Top Productivity Apps for 2018


Here are the apps that I recommended the most globally in 2018. There are other apps that I used all the time (like SublimeText, iTerm, Overcast, Tweetbot, Dash, and GitKraken, Alfred, and Bartender), but most of those apps do tasks that not every user needs (i.e. not everyone codes as much as I do).

What follows are apps that I think everyone should consider. Most of the apps are alternatives to functionality that is baked into the operating system. However, the apps that I enumerate below have extra features that make working with tech faster and a bit more enjoyable.

Omnifocus

Omnifocus is one of the foremost todo-list apps on the market, with over a dozen years of reputation behind it. It replaces your built-in "Reminders" app, and gives you a robust system to keep track of all of your tasks. It's built to tailor to David Allen's famous "Getting Things Done" (GTD) methodology.

Omnifocus features a quick-entry keyboard shortcut, that removes all the friction from entering in tasks. Whenever I'm working on something and I realize that there is some task that I remember that I need to do later, I can quickly capture it through the quick-entry feature. This makes it harder to miss deadlines or to forget to do things.

If you have a lot of things going on, and are worried about things slipping through the cracks, then you'll need something like Omnifocus.

Alternatives: I've heard good things about Things3, but have never used it.

Fantastical

Fantastical replaces the built-in calendar on your devices. There are two main selling points of Fantastical. First, the calendar opens exceedingly rapidly either by clicking on the dock icon (which I never do), or by a customizable keyboard shortcut (such as command-option-space, that I use all the time). Second, the calendar accepts natural language input, meaning that you don't have to click through a bunch of fields when creating an event.

Together, these two features remove all of the friction of entering new events. As a result, the calendar is a system that I can trust, such that if there is a hole in the calendar, I truly know that I am free at that time, and I'm not forgetting anything.

Fantastical has a really slick feature that allows you to drag tasks from Omnifocus onto your calendar, which helps you block out time in your week to devote towards projects. As far as I know, Fantastical is the only calendar with this feature.

If your weekly schedule is pretty regular, and you don't have a lot of meetings to go to, then you probably don't need a tool that is specifically designed towards quick-entry of events. However, if you're oversubscribed like me, having a tool like Fantastical helps you manage your busy life in a way that the built-in calendar does in a cludgy way.

Alternatives: I've heard good things about Busycal, but it seems to me that Busycal is mostly a power-user tool. For most people, I think the built-in calendar is fine.

Bear

Bear is the replacement of the Notes app on your phone. It's a location to capture all of your notes/research/things to remember at some arbitrary future date. For a long time, I used Evernote for this function, but stopped for a few reasons:

  1. Evernote tried to do EVERYTHING, but didn't do the things that I wanted. It could remind you about a note at a future date, for example (Omnifocus and Fantastical are better for this), but it made it really hard to bulk-export data out of its app.
  2. Evernote had too many organizational features. It gave you notebooks, subnotebooks, tags, etc..., when really, its search tool was enough to find something. I didn't need to organize notes into a "Sermons" category to be able to retrieve something later, I just had to search for some text that I needed. Also, Evernote asks for a title for every note, which is also usually overkill.
  3. Evernote was slooooowwwwww................ (still loading.........).......
  4. Evernote didn't support Markdown

On the other hand, Bear is beautiful, fast, and simple. Best of all, Bear supports Markdown! This makes it ideal for copying and pasting text in and out of Bear, especially if you use Markdown in a lot of your other workflows (which I do, such as in emails, shooting text messages, and blogging).

AirMail

Airmail replaces your built-in email client. It has often-requested features that the built-in client doesn't have, such as snooze. It supports all major email providers (Gmail, Outlook, etc...). My favorite feature is the way that you can triage messages inside the app, which allows you to quickly process email into Fantastical, Omnifocus, Bear, etc..., such that you're always left with an empty inbox when you're done (ahhh! Inbox zero :D)

Alternatives: I've tried a few other apps that do some of these things, like Dispatch and Spark Mail. I've just found AirMail to be the best so far.

