I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t usually like “list posts.” However, when it comes to different apps to streamline my productivity, I definitely nerd out a little bit. 🤓 I’ve spent hundreds of hours diving into betas, trials, etc. If an app saves me money or 20 clicks a day, I’m all for it! It’s also just fun trying new software to see how the developer approaches a problem.
Another reason for this post is that visitors, friends, and even family are always asking me which apps I use for specific tasks. So to keep from repeating myself over and over, I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the best Mac apps. I’ve also included some of the tweaks and settings I change whenever I get a new Mac or reinstall macOS.
Hopefully, you’ll find an awesome new Mac app or setting in this list that will help make your life easier!
Best Mac apps to make your life easier
I switched to Macs back in 2018 after using PCs exclusively for over 20 years. In 2013 I received the Microsoft MVP Award in the Windows Expert-IT Pro category. So for most of my life, I’ve been knee-deep (more than most) in the Microsoft world of Active Directory, SharePoint, Exchange, etc. But Mac finally won me over.
The Mac apps below (listed in alphabetical order) consists of free and premium apps straight from the developer’s website and apps from the Mac App Store.
While I always try to support developers where I can, I do prefer purchasing from the Mac App Store. This makes it super convenient to reinstall apps later down the road and saves a lot of time. For those of you who don’t know, Apple takes a cut of the sale (30%) from developers when you use the App Store.
- Affinity Designer
- Google Chrome
- Plex Media Server
- Sublime Merge
- Sublime Text
- The Unarchiver
Some of these apps are also available for PC (Windows).
Most people these days are using some type of password manager. Why is this important? First off, it helps to prevent from having to write them down anywhere. And second, you should never use the same password twice, ever.
I have used 1Password for years now and love it. The Mac App is beautiful, along with dark mode. It also supports one-time passwords, which means you can use it as a Google Authenticator alternative. This is important to me as it means I spend less time grabbing my phone.
Tip: One-time passwords, along with an authenticator app, are always safer than SMS.
1Password’s personal plan costs $2.99 a month (billed annually). They also have a family plan available, which can be handy. Many of us know how hard it is to get our parents to use best practices when it comes to online security. 😉
If you prefer something local that’s not on the cloud; I also recommend the free MacPass app.
Affinity Designer (premium)
Affinity Designer is a vector graphics program developed by Serif for macOS. They also have a Windows version. I have used Affinity Designer for 4+ years to create all of the images you see on this blog, as well as my other sites.
I previously used Adobe Creative Cloud. But running a small business and having to pay for everything myself, it was just too expensive. The Creative Cloud costs $50+/month, and if I were to get Illustrator by itself, it would cost me $20+/month. Affinity Designer is by far the best Adobe Illustrator alternative I’ve ever found.
The best part about Affinity Designer is that it only costs $49.99. And it’s not a subscription, this is simply a one-time purchase, and you get all the updates forever. It’s available from the developer’s website and the Mac App Store.
Tip: For saving images for the web, the best color profile for Mac is
sRGB IEC61966-2.1. In Affinity Designer, you can find this under the “More” button when you go to export an image.
I also have a few Affinity Designer tutorials I’m working on. I recently published one on how to easily cut a shape out of another shape.
Alfred (free and premium)
The Alfred Mac app is all about productivity! If you’ve ever heard of a tool called TextExpander, this is that on steroids. You can use it to speed up all sorts of tasks that you do regularly on the Mac.
One example, I use a lot of emojis when I’m writing and sharing on social media. I have hotkeys (or snippets as Alfred calls them) so that I can easily insert emojis as I write. For example, I can type
:smile: and it will automatically convert into 😄. This works across the entire OS and other apps, it isn’t just a browser extension.
You can use Snippets for all sorts of things, such as frequently used sayings in an email or even to insert symbols. For example, when I’m writing a tutorial and instructing someone how to navigate down a menu, I always use the → HTML symbol. Instead of looking that up each time, I simply use a snippet
There is both a free and premium version. The premium version though, is what really gives you the most power. It even has a 1Password integration. The premium version starts at £25.00, or you can get the lifetime version at £45.00. I always prefer lifetime purchases if it’s something of value to me. This way, I never have to worry about it again.
