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Top 10 Productivity Apps for the Mac, 2018 Edition

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What is the best productivity app on the Mac?

We all have our opinions, and declaring the “best” app is almost impossible. What might be the best app for me may not be right for you, and an app you love may not be quite what I need.

One advantage that Asian Efficiency has is we have a team that lives and breathes productivity and we’ve been evaluating tools and productivity methods for years. We debate apps internally every day, and we all come at it from different angles, backgrounds, and age ranges.

In addition, we have a highly intelligent productivity community called The Dojo where tools and techniques are shared.

When I started to compile our annual list of the best Mac apps this year, I polled the growing AE team and members of the Dojo to see what the favorites are.

Here’s our list of the top 10 productivity apps of 2018, and some more tools that didn’t quite make the top 10, but are still great.

(Just remember – you want to avoid Shiny Object Syndrome. Only start digging into a tool if it is something that you actually need! If you don’t need it, set it aside for now. It’ll still be available when you’re ready to put it to use.)

Top 10

Whenever we set up a new Mac, these are the first apps we install. While we can use a Mac without them, we’re not nearly as productive. A good productivity app should reduce friction and amplify good habits, and all of these meet those criteria.


#1: Dropbox – Dropbox is essential for how we work at Asian Efficiency. All of our shared files, blog posts, media, etc. are stored in Dropbox which makes it very easy to collaborate on projects as a team even though we are located all over the world. This is the very first thing I install when setting up a new Mac as it provides the sync and storage foundation for my workflow. iCloud Drive is getting better and better so maybe someday Dropbox won’t be necessary, but for our needs it is hard to beat.


#2: 1Password – The absolute best password manager for Mac. Essentially it works by having you creating one master password, which then grants access to all your other passwords. These passwords can be randomly generated inside of 1Password, which means that all your individual passwords are incredibly strong and near-impossible to hack. You don’t have to remember all of these passwords though as your single master password gives you (and only you) easy access to all your other passwords and can even be triggered when unlocked via a keyboard shortcut that autofills the information in your browser for you. 1Password also gives you the ability to store credit card information, secure notes, software serial numbers, and other important (but sensitive) information like passport numbers, your SSN and bank account details securely. See an example of how Thanh uses it in his life.

If you need to securely share some passwords with others, there is 1Password Families and 1Password Teams. These let you have Personal Vaults and Shared Vaults so you can keep some passwords just for yourself and some passwords available to family members or co-workers. With 1Password Teams, you can make it so that some staff can launch and log in to websites without being able to see the password. My wife and I use the Family plan at home, and it is great to be able to share passwords for important sites.


#3: TextExpander – TextExpander does exactly what it says on the tin – expands text. It sounds really simple, but once you develop the mindset of watching for things you type repeatedly you’ll start to see hundreds of things that you can automate with TextExpander. You can even use the more advanced features like fill-in snippets, date/time math, and optional selections to create some very powerful and personal email templates. We have a video guide to using TextExpander if you need some help to get started with it. Some members of the Dojo prefer Typinator which is not subscription-based, but members of the AE team like TextExpander.



#4: Alfred/Launchbar – Alfred and Launchbar are both classified as application launchers, but that’s just scratching the service of what these apps can do. They allow you to find and open files quickly, perform quick calculations, search your clipboard history, control iTunes media playback, create custom searches, and so much more. There are even custom workflows you can create or install to expand their functionality and control your Mac with the keyboard. Think of them as Spotlight on steroids. Both of these applications are excellent, and which one you decide to use will be determined by personal taste (Mike and I use Alfred, Thanh uses Launchbar). Just make sure you pick one!


#5: OmniFocus – The absolute best task manager for Mac and my digital brain. OmniFocus is a powerful task manager with a very nice user interface which makes it a joy to use on Mac, iOS, and Apple Watch. OmniFocus has a lot of features and is very powerful so it can be a bit intimidating to get up and running with it, but if you invest the time to learn how to use it, it will be time well spent. We have a whole library of free OmniFocus tutorials here or if you want our step-by-step system you can join our course here. We’re really excited about OmniFocus 3 that is coming out in 2018 – among other features there’ll be tags, more flexible scheduling, and a limited web interface.

Keyboard Maestro

#6: Keyboard Maestro – Keyboard Maestro is an application to launch macros on your Mac, which can be used to automate just about any repetitive task. Basically, Keyboard Maestro automatically performs certain actions whenever a particular trigger is activated, which could be something like a hotkey combination, connecting to a wireless network, or even connecting a specific USB device to your Mac. Once you start applying these macros, it will change how you use your computer. Mike wrote an article about Keyboard Maestro awhile back that includes some video examples to help you get started. A recent Keyboard Maestro use case for me: when I start up my Twitter app on my Mac, it will automatically kill it after 5 minutes. This stops me from getting lost into reading about whatever the outrage of the day is.


