If you work at a home–based office like I do, you no doubt spend a significant amount of time getting things done on your Mac. While I have already written about the advantages of using a standup desk, there are also several important and general productivity apps for Mac, for almost any type of workflow you engage in.
Though there is no robot application (yet!) that can do all the work for me, the following are 10 of the most useful free or low-cost productivity apps that I use on a daily or regular basis. These applications not only save me time but in many cases help me work more efficiently.
It’s difficult to work in any home-based office and not need a useful calendar. Though OS X comes installed with a default Calendar Mac app, the third-party option, Fantastical ($19.99) is hands down the best calendar you should run on your Mac.
With Fantastical, you can input and check calendar events and schedules right from your Mac’s menu bar. You can create a new event simply by opening Fantastical’s drop-down window and entering the data for the event. Instead of clicking numbers and times, you simply write the event as if you were writing it on a scratch sheet of paper.
For example, to schedule a lunch meeting for next Wednesday, simply type: “Lunch with Bakari next wed, 11:30am, at Fresh Choice.” As you type, you watch Fantastical fill in all the data for you.
You can preset the type of reminders you want for calendar events. Fantastical syncs with Apple’s Calendar application, but there’s also an iPhone version ($8.99) of Fantastical that works the same way. By having Fantastical in your menu bar, you don’t have to open the Calendar app just to add or review a few events.
Super Memory Cleaner
If you find that your Mac slows down throughout the day or when you have several applications open, you should download Super Memory Cleaner (free). It does a great job of cleaning up hundreds of megabytes, or even gigabytes, of memory with one simple click. You can select to have it auto-clean, or clean at startup.
If you meet clients in your home office, and/or you like your office to have professional décor, your desktop wallpaper should be just as classy as your iMac or Macbook computer. My wallpaper of choice is a collection produced by Vlad Studio.
These free wallpapers are designed by digital artist, Vlad Gerasimov, and you can download them for nearly any size desktop monitor. I recommend selecting and downloading a few dozens of your favorites and simply have your Mac change the pictures everyday, or each time you wake up your Mac. I find that these unique wallpapers add a little inspiration to my daily workflow.
There are occasions when you need to keep your Mac desktop or laptop awake when you’re doing a presentation, or playing a video while multitasking in another part of your office. This is where Caffeine (free) comes in. When you enable it, it keeps your Mac from going to sleep until you cut if off. Jackson reviewed this application when it was first released back in 2008.
There are no shortage of to-do applications for the Mac, but if you’re still looking for one, you should give Wunderlist (free) a try. Dave reviewed the iOS mobile version of Wunderlist, but the desktop version contains a similar user interface.
Wunderlist is a clean, well designed cross-platform program where you can mange and sync all of your to-do lists. You can also share and collaborate lists with your colleagues. If you don’t need a task manager with lots of bells and whistles, Wunderlist can be very useful in your workflow.
FunctionFlip (free/donation) is a Preferences utility that allows you to customize those Fn keys at the top of your keyboard that you might rarely use. For instance, while I constantly use the assigned volume keys, I hardly ever use the brightness, iTunes, Exposé and Launchpad Fn keys on my iMac.
So with FunctionFlip, I can turn off those functions and assign them another purpose using applications like Keyboard Maestro or QuickSilver.
Another useful task and project manager is an online and mobile application called Trello. It’s sort of like a whiteboard for sorting ideas, lists of tasks, and project workflows. You can share your “whiteboards” with others, and view them in any web browser or the iOS version (free) of of the application and service. Erez reviewed Trello in more detail here.
If you have amassed a lot of applications on your Mac, you have probably experienced how difficult it is to use Launchpad to access all of your applications. The Launchpad feature in Lion and Mountain Lion is not very useful if you don’t have your applications organized alphabetically or in folders. This is where Launchpad Manager ($7.99) comes in.
Launchpad Manager includes over a dozen features, including the ability to alphabetize applications, delete icons from Launchpad without uninstalling the applications themselves, and move selected applications to another Launchpad page. You can easily move applications into groups, rename icons and groups, and quickly cut and paste applications from one folder to another. You can use custom layouts of your Launchpad for different purposes.
You can download a free version of Launchpad Manager, but many of its advanced features are only available in the paid pro version.
Dropzone ($9.99) is a nifty little application that enables you to perform various tasks from the menu bar or from the left or right side of your desktop screen. For example, say you download a new application that is delivered to you in a DMG file. You can drag that DMG file to Dropzone and drop it on the Install Application action, and it will proceed to automatically open and install that application, and then delete the DMG file for you.
You can create another action that sends files to a pre-selected folder. There’s actions for quickly printing a file or converting a long URL to a bit.ly short URL. You can download a 15-day trial of the application, which I recommend. Spend some time with it, and check out the user contributed actions for Dropzone.
If you find more than five actions that will enable you to get better at increasing productivity, then it may be worth paying for the application, which you should download from the Mac App Store.
One of the ways to be more productive in your Mac-based home office is to actually take breaks from your Mac. Time Out (free) will remind you to take “normal”, say 10 minute breaks, and “micro” breaks, like 10 seconds every 30 minutes, based on the time intervals you set.
When I don’t use this application, I end up working at my computer for hours before I take a break. Not taking a break causes a strain on my eyes, and by the afternoon I’m less productive. You can postpone or skip breaks, but doing so too often will defeat the purpose.
That’s it for my Mac-based home office applications. Let us know which productivity apps for Mac that you find most useful in your workflow.