20+ Mac Productivity Hacks from CEOs, Artists, Developers, Youtubers and More

My choice of macOS hasn't always been obvious. I remember using a Windows PC when I was 14, and seeing my father using this weird colored iMac G3 and thinking that it probably lacked all the apps I wanted to use, and that it wasn't worth giving it a chance. But then the more I used Macs, the more I fell in love with them. It has a lot to do with reducing friction: it feels like a perfect OS in this regard, making most daily operations smooth and fast. Adding the right apps to the mix, you're set to be as productive as humanly possible.

I'm always surprised by how many Mac hacks, tricks and workflows I keep finding out that boost my productivity and make my life easier. Sometimes they're hidden features, sometimes clever workflows people come up with — and this is also where the Mac community shows its best side. So, here's the idea: I'm asking a handful of Mac power users what are some things they do to be more productive with their Macs. If not anything else, I hope this is useful to someone and keeps this sense of community alive.

Thanks so much to Unsplash co-founder Luke Chesser, photographer and art director Liam Wong, serial entrepreneur Tiffany Zhong, film essayist Michael Tucker, Alfred co-founder Vero Pepperrell, tech journalist David Pierce, product maker Marc Köhlbrugge, writer and podcaster Shawn Blanc, Apollo Reddit client creator Christian Selig, front-end genius and app maker Kitze, Threader co-founder Vincent, WeatherLine and soon Flighty creator Ryan Jones, product maker and entrepreneur Ryan Kulp, ReferralHero founder Manuel Frigerio, entrepreneur Hiten Shah and film composer Rich Vreeland for taking the time to reply with their tips and workflows.


Luke Chesser

Luke Chesser

He's the co-founder of Unsplash, one of the most popular photography platforms in the world, which recently hit the incredible milestone of 1 million photos uploaded to the platform.

We're remote so we're always jumping on and off video calls. Not having potentially embarrassing messages popup is obviously preferred. For the longest time, I'd click on the notification center and then scroll up to find the 'Do Not Disturb' toggle. A few months ago I learned you could just alt-click the Notification Center icon to toggle Do Not Disturb mode, which saves time and makes it less likely that my teammates see embarrassing texts.

I save shortcuts of often needed text, like links (permanent Zoom video meeting URL), phone numbers, emails, etc. To do this, I use Text Replacements under System Preferences → Keyboard → Text to quickly expand 2-3 letter combinations into the needed text. Some examples: @@ for my primary email, @@2 for my secondary email, zm for a permanent video call link. It's also great that iCloud syncs these shortcuts across devices.


Liam Wong

Liam Wong

He's an award-winning director, designer and game developer, and you might know him for his incredible Tokyo photographs which look like paintings.

I use Magnet to dock my windows as I usually have many open and like to organise them. I use HiddenMe to keep my Desktop clear of clutter. Additionally, I use AirDrop between my devices for reviewing and sharing my artwork.

I often capture my screen a lot for references as I’m watching movies or videos so I make use of the Touch Bar capture button, I then send all captures to a custom folder.


Tiffany Zhong

Tiffany Zhong

Tiffany is a young serial-entrepreneur, now helping brands understand and collaborate with Gen Z and Millennials to get brutally honest feedback on their products.

My most used apps on my Mac are BetterTouchTool and Alfred. BetterTouchTool makes it so easy to snap two windows side by side. Alfred makes search 100x faster.

A shortcut I use daily that many of my friends haven't heard of is Command + Control + Shift + 4 to take a screenshot and have it immediately copied to clipboard and not saved on the desktop. Tap your spacebar at the end of the shortcut to take a screenshot of your full window for a floated window screengrab.


Michael Tucker

Michael Tucker

I remember watching his first incredible video essay on Gone Girl and thinking "wow, this guy is going places". He did, and his channel Lessons from the Screenplay now has more than 1 million subscribers.

An app I use every time my computer is on is Vanilla. It lets you clean up the menu bar by hiding icons you don’t want to see.