1Password

1Password replaces your built-in password manager. It's 2018, and unless you don't use a computer (which is unlikely, given that you're reading this on some sort of a screen), you need a password manager.

Most people likely employ some dangerous strategies for password management:

  1. Use a few passwords for everything. This means that if somebody gets access to one of those passwords, they can break into many many other accounts.
  2. Using insecurely-generated passwords. I know too many people that use the names of pets, relatives, or places they've lived in their passwords. Hackers can guess thousands of passwords a second, and if they know a little bit about you, chances are the "randomness" that you're employing to your password (changing an o to a 0) will be cracked with a few milliseconds of extra effort.

The solution to this is to use a password manager to generate, store, and retrieve high-entropy passwords. Think of a password manager as an added layer of protection against identity theft. Additionally, most password managers auto-fill login forms with your username and password based on whatever vault is active, so you can rapidly log into sites faster than if you were re-using one or two passwords for everything.

1Password is specifically designed with Mac in mind, and is a very affordable solution for families, who often will have unique passwords for each user, and shared accounts (like Amazon, etc...) that multiple people in the family may share. When all of the accounts for multiple family members are managed by a single password manager, if mom changes the password to site A, and everyone is using the auto-fill feature, then dad and all the kids don't even noticed that the passwords were changed, but can still log into the site.

1Password also has features for keeping track of software licenses, scanned photos of identity and membership documents (drivers license, passport, which are really helpful if they get lost while international), and social security numbers of family members.

Alternatives: Lastpass.

YNAB

Nearly 80% (and increasing) of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck. This is partially because only ~30% have a budget (according to a 2013 Gallup poll). I am amazed that of all the built-in apps that Apple ships with (News, Stocks, Home, Books, Podcasts, etc...), they don't have a budget app.

YNAB stands for "You Need a Budget", and is the best budgeting software that my wife and I have used. If you're feeling like you can't afford the subscription cost for the software, keep in mind that most people feel like they get a raise the moment they start budgeting. If you don't tell every dollar what to do, they'll all do whatever they want, and you'll be wondering where they all went. Assuming you make $50k/year (median US salary), it's a bargain to pay 0.1% of your income to reclaim the other 99.9%.

YNAB has features that synchronize all your transactions with your bank against your budget.

Alternatives: Everydollar is an app built by Dave Ramsey, but it's somewhat newer and hasn't caught up to YNAB yet in features, and is a little more expensive.. Some people use Mint because it's cheaper, but they're constantly marketing to you through banner ads and referrals, and they sell your aggregate financial data to other providers.

Dropbox

You probably already know about this one. In case you don't, Dropbox synchronizes folders on your device to all of your other devices and makes them available by logging into your account from Dropbox.com on any computer around the world. This is a godsend in some edge cases, such as when you're device is broken and you need to access a file on a working computer at work or at the library.

I keep 90% of the files that I work on in Dropbox. The other 10% are large files that are downloaded or generated by scripts within my Dropbox. This ensures that in the case of a sudden hard drive failure, I can recover all of my files by installing Dropbox on a new computer. This technique is on top redundancy provided by services like TimeMachine.

Alternatives: iCloud, OneDrive, Box. I use Dropbox because I heard about it first, and it seems to be the most-utilized. I also was an early adopter and invited a bunch of my classmates in college to use the service, and got extra storage space in the process.

AnyList

This one isn't as necessary as the others I listed here, but it comes in handy in my life. Omnifocus has promised to roll out features for shared todo lists between users, but it hasn't gotten there yet. In the mean time, my wife and I use an app called AnyList to sync our grocery list. Whenever either of us realizes that we need anything from the store, it goes on AnyList. AnyList is lightning fast when it comes to synchronization, which means that Mateja and I can divide-and-conquer at the store to purchase things twice as fast.