#7: Hazel – Hazel is an automated file organization utility that can watch whatever folders you tell it to and organize your files according to 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 clean up at the end of the day. Hazel is also an essential part of pretty much any paperless workflow, and we have an article that takes you through a simple setup. For more Hazel tips, check out this article. Inside the Dojo we have even more workflows that are shared by our members.


#8: nvALT – nvALT is in desperate need of an update, but it’s still an essential part of our capture workflow. Forked 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 whatever you throw at it. 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. Rumor has it that Brett is working on a commercial replacement, but we’ve used it so much over the years that we will gladly pay whatever he decides to charge for it.


#9: PopClip – PopClip is a menu bar application 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 (like formatting text or sending to OmniFocus). You can send emails, post tweets, apply Markdown rules, etc.


#10: Bartender – One of the great things about the Mac is that there are a ton of awesome Menu bar applications (like the aforementioned PopClip & nvALT), but if you have a lot of them your Menu bar will quickly become cluttered. Bartender keeps you menu bar clean by controlling which application appear in the main menu bar, which ones appear only in the Bartender menu bar (a sub-menu for your menu bar), and which ones are hidden completely.

Best of the Rest

There are a lot of other applications that we use on a daily/weekly basis that play a very important part in our workflows.

“Netflix for Apps”

There are a lot of great apps in this list. Before you pull out your credit card, we want to point you to a service that many AE community members love: SetApp. With SetApp, you pay a monthly subscription and get access to a large list of Mac apps, including many in this article. The subscription includes upgrades too.

As we mentioned last year, expect more productivity apps go the subscription route. SetApp is a great way to get some of the best apps for one price.

Communications & Calendar

Airmail, Postbox, MailPlane, MailMate – There are a lot of great email clients available for Mac, but Apple Mail (or isn’t one of them. Apple Mail seems to always have Gmail-related bugs, and it doesn’t support Gmail keyboard shortcuts which can save you a lot of time processing email. Fortunately, there are several great alternatives. Airmail is an absolutely beautiful email client that integrates with just about every productivity app out there. Postbox is a powerful email client with some unique features (like domain fencing, which prevents you from sending email from the wrong account accidentally). MailPlane is great if you like the Gmail web interface but prefer a native app, and MailMate is an incredibly powerful keyboard-centric email client if you like writing in Markdown. Inside our Escape Your Email course we go in more detail how to setup an email workflow with these apps for maximum efficiency.

BusyCal – BusyCal is an incredibly powerful calendaring application that has a lot of advanced features (like Mike’s personal favorite, the ability to set a custom week length view). It supports pretty much every calendar type available and is rock solid.

Zoom – ”That’s it, we need a replacement for Skype!” said Thanh when our Daily Huddle went off the rails due to connectivity issues one time too many. We settled on Zoom, and it has been rock-solid every since. All of our team meetings, both voice and video, are done with Zoom and we’re happy with it.

Slack/Hipchat – We have virtually no internal email here at Asian Efficiency, and much of that is due to Hipchat which we use as an internal communication tool. If you need an answer to something right away or need to have a discussion about a certain topic, a tool like Hipchat or Slack will allow you to reach a resolution much faster than an email thread. Atlassian, the maker of Hipchat, is releasing Stride, which we plan to test out this year.

Tweetbot – There aren’t many great third-party Twitter clients, but Tweetbot is one of them. It’s a beautiful and full-featured Twitter client that has fantastic support for multiple accounts and lists, and also has powerful mute filters to block out the noise and show you only what you want to see. Now that Twitter has announced the end of their Mac app, it is even more useful.

Safety & Security

Backblaze – If you don’t have an online backup of your hard drive, sign up for Backblaze right now. There are several online backup solutions available, but the AE team likes Backblaze because the Mac client is much more polished and easy to use than some of the other alternatives. – Most people don’t think twice about using public wi-fi (but they should). (formerly known as Cloak) is the easiest way to automatically secure your connection on public networks and keep your sensitive data safe from prying eyes.

Little Snitch – A firewall program for the Mac. It’s a little annoying in the beginning when every program starts calling home to check for updates, but once it’s up and running it runs just fine and will tell you when someone is trying to access your computer (or when an app is trying to connect out without your knowledge).

Graphics & Information Sharing

GraphicIf you are a designer or someone who works heavily with vector drawing and illustrations, you are probably subscribed to Creative Cloud and using Illustrator and Photoshop. If you don’t need that much power (or don’t want to pay for that subscription), Graphic is a well-designed and surprisingly feature-rich vector application that is inexpensive.

PDFpen – PDFpen is the swiss army knife of PDF editors. Developed by Smile Software (makers of TextExpander), PDFpen allows you to do things to PDFs you didn’t think were possible like edit text & images, and includes OCR to make your PDF documents searchable (which makes it an essential part of any paperless workflow).