Another thing I use all the time is the calculator integration. Mac has this ability out of the box with Spotlight, but Alfred takes it a little further. You can hit “Option + Spacebar” on your Mac to launch a search box. Enter in a calculation and hit enter. It will immediately copy it to your clipboard. I never have to use my mouse to do any math calculations. Quick and easy!
Amphetamine is an awesome little app that can keep your Mac awake. It even works with Macbooks and keeping them awake when the lid is closed.
Why would you want to do this? Here are a couple of ways I’ve used the app:
- Maybe you are taking a break to work out or grab a bite to eat, but you don’t want Slack to go inactive. Yes, this is a little sneaky. But if you have your phone with you, it’s OK to move around a bit. After all, that’s the beauty of remote work. This lets your coworkers know you are still available, you just might not be at your desk.
- I use Plex as a media server. It works great to stream currently cached content once my Mac goes asleep. But grabbing new stuff relies on my Mac being awake. Keeping your Mac on during your binge sessions ensures you don’t have to leave your couch. 🛋️
The developer of this app is probably one of the most active I’ve seen in the App store! He’s constantly pushing out new features and fixing bugs.
Since I live in the Apple ecosystem and love it, I use iCloud syncing across all of my devices. However, syncing and backups are two very different things. iCloud is excellent, and I’ve only ever had one issue with it (iCloud syncing while traveling).
Being that I work on so many content-related projects, I’m always a little paranoid about what would happen if I lost everything.
That’s where Backblaze comes into play. Backblaze is an automatic solution to backup your Mac or PC. You can literally have it up and going in a matter of a few minutes, and it’s a set it and forget it type of deal.
Note: Depending on how much data you have, the first backup might take a while.
Backblaze keeps old file versions and deleted files for 30-days. The cost of Backblaze is $6/month, but you can save money by purchasing a yearly or two-year plan. With a two year plan, you’ll save $34.00. If you are worried about 30 days being too short, you can also extend the history to unlimited versions for an additional $2/month.
What I do is I just run Backblaze on my iMac. My MacBook Pro already syncs changes with iCloud (which get copied to my iMac), so there is no need to backup both. This helps me sleep a little easier at night, knowing I have an offsite backup of everything.
Bear is one of my favorite and most used Mac apps when it comes to writing content. In fact, this entire blog post was written in Bear. Daniel, the CTO at Kinsta, shared Bear with me a couple of years ago, and once I tried it, I was immediately hooked.
Bear makes writing fun again! Pair that with their Ayu Mirage theme, and it looks and feels amazing. I find myself easily writing more when using the Bear app. And yes, I’ve tried other alternatives, such as Ulysses and AI Writer.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the new WordPress block editor, but I move my content in there when I’m all done. The great thing is that there is no mess copy pasting directly from Bear into the WordPress editor.
There is both a free version and a pro subscription. The pro subscription gives you automatic syncing across all devices, extra themes, etc. The app is also really well supported and updated.
The Bear Pro subscription has two options:
- $1.49 monthly, which offers a one-week free trial
- $14.99 annually, which has a one-month free trial
I’ve used Bear for hundreds if not thousands of hours of writing, so $15.00 a year for me is a steal.
For documentation in regards to my business, I also heavily use Confluence. They don’t have a Mac app yet, but there is an issue opened to gather interest: CONFCLOUD-68826 . If you are a Confluence and Mac user, make sure to throw it a vote. 😉
Taking screenshots is almost a way of life in my work. No matter what type of content I’m producing, I’m always taking screenshots. I’ve tried probably 30+ different screenshot tools over the years—way more than I’m proud to admit.
When I stumbled on CleanShot X, it immediately blew my mind. It’s by far the fastest and best-looking solution I’ve found, while not sacrificing on features. Things like changing the size, color, etc. of your arrows are important for branding. Some tools I’ve tried also use the wrong color profile on Mac, which creates dull looking colors.
Some of my favorite features in CleanShot X include:
- Capture area
- Capture window (ability to have a transparent background)
- Scrolling capture
- Hide desktop icons
- Easy shortcut keys
- Change the wallpaper to solid color
- Amazing annotate tool
- Very active developers
Dato is an awesome little Mac App that enables a better menu bar clock than the one that comes with macOS. This was a big pet peeve of mine when I first started using my Mac. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t change the default clock to show the day, month, and time. With Dato, you can do this in a matter of seconds.
