The Productivity Apps Every Mac User Should Have in Their Arsenal

There are thousands of Mac productivity apps out there, from simple to-do lists to highly complex project management software. If you’re as much of a productivity fiend as I am, you’ve probably tried a wide range of them. You might even be using several at the same time (I’ve done that too).

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In the end, finding the right productivity apps—or the right combination of apps—is worth the effort. I’ll show you how I found the best productivity app for me, and you can take that information and begin your own search. If you know what you’re looking for, you can find the perfect app for your particular situation.

Let’s get started!

(Because I’m on a Mac, I’ll be focusing on the best productivity apps for Mac. Most of the apps we discuss below are also available on Windows, so don’t worry if you’re not a Mac user.)

What Do You Need a Productivity App For?

This is an important question that many people forget to ask. Productivity apps all focus on helping you solve specific problems, and different Mac productivity apps solve different problems. So understanding what you need help with will make a big difference.

Many people—especially freelancers with lots of clients—just need help with keeping track of what they need to do. That’s a basic function of any to-do list app (which is why they’re some of the most popular productivity apps).

But maybe you need less help keeping track of what you’re doing and more help keeping your notes and lists organized. A note-taking app will be more help, then. These tools are perfect for managers trying to keep track of a range of projects, employees, and contractors.

There are all sorts of reasons you might want a productivity app—and a wide range of different apps that will meet your needs. Identifying your needs first is a crucial step in choosing the right one.

Once you’ve done some thinking about what you need help with, it’s time to look at some of the options.

You Need More Than an App

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that once you download a productivity app, you’ll be set. But it’s not that simple. You need to get in the right mindset and build up your productivity skills.

Read on to find out which skills you’ll need.

Prioritization

When you’re faced with a lot of to-do items, it’s not easy to figure out which ones to tackle first. There’s where prioritization skills come in. One of the most famous methods of prioritization is the Time Management Matrix, popularized by Stephen Covey.

Mac productivity apps

Deciding which things are important, and knowing which are urgent, will help you figure out what to do next. The important, urgent things are always your highest priority. Important but less urgent items often help you work toward your long-term goals.

Urgent but unimportant items should be minimized (check our recommendations for focus apps below for help with this). And, of course, the non-urgent and non-important things should be cut out whenever possible.

This isn’t the only way to prioritize your tasks, but it’s a really good one. Start practicing with it and you’ll see an immediate improvement in your prioritization.

Planning

Once you’ve gotten your tasks prioritized, it’s good to have a plan of attack. You’re better able to handle certain tasks in certain situations. For example, you might like to do thought-intensive things in the morning and more routine things in the afternoon. Or vice versa. Understanding that can help you build a productivity plan.

You’ll also notice that many of your tasks are dependent on each other, which means there’s probably an optimal order in which to do them. Planning for that order will help you be more efficient.

And, of course, you’ll need to keep your deadlines in mind. This is closely related to prioritization, but you’ll need to take it another step further to come up with a plan. When do your projects need to be done? Which will take the most time? Are there any that can be delayed?

The answers to all of these questions will help you come up with a plan. Without that plan, managing your time is especially difficult. There are lots of time management strategies out there, but they all require that you have a solid plan for what you need to do.

Try the Hubstaff Mac Time Tracker for you and your entire team

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Organization

This is a big one. No matter how well you plan and prioritize, if you can’t keep things organized, you’re going to waste a lot of time. You’ll spend time looking for papers, trying to find files, wracking your brain to remember someone’s email address, and all other manner of tasks that aren’t moving you toward your goals.

Staying organized isn’t easy, especially when you’re overworked. But putting in the effort ahead of time—and using organizational tools (a couple of which we’ll discuss in a moment)—will increase your productivity over time.

Keeping your physical and digital lives free of clutter is the first step. Create logical systems that help you find the things you need and keep them out of the way until you need them. Some people like alphabetization, while others use color-coding. Some things can be organized by the order in which you need them, by size, or how frequently you need them.

Once you’ve committed to prioritizing, planning, and getting organized, you can choose an app that will help you do those things.

Tracking To-Do Items: TickTick

Mac productivity apps

It’s difficult to fill the gap that Wunderlist will leave when Microsoft kills it. But TickTick is a great option for anyone who needs a simple list-making tool that offers a lot of extra features. Multiple lists and sub-tasks help you stay organized, and the clean interface helps keep you from getting overwhelmed.

With a premium subscription, you get team features, custom smart lists, Siri integration, and calendar integration.

TickTick will keep you from forgetting the things you need to do—and will help you meet your deadlines with reminders.

And the basic version of the app is completely free. You’ll probably want to upgrade after you realize how great it is, but if you’re looking to save some money, it’ll help you manage your tasks with no investment!

Visit TickTick

Alternatives to TickTick

Todoist is a perennially popular choice for task management. The minimal interface and easy collaboration tools make it especially useful for people who need to coordinate their activities with others. Multi-level lists and visual tracking of your productivity help keep you organized and motivated.
Remember the Milk also offers a slew of useful features, and its versatility appeals to people in a variety of fields. Its $40 annual subscription fee isn’t a killer, but the fact that even some basic features are inaccessible without it is rather annoying.

Keeping Your Notes and Files Organized: Evernote

Evernote is the king of note-taking and-organizing. There are some arguments that it’s time to switch, but there are still hundreds of millions of users out there. The app makes it easy to take, organize, share, and search notes. You can type those notes, write them on a tablet, import them from other apps, and clip them from the web.

The powerful tagging and search functions help you find the things you don’t want to lose, and the ability to share and chat with co-workers from within the app make it great for business users. But the simplicity of basic features and streamlined interface mean it’s easy to pick up for home use as well (many people use it for both, in fact).

