15+ Essential Mac Productivity Apps to use in 2021
Eliminate distractions, focus on tasks, and accomplish more!
- Productivity tools (apps and services) give you the ability to automate or streamline processes in your workflow.
- You can find a variety of productivity apps for macOS to help yourself with taking notes, creating to-dos, planning projects, automating tasks, and multitasking better on your Mac.
- Incorporating productivity apps into your workflow helps you eliminate distractions so you can focus on your work and accomplish more.
Productivity is essentially the effectiveness of an action. It applies to different areas of work, each having its own set of “best practices” to boost overall productivity. However, in reality, these methods are mostly tips on how to stay productive at work during the day, and they don’t really help you improve your workflow. Instead, what actually helps are productivity apps and services that allow you to automate or simplify operations in your workflow.
A lot of the productivity apps, these days, are available across all platforms: smartphones, tablets, and computers. But for the purpose of this article, we will adhere to computers only — the Mac, in particular. So if you are a macOS user, and you wish to improve your workflow on your Mac, here are some essential Mac productivity apps you must have on your Mac.
Essential Mac Productivity Apps
1. Bitwarden: best free password manager
Bitwarden is a free and open-source password manager. It is one of the best alternatives to LastPass, available as a cross-platform app for different operating systems. The best thing about Bitwarden is that it offers you the ability to host your password database on your own servers. That way, your passwords don’t reside on someone else’s servers, and only you get to access them. Talking about security, Bitwarden employs strong (AES-256 bit) encryption to protect your passwords, and it also goes through third-party security audits periodically.
Password managers, for the uninitiated, are utilities that help you manage all your login credentials (passwords, in particular) in one place. So you don’t have to worry about remembering them yourself. Bringing a password manager into your workflow can help you significantly in your day-to-day tasks. And you can put it to use to quickly auto-fill website logins or have it generate passwords for new accounts. Moreover, you can also use it as a web app or find its extension for popular web browsers like Safari, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and more.
Bitwarden alternatives: KeePass, LastPass, 1Password, Dashlane, ZohoVault.
2. Notion: best note-taking app
Notion is an all-in-one workspace that lets you do a host of things — everything from taking notes and setting up reminders to creating wikis, knowledge base, and databases. Not just that, you can even use Notion to create websites or set up your personal blogs in minutes. With note-taking, in particular, the app offers a wide range of useful features to assist you in creating rich-formatted notes and organizing them under different workspaces. Yes, even better than Evernote, if we may say so. You can even import your documents from other platforms like Word, Excel, etc., into Notion to create a centralized repository for all your documents.
If your work involves taking notes on different topics in a day, you definitely need a good note-taking app. One that offers you the ability to create rich-formatted text and organize them effectively, along with collaboration features to help you collaborate on projects with your peers/teammates. And Notion proves to be the best note-taking solution for Mac in this regard by including all the necessary functionality and features you need onboard — that too while being free. One of the best things about Notion is templates, which help you get started on the platform instantly. You can find Notion templates for different use-cases on Notion’s website. Besides, if you are someone who prefers web apps over native apps, you can also use Notion’s web app.
3. Todoist: best to-do app for Mac
Bringing a task management app into your workflow can help you get significantly better at your operations since now you have a clear view of what tasks need to be done and by when. Todoist is one of the best apps when it comes to keeping track of all your upcoming tasks. It lets you put all your to-dos in one place so you can catch up on them and not miss out on deadlines. And the best part is, you can add new to-dos to the list from anywhere using any of your devices, thanks to cross-platform support. Talking about viewing your tasks, Todoist has a built-in calendar, which gives you a calendar view of all your tasks. So you can view what’s on your agenda and also add new tasks for the coming days to get reminders. With this, you don’t need a separate calendar app on Mac.
Besides to-dos, Todoist also helps you remember deadlines and lets you keep track of your habits — for the new habits you are trying to build. Furthermore, if you are working with a team, Todoist makes it easier for you to share the workload and delegate tasks to other teammates. That way, your team can function efficiently and stay on top of all scheduled tasks. Extending the task management functionality even further, Todoist provides integration support to let you bring-in third-party apps and services you use to streamline your workflow directly from a single app. It also has a full-fledged web app if you prefer that.
4. Alfred: best productivity tool to find items on Mac
Considering you’ve been a Mac user for some time, it is likely that you would be familiar with spotlight search: a system-wide search functionality that lets you quickly search for different items (files/folders, apps, settings, etc.) on your Mac. However, while this built-in functionality makes finding items on your system, as well as on the web, easy and suffices the needs of most users, it falls short of expectations in terms of flexibility (in search) and has a limited scope of use. This is where Alfred comes in, with its extensive suite of functionalities to let you perform complex search operations on your Mac right from its search window.