The app is just a one-time cost of $2.99. The developer is very active and is continuously adding new little features and integrations. For example, you can open calendar events from Google Calendar directly in Google Calendar. Or use the Zoom integration for meetings.
This is a must-have Mac app!
And if you like tweaking your menu bar, Bartender is another Mac app you should check out.
I’ve tried a dozen FTP clients over the years. But my favorite is by far ForkLift. Its dark mode looks beautiful on macOS, and out of the box works great with local file editing and syncing back changes to the server. It’s also really fast! With other FTP clients like FileZilla, you get the delay when connecting to the server. There is none of that with ForkLift, just click and go.
You can try ForkLift for free, and a single-user license starts at $29.95.
Google Chrome (free)
I’m one of those people that continuously bounce around trying to see if a new browser has managed to conquer the infamous Google Chrome. But as of 2020, I’m still using Google Chrome as my primary browser.
I do have to give a shout out to Brave, as I almost made a full move over to it. It’s bloody fast, and their native ad-blocking functionality is the best I’ve ever seen. Since it’s based on the Chromium browser, being able to keep using all your favorite extensions gives it a competitive edge.
However, Brave has a huge problem. They haven’t been able to get sync working from day one. In fact, Brave pulled the sync functionality altogether from a recent release due to the fact there were so many bugs with it.
I don’t need a lot of things, but my bookmarks are one thing I rely on heavily in my browser. I bounce a lot between my iMac and my MacBook Pro. I need access to my bookmarks 24/7. Therefore, I’m still rolling with Google Chrome. If you are curious, I use Ghostery for an ad blocker.
I have an upcoming post on all the Google Chrome extensions and flags I love and use. Stay tuned for that.
Grammarly (free and premium)
I’ve been producing content for well over a decade, but that doesn’t mean I’m always perfect at writing. In fact, as things get hectic, my writing tends to get a little sloppy. It also depends on the time I’m writing. If I happen to be in a good rhythm and writing late into the night/early morning, my grammar will gradually get worse as I get tired.
That’s where Grammarly saves the day. I don’t use Grammarly to learn how to write; instead, I use it primarily to error check my content.
There is both a free and premium version of Grammarly. The premium version gives you vocabulary enhancements, additional writing style checks, plagiarism detection, and a few other things. It starts at $29.95/ month, or you can pay for a year at $139.95. Their Google Chrome extension is available on all plans.
However, there are a few issues to be aware of with Grammarly.
- The Mac app currently has a severe CPU usage problem. If you leave it open, it will slowly start consuming your Mac’s CPU. I’ve seen it spike to 90%. The developers know this, and all we can hope for is that they will eventually fix it. I use the web version, and along with Chrome’s suspending tabs don’t have any problems.
Srsly @Grammarly, you need to fix this, or this loyal customer is going away for good, I’ve had it. Your mac app destroys my CPU and battery just for being open in the background. This isn’t new, not a spike or isolated sample; it’s standard behavior. – @celso (source)
- The Grammarly Chrome extension doesn’t work correctly with the WordPress Gutenberg block editor. This is due to how blocks work.
- Grammarly doesn’t have an API. This means you aren’t going to find integrations with popular apps like Bear.
There are other alternatives out there, but Grammarly is in my opinion, one of the best.
Hazel is a small, lightweight organization app for the Mac. There are a lot of things you can do with this, but I use it to keep my desktop clean. I always save temporary files to the desktop. Don’t ask why; it’s merely a bad habit I’ve developed. With Hazel, I can automatically clean up my Mac’s desktop on a regular schedule.
If you want to set up the same rule I’m using, here are the settings:
- If all of the following conditions are met
- “Date Last Modified” “is not in the last” 2 “days”
Do the following to the matched file or folder:
- “Move” to folder: “Trash.”
The single license costs $32.00. But this license allows you to use Hazel on up to two machines. So if you are on an iMac and a MacBook Pro, you can replicate this productivity hack across both as I do.
Another neat little trick is you can use Hazel to automatically convert downloaded WebP files to PNG.