SnagitThere are many apps for capturing and marking up screenshots (including Tapes mentioned below), but if you want an app that does it all, Snagit is one of the most powerful. You can quickly capture images and video with a few keypresses, do all sorts of annotations, and quickly share them to the clipboard or the cloud. If you share it to the cloud, it will automatically put the link in your clipboard. You can even do scrolling and panoramic capture to capture more than what you see on the screen at any one time.

Tapes/Loom – We are big on documentation here at Asian Efficiency, and we use Tapes often to record quick screencasts that are automatically uploaded to show others how to do certain tasks. This is also great for customer support as it allows us to demonstrate via video how to solve customer problems. Tapes hasn’t been updated in quite some time, but Loom is a more modern replacement.

Writing & Ideas

Byword I tend to do most of my writing in Ulysses (see below), but Byword is a beautiful Markdown editor that is great for writing plain text that is not part of a larger project.

Day One – We’re big fans of daily journaling, and Day One is far and away the best app for this. The Mac app syncs with the iOS version, which is where this app really shines.

DEVONthink Pro OfficeIf you have a huge amount of information to keep track of, DEVONthink is hard to beat. You can capture research, documents, email, and web clipping to one place, and DEVONthink’s artificial intelligence can help you file and find the information you need. It’s a complex application, but many power users embrace it. Here is a quick guide we have written.

Evernote/OneNote – Evernote is a great tool for storing reference material. It’s free with a paid upgrade for additional features and more storage space, and allows you to quickly store information using the web clipper and access your information when you need it on any device. OneNote is free and has a huge fanbase, especially among Windows users. Its tight integration with MS Office makes it a compelling choice for people in that ecosystem, though the Mac app is more limited than the Windows version.

MindNode –MindNode is a great option for mind mapping software and has a beautiful user interface. There is iCloud sync between Mac and iOS, and it has a fantastic OmniFocus export feature. You can brainstorm project ideas and then have the project/tasks set up in OmniFocus with two clicks. Anytime I need to plan things out (including this article), I start in MindNode.

OmniGraffle – OmniGraffle is what we use to create most of our AE diagrams. It’s essentially the Mac equivalent of Microsoft’s Visio, except that it is much easier to use, and you can create some really powerful diagrams without having an extensive knowledge of modeling software. It also has an extensive built-in stencil function where you can search for extension stencils that other people have uploaded online to share.

Pages/Numbers/Keynote – Formerly known as the iWork suite, these three applications will meet the business/professional needs of almost anyone. And if you bought a new Mac recently, you probably got them for free. The real standout here is Keynote, which is both very powerful and easy to use. The animated transitions that are included with Keynote are top notch and allow you to make very professional looking presentations quickly and easily.

Reeder – If you still rely on RSS to keep up with your favorite websites (like this one) then Reeder is the best option available. Nothing else comes close in terms of design, and Reeder supports many different RSS aggregators like Feedbin, Feedly, Feed Wrangler, and many more.

Screenflow – Screenflow is an essential tool that we use when creating video course content (like the Dojo training videos). It allows you to record your screen easily and edit your screencasts with callouts, transitions, annotations, and much more.

Ulysses – Ulysses is an excellent pro writing app with a beautiful user interface that is designed to support your writing. It works well for writing blog posts, articles, and even longer-form content. You can export to HTML, Markdown, ePub, PDF, Word, or even straight to Medium or WordPress. These very words are being typed in Ulysses.

System Utilities

Amphetamine – Amphetamine is an updated version of the beloved Caffeine menu bar app. It has one main purpose: it keeps your computer (and more importantly your screen) from going to sleep. Very handy when on long Skype or webinar viewing sessions.

Chrome / Safari   – macOS has a built-in web browser (Safari) that’s very good and very fast. I tend to use Chrome more as it is well-integrated with Google web apps and I like the way tabs work, but others on the Asian Efficiency team use Safari. One downside of Chrome is it tends to eat up your laptop battery a lot quicker than Safari. Which browser you use is personal preference.

Copied – This app allows you to copy and paste back and forth between your Mac and iOS devices. Think of it as Handoff for copy/paste commands. It isn’t as seamless as Universal Clipboard in iOS 10/macOS Sierra, but it gives you more control and flexibility.

CleanMyMac – Disk space can be scarce (especially on laptops), and CleanMyMac is a utility that shows you exactly what is eating up all your precious hard drive capacity and you can free up a lot of space with it. You can also keep an eye on your Mac’s health to make sure it is running at top performance.

Default Folder XThis could probably be in the Top 10 section, because when I use a Mac without it I miss it terribly. It adds a wrapper to the Finder’s Save window which gives you quick access to open, recent, or favorite files and folders. A real time saver.

Dropzone 3 – Dropzone is a menu bar application that does two things: 1) It allows you to execute common actions on a file by dragging over the appropriate “hotspot” (like uploading to FTP), and 2) it gives you a “Drop Bar” where you can collect files before doing something with them. Mike uses this all the time to collect a file from the Finder location before he drags and drops it into another application like a Keynote presentation.

