Productivity Apps

One of the hardest tasks of working alone as a freelancer is managing your own time and productivity. The struggle to overcome the urge to procrastinate or not get overwhelmed by the enormity of differing workloads can often be tough.

In its simplest terms – as David Allen will attribute – the best way to get things done is to break larger projects into smaller chunks, and have one definitive capture device and to-do list for all your tasks.

While there are many large-scale project-management apps devoted to this (Things and OmniFocus being the main players, with Todoist and Wunderlist great up-and-coming alternatives), as a part-time freelancer and blogger I’ve found these a bit over-the-top for my needs.

For me, a simple pencil/notebook system coupled with a few basic, but well designed apps works just perfectly and nurtures my productivity rather than trying to control my every move.

Here’s a few of the productivity tools I use on a daily basis:


Sometimes you just need simplicity, and RealMac’s Clear is the epitome. Albeit no more than a simple to-do list, its UI is a work of beauty and makes it a pleasure to use.

The entire Mac and iOS apps are gesture based, with simple swipes to create, check and clear tasks, coupled with perfect sound effects. There’s also a range of themes available to find a colour scheme to your taste.

Its killer feature though is universal sync between Mac, iPhone and iPad via iCloud, allowing you to pick up any Apple device and immediate check your list of tasks.

With multiple lists you can quickly enter a task and have it synced instantly. I have one list for my basic day to day items – household chores, errand reminders, things to quickly check online etc – which stays open permanently, and another long-term list where I put goals that aren’t urgent but I’d like to be reminded of one day.

Clear has quickly become my single capture device for everything, and is invaluable for quickly creating, viewing and completing all my daily tasks with the minimal of fuss.

Focus TimerFocus Timer

The Pomodoro Technique has taken off hugely in the last couple of years as a way of staying productive and alert whilst working. The process – working in short bursts and taking regular scheduled breaks – has plenty of obvious benefits for those of us staring at screens constantly.

Of course, in order to use the technique you need some form of timer. There are dozens of apps on the Mac App Store, however most have run with the tomato theme and are, quite frankly, either seriously ugly, tacky or both.

Luckily Focus Timer (made by Nikita Zubkov) is none of the above, and is in fact an elegant, simple little Pomodoro app that fits perfectly with Yosemite’s sleek aesthetics.

The options are simple: set work interval lengths then either choose between a timed break or just leave it until you click to resume work. An overlay appears on your screen to prevent you from working, but doesn’t lock you out like some other apps do.

CaffeineCaffeine / Keeping You Awake

The sleep function on your Mac is useful for many reasons (not least security), but there are times when working that it’s a hassle to keep having to log back in or wake your Mac if you have been away for a while.

While you could keep changing the Energy Saver settings in System Preferences, this isn’t practical in the long-run.

This is where Caffeine comes in. It’s an incredibly simple app that sits in your Menubar and when clicked stops your Mac from sleeping, either indefinitely or for a time-period of your choice.

While Caffeine still does a perfect job, it hasn’t been updated since late 2010 and is starting to look dated, especially on retina Macs. As a result, developer Marcel Dierkes has written Keeping You Awake that does the same job, but with beautiful updated aesthetics.

OS X YosemiteOS X Yosemite

This may seem like a strange inclusion, but it’s surprising how many people don’t use Apple’s own wonderful tools built right into OS X.

My biggest time saver is Hot Corners; found in the Mission Control preference pane, which allows you to flick your mouse to a corner of the screen and have a designated action occur. I use them for Mission Control, Desktop and Dashboard. This means with a quick flick I can show all the documents and programs I can have running; immediately clear the screen to reveal the desktop; or open the Dashboard (which I mainly just use these days for Calculator these days).

In addition, Yosemite’s other productivity features include Spaces, the revamped Spotlight search and the new Notifications panel, which can aid your workflow in various ways. Spaces is particularly good for separating individual projects or even your work from play, and is something I use a lot.

Of course if you are feeling really adventurous, Automator can help you speed things up even more.


Although Yosemite’s new Spotlight search looks and works beautifully, it takes virtually all of its key features from Alfred, ironically almost Sherlocking it.

Launch bar apps have been around for a while now; first Butler paved the away, then Quicksilver set the standard for years, before the directly-titled LaunchBar became the market leader.

In 2010 Alfred came along and became an instant hit with its beautiful UI and dozens of time-saving features. It’s become an absolute must-have on my Macs, primarily for its app launching and file finding alone, but combined with the paid-for Powerpack add-on has become an incredible powerful tool.


While not strictly an app in the productivity sector, 1Password is well worth including as it’s something that will save you hours over time.

Although there are now quite a few apps of this nature, and with Apple itself trying to get in on the territory, 1Password was the original password manager, and is still by far and away the best around.

Much like all the other apps listed here, the UI is gorgeous and its integration within OS X and iOS is absolutely seamless. There’s an extension for Safari (and Chrome/Firefox/Opera if you desire), 1Password mini for the Menubar and of course, standalone Mac, iPad and iPhone apps.

The security benefits are obvious – allowing you to have different complex passwords for all the sites you visit – but the time saved in quick accessing your logins is worth it alone.

It’s easy to be put off by the relatively expensive cost, but once your integrate 1Password into your workflow the benefits soon become apparent. And, of course, you can’t put a price on keeping your data secure.