reply

I think a good post would be the 10 essential online apps that AE uses.

Posted by Ben  | May 6, 2015 at 8:33AM | Reply

If using the Alfred powerpack, you can ditch the separate window resizing tools and just use the “Layouts” workflow. Bind some custom key combos to certain configurations and you’re all set.

Posted by Kate  | March 28, 2017 at 12:32PM | Reply

FYI the hyperlink connected to “Fantastical” is invalid. It sends you to a page that says, “Error : Invalid link! Please check the URL to make sure it is correct.”


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