Flux – Flux is useful for anyone who works at night and cares about their quality of sleep. The blue light from your computer actually messes with your body’s natural circadian rhythm and tricks it into thinking that it’s not as late as it really is so that your body stops producing melatonin (the chemical that helps you fall asleep naturally). Flux adjusts the color temperature of your screen to a “warmer” orangish shade that is easier on your eyes and doesn’t keep you up all night even if you have to work late. macOS now (thankfully!) has Night Shift built in, but many people find that Flux does a better job.

Moom – Apple has very basic version split-screen functionality, but Moom remains a very powerful window management app. Moom allows you to quickly move and/or resize windows by either hovering your mouse over the green “Maximize” icon or by setting your own keyboard commands. It allows you to resize windows according to pre-determined grid sizes, and has a ton of customization options.

Shush – Mike works from home a lot and has 5 kids, so his house can be a little noisy sometimes. This can be problematic for team meetings, but Shush allows him to mute his microphone except when he presses a hotkey to activate it. This way people on the other end of my Skype conversations aren’t distracted by the background noise. You can also set it as “push-to-silence” making this application an effective “cough button” for podcast recording.

Transmit – There are a lot of FTP clients out there that will get the job done, but Transmit is the best. It has a ton of features, a great user interface, and is the fastest FTP client out there. If you transfer files often, Transmit is great.

Webcam SettingsMore and more of our time is spent on camera doing video conferencing, webinars, and recording video. Many times we don’t have professional lighting and camera gear to do this, so sometimes the video quality doesn’t look as good as it could. Webcam Settings is a little menu bar app that lets you adjust exposure time, contrast, saturation, and white balance for your built-in or external webcam. If you have an external USB camera that supports it, you can also adjust auto-exposure and focus, zoom, pan, tilt, and many other hardware-level controls. It’s not vain to want to look your best on camera!

VirtualBoxAre you a Mac user that needs to run Windows? One option is to buy a separate Windows computer, but I like to use virtualization software to run Windows on my Mac. There are paid utilities for this, but for my needs the free open-source VirtualBox works perfectly.

Everything Else

Deliveries – If you order a lot of things online, you’ll definitely want an easy way to keep track of your packages. Deliveries does this, and will even detect a tracking number on your clipboard and add it to the application for you. You can even get notifications when your packages are delivered if you’re so inclined.

Paprika – If you cook, you should check out Paprika as a recipe storage solution. Paprika syncs with your iOS devices for use in the kitchen, allows you keep your recipes organized, and can even tell you what ingredients you need to pick up at the store.

SoulverThis is one of those I-didn’t-know-I-needed-it-but-once-I-tried-it-I-love-having-it apps. The best way to describe it is a natural language calculator. It lets you work things out and do calculations, formulas, currency, unit conversions, and much more. These can all be done with calculators and spreadsheets of course, but there is something helpful about being able to work things out the way I think them. It’s one of those apps I leave running in the background and flip to to do a back-of-the-envelope calculation.

Be Focused Pro/Vitamin-RWe are big fans of the Pomodoro Technique for making progress on your most important task of the day. Be Focused Pro is a simple but nice pomodoro timer for the Mac, and if you need something with more power and flexibility, check out Vitamin-R.

Tooth FairyDo you use AirPods, and do you use them on multiple devices? Tooth Fairy is a small menu bar app that lets you quickly switch your AirPods to your Mac with the mouse or keyboard. No messing around in sound or Bluetooth settings required.

TimingIt’s difficult to know what changes you need to make unless you know how you are spending your time. Timing is a great Mac app that logs what you are working on (or are not working on, as the case may be) so that you can see how productive you really are. If you’re a Dojo member, there’s a discount code available for you inside the customer area (one of many perks being a Dojo member).

See anything we missed?

Did your favorite Mac app not make our list? Let us know what Mac apps are an essential part of your workflow in the comments.

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Posted by Daren Lee  | October 2, 2018 at 6:31AM | Reply

Great list. I am using some apps mentioned above and will try the others soon.

Posted by luiz henrique Masculino silva  | July 29, 2018 at 5:14PM | Reply

thanky you

Posted by luiz henrique Masculino silva  | July 26, 2018 at 4:58PM | Reply


Posted by Cornel  | June 12, 2018 at 4:08PM | Reply

This is a very good list. Most of the above apps I have installed on my computer. But I have a curiosity about Dropbox? Why dropbox?
I’ve always had the feeling that the synchronization between computers is quite tedious … I’ve also tried Google Drive, that I finally get to use One Drive. Have you encountered such problems?