With Alfred, you can look up things on your Mac faster than the built-in spotlight search. You can even navigate folders and get previews for files before opening them. Similarly, in addition to local searches, this Mac app also allows you to look up items on the web using different search engines. If you prefer automating repetitive tasks, Alfred lets you leverage workflows to automate your actions on the system. Lastly, another useful feature you get with the app is clipboard history. Clipboard history is a built-in clipboard manager that gives you the option to store (copy) multiple items to your clipboard and paste them across different apps. So you do not have to juggle between apps to copy-paste text.
Alfred alternatives: LaunchBar and Quicksilver.
5. TextExpander: Best Text expansion app for Mac
TextExpander is a productivity tool for Mac that makes inserting text snippets quick and easy. You can think of it as an auto-complete functionality, which automatically completes a word or a sentence on your behalf. To use it, all you need to do is save your frequently-used blocks of text with their shorter versions. Once done, you can just enter this shortcut in the desired text field, and the app automatically inserts its equivalent (saved) word/sentence replacement to save you the valuable time that would otherwise be spent writing or copying text over-and-over again.
Taking into account an average workday workflow, a lot of people need to respond to emails or messages with a fixed template. Not just that, oftentimes, they also find the need to enter the same block of text (email address, signature, invite, code, and more) on a specific app or across different apps. While the traditional (manual) approach works fine if you need to do this once or twice, for times when the frequency of response is higher, you need something like TextExpander to save time and effort. In fact, not just expanding text, you can also use this Mac app to convert clipboard content into its markdown (.md) equivalent, share snippets with your team, integrate it into different apps and services, and use code templates for different programming languages to streamline your coding workflow.
6. Keyboard Maestro: best productivity app for Mac automation
Keyboard Maestro is one of the best automation tools for Mac. It lets you create macros, keyboard shortcuts, and palettes to simplify a lot of operations on your system. You get access to a host of features baked into the app, which you can put to use to do things like launch apps, control apps, run scripts, manipulate files, create macros and palettes, and even add boilerplate text across different apps and services. While all of that might make the app seem complicated, getting started with it is rather straightforward.
If you have certain tasks/actions in your workflow that you need to perform regularly on your Mac, automating them or simplifying the way you carry them out should help you focus more on tasks that need your undivided attention. And, in turn, get more done in the same duration. In this regard, some of the practical applications of Keyboard Maestro include form filling, web page formatting, reading text on images, accessing items in clipboard history, setting up autocomplete for words/sentences, and creating custom actions to automate specific tasks. In short, the use-case possibilities are endless. And, you can put this macOS app to help you with different tasks in your workflow through the day to increase your productivity.
Bartender is a menu bar organizer for your Mac. As witty as that name sounds, the idea behind the functionality is nothing short of ingenious either. You see, most of the utility apps you install on your Mac reside in the menu bar. And, as many of you can relate, it does not take a lot of time before this space gets filled and cluttered with a whole bunch of app icons, which starts causing inconvenience — especially on a small screen.
The Bartender app aims to solve this problem by putting you in full control of your menu bar, such that you can decide the order of appearance of the menu bar icons, hide them, and even get more functionality out of the app icons. Similarly, you also get triggers with the app, which enable you to show/hide app icons when your specified criteria are met. What’s more, Bartender further simplifies the experience by providing you quick search functionality. Quick search makes it a lot easier to find menu bar apps instantly and activate them right away. What’s impressive about Bartender is that it keeps your items ordered to your preferred layout even after macOS restarts.
Bartender alternative: Dozer.
8. Flux: Best alternative for Night Shift
Flux is one of the must-have apps you should download from the app store. It serves a very basic functionality: cut down on the blue light. Blue light, as you might know, is detrimental to your health. And increased exposure to the same poses the threat of affecting the circadian rhythm, and in turn, leaving you sleepless at night. To fix this, Apple has a built-in functionality on macOS, called night shift, which automatically changes the color temperature of your display based on your preferences. Flux works along the same lines but while offering you more control over its settings.
You see, even though Apple suggests that its built-in functionality reduces exposure to blue light, it is nowhere close to Flux in terms of effectiveness. Plus, the lack of available options for color temperature and other preferences further make the night shift slightly inferior. Whereas, on the other hand, Flux provides you access to presets and color effects, along with the ability to choose color temperature settings for different intervals of the day. Needless to say, this macOS app automatically changes the way your Mac screen looks throughout the day based on the sun’s position. So you aren’t exposed to that eerie blue light for a prolonged period during your work hours. Furthermore, Flux also gives you the option to change the start and end times for the presets, as well as the temperature, to suit your preference so that it triggers-in with those settings automatically.
Flux alternatives: Iris and Desktop Dimmer.