IINA is a free and open-source media player for macOS. It has dark mode and looks beautiful if you compare it side by side with other alternatives such as VLC. It’s only about two years old, and I have been using it since its early beta days. Another great feature is picture-in-picture which I use daily.
Loom (free and premium)
I’m not a video editor and don’t want to be one. Working on a multitude of different projects, I need tools that are easy and fast to use. Loom is by far one of the easiest ways to record your screen (and yourself if you want).
I use Loom for a couple of projects right now, mainly consisting of reviews and tutorials. You can download your videos to
.MP4 format in a matter of seconds to then upload to YouTube.
There is both a free and pro version. The pro version allows you to record up to 4K quality on the Mac, and you can access an unlimited number of videos.
Magnet is a must-have app that allows you to easily rearrange your windows with hotkeys and snapping. If you’re coming from a PC (Windows), this makes the transition to a Mac a lot easier. For $2.99, it’s a no brainer.
I’m a heavy user of Gmail (technically G Suite) for both my personal and business emails. It’s something that just works, all the time, and helps me stay on top of everything.
Tip: If you are in the US, email me for a special 20% off promo code for your entire first year of G Suite.
An app that I use daily to make my email more awesome is Mailplane. This is basically a local wrapper for Gmail. What that means is that it’s an app that runs on my Mac that allows me to use Gmail.
I’ve literally tried every alternative Gmail and email client out there including Spark, Airmail, Canary, Polymail, Boxy Suite, Kiwi for Gmail, Wavebox, Missive, Postbox, macOS Mail, and Mailspring. They were all missing certain features I needed. Mailplane checks all these boxes.
Why is Mailplane so great? Here’s why:
- I can pin Gmail to my dock, just like I do any other type of Mac app.
- I don’t have to keep Gmail up in my browser. I have enough tabs open already.
- You can use multiple Gmail accounts and toggle between them easily in tabs.
- It supports Grammarly in the Mac app. 🥳 This feature alone is hard to find in any other Gmail email app.
- It has the most beautiful dark mode I’ve seen to date for a Gmail wrapper.
- You can set it as your default email client and it works with
Besides just Gmail, Mailplane also works with Google Calendar and Google Contacts. This means I can quickly toggle over to my calendar or contacts within a tab in the app.
Trust me; if you’re a Gmail or G Suite user, this one app will change your life. A personal license costs $29.95. This allows you to install it on any Mac you personally use.
If you are a heavy Google Calendar user, I also recommend checking out Fantastical.
Whenever I’m traveling or even just sitting in a coffee shop, I always fire up my VPN (virtual private network) app. A VPN hides your IP address and encrypts all the data you send or receive. This is especially important when you are connecting over a public hotspot, say in Starbucks, or a hotel room Wifi. It will help keep anyone from intercepting your private information.
There are a lot of different VPN apps out there, and to be honest, most of them are pretty similar. I’ve been using NordVPN for years. The speed is great, I love the UI of the apps, and have never had any problems with it. I’ve used it successfully all over the United States, Hungary, and Spain.
NordVPN works on pretty much all platforms, including macOS, iOS, Windows, Linux, and Android. You can install it on up to 6 devices.
You can grab a 3-year plan for $125.00 (around $3.49/month). They also have a 30-day money-back guarantee. I always suggest giving it a try first to make sure it will work with your setup.
Plex Media Server (free)
If you do anything with an entertainment system in your house, there is no better app out there than Plex Media Server. I’ve used Plex for over eight years, and it just keeps getting better. It’s completely free, and it makes it super easy to stream content from your Mac to your TV or another device like Apple TV.
As their catchphrase says, “Stream Smarter.”
Slack (free and premium)
I’ve worked from home since 2015, so using apps with a team for communicating is kind of second nature at this point. I’ve tried a couple, and Slack is still by far, my favorite. Right now, it’s only myself and my brother, but Slack makes it super easy to chat about tasks we are working on. Video calling is also super slick.
Here are a couple of handy Slack apps/integrations/plugins:
- Slack for Gmail: Easily bring an email into a Slack channel to start a conversation about it.
- updown.io: Get notifications about downtime on your websites right into Slack. Check out my review of the updown.io tool.
- Slack for EDD: Get notifications about new sales from Easy Digital Downloads store.
- RSS feeds for Slack: Set up channels with subscriptions to specified RSS feeds.
