Out of the box, the Mac is a great piece of kit, but with a few tweaks and some useful apps, you can turn your Mac into an incredibly productive machine.
Ironically, I’m currently writing this blog post using an iPad. Normally, I do all my work from my MacBook Pro but my colleague Warwick is using it for some video recording, so here I am using the iPad. Apple has made some major progress on the iPad in the last few years to make it a great alternative to the Mac. And for certain types of worker, people who are on the go who don’t use many power tools, the iPad is a great option. For me, nothing beats the power of the Mac, hence the inspiration for this post.
Don’t want to read this post? Listen to the podcast instead:
In this post, I’d like to list some of the tools and tweaks I’ve made to supercharge my productivity while using the Mac. If you’re a Mac user, I highly recommend spending some time learning about each of these tools. I can say with confidence that tools like these genuinely help me to save time so I can get my work done faster meaning I can handle a larger capacity of clients and go home earlier if I want.
Before I get into this post, I’d also like to plug the Mac Power Users podcast. This is a show I’ve been listening to for about 6-7 years and credit a lot of my Mac productivity to.
Alfred – Custom search, workflows & clipboard manager
You may already be using Spotlight on the Mac to find files and information on your Mac. Alfred is a search tool, like Spotlight, but with a lot of extra power customisable options.
Firstly, you can create custom searches. For example, if I want to find a specific blog post on my website, I can type the word “blog” and then the search term I’m looking for. Alfred then opens a new tab in my browser and shows me the search results. You can do the same thing with searching for videos on YouTube, subscribers in your email CMS, payments in your e-commerce software. Basically anywhere on the web that a URL is used to search, you can trigger this from Alfred. It’s a feature I use dozens of times a day and means I don’t have to manually go to each site to search.
Alfred also lets you create your own custom productivity workflows. In fact, there’s an entire library of workflows created by other people that you can download. So you can use Alfred to perform custom calculations, show the time in different time zones, bulk open apps and websites and so much more.
Alfred is packed with features (a lot of which I haven’t mentioned here) but one of the most useful is the clipboard manager. By using the Control + Space keystroke, I can bring up my clipboard history and access previously copied items. I use this feature dozens, if not hundreds of times a day. Alfred is worth it for this feature alone and if you don’t have a clipboard manager on your Mac, you’re missing out.
Hazel – Automated file management
Hazel is a tool I didn’t “get” at first but after spending some time with it, fell in love with it. How it works is that you get Hazel, to watch a folder (like your Downloads) and when files in that folder satisfy certain rules, Hazel can perform actions on it.
For example, when I download receipts and invoices for the services I pay for, Hazel will rename the file using the invoice date and service name and then move it to my receipts folder in iCloud Drive. This saves me a tonne of time as I’m not having to manually rename and move each file. Hazel just does it for me in the background. If you want to learn more, here’s a more detailed explanation of how this works.
Another good use case is if you’ve had files on your Desktop or in your Downloads for too long, you can have Hazel, move them to the trash. Speaking of which, Hazel can empty the trash when it gets too full or after files have been in there for so many days. Basically, it’s like a digital assistant that cleans up after you organises the stuff on your Mac.
Keyboard Maestro – System automation
Keyboard Maestro is an automation tool that can perform all sorts of actions on your Mac (a bit like Zapier, but for your Mac).
I use it to do things like move and resize my windows around if I want to work on two things side-by-side. I can trigger do not disturb mode when I open Zoom or my recording apps. I’ve used it to create custom keyboard shortcuts that aren’t possible to create using System Preferences (more on this below). I even used it once when I needed to convert over 100 PDF’s into Word files. I was able to set up an automation using Keyboard Maestro that basically performed a bunch of actions and keyboard shortcuts on repeat. I was able to start the workflow and my Mac was literally working for me automatically for about half an hour while all the files were converted.
It’s an app you need to download and spend some time playing with. A resource that really helped me was David Sparks’ Keyboard Maestro Field Guide.
TextExpander – Email templates, links and stored text
TextExpander (affiliate link) is a tool I’ve mentioned many times before so I won’t spend long on it. It’s a very useful tool for storing blocks of text e.g. email templates, links, phrases etc. which I can insert while typing on the keyboard. It’s a tool that everyone can benefit from. Along with Alfred’s clipboard manager, it makes responding to email so much faster!
It’s amazing how much time you can save just on typing. Each month I get a report from TextExpander telling me how much time I’ve saved and it’s usually in the vicinity of 4-8 hours. That’s a day’s worth of time saved, just on typing!
Here’s a video showing all the different ways I use it.
1Password – Secure password management
If you don’t already have one, you need a password manager. You just do. 1Password is probably the most popular and easy to use password manager out there and it’s a great accessory to the Mac.
Not only does it help you create strong, unique passwords for each account you sign up for, but it actually saves you time. Using 1Password’s Touch ID and Apple Watch support on the Mac I can quickly fill in passwords and 2-factor authentication codes faster than I could typing out a password.
And it’s not just for login details. I use it to store credit card information, bank account details, passports, software licenses, network passwords, tax details and secure notes.
I’m a big user of keyboard shortcuts. I find it a lot faster to navigate and get things done on the Mac if you can use the keyboard and minimise mouse usage. However, sometimes I find myself wanting to do something but there’s no shortcut in the app I’m using.
The good news is there’s a handy workaround…
On your Mac, if you go to System Preferences » Keyboard » Shortcuts » App Shortcuts, you can create your own custom shortcuts for the apps you use that don’t already have one.
For example, in Mail, there’s no shortcut to insert a bulleted list while typing an email. Using this workaround you can assign a keyboard shortcut to that menu option. Basically, anything that appears in a menu within an app can be assigned to a keyboard shortcut. I’ve done this for a number of apps I use.
Use Tab to switch controls
On the same page in System Preferences, you’ll also see an option to allow the use of the Tab key to move the focus button when option windows appear. So instead of having to use the mouse to click a button, you can use the tab key to switch the focussed button and then hit space to press that button.
Take my advice, turn this on and try and use your keyboard as much as you can.
Superfast mouse speed
I don't think this last one won’t really save you much time but it certainly makes using your Mac a lot easier. Try maxing out your mouse speed. It sounds weird, but give it a go. It’ll feel really fast and weird at first. But very quickly (within an hour) you’ll get used to the new speed and you’ll find it easier and faster to move things around.
I actually used a Terminal hack to speed up my mouse beyond what the System Preferences will allow. To me, this feels normal and it’s quite funny when someone else tries to use my mouse to watch them quickly lose track of the mouse.
Change the order of tabs in Safari
Some time ago Apple changed Safari so now new tabs open after the current one you’re on. To me, this feels weird. A new tab should open at the end of your list of tabs. This is how it worked for a long time and is what I’m used to.
Other people agree and I found this useful tip on Six Colors that shows you how to force Safari to open tabs at the end of your list. This is just my personal preference but you might want to give it a go.