Those icons at the top-left of your computer? You’re not using them enough, and that’s too bad. This area of your Mac can be a great way to quickly find information or even get work done.
If you never click icons, maybe you just don’t know about the right apps to use – or haven’t tweaked the menubar to work well for you. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Manage Your Calendar With Fantastical
Using Calendar on your Mac is great, but most of the time you’re just quickly checking what’s up, or adding an entry. Do you really need an entire application window for that?
Fantastical’s betting not. This menubar app gives you a quick overview of your upcoming schedule, and allows you to browse your calendar and add appointments – all from the menubar. Best of all, in integrates with Calendar/iCal, meaning you don’t need to import your calendars to a new service.
Download: Fantastical ($20).
Add Menus With XMenu
Are there folders you open files from constantly? Or do you want a quick way to browse your applications? XMenu is worth checking out. This app lets you add folders as icons to your menubar:
Go ahead and download XMenu for free from the Mac App Store.
Add A Timer
Time is the ultimate resource, but it can be hard to keep track of. Whether you’re a fan of the Pomodoro technique or simply aware of the dangers of over-steeping tea, I highly recommend Menubar Countdown (free), which counts down the time and talks to you.
It’s a simple app, but oh-so-useful, and typing a message for your computer to say back to you later is just fun. If you’d prefer something specifically made for the Pomodoro technique, I recommend Tomighty (free).
It’s simple, sure, but customizable in the way you need it to be: you can set how long the work periods and breaks are. It also supports notification center.
Keep Your Mac From Falling Asleep With Caffeine
Need your Mac to stay awake? Whether you’ve got a download you need to complete or are using your screen as a passive display at a party, sometimes you need your computer to stay awake.
Enter the aptly-named Caffeine. This little app lives in your menubar, and looks like a cup of coffee. A full cup means your Mac won’t go to sleep; and empty cup means it will.
See The Weather Forecast, Quickly
See The Preferences
The Mac Preferences window isn’t exactly hard to use, but some prefer to browse menus than windows. If you’re among them, check out menuprefs (free, but you’ll need to enter a product key from the site). It puts an icon in your menubar you can click to see all the Preferences panes:
The app hasn’t been updated since 2006, but surprisingly still works with Mavericks.
Any Site, Courtesy of Fluid
Explore the Mac App Store and you’ll find a lot of single-purpose apps for adding sites to your menubar. Facebook is the most common, but apps abound for Twitter and Gmail as well.
But you don’t need to install a separate app for every website you want to use from the Menubar: just check out Fluid ($5), which can turn any website into a native Mac application. The paid version of the app allows you to create menubar apps, putting any site just a click away.
Reduce Clutter With Bartender
If you installed half the apps listed above, your menubar is getting full. Maybe the icons are threatening to overlap with the text menu. Apple, in their wisdom, doesn’t offer a way to hide icons – it’s a pretty basic Windows feature that Macs are lacking.
But there is a tool capable of saving you from menubar overload: Bartender ($15), which offers an easy way to reduce menubar overload.
With it, you can send the icons you use less frequently to the “Bartender Bar”, a hidden menubar you can bring up by clicking Bartender’s icon. This lets you hide clutter, but still gives you access to apps when you need them.
Turn Your Menubar Black
We showed you ways to personalize your OS X desktop, including how to turn your menubar black.
The hack for the job is called Obsidian Menubar, and it’s easy enough to use. What’s not easy: your icons remain black after you use it. This might be fine if you don’t wish to see your menubar icons; otherwise, you’ll need to manually replace the icons with white ones.
It’s work, but it might be worth it.
Finding Even More
Want to add even more functionality to your Mac’s menubar? I’d start by checking out MacMenuBars.com, a blog where users submit screenshots of their menubar icons and explain what everything does. You’re sure to find something.
Of course, I’m just skimming the surface above. Here are a few more apps worth checking out:
- Forismatic, which shows you inspirational quotes
- CleanMyDrive, which removes the crap Macs leave on your hard drives.
- Focus, which blocks time-wasting websites.
And I’m sure you know of some great menubar apps not listed here. Leave your favourite in the comments below, so everyone can find out about them.