I’m a massive fan of the Monokai theme. I’ve created a few Slack themes you can use.
Monokai Octagon Light Slack theme
Monokai Octagon Dark Slack theme
Taking screenshots is almost a way of life in my work. No matter what type of content I’m producing, I’m always taking screenshots. I’ve tried probably 30+ different screenshot tools over the years—way more than I’m proud to admit.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been using Snagit. It’s by far the most powerful and customizable screenshot solution I’ve found. Things like changing the size, color, etc. of your arrows are important for branding. Some tools I’ve tried also use the wrong color profile on Mac, which creates dull looking colors.
Other than being a little bloated, Snagit does everything right. The developers are very active and continuously improving the app.
If you’re looking for a lighter weight alternative, I recommend CleanShot X. The one issue I have with their app is that it doesn’t automatically convert images to sRGB color profiles as Snagit does. This means I can’t use it for work purposes. However, I’ve discussed this with them and hopefully, they’ll one day add this.
Spotify (free and premium)
Over the years, I’ve used Apple Music, Google Play Music, and even Amazon. But I always come back to Spotify. In terms of generating new recommendations, Spotify is, in my opinion, the best. The Spotify Mac app is awesome and works great across all devices and platforms.
Working from home, I have Spotify running almost 24/7. In 2019, I listened to 23,035 minutes of music. Synthwave especially helps me write and gets my creative juices flowing.
If you are using Spotify premium, you will want to change the default quality settings. Go to “Preferences → Music Quality” and change the stream quality to “Very High.”
Sublime Merge (free and premium)
If you are a developer and looking for a good Git client, look no further than Sublime Merge. I previously used GitHub Desktop, which worked fine, but Sublime Merge is so much better. It features a snappy UI, three-way merge tool, side-by-side diffs, syntax highlighting, and more.
There is both a free and premium version. In fact, you can evaluate it for free forever. A premium license costs $99.00, which comes with three years of updates and support. Licenses are per-user, so you can use one license on all the computers you own.
Sublime Text (free and premium)
There are a lot of excellent text and code editors out there, and in my opinion, it’s best to simply find the one that works best for your workflow.
I’ve used Notepad++ (back when I was on a PC), Atom, Visual Studio Code, etc. But none of these are perfect. The UI of Notepad++ was never great, and Atom has some performance issues on Mac. It’s not meant to be a text editor that you leave open, and the developers have acknowledged that.
Therefore, I always come back to using Sublime Text.
There are three things I love about it.
- You can have 100 tabs open and leave it open and running for months, and it will never slow your computer down.
- The UI of Sublime is fantastic. I extend it with the Monokai Pro color scheme. Remember, I also customized a Slack theme around this same color palette that you can use.
- If you are already using Sublime Merge, bouncing between the two apps feels natural and smooth.
Just like with Sublime Merge, Sublime Text has a free evaluation version and a premium version that costs $80.00. I proudly support the developers of both of these apps.
The Unarchiver (free)
The Unarchiver is a small and lightweight Mac app to open any type of archive file, such as RAR, Zip, Tar, 7z, etc. It’s a lot more powerful than the native macOS utility. And it’s completely free!
Trello (free and premium)
My daily workflow, regardless of the job, always consists of trying to get as many tasks done as possible. Whenever I have an idea for a new content piece or task, I immediately write it down, so I don’t forget it. Where do I keep track of all this? One word: Trello.
Trello is an excellent little app that allows you to organize your projects and tasks with Kanban boards (typically meaning you work from left to right). I’ve tried many alternatives; Notion, ClickUp, Redbooth, Basecamp, Asana, Monday.com, Todoist, and more.
The reason I always come back to Trello is because of the beautify in its simplicity. I’ve found myself wasting time in similar apps, using all their nifty features, when all I should be doing is working on my task.
The free version of Trello lets you have an unlimited number of boards, cards, and lists. If you need things like power-ups, templates, etc. you will want to use the premium version starting at $9.99 per user per month.
Here are a few power-ups I use:
- Custom Fields: Put search volume data on each topic/card.
- Slack: Send Trello cards to a Slack channel or DM.
- Confluence Cloud: Attach Confluence Cloud pages to Trello cards.
- Card Repeater: Put regular tasks on repeat. Great for weekly newsletters.