I also want to mention two more applications that I really like. One is AppLocker – it allows access to some applications to be blocked by the password, and the other is called iClock Pro, which has many tools for productivity. besides a very customizable watch, I still have alarms, wolrd clock and something called Break Time. It forces me to take a few minutes break at predetermined time intervals, which is brilliant. :)

Posted by Valentin  | May 30, 2018 at 4:15AM | Reply

Thanks for the wonderful post information, very useful guide helped me a lot.

Posted by Mary Keith Tarrobal  | May 31, 2018 at 7:30AM

We’re happy to know that you found our suggestions in this post helpful. Thank you.

Posted by Tom Sugar  | April 17, 2018 at 9:53AM | Reply

Pinstriped’s version 2 for Mac just launched, making it easy for meeting owners to prepare and run worthwhile meetings. We feel it belongs on the productivity list.

Posted by Johnmerchant  | March 30, 2018 at 4:59AM | Reply

I am mac user and always find some latest apps which are useful for mac and here you can explore awesome apps and that are useful . Happy now i got some latest app now thanks mate for this wonderful article.

Posted by Sherby San Cruz  | February 27, 2018 at 10:34AM | Reply

Thanks for suggesting Affinity Photo and Affinity Design. We’ll look into it. :)

Posted by Robert  | February 27, 2018 at 10:13AM | Reply

Unquestionably, if you’re looking for an alternative to Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator you should be considering Affinity Photo and Affinity Design, respectively. Beautifully rich, rock solid, and reasonably (you might say remarkably) priced.

Posted by Woody  | January 24, 2018 at 10:24PM | Reply

currently moved to a MacBook 17 from years of a pc and couldn’t be happier. however, I am with a somewhat large software company (MS-centric ) that relies on Office and so I am trying to drive the Mac efficiently wherever is possible in my job. A few of the most interesting apps you mentioned were the following: Alfred/omnifocus/cloak/snitch/popclip/devonthink — any way to prioritize being a new Mac user on the learning curve side?
thanks and really appreciate the quality of the post and the feedback. Continued success and open to any suggestions , etc!

Posted by Mac  | September 11, 2017 at 3:12PM | Reply

Great article on mac apps. Really useful and informative for me. Thank you so much for sharing.

Posted by Oleksandr  | September 2, 2017 at 4:51PM | Reply

Some of these great apps are avaliable on Setapp:
It is like Netflix for Mac Apps, lots of great apps avaliable already.

Posted by Bruce  | August 25, 2017 at 2:26AM | Reply

Great list – Busycal is still by far the best calendar for most users. For any developers Filezilla is the best free FTP client

Posted by Martin Boeddeker  | August 24, 2017 at 10:05AM | Reply

Hi, I wonder why there is no mention of tools that block out distractions like Self-Control (free) or href=””>FindFocus (paid)

I think these would definitely be worth adding to the list.

Posted by Gabriel  | August 12, 2017 at 7:20PM | Reply

You should mention iSmartClock next time! It’s great if you work with apps in FullScreen mode.

Posted by Eugene  | June 25, 2017 at 1:16PM | Reply

+1 for Unclutter –

Posted by wpfansboy  | June 25, 2017 at 5:52AM | Reply

Thanks for the advice bro, really appreciated.

I recommended you to use clean my mac3 to clean the cache and all unused apps and files.

Posted by Natalie  | June 16, 2017 at 5:50AM | Reply

I second JING. Love it!

Posted by Yasar  | June 15, 2017 at 7:41PM | Reply

Thank you for sharing the comprehensive list of essential apps. I’m already using some of the tools you mentioned in this post such as Dropbox & others but still, there are more productivity apps that are really strange to me.

Thank you for this great Compilation!

Posted by ANDREW  | June 15, 2017 at 2:20PM | Reply

I love to use Unclutter for the same types of things you use Dropzone for, and for quick easy notes

Posted by Mike  | June 9, 2017 at 6:53PM | Reply

Some other great stuff…

EVERYTHING from DEVONTechnologies… DEVONthink Office Pro for data management and superb AI, DEVONagent Pro as my standard webbrowser with incredible search-options and lots of other stuff… and THINGS 3 to boost productivity and empty my head, TINDERBOX, Vypr VPN with its own DNS-server (no third parties), QuickKey, Screenfloat, BetterSnapTool, Browserism, HazeOver… all very nice apps!… AEON Timeline…

Posted by Digital Gentleman  | June 8, 2017 at 3:36AM | Reply

Wow man so this is the place at the end of the rainbow?! I’ve been a mac user for 7 years and I am continuously searching for all the best app and every article MAYBE has one new one, but I found like 10 apps I never even heart of. Crazy stuff haha. So thanks a lot!

Posted by Daniel  | May 27, 2017 at 11:33AM | Reply

What a great post! Thank you very much!

Posted by AppWhore  | April 27, 2017 at 11:56PM | Reply

I’m always looking for apps that change my computing life. With that in mind my short list.

1Password – hard to imagine a better service out there. Use it constantly. Going to move to a Families sub soon.