If you commit to using Evernote for storing business cards, contracts, and other business-related items, you’ll be more organized in no time at all. It’s an absolutely essential productivity app for Mac users. And if you use it for keeping your to-do lists (which it can do—and quite efficiently with the help of an app like TaskClone), it becomes even more versatile.

And like the other items on this list, there’s a free option if you want to try it out across all of your devices.

Visit Evernote

Alternatives to Evernote

The other big player in the note-taking scene is Microsoft’s OneNote, and it’s quickly gaining ground on Evernote. It provides many of the same functions—you can take notes, keep them organized, find previously saved documents, and collaborate with others. The fact that it’s directly integrated with Windows and Microsoft Office is just a bonus (though it works great on a Mac, too).
Quip is a lesser-known option that’s focused on team collaboration. With team chat, change tracking, and document sharing, you’ll always be able to work with your colleagues on any project that requires it. It’s great for remote teams, but also provides enough features and a great interface for solo freelancers, too.

Staying Focused on Your Tasks: Focus

Mac productivity apps

Part of being productive is staying focused on the tasks. That seems like a simple task, but it can be surprisingly hard! That’s where Focus comes in. If you find yourself getting distracted by Facebook, Twitter, the news, sports scores, or anything else in your browser or another app, Focus will block it.

Just tell the app how long you want to focus, and it will block all of those distractions for you. It couldn’t be easier.

And with a great deal of customizability, you can get in the zone whenever you need it with minimal effort. Scheduling, BASH scripting, and motivational quotes all contribute to your productivity.

Stop getting distracted and spending mental energy trying to get back on track! Put your focus in the capable hands of Focus, and you’ll boost your efficiency immediately.

Focus isn’t free, but it is quite affordable: $20 is a paltry sum for how much it’ll help you. And you can try it out free for 14 days.

Visit Focus

Alternatives to Focus

If you don’t want to completely block things out, you can use Hocus Focus to hide them. Inactive windows will disappear after a set amount of time, leaving just the window you’re working in. It’s great for hiding apps that tend to distract you, especially if you have a lot of screen real estate.
Need to maintain your focus on all of your devices? Freedom will help you do just that. You can block websites, apps, or the entire internet if you need to. Set your schedule, and Freedom will help you focus and get more work done. You don’t have to do anything to turn it on or off It’s a win-win.

Use a Full GTD System: OmniFocus

 

Getting Things Done is a complete productivity and life-organization system. Many high-level executives and other busy people swear by it. But finding an app that supports it right out of the box isn’t easy. OmniFocus solves that problem.

OmniFocus is so much more than a to-do list app. You can capture all of your thoughts and tasks, organize and view them in multiple ways, review everything you’ve captured, and take action in the most efficient way possible.

It’s not an easy app to just pick up and learn, but if you’re looking for a GTD tool, it can’t be beat. Its integration with iOS, Apple Watch, and Siri mean you don’t have to give up functionality when you’re on the go. If you need serious productive power on your Mac, you can’t beat OmniFocus.

If you put a full GTD system in place, your prioritization, planning, and organization will become almost automatic. There’s a system for everything, and all you need to do is follow it.

All that power doesn’t come cheap—at $40 (or $60 for a Pro license), it’s more expensive than any other option on this list. But if you’re looking for a fantastic Mac productivity app, it’ll be well worth the expenditure.

Visit OmniFocus

Alternatives to OmniFocus

hiTask is a fully featured task management system, and it includes everything you need for Getting Things Done. Contextual task lists, calendars, and sub-tasks help you manage a wide array of clients or contractors, and the fact that you can see just about everything on a single screen will save you a ton of time.
Built specifically for the GTD system, Nirvana gives you the space and power to keep everything extremely well organized. Areas, projects, reference lists, tagging, filters, checklists, due dates, and other features were built to work well with Allen’s system from the ground up. No need to adapt your task management app—just use one that’s ready for GTD out of the box!

Tracking Your Time: Hubstaff

Having a list of things to do isn’t enough—you need to actually do it. And how do you know if you’re accomplishing your tasks? You keep track. That’s where Hubstaff excels. With a couple button presses, you can start a timer to keep track of what you’re working on.

Which means you can see where your efforts are going, how much time you actually spend working, and which distractions are causing you the most problems. Managers can see what their team is working on, how much time they’ve spent on a project, and whether they’re staying focused.

And, of course, knowing that you’re on the clock is very motivating. All of those factors put together make a time-tracker an essential Mac productivity tool.

Hubstaff isn’t limited to your Mac, though; you can use it on any platform, including your phone, to keep track of all of your tasks. Review it weekly to see your productivity strengths and weaknesses.

And you can try it out for free. What do you have to lose? (Hint: the answer is “wasted time.”)

Visit Hubstaff

Alternatives to Hubstaff

Toggl is one of the biggest players in the time-tracking game, and for good reason. Both the timer and the web-based dashboard have simple interfaces and provide useful time-tracking information in just a glance. And it’s free! Single users can sign up for an account with no credit card or subscription fee.
Where Harvest stands out is in its reporting; with charts and graphs, you can see where your time is going and estimate the time needed for future projects. Whether you’re a freelancer trying to give a client a good estimate or a manager figuring out how much time to budget for your contractors to finish a project, Harvest will help.

Find Your Productivity App

Of course, you’re not limited to just one productivity app. In fact, finding the best combination of apps is likely to serve you best. You might find that you need a to-do list app to supplement your note-taking. Or that GTD and time-tracking help maximize your productivity.

Whatever works for you, stick with it! And if your current system isn’t working, try a new app. Or combination of apps. Or maybe something completely different.

What are your favorite Mac productivity apps? Share your recommendations in the comments below!