9. MindNode: best productivity app to plan things
MindNode is a mind-mapping app. It lets you link all the different thoughts you have — scattered through the day — in a well-organized and comprehensive manner. You can use it for project management to brainstorm over the proceedings, plan a vacation, or even learn new concepts. One of the best things about the app is that it is fairly straightforward to use. So you do not have to worry about fiddling with the layout since that is taken care of by itself. And can, instead, just focus on ideating and laying out your ideas.
For times when you have several tasks to accomplish, vacations to plan, and projects to idealize, MindNode is the best way to devise your plan of action. With the app, all you need to do is create a new document and starting adding your nodes (projects/actions/tasks). The app will then create a planned approach for you with a mind map, which you can stylize as you like. In addition, MindNode also gives you the option to send your tasks directly to a few other apps such as Reminder, Things, and OmniFocus, so you can take your projects/tasks further in the creative process. And if you need to share your mind maps with other users, you can do that as well. If there are nodes in your mind map that have a deadline, you can turn them into tasks. That way, you get timely alerts for those tasks and can keep track of your progress.
10. Krisp: Best productivity app for WFH folks
Krisp is a noise suppression app that mutes background noise during calls. The app leverages AI to create KrispNet DNN (Deep Neutral Network), which allows it to recognize the voice and separate it from the noise. After which, it removes the noise to offer a clear (HD) audio experience. You can use Krisp with any calling/meeting app on your Mac and with any of your audio equipment.
With regards to the current situation across the world, where a majority of people are working from their homes, going on calls and meetings without being disturbed is far-fetched. However, if you use Krisp to route your audio, you can cut-down the noises in your background and make yourself appear more professional. Some of the noises Krisp claims to cancel out include that of pet, traffic, keyboard clicks, and echo, which is what most of us encounter in a day. One of the interesting features of the app is that it removes unwanted noise from both ends of a call/meeting. So not only does it reduce background noise at your end, but it also gives you an option to do the same for the other person on the call.
11. Short Menu: best Mac app to shorten URLs
Short Menu is a URL (link) shortener app for macOS and iOS devices. It lets you quickly shorten a long link from your clipboard into its smaller equivalent. That way, you do not have to visit the link shortener websites to perform the same operation manually each time you need to shorten a URL.
With Short Menu, all the long URLs in your clipboard are converted into smaller URLs that are easier to share and manage. And the best part is, it has an option that automatically copies the shortened version of the link to your clipboard so you can paste it right away. Alternatively, you can set a custom (global) shortcut to quickly shorten a URL from your clipboard. If you happen to already use some other link shortener services like bit.ly, Google, Hive, or Rebeandly, Short Menu allows you to integrate all of your accounts on these services in one place and set a default one. What’s more, you even have the option to use custom services with Short Menu using GET and POST methods so you can use your own URLs and transform them into their shortened version.
12. Rectangle: best free window manager for Mac
Multitasking with multiple apps on Mac is not the most pleasant experience. Generally speaking, a part of this problem has to do with the lack of a better window management utility. You see, unlike Linux, or even Windows, for that matter, the default window management solution on macOS, split view, is very barebone, to say the least — to a point where you can only tile two apps side-by-side. So if you wish to tile more than two app windows, you are likely to get disappointed. This is where third-party window management apps come into play. And one such is Rectangle.
Rectangle is a free and open-source window manager for Mac that lets you arrange windows on your desktop in your preferred layout. This Mac app supports a wide range of layouts to choose from, with quick-access shortcuts to help you quickly snap windows between different arrangements right from your keyboard. What’s more, you even get to set custom keyboard shortcuts for the different layouts to your preference. Alternatively, if you are just getting started and aren’t familiar with the shortcuts, you can use Rectangle’s menu bar app shortcut to switch between different layout settings.
Rectangle alternatives: Magnet, Mosaic, BetterSnapTool, and Moom.
13. Helium: best productivity app for multitasking
Helium is, again, one of the must-have productivity apps for your Mac, which lets you multitask better and get more done on your system. The basic idea behind the app is to offer you a floating browser window. One that stays on top of all other app windows so you can always see its content. And, based on what you want to do, can be put to use accordingly.
To give you a few example use-cases for Helium, consider a scenario where you are coding and want to read some documentation on a language/module/framework you are using. In such a scenario, you can open the documentation in Helium to have it visible on top of all your other app windows. Similarly, you can also use the app for taking meetings or watching videos while working on some other app. That way, you always have a floating window open — the contents of which you can see simultaneously while working on other apps. What’s more, the app provides you the option to adjust the transparency of the floating window, which you can modify to your preference.
14. Amphetamine: Best app to use Macbooks in clamshell mode
Amphetamine is another must-have app for your Mac — especially if you use a multiple monitor setup. It is basically a utility tool that allows you to use your MacBook in a clamshell mode without having to keep it connected to a power source all the time, such that you can use multiple monitors hooked to your Mac effectively and increase your productivity.