Popclip – So good it should be part of the OS.

Affinity Photo and Design – Adobe who?

iA Writer – gets ignored but they’ve got some good stuff here with version 4

Typinator – Why are you spending $20 a year for text expansion? Typinator does everything but charge you by the year.

Contexts App – the app switcher few know about but users love

Forklift – want a Finder replacement that does FTP? I’m your Huckleberry


Airtable – ever wanted a database with relational capabilities that’s as easy as a spreadsheet? Airtable will Blow….Your…Mind. – The coolest and most amazing tool for writing Docs, Wiki, Tasks and more.

Spillo – best Mac manager.

Posted by ikomrad  | April 19, 2017 at 11:25PM | Reply

This has gotten pretty dated. There is still a lot of goodness, but ot definitely needs to be updated.

Apple Grab comes with macOS and replaces SnagIt

Apple Night shift replaces Flux
If you shop mostly at Amazon, you don’t need Deliveries. In fact,it will nag you for your Amazon login constantly if you use it.

Byword is ok, but I replaced it with Drafts on IOS and Atom on macOS

I’d add Day One for Journaling, Apple Notes for text editing, Atom for writing simple applications/scripts.

Fantastical for Calendaring !

For Browsering, I flip between Safari and Chrome. Both have neat features, and I cannot decide which one should be ‘default’ browser because of this.

Posted by ikomrad  | April 19, 2017 at 11:15PM | Reply

Spark is ok, I used the beta IOS and desktop apps for a while, but Airmail has a lot more functionality and support gmail hotkeys.
I find my self switching between Airmail and gmail on IOS, and between Airmail and gmail Web on my Mac.

Posted by Viv Ilo Veith  | March 2, 2017 at 2:39AM | Reply

Spark Mail App blows away all the email programs you listed above. I was fortunate to be on the late-beta test team so have been using it for quite a while.

They released it publicly the end of November which is likely why it was not on your January list.

Spark is also the best iOS email app.

Posted by Yannis  | February 22, 2017 at 4:51AM | Reply

Seriously, the only “serious” productive apps list I ve seen in years! Congratulations

Posted by ShenNong  | January 18, 2017 at 5:53PM | Reply

OneNote. Completely switched from Evernote once Imread their privacy policy.

Posted by Graham  | January 18, 2017 at 3:31PM | Reply

For the most part I agree with your top 10, and many of your “Best of the Rest” selections, but I would personally change TextExpander to Typinator/TextExpander.

I used to use TextExpander, but found its performance lagging when compared to Typinator, and I eventually switched over with Typinator 5.x. SmileOnSoftware’s 2016 decision to make TextExpander a subscription product confirmed me in my decision.

Posted by Randy Fisher  | January 17, 2017 at 8:42PM | Reply

Forget about Bartender. Customer support is worthless. It stopped working when I upgraded from version 1 to 2 and customer support does not respond. You can do most things with Sierra now. Don’t throw away money on this unsupported app.

Posted by Brooks Duncan  | January 17, 2017 at 7:07PM | Reply

Thanks David, IQTELL definitely has a lot of fans. I’ll check out the new update for sure.

Posted by Peter  | January 17, 2017 at 5:45PM | Reply

I would be totally lost without FileMaker; it saves me loads of time with repetitive tasks; its ability to trigger actions in other apps via AppleScript makes it my personal magic wand. True: It takes time and a learning curve to achieve anything worthwhile. But whenever I see collegues sweat trying to corral even simple multidimensional data like courses and participants with Excel spreadsheets I am really happy to have a better solution up my sleeve. It’s definitely an app that can set you apart in terms of efficiency. On the other hand it’s definitely an app that can keep you tinkering with scripts and procrastinating on other tasks as well. And it leaves a hole in your wallet, too.

Posted by mat  | January 17, 2017 at 5:19PM | Reply

I really enjoy the [email protected] streaming lately. Thanh mentioned it in one of the last podcasts and I was on productivity drugs since then.
Indispensable, if you ask me. Belongs in the mentions!

Also, of course, while I see why Omnifocus made the task manager spot, it isn’t the only solution that is serious by far: 2do, Todoist, Wunderlist and Things (that is still in active development) are but to name a few. Consider putting those up on the list in a separate category in the mentions.

Posted by Jorge Caro  | January 17, 2017 at 3:45PM | Reply

I am the owner of a business and I am working with BANKTIVITY 5 to manage my money, OMNIPLAN to manage my projects and MINVENTORY to manage my inventory. I strongly recommend this 3 Apps for those who have a medium or a small company.

Posted by David  | January 17, 2017 at 3:15PM | Reply

You guys NEED to check out IQTELL ( as it takes email and task management to a whole other level. It combines them both into one interface with the ability to link and create from email, with full project management and customisation (it even features deep Evernote integration). They’re just about to release a brand new UI update that promises to make it even better.

