Mac Essentials: Apps For Productivity, Photography, Free Long Distance & More

Choosing tools for your workflow is an essential part of running a productive business and breathing life into your ideas. Here are the Mac apps that I get the most mileage from as a frequently-flying commercial photographer, entrepreneur, blogger and language learner.

18 Essential Mac Applications

  1. Evernote 

    Easily the most useful piece of software on my computer (I talk about it often). I think of it as my reference cabinet for cataloging ideas, inspirationphoto shoot locations, important documents, manuals and guides. It’s also where I do a lot of my planning and writing.

  2. Things 

    Another app I don’t know what I’d do without. If a to-do pops into my head, it goes right into Things. Knowing you won’t forgot your tasks means you don’t think about them unnecessarily. This clears room between your ears for creative thoughts to emerge. Not the cheapest, but worth every penny.

  3. TextExpander 

    Over the years you can waste days retyping the same thing over and over. TextExpander allows me to make codes that expand into larger text blocks (in any program). This saves me from repeat typing emails, addresses, HTML, etc.. To see how much time you’ve saved, go to Open TextExpander > Statistics.

  4. Quicksilver 

    I use this app so much I almost forgot to mention it. Quicksilver quietly runs behind the scenes—allowing me to quickly pull up apps in the fewest keyboard strokes. Just as a chef arranges his workstation to reduce wasted energy, other professionals (like pro creatives) conserve time with programs like this.

  5. Flycut 

    Flycut keeps a record of the last 40 things I copied so I don’t overwrite my clipboard by mistake.

  6. Dropbox 

    Dropbox’s free cloud storage has always been loveable—but now that other programs (including Things and TextExpander) are utilizing it, it’s practically obligatory. Great for sharing files with clients and friends. Use this referral link to get your first 500MB free.

  7. RescueTime 

    I use RescueTime to analyse my productivity, set goals and block distracting sites when I need to get focussed. This type of data-gathering may seem kind of invasive—but it’s private and immensely useful.

    Just a segment of RescueTIme’s data on how I spent last week

  8. Adobe Lightroom 4 

    I’ve used Lightroom since it was in its first beta and have loved every release. This is where I catalog all my photos and do 90% of my editing.

  9. Adobe Photoshop CS6 Extended 

    If my images need more detailed retouching, this is where it happens. Photoshop is also where I build some of the graphics that you see on this blog.

  10. Apple Mail

    Handles all three of my email addresses without a problem.

  11. Apple iCal

    I use iCal to manage no less than 9 calendars (which live on various Google servers). It’s not always perfect, but it works well most of the time.

  12. Apple Time Machine

    Set up to regularly back-up my hard drive to my Drobo.

  13. Transmission 

    A clean and simple BitTorrent client.

  14. Skype 

    Where I do most of my web-conferencing with clients and collaborators. It’s also the place I make funny faces at my nieces and nephew back home.

  15. Genius 

    I’m currently attempting to learn Mandarin. This is the cue card program I use to catalog my vocabulary and test my skills.

  16. Astrill
    I recommend getting a VPN for the added security and location-sensitive perks (like US Netflix, Hulu and BBC iPlayer).

    That being said, Astrill’s service is spotty and I’m ready to jump ship for another VPN service when my plan runs out in April (recommendations are welcome)! It made the list because I’ve used it every day for the last 8 months to get around the “great firewall” of China.

  17. Google Chrome 

    My browser of choice.

  18. Google Chat
    Google Chat has the smartest video chat interface I’ve ever seen. Sadly, I don’t get to use this as much as I’d like since Skype dominates the web-conferencing world.

    What I do use all the time is the free calling to Canadian/US numbers. I just flip my VPN to a North American network and, voilà, free long distance from anywhere in the world! You can call from Gmail, but I recommend this plugin which sits in your menu bar so you can make calls without opening Chrome.

Warning: Consider Workflow Before Tools

As professional creatives we must be intentional about the way we approach our business, art and lifestyle. Don’t adopt new tools just for the hell of it! In the same breath, don’t coast through life on default mode. Be flexible and improve your workflow and toolkit when it makes sense to do so.

Seeing as I’m writing to you from my home office in Shanghai, it seems fitting to finish with this Lǎozǐ quote.

“Strategy without tactics is a slow route to victory and tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” 


Which of these applications do you think will be most helpful to you? Let me know in the comments section below.

And don’t forget to subscribe to receive free out-of-the-box resources for fearless creatives!

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  • Sonia Goopta

    Evernote, Dropbox are some of the tools which I use on a regular basis for managing my work strategy. I am also aware of certain other tools as well which are being listed here. But one of my favorite tool that could also be a part of the list here is the cloud based hours tracking tool from Replicon. Its a hassle free tool which is all featured with the user friendly and calendar based interface and that makes it an intuitive tool to work with.

    • Ami Sanyal

      Thanks Sonia! I’ll check it out :)