There’s an app called Cold Turkey which completely blocks any website or app you select from being run. I’ve found that self-discipline only gets you so far, and that sometimes you just have to make sure you can’t run that one game that makes you procrastinate. Rather than strictly block apps entirely, I like that you can set an “allowance.” So I know I have X number of minutes every day to play a game, and it’s up to me to spend them wisely.

I think the biggest thing I’ve done is designate different devices as having different, specific purposes. My MacBook Air is strictly for doing my morning routine—it’s where I check off my morning to-dos, send emails (like this one), and visit only the websites I need to get my day up and running. All other websites are blocked. My iMac Pro is where I do deeper project work—video editing, motion graphics, design, etc. And my iPad is where I do all my creative-generation work—outlining, writing scripts, editing them, etc. Having a specific device tailored for a specific kind of task really helps me focus and cuts out unwanted distractions.


Vero Pepperrell

Vero Pepperrell

She's the co-founder of Running with Crayons and maker of the most popular Mac productivity app, which virtually everyone I know uses: Alfred.

As you can imagine, Alfred is intrinsic to our workday; I can't imagine supporting our users without our snippets, clipboard history, workflows to speed repetitive tasks, quick web searches and so on.

Another productivity tool I couldn't do without is 1Password; It's incredibly well known already, but so many more people should be using it. In an era where we juggle so many logins and passwords, where our data are sometimes compromised, it's the most useful way to manage all of this precious information.


David Pierce

David Pierce

He writes from insightful tech pieces for the The Wall Street Journal, but he also covered technology for WIRED, The Verge, PCMag and others.

I use three keyboard shortcuts, over and over, all day every day. CMD + Opt + Left and Cmd + Opt + Right, and CMD + Opt + Up. The first two automatically resize a window to take up the left or right half of the screen, so I can see two things side by side. The third makes one window full screen again. It works through an app called Divvy, which is a really clever window-management tool that divides your screen into a grid and lets you quickly snap a window to any part of that grid. Rather than dragging the edges of apps into place, I can split my screen into halves or quarters or, I guess, sixteenths with about three clicks. I use it for taking notes side-by-side with what I'm reading, for slyly watching Netflix in the top right corner while I work, and much more.

There are a bunch of apps that do what Divvy does—I've tried Moom, which is good, and there's also BetterSnapTool and ShiftIt and a bunch of others that are probably cheaper than Divvy's $13.99 price tag. I'm not sure why I picked Divvy, truthfully. But it's one of those apps that is so crucial to how I use my Mac that it's the first thing I download on a new computer. I don't buy Apple's idea that the best way to work is full-screen, one app at a time, total focus mode. I like to see a bunch of things at once. I just need all those things neatly organized, and Divvy does the job.


Marc

Marc Köhlbrugge

He's one of the most prolific makers out there, and among many other things he's the founder of a thriving makers community, WIP.chat.

Most Mac apps allow you to type Cmd + Shift + ? which opens up the Help / Search feature. From there you can type and execute any command available from the menu. Not only does that save you from using your mouse, it also is a quick way to discover the keyboard shortcut for the command which lets you execute it even faster the next time.


Shawn Blanc

Shawn Blanc

As a productivity nerd, I've been following Shawn Blanc for years and always found his writings and podcasts enjoyable and insightful. The Sweet Setup is among his most popular projects.

Something I do is that I have my Mac automatically put itself into Do Not Disturb mode every morning until lunch (11:30). That way, in the morning, when I come in to work, there will be no distracting notifications popping up on my Mac when I am trying to get things done. You can set this schedule in System Preferences → Notifications.


Kitze

Kitze

You might know him for his React Academy workshops, or for his incredible tweeting skills, or maybe his dope track The Platform. In any case, if you're not following him you're missing out.

A productivity hack I use is remapping the capslock key to what is called a hyper key using Karabiner Elements and then using a combination of Caps Lock + Letter to navigate to an app or Caps Lock + Arrow to resize/move windows.