Posted by Alex  | January 17, 2017 at 8:35AM | Reply

Also check Freeter, a productivity tool for organizing the workflow on Mac.

Posted by Jouke  | January 10, 2017 at 2:22AM | Reply


thnx for this post. I am missing Polymail as an email client. It’s not perfect yet, but it has some really great features like that makes them stand out from the rest.

Furthermore, one of the first things I always install on my Macbook is Kuvva, which refreshes your wallpaper with very original art, drawings and pictures.

Posted by Keith  | December 30, 2016 at 10:41PM | Reply

I would highly recommend Pocket Informant or Informant 5 for IOS and Informant for Mac.

It is the best of a task manager, calendar, notes in an app that is the same across your iPhone/iPad and Mac.

Posted by Tech news blog  | December 12, 2016 at 12:53PM | Reply

I would also recommend BatchPhoto for batch processing images, it’s a real productivity booster.

Posted by JP  | November 25, 2016 at 3:39PM | Reply

I enjoyed reading this article. Do you think you could do the same but for Windows 10?

Posted by CViorel  | November 12, 2016 at 3:59AM | Reply

This is a good list. I use many apps from this list in my activities. But particularly I like to use to apps: one is Hyper Dock, which show a preview of window when hover an open app icon, and iClock – A cool, and highly customizable clokc which allows me to create alarms, see world clock, time differences and other.

Posted by Linda Williams  | September 28, 2016 at 4:53AM | Reply

Hey Ray, I think you can find some pretty decent alternatives to Adobe’s software. Affinity Photo is one of them, it’s a really powerful editing tool.
I would also recommend BatchPhoto for batch processing images, it’s a real productivity booster.

Posted by Miguel  | July 13, 2016 at 10:19PM | Reply

Surprised not to see Default Folder on the list. Saves time saving and opening from favorites and others.

Posted by Donald Kepler  | April 20, 2016 at 4:24AM | Reply

I recommend this Mac cleaner for removal of old, unused and unwanted files and applications from Macintosh HDD. Start cleaning up now

Posted by Manu  | April 8, 2016 at 6:53AM | Reply

Not Mac specific, but I really like workflowy.


Posted by Niraj  | April 1, 2016 at 8:59AM | Reply

Excellent article, Mike. Great list, picked up some useful tools. Thanks, Niraj (Founder at

Posted by Paul  | March 30, 2016 at 6:45PM | Reply

Great list. Given me some awesome ideas and a good reason to spend money on software. All in the name of productivity 😉

Posted by Deanna  | March 30, 2016 at 8:48AM | Reply

While MAC is great, I’m a Microsoft administrator and don’t see a MAC anywhere in my future. For those of us in the Microsoft world, can you make another list of incredibly useful stuff?

Posted by Shaozhi  | March 24, 2016 at 8:35PM | Reply

Great post. I use Wunderlist as my task list, and I use CrashPlan for online backup. Both are great apps.

Posted by Shaozhi  | March 24, 2016 at 8:32PM | Reply

Same here. I’ve been using LastPass for a few years and love it.

Posted by Alex Kashko  | March 23, 2016 at 6:37PM | Reply

Interesting list of Apps.

One of my rules is to use free stuff where possible. Otherwise I would spend a LOT. Maybe when I eventually get a business of the ground or my writing starts bringing in real money.

Word Processing, Spreadsheet etc: Open Office and LaTex (texshop) where appropriate.

Video capture/screenshots: Jing

Photo processing: The Gimp and sometimes Graphic Converter.

Mind Mapping: Xmind, but I have stopped using it recently as the latest version outs up a “Buy pro” splash screen and has other irritating features

Concept mapping: CmapTools Also has issues, mainly with search but unlike VUE it works on MAC. Useful for looking at relationships between things and for argument mapping. I used ot use Compendium but it has a bug in the latest MAC version

I scan as much as possible and prefix file names with keywords. This means I can find them even if I did not file them where I thought.

I tend use TextWrangler as a go to text editor and currently my to do list is in this and I cross tasks off as I do them. I also have paper to do lists that feed the digital version

I use Google drive for quick transfer from Tablet or phone to IMAC,

I do not use Evernote since I do not always have an Internet connection when out of the house.

Posted by Mark Barton  | March 23, 2016 at 1:00PM | Reply

I like the updated list of Mac apps. I have been happy with LastPass for a while now and it sounds like 1Password is similar. I don’t see a reason to switch, as LastPass does the secure notes and they are available on all my devices. I find it a handy way to have bookmarks available across different browsers and platforms and the ability to create a share folder makes sharing some of the data with my wife easy.

Posted by Monika Grasley  | April 30, 2015 at 2:39PM | Reply

Thanks for all the tools. I am looking for easiest (and inexpensive) collaborative tool I can use with my board. A place where we can keep minutes, notes etc and use to communicate with each other. What would you recommend?

