Zen’s Road To Mac Power User

Zen(Zhengyi) Luo
10 min readSep 10, 2017

From time to time I have helped some friends set up their Macs with some small tricks and workflows that I like, but I think it may be more helpful to have a more comprehensive article with how to set up Macs with these workflows.

All of the software and apps are ones I am constantly using, and hopefully this can be helpful!

BTW I am a computer science major, so I do a fair amount of coding, so some of the apps I am using are specifically for programming, feel free to skip them and just try out the ones you like! Thanks in advance!



For Developers




Powerpack $25

Alfred is the crown jewel of all my workflows. It is the hub, the center, and the activator for every app that I use. Like the name Alfred suggested, this app will serve you well, just as Alfred served Batman.

In short, Alfred is a Mac Spotlight Search substitution that allows you to launch all sorts of shortcuts, apps, workflows, and more. To use Alfred, you should download the app and install it on your computer, and I do recommend the powerpack. The powerpack allows you to use customized workflows, which is the key to powerful Alfred workflows.

Here is how I would use Alfred:
Set a handy hotkey. For instance, I use cmd+space to toggle my Alfred.

Once Alfred is toggled, you can start typing things to let Alfred do what you want.

In the Features settings, there is an overview of useful commands you can type. Here are ones that I use often:

You can setup a hotkey for your clipboard. The clipboard can hold files, images, and all sorts of useful information. It is especially useful for busy developers that might ask: “where is the code snippet that I copied five minutes ago”.

You can sleep, shutdown, restart, and perform all sorts of system level operation using Alfred system calls.

And of course, you can find folders, files, apps and much more.

I suggest taking a few minutes to explore the capabilities, and once you get the hang of it you will never need to click on the dock, open Finder, or go to desktop to find your files or apps again. In fact, you may want to auto-hide the dock and keep a clean desktop, like me:

Now comes the powerpack workflows:

Here is where you let Alfred do the things that you find repetitive and annoying. For instance, have you ever wanted to fire up a new browser window in front of you — clean slate, no clutters of opened tabs, no clicking on the dock, no clicking on the “new windows” button, just a new window in front of you? My Safari/Chrome Window workflow is just for that. It can fire up new windows for searching:

And it can open specific, predefined links, like Facebook or Youtube:

The workflow I included in the Google Drive has a bunch that I used most often, and you can easily create yours by copying and pasting one of the open link command, and replace the text and urls in it.

The kill command lets you kill/force quit any process that you see fit:

The recent delete command lets you quickly access the most recently downloaded files:

I will let you explore the rest of the workflows.

Note that I didn’t write these workflows, it was searched from the web and I just compiled them as ones that I found useful.

Link to my workflows.

And that’s all for Alfred.

Fantastical 2



What I enjoy most from this calendar is the capability to schedule a meeting using natural language:

And the calendar sets(basically, you have to set sets of calendars that you want to see, since they tend to get cluttered a lot if you are subscribed to a bunch of public calendars):
If I want to see all the info sessions for jobs (I am a junior studying computer science and I need a job):

And if you just want to see your classes(And I need to keep up my GPA so please hire me) :

Things 3



Here I organize all my things to do. It’s elegant and has a nice interface. The calendar integration is great. You can also repeat your projects, which I found really useful for making daily checklists.


Are you tired of firing up all sorts of apps, files, and websites to get ready to do one single task? Workspace is for you! Define the apps, links, and folders you want to start working on, and open them up all at once!


Tooth Fairy



This is just one of the little handy companion apps for my Airpods.

If you are a heavy Bluetooth headphone user, get this app and set a specific icon for your favorite Bluetooth device. Click on the button will automatically search for and connect with the device. Works like a charm.




Before downloading all the apps that I recommended, please download and start using Bartender. You will find your menu bar get cluttered very soon, and maybe they already are, and Bartender solves this problem by hiding them under a single icon:




The most powerful VM I have ever used. Period.

I was truly amazed by the coherence mode, where you can basically use Windows apps and Mac apps on the same window; just like using native Windows apps. Just try it and see.

Feels like magic right?

Now this is the right way to run Visual Studio on your mac. The actual one.

What I really like about Parallels is that it handles all the file sharing and Usb port forwarding for you, so there is no setup needed for running a .exe right from the Mac desktop. The same goes for connecting USB devices:

Also, you can fire up multiple instances of VMs, and the performance is stunning.

Daisy Disk



Daisy Disk is a beautiful app for visualizing and finding your large files. And delete them. Having made the awful decision of getting a 256 gb Mac back when I am too young and simple, I constantly need to clean up my drive and move stuff to external storage. Daisy Disk helps me find the biggest files, and remove them.



Subscription, $2.99/month

Now 1Password. It recently moved to subscription, and lots of people are leaving. However, I still find it useful, so I decided to keep it a while longer.

Here you can manage all the identities, logins, addresses, Wifi passwords, SSN, accounts, and more. Basically, you can turn to your personal vault that caches all of your precious data. The web plugin for logging in is also very handy:

Click and then it will auto fill the logins and login!




It’s free. It’s small and clean. It’s the screenshot tool that I am using to write this article. It allows you to do simple editing. Though I don’t know how to screenshot me taking screenshots. So I grabbed my phone and took a picture.


One Chat



The name explains everything.

It’s an overblown webviewer that basically grabs all of the web views of the popular chatting apps you use. You can login and do everything there.




Magnet allows you to organize your windows. Define your shortcuts and never need to click and drag to resize windows. You can also do snap on corners. I know there are a dozen apps that do this, but this is the one I decided to stick to.

Total Finder



TotalFinder is the Finder enhancer that you deserve. It allows you to do split windows on your finder:





Simple, straightforward archive files reader.




This is best for those who want their mac to stay open for remote desktop. Since I only carry around my iPad Pro and remote desktop when I need to, antisleep has been a must.




Tired of going to Microsoft Word, creating a new document, and click “saving as” to your file folder? Do it straight from a single right-click.




The app I am writing this article with. Good sync, fantastic Markdown support, and worth the price.




Do not want to leave your keyboard? Use this to never use your touchpad or mouse it again. Shortcat allows you click on things, by typing.

It allows to search elements and choose them by clicking a sequence of keys, so you will never need to leave your keyboard.

For Developers




This might have gone a bit too deep on the developer stack, but I will include it. Basically, the keyboard shortcuts and tabs, panels is what you will miss if you keep using the out of box terminal.

One more thing. If you use a terminal, remember to set up your alias. It’s a life changer.




Free. Fast. Multiplatform.
Remote desktop app that works.
I use it to remote desktop into lab powerhouses, personal computers, and occasionally help people with bugs (the real hands-on debugging experience).




Simple, fast IDE like for running anything.

Best for coding interview prep.


As you may have noticed, most of the apps cost some money. As a consumer I do wish we can all get free apps, but as a developer I understand that we all have to make a living. So it’s up to us to deicide how much we want to invest in productivity, and how much we value efficiency.

As I mentioned, I am also an active user of the iPad pro. iOS 11 has been truly amazing, and there are so many iOS apps out there that can make the iPad a light-to-medium usage workstation. As a result, I don’t carry around my Mac during weekdays when I attend classes, and I remote desktop into my Mac if necessary. If you find this article interesting, stay tuned for my next one: “Zen’s Road to iPad Pro Power User.”