You can use Keyboard Maestro to map the hyper key to different actions, and I also use it for easily switching between profiles in Chrome. It's good to have one profile for browsing and one profile (with different extensions) for work.


Christian Selig

Christian Selig

I'm a heavy Reddit user, and I have to thanks Christian for creating the absolute best Reddit client for iOS, Apollo (try it out and consider supporting him).

Oh this is easy. Brett Terpstra introduced me to the hyper key through his blog. So basically I have like Caps Lock + X open Xcode, Caps Lock + S Safari, Caps Lock + D for Sketch, etc. It’s basically like supercharged, super fast, Cmd + Tab.

And then you can use just the single press as escape key, which is awesome since the Touch Bar took away the normal escape.


Vincent

Vincent

He's the co-founder of Threader, an amazing app to read and compose Twitter threads that looks like the kind of feature Twitter itself should offer.

During my Mac design and coding sessions, I put away any kind of mobile devices around me. I also deleted all social media apps, and I only use the web version when it’s really necessary.

Something I use every day is Simple Analytics, which is better designed than Google Analytics and it's privacy friendly.


Ryan Jones

Ryan Jones

Ryan is a super skilled product maker, previously working at Apple. He's known for his app Weather Line, and I'm super excited about his next big thing Flighty, which I'm trying and it's unbelievably good.

At first, I didn’t think this was for me – I’m not a huge Mac power user to be honest. But with Flighty and Weather Line lately I have been forced to be more efficient.

Rocket is the first thing that comes to mind. I type a lot of emoji and it’s a godsend for that. It’s not foolproof but it’s nice. Cloud.app is also up there. Mostly for recording GIF’s, but it’s also awesome for quick markup on photos.

Honestly, getting handoff and universal clipboard to work from my Mac to iOS device is critical too. Copying a screenshot on iOS and then pasting on Mac is glorious for filing bugs or just getting photos from iOS to Mac fast.


Kulp

Ryan Kulp

Ryan Kulp is an entrepreneur, musician, and blogger. He's very opinionated and he has some crazy stories to tell. He's the founder of FOMO.

I  make GIFs using Recordit. They have a free version and a $30 1-time paid version, for faster framerate. I use this for animated changelog updates as well as reproducing bug reports for the team.

Regarding my workflow, all my code is in Dropbox, which lets me switch machines on a whim and have access to everything. If a given project has multiple repos, for example, I name that repo directory core and put it inside the master folder, which has the repo slug name. If a project and its repo are 1:1, the project directory will be the repo.

I’ve found that by adding a handful of Dropbox artifacts to gitignore takes care of conflicts from Dropbox syncing issues.


Manuel Frigerio

Manuel Frigerio

Manuel is a serial entrepreneur and developer. I've met him in Milan and he's an amazingly clever and funny guy with lots of ideas. You might know him for ReferralHero, which I'm using and I highly recommend.

When I’m in deep-work mode I always make the windows fullscreen to minimise distractions. For example, when I’m coding, Sublime Editor is the only thing on my screen; when I’m using the terminal, that’s the only thing I see and if I’m googling something, Google is the only thing I want to see. Of course, this means I had to become really good at switching tabs quickly but I’d struggle to focus on the task in front of me with other little windows open at the same time.


Hiten

Hiten Shah

With multiple successful SaaS companies on his hands, Hiten has to make the best of his time, and that's why he's perfect for this list. Among the cool things he does, check out Fyi.

Replying to emails rapidly is my superpower. If I check an email, I do my best to respond to it right away. The pace of everything around me stays high and I don’t spend any unnecessary time thinking about minor tasks. I use Bear for note taking that syncs across every device I use. I live in documents. And use my own product’s Mac app to find both desktop files and cloud documents in seconds. No more wasted time or frustration trying to find documents so I can get to my work faster.