Posted by Thanh Pham  | April 30, 2015 at 6:27PM

Check out rocket board:

Posted by JHallThornton  | June 12, 2013 at 11:06AM | Reply

These posts are really great and very helpful. Does anyone know of a download scheduler? I am often places that restrict downloads during the daytime hours and I would like to be able to set downloads for the middle of the night. Thanks for your help

Posted by Ray  | May 12, 2013 at 9:50AM | Reply

Adobe has changed their software model to subscription based only. Many, I included, do not use Photoshop that often and paying for a product that one never owns is not going to happen. Do you have any other recommendations? The Pomodoro app is not available in the US iTunes store.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | May 12, 2013 at 2:50PM

I still like PS CS6, but I’ve heard a lot of buzz on Acorn 4 and Pixelmator. Those might be worthwhile checking out.

Posted by Jan Dreher  | April 4, 2013 at 4:29PM | Reply

First: Thanks for your wonderful blog!
Second: I use Byword all the time, it syncs Text and even my prefered markdown-formatted texts perfect between all devices, mac and iOS. It’s thin, fast and solid. That’s my only additional recomodation!

Posted by JCocchiaro  | October 2, 2012 at 6:22PM | Reply

You’re an excellent resource – thanks!

Just curious, what do you think of Things (task management software)? Have you used it?

Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 2, 2012 at 6:27PM

I’ve personally never used it. They recently came out with a new version that is supposedly quite good. I’m a big Omnifocus user myself.

Posted by Jonathan  | July 12, 2012 at 7:07AM | Reply

You rave about MailPlane elsewhere, and I’ve switched to it and couldn’t live without it. it belongs on this list, I think.

Also, Perian is discontinued.

Posted by Guita Resurreccion  | April 11, 2012 at 5:29AM | Reply

Thanks for all the great recommendations, so helpful for a mac newbie like me. Subscribing now. :)

Posted by Andrew Lawrence  | April 3, 2012 at 4:43AM | Reply

You never mentioned NovaMind. Wondering if you had thoughts on it.

Posted by Chris M. Gordon  | April 13, 2012 at 3:22PM

I have to second the notion for Novamind. A bit pricey, but a great app. Probably the best app for mind mapping.

Posted by LD  | September 25, 2013 at 10:00AM

novamind is awesome. but after using for a while, it lags quite a bit. im gonne try mindjet though.

Posted by Bethany OConnor  | February 24, 2012 at 12:19PM | Reply

PS:  I can’t believe you didn’t mention the Alfred App!!!!  Have you tried it???  BEST APP FOR EFFICIENCY EVER!!!!!

Posted by Thanh Pham  | February 25, 2012 at 10:05AM

I’ve been a longtime user of Launchbar (in the article above) which does the same thing as Alfred. Application launchers are great time saver apps.

Posted by Bethany OConnor  | February 24, 2012 at 11:59AM | Reply

I must tell you…I couldn’t be happier to have found your site.  I am currently obsessed with making myself more efficient and it has been frustrating researching efficiency strategies on the web, as I feel I have wasted a lot of time (!!!!!) weeding through a lot of less-than-helpful information.  That has NOT been the case with Asian Efficiency; I find myself hanging on your every word!!  I have one quick suggestion for you.  I am not reading your posts sequentially…instead, I’ve been bopping around via links and my own searches.  Sometimes I read your advice and love it but then I wonder how current it is.  I can’t seem to figure out when your posts were published, other than to look at the comments section and see how long ago people started commenting.  Would it be possible to include a “published date” with your posts?  Just a suggestion!  Thanks again for all of the stellar information!!!

Posted by Thanh Pham  | February 25, 2012 at 10:07AM

Great idea Bethany, we’ll take it into consideration and thank you for the kind words.

Majority of our articles are evergreen (timeless) and if something is out-of-date it will be updated within the article. So if you are reading more articles you can assume it’s the most current version and that the information is timeless.

Posted by Laura  | May 24, 2013 at 10:26PM

Except the references to MobileMe functionality! :)

Posted by Michael  | March 20, 2014 at 8:34AM

Aaron and Thanh, I must second Laura’s feedback — this list is worth revisiting two years after writing it. As Laura mentioned, MobileMe’s end was announced on October 2011 – with packs removed from stores as early as February 2011 – before final shutdown June 2012. Shiftit may be good but boy, takes it to another level, yet retains simplicity at a level of your choice.

Posted by Aaron Lynn  | March 21, 2014 at 3:55AM

Added it to our content schedule. 2014 edition coming up sometime soon!

Posted by Bojan Djordjevic  | August 9, 2011 at 9:54AM | Reply

Since I am a MAC user for just a couple of months I found quite a couple of gold nuggets here

Posted by Bojan Djordjevic  | August 9, 2011 at 9:54AM | Reply

Since I am a MAC user for just a couple of months I found quite a couple of gold nuggets here

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