There is, however, one little annoying thing with the Mac app, and that is the default Trello icon. Look below. Notice anything just slightly off?
That’s right. The default Trello icon on the Mac is slanted, and there is no way to change it. I know I’m a little OCD, but this is just a weird design decision. Not a single icon on my Mac is slanted, so this looks out of place.
Thankfully I’m not the only one that thinks so! Rob Scholten created this amazing Trello replacement icon you can download for free.
To replace the icon on your Mac, browse to your applications folder. Right-click on “Trello” and click “Get Info.” Then drag the
trello.icns file on top of the Trello icon at the very top. You will then need to close Trello, remove it from your Dock, and open it again from the Applications folder.
Here is what it looks like with the new Trello icon.
Note: Whenever Trello pushes out an update, they override the icon. So keep the icon file handy to replace it.
Yoink is a neat little Mac app that acts as a temporary shelf for your files. It basically takes drag and drop to the next level. Here’s how it works.
- Drag the file you want to move or copy to Yoink on the side of your monitor.
- Navigate to where you want to copy/move the file.
- Drag the file out of Yoink to where it’s supposed to go.
Yoink + Affinity Designer is a great combination. The app costs $7.99.
There is one thing you will want to change. In the app settings under behavior, change the default to “when dragging to the edge of the screen.”
There is another app called Paste which is similar to this, but it doesn’t work when dragging certain file type types across, such as .SVG files. This is a deal-breaker for me, I just need all file types to work. Yoink is great at this!
Mac and app tweaks
Below is a list of settings I use to configure my Macs on a fresh install. I thought sharing these might help out a few folks. Obviously some of these are going to be based on your personal preference, but perhaps you’ll find a few settings you didn’t know existed.
The very first thing I do is turn off wallpaper tinting (this is only applicable in MacOS Big Sur). If you have a colorful or bright wallpaper, dark mode really won’t be as dark as it should unless you have this turned off. Much easier on the eyes.
- Sign in to Apple ID and uncheck “Optimize Mac Storage.” This gives me the full contents of iCloud on my computers.
- Under “Mouse” uncheck “Scroll direction: Natural.” Coming from Windows this was something that always annoyed me.
- Under “Accessibility → Display → Cursor” uncheck “Shake mouse pointer to locate.” Don’t even know why this is an option.
- Under “Keyboard → Input Sources” uncheck “Show input menu in menu bar.”
- Under “Dock Preferences” change “Minimize window using” to Scale effect.
- Under “Dock Preferences” uncheck “Show recent applications in Dock.”
- Under “Dock Preferences” check “Minimize windows into application icon.”
- iMac: Under “Keyboard → Modifier keys” change the following keys:
- Function Key to Command
- Command Key to Control
- MacBook: Under “Keyboard → Modifier keys” change the following keys:
- Control Key to Command
- Command Key to Control
- Under “System Preferences → General” change “Show show scroll bars” to “Always.” This will enlarge the size of the scroll bar.
- Under “System Preferences” turn off “System Control.”
- Under “About This Mac → Storage → Manage” turn on the option to empty the trash automatically after items have been it for more than 30 days.
Below are some settings that I change on popular apps that I use.
- Uncheck show autofill menu on field focus in the browser extension.
- Point to preferences folder.
- Under Sync and Google Services, uncheck “Autocomplete searches and URLs.”
- Enable the following Chrome flag to show the full URL.
chrome://flags/ #omnibox -context-menu-show-full-urls
- Under “Preferences → General.” Select show “Dock only” for the icon.
- Under “Preferences → Advanced” check “Show full website address.
- Under “Tabs” check “Show website icons in tabs.”
- Under “General” set the Homepage to https://google.com/
- Under “Autofill” uncheck everything.
- Change default font.
- Change the music quality of streaming to high.
- Change autosave location to iCloud synced folder to access
.snagprojfiles across all devices.
Change user preferences of Monokai Pro Sublime Text theme.
That’s all for now! Hopefully you’ve found something useful that can help improve your workflow. Make sure to bookmark this as I will be continually adding to it as I find new helpful Mac apps.
I would love to hear from you guys! Are there any awesome apps that I missed? Drop them below in the comments. I can promise you that I will enjoy checking them out. 😄