Rich Vreeland

Rich Vreeland

If you're a film buff, you probably appreciated the amazing soundtrack created by Rich under his stage name "Disasterpeace" for It Follows (Spotify). He recently scored Under the Silver Lake and Netflix's Triple Frontier. He's incredibly nerdy, even for my standards.

I've found that using my inbox as a sort of a 'to-do desk' has worked well for me. I snooze, archive or delete anything that isn't relevant to me for the day. I also send myself e-mails, which I use as reminders, and I will often snooze those to the appropriate date as well. I've spent a lot of time customizing the way my inbox looks and behaves so that it only has and responds to the essential things that I need.

The default way to snooze and send yourself emails in gmail requires a few steps, so I've created workflows that cut the time these tasks take.

I set up an Alfred + Keyboard Maestro workflow that lets me snooze emails to specific dates and times using shorthand syntax. So, assuming I have one or more emails selected in Gmail, I will toggle Alfred and use the keyword z.

Some examples:

  • z 2tue snooze two Tuesdays from now
  • z w snooze 1 week in the future
  • ! go to store, 8h create a new reminder (sending an email to myself) to go to store and snoozing it for 8 hours.
  • z 11a snooze to the next instance of 11 am, which may be tomorrow.
  • z 2mo snooze in 2 months
  • z d20 pick a random time to snooze to within the next year (my personal favorite)

I built the syntax parsing in node.js, on top of a pre-existing natural language date parser called chrono, so it also takes more verbose commands, days of the week, full dates, etc. I just added custom syntax where I thought it could be more efficient and suit my workflow better.

Once the date parser figures out what date and time you're requesting and spits it out in a format that is then passed from Alfred to a Keyboard Maestro macro via osa/AppleScript. Then Keyboard Maestro handles all the keyboard input steps necessary to open the snooze window, input the date etc.


Fabrizio Rinaldi

Fabrizio Rinaldi

I'm the co-founder of Superlinear, where I mainly push pixels and conceive products with Francesco (you'll find him below). I'm also a filmmaker and a huge Mac-nerd.

There's a little but powerful app I couldn't live without called TripMode. It blocks all network connections when you're on a mobile hotspot, letting you decide explicitly what gets to send and receive data. And it also lets you know exactly how much data you're using. No more wondering why you destroyed your data plan after using your iPhone personal hotspot for 10 minutes.

I'm not the first one to mention keyboard shortcuts, but I'll add one of my own: I assigned Cmd + Alt + M to Merge All Windows in the Finder. This lets me quickly merge all windows into a single tabbed window when things get out of hand.

Finally, one little thing I always secretly enable on any Mac I stumbled upon is Show Path Bar in the Finder, under the View menu. It's so useful to always know where you are and be able to double click and navigate to any parent folder.


Francesco Di Lorenzo

Francesco Di Lorenzo

He's the co-founder of Superlinear, and (believe it or not) he's the sole developer of all our projects, from Boxy Suite to Unreadit and Sblack.

Here's a little know tip that only macOS developers know about: when you are working with a window in the foreground, you can click a button in another window without activating it by using Cmd + Click. This drastically reduces the number of times you need to Cmd + Tab back to what you were doing.

Something that I happen to tell a lot of people is that in the Finder you can Copy the Path to a file by right-clicking on it and holding the Option key. This will indeed make the standard "Copy" button turn into "Copy as Pathname". You're welcome.

Another incredible tool that I use every week is Soulver. It's a swiss-army knife for math and quick calculations that allows you to reason in math by writing in a free-form text editor. It almost entirely replaced spreadsheets for me.

Zac, the indie developer behind Soulver, recently release version 3 with some major improvements over an already great product. You should try it (he offered a coupon code, that you'll find below).


Since you've read this far, and you're an awesome human being, here's something special for you. Some of the app creators mentionend in this articled agreed to offer our readers some special discount codes for their apps. So here they are, enjoy!


PS: thanks to Marco, Ferruccio and Simone for their help in writing this article 🙌