Clamshell (or closed-lid) mode on MacBooks, in case you are unaware, only works when you have a charger plugged-in to your system. While this isn’t a point of concern till the time your MacBook is charging, keeping it plugged-in post a complete charge can put your battery through unnecessary stress and heating, and in turn, contribute to your battery’s degradation. And that is exactly what Amphetamine helps you with by allowing you to enable clamshell mode sessions without having a charger plugged into your MacBooks at all times. Furthermore, to take things up a notch, the app also supports triggers that you can set to start a clamshell mode session automatically.
15. Pocket: best read-it-later app for Mac
Pocket is a popular read-it-later service. Read-it-later or bookmarking app, as you might know, allows you to add (save) items (articles, videos, pages, etc.) you wish to read but do not have the time for, at the very moment, to revisit later. And with Pocket, that is precisely what you can do.
If you like reading, Pocket can prove to be a very useful utility on your Mac. Since now, you can save all the different articles you come across in a day and read them later. And in turn, still manage to catch up on what’s important while focussing at work. What’s more, the app even works when you are offline. So you can read all your curated content offline as well. One of the best features of Pocket is that you can have all your content synced across multiple devices, not to mention, you can add new content on any of your devices and access it on the other. That way, you can catch up on your pending reads on the go on any of your linked devices.
Pocket alternatives: Instapaper, Reeder 4, and Raindrop.io.
16. Hazel: Best automation tool for Mac
Hazel is an automation utility for Mac. If you like automate actions on your Mac, you would be familiar with macOS’s native automation app, Automator. Hazel is somewhat similar to Automator in a lot of ways — except for a few where each has its own advantages over the other. Some of the possible use-cases of this Mac app include media automation, automated file operations, folder management, automatic file sharing, and remote control.
Talking about how Hazel works, the app requires you to create rules to achieve your desired operations. After which, it performs the assigned tasks automatically. For instance, you can have rules to organize the different files and folders on your system or clean up the Trash and unnecessary temp files occupying space, which free up your Mac’s storage periodically. Besides basic file organization, Hazel also offers support for integration with other apps. So you can leverage this functionality to automate a wide range of operations on your Mac.
17. Focus: Best distraction blocking app for macOS
Focus is a distraction blocking app for your Mac. As you would’ve guessed by its name already, this Mac app allows you to block websites and apps to help you stay productive through the day. So you do not get distracted and go to sites like Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, etc., while working and instead focus on what’s on your agenda instead. Blocking options include both the entire domain or just the homepage.
Focus sits in your menu bar and can be enabled with a click. It has preset time settings that you can stick to, or alternatively, set your own based on your preference. What’s more, the app helps you keep track of your productivity and tread on to hold up to your streak by offering you statistics about the time you spend working on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis.
Focus alternatives: Escape, Freedom, and FocusMe.
18. Snagit: Best screen capture tool
Snagit is a screen capture and recording software for Mac. Although you do get a native solution for screen capturing on macOS, it does not offer much control over the different elements of recording the screen. This is where third-party screen capture utilities come in. And Snagit happens to be the best one for this purpose on the Mac side of things. With Snagit, you can easily capture screenshots, record your screen, and either save it into the app’s built-in library or share it in over 15 different outputs.
Screen capturing options include the entire desktop, a specific region, or just the app window. What’s more, you even get to capture scrolling screenshots, both in a horizontal and vertical orientation — something that can come in handy to capture long conversations. Similarly, Snagit also lets you record the screen, including audio. So you can demonstrate troubleshooting steps to someone or help them fix some problem with their Mac. Once recorded/captured, you can then annotate your captures, add text, and even grab text within them.
Snagit alternatives: Droplr, Markup Hero, and Captivate.
TextSniper is a text recognition utility for Mac that lets you capture unselectable text on the screen. You can use it to extract text from images, videos, and other visual documents like PDFs, screencasts, screenshots, webpages, etc. To use it, all you need to do is press a hotkey. As soon as you do that, it triggers the utility and returns a crosshair. This crosshair is what you need to use to select the text that you want to capture from a document. Captured text is saved to the clipboard, and you can paste it into any text field you want.
Besides the regular capture mode, TextSniper also provides a few more capture options such as keep line breaks: to add line breaks to your captured text; additive clipboard: to capture text from multiple sources and paste them at once; and text to speech: to translate text from any visual document into speech. TextSniper is a paid app. It comes in at $6.49, with a 7-day free trial.
Those are some of the best productivity (utility and automation) tools for your Mac to help you automate operations, get more functionality out of your Mac, and streamline your workflow. So you can get efficient with your operations, and in turn, increase your productivity.