Improving your productivity as a MacOS user

I love my macbook — I really do! It’s the single best laptop I’ve ever owned, with the only real contender being my now decomissioned Dell XPS 13.

Most recently prior to switching to MacOS I spent a year or so running Linux as my primary OS and really grew fond of the productivity perks it offers if you spend some time setting it up properly.

Switching tools will always be a hassle, especially if it’s your primary tool for making a living for yourself. When I first switched to Ubuntu from running Windows as my primary OS for a good 20 years or so I really had to think through what makes me productive.


Portability

As in being able to use my personal computer, my office laptop and the laptop provided by my primary client without manually having to keep configurations, applications and what not in sync.

Google Drive File Stream

This one is really worth paying for. I really thought I already had it figured out using Onedrive, Dropbox, iCloud and what not. However, once I launched my business and decided to subscribe for the G Suite, I came to understand how mistaken I was.

G Suite provide you with 1TB of drive space per user, up to four users (after that you get unlimited storage); it also allows you to keep your files in the cloud and only sync the ones you use. “Dropbox Smartsync does that as well” you might say and sure, it does to some extent.

The key difference however is that while Dropbox leaves files you open synced until you manually tell them to be smart synced again, Google drive does this automatically. As soon as you close the file you’re using, it’s syncs up to the cloud again and no longer takes up space on your computer — unless you tell it to keep it cached for offline use.

Cost: $10 / user / month

Dotfiles

Dotfiles is an easy way to keep your settings, apps, keyboard shortcuts — whatever you want really, in sync between your computers. The name originates from the Unix world, where configuration files where prefixed with a dot (e.g. .bashrc, .zshrc, .ssh to name a few).

Once you’re done — it’ll be worth it!

There is a rather long introduction on Github to get you started. If you search around a little you’ll find that there’s quite a large community of dotfile practitioners using dotfiles for just about everything from configuring their IDE to downloading and installing their most used applications automatically. I myself use it for VSCode, Webstorm and Goland settings, installing open source tools I use frequently, making sure the MacOS top toolbar only shows the icons I need, syncing my wallpaper, installing SDKs, common apps, VPN profiles as well as my SSH and GPG keys.

It takes some time to set up, and you’ll have to learn a bit of shell scripting if you don’t know that already, but once you’re done — it’ll be worth it!

One, rather important, note here however: most of the unix tools included in MacOS are rather ancient by now. Even tools like git, wget, sed, curl, vim and dd deserve some love. Make sure to add them to your rigging scripts to be able to leverage from as well patches as new features.

Cost: Free


Security & privacy

Forget about third party firewalls and anti-viral software. As long as you practice common sense and keep your software, and OS, up to date — you’re better of spending your money elsewhere.

1Password

I don’t really have that much to say here, except that one of the best investments you can do in your security and privacy is to sign up for a password management service.

It might be tempting to run one yourself, either using a file you keep track of yourself or by running a docker container or web application on a server somewhere. However, the peace of mind you get out of having someone else provide you with a safe place to store all your credentials, licenses, encryption keys, credit card details and what not makes it worth every penny.

Make use of the built in password generators to generate long, complex passwords […]

There are a lot of different options here and most likely, any of the top services (like 1Password, LastPass or Dashlane) will do. My fiancée and I are both running 1Password for Families and are very satisfied with that decision. The iOS app integrates with our mobile browsers, the 1Password X extension for Chrome lets us use it in our desktop browsers. We even have a shared vault for our common credentials.

Dont just add your credentials however, but instead make use of the built in password generators to generate long, complex passwords without having to remember them yourself.

Cost: ~$3

Workflow

We’ll discuss writing, window management and unified collaboration and messaging. Cause getting things done should be easy, amirite?

SizeUp

As I wrote in the beginning of this article, prior to using MacOS I was using Ubuntu on all my devices, and before that spent a good 20 years or so using Windows. During my year of using Linux on the desktop, I really took a liking to tiling window managers.

When I eventually switched over to MacOS, the lack of decent tiling window managers really became a pain point for me. Finder is OK I guess for managing your application instances. Resizing and moving windows, keeping your workspace tidy and leveraging multiple spaces using the native support, however, was not.

I’ve tried a couple of different tools for this. Magnet, Spectacle, ChunkWm and Kwm to name a few. While most of them were decent, and Magnet even felt above average, none of them really did it. I had just become too fond of i3, xmonad and the likes. Enter SizeUp.

SizeUp allows you to quickly rearrange windows, move them between spaces and monitors as well as customizing the amount of edge and partition margins you want.

Truly marvelous!

Cost: Unlimited trial, $12,99 for full version.

Bear App

Bear is a writing app, exclusive to MacOS. It allows you to write notes, or even full documents, using markdown. You may organize your notes using hashtags, which will group them together in the apps project tree. It supports exporting what you’ve written to HTML, markdown, PDFs, Word documents, Rich text and as images.

If you chip in a couple of bucks, you’ll also be able to sync your notes across devices.

I’ve searched high or low for any equivalent application on both linux and windows, but so far — none have been even close.

Cost: Free for the basic version, ~$15 a year for Pro.

Station

If you, like me, use a lot of social media and collaboration apps — Station will likely feel like a savior. Add your social media and collaboration services and Station will provide you with both unified notifications and a slick UI allowing you to easily cycle through them.

To be completely honest, I dont even have any of the native applications installed on my computer anymore. Using Station has helped me declutter both my browser tabs and my Finder dock.

If you don’t fancy Station, but still like the concept of unifying your services, go ahead and try out Franz. It’s great as well!

Cost: Free for now¹.

¹ Will stay free for individual users, but with a (at the time of writing, unannounced) fee for teams.

HyperSwitch (added 2019/04/21)

I’m one of those guys who believe that simplifying how we navigate between apps is one of the key things that make a window manager good or bad. Both Windows and Linux has had this down for many years, but in MacOS; it’s still cumbersome.

This is especially true for the (pretty common) case where you have multiple instances of the same app open at once, where you first have to select the right app and then toggle between the instances using another shortcut — or the window dropdown in top menu.

HyperSwitch allows you to replace the Cmd+Tab interface with something that, after a bit of tweaking, resembles what at least I’m used to from Windows. Multiple instances of the same application means multiple occurances in the Cmd+Tab list. Awesome!

Cost: Free


Thanks for reading! 🙏

I know, I know: This article barely scratches the surface. If you’ve got any tips or suggestions on how to become, or remain, productive — let me know! I’d love your feedback, so feel free to get in touch in the comments below.

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