Photo by Arthur Lambillotte on Unsplash

5 MacOS Tools to Boost Productivity and Remain Calm

Too many guides start with long speeches. I like my tech fast and my guides short. Let’s go.

1. Caps Lock navigation

Hands down my greatest tip — and I lead with that because I’m nice — is a guide to switching straight to all of your apps with just a single shortcut.

Wanna open Slack? CapsLock + S
Wanna open Emails? CapsLock + E
Wanna open iTerm2? CapsLock + T

  1. Install Karabiner-Elements.
  2. Open it and provide it all the permissions it asks for (Don’t worry it’s open-source, so you can check it’s not stealing your data).
  3. In the preferences, go to Complex Modifications > Rules > Add rule > Add “Change caps_lock to command+control+option+shift”
ccos is shorthand for command+control+option+shift

You know the shortcut to print in Office is Cmd + P? Well we’re going to be mimicking that here, but with all the modifier keys at once (command + control + option + shift) and throughout your entire system.

You know you’ll never clash with another program’s shortcuts because no sane software would expect you to have that kind of dexterity.

4. Open the file ~/.config/karabiner/karabiner.json.

If you’re new to opening hidden files, open Terminal and type nano ~/.config/karabiner/karabiner.json. Make the changes below, and when you’re ready to exit, hit Ctrl + X, then Y to save the changes.

Within the square braces next to the word “rules”:[ … ], you should see the rule you added in Step 3.

5. Copy paste the following beneath the existing rule and change the description, key_code, and shell_command to whatever apps you like!

You’ll find most of your apps in either /Applications, /Users/user/Applications, or /System/Applications.

Add a rule for every application you use, just be careful to add a comma between each rule. If you just want to skip customisation and just use my setup or want a full example, here’s my personal karabiner.json file.

With this set-up, I heavily recommend full-screening everything so that each app gets its own space both digitally and mentally. It helps me to avoid distraction and to zone in on tasks one at a time.

I also suggest keeping only one window open for browsers, so that you have a singular port of call for all things internet.

Finally, if you’re like me, the OSX sliding transition will hurt your head. It adds a layer of orientation that my brain insists on keeping track of which does nothing but make me tired.

So, head to the OSX settings > Accessibility > Display > Reduce Motion ☑️

Now, you get a wonderfully soft fade as you jump around.

Smoooooooth as butter 🧈

2. Alfred 4 + bookmarks

Alfred 4 is a search bar on roids. Despite the endless community-made features on offer, I get the greatest use out of the baked-in bookmark searching (huh?!).

As a dev at freetrade.io, many different environments run our code on its journey from development to production. To help me investigate how my code is behaving, there are a handful of sites I frequent such as the Firestore UI or GCP logs.

But for each of these environments exists another set of these same tools. Worse, these pages are slow to load.

I could just open any Firestore page, wait for it to load, navigate to the ‘Project select’, and wait for that to load… but given I might open these pages over 50 times a day, that’s valuable time wasted.

8 easy to remember characters, and I’ve filtered to just 2 of my hundreds of bookmarks
  1. In Other Bookmarks(just so it’s hidden), I create a folder for each tool.
  2. I then bookmark every variant of that tool within that folder, with the variant as its name.

Now, I can type Alt+Space and a couple of unique characters from the folder and its variant name, and be taken straight there!

3. Magnet

While I always use full-screen where possible, its features are rudimentary. OSX really made the least effort they could to get it out the door.

If you didn’t know, you can full-screen two apps side-by-side by going into mission control mode, and dragging a non-full-screen window onto a full-screen one.

Enter Magnet. Just look at those reviews!

This image from their store page best highlights their core features.

With a couple of easy to learn keyboard shortcuts, you can arrange your windows in all manners of ways. While you may not feel that using your mouse to do this is difficult, as someone who’s tackled with RSI, minimising the use of my mouse has been the greatest preventative measure.

This is the only tool on the list that’s not free, but I’d argue it easily pays its dues.

4. Trello

My brain is part-time useful, full-time scattered. In a job where I need to be able to switch quickly between tasks, it’s easy for a slack message from a few hours ago to be forgotten until my head hits the pillow.

After a lot of experimentation, my weapon of choice for keeping afloat is Trello. This intuitive Kanban board makes it a breeze to keep track of tasks when it feels like the sky is falling in.

Photo by SchuKnight on WordPress

Its friendly colours and rounded edges bring back fond memories of the sadly sunset Wunderlist ☀️

Taking the time to create columns that work best for you is crucial. As you complete tickets, you should be looking to move them from left to right. My ‘Done’ column makes filling out my weekly report a rapid task, at the end of which I can archive all the tickets in the list and have a nice clean board for the week ahead. Talk about reducing mental clutter 🧹

A great feature is that you can create tickets from anywhere using the Quick Add shortcut. I find this a particularly useful way to take notes in meetings or to delay a distracting thought.

If you followed 1., set this to ccos + space for real quick access 🧠

If I receive a request through Slack, I’ll quick-add a link to the chat, and it’ll enter my queue. I’ll assess whether I need to switch to the new task and, if not, can continue with my current work having protected focus that would otherwise have been lost from context-switching.

5. Vimium

This little puppy can seem pretty intense on the face of it — but give yourself a day to become accustomed and you’ll fall in love with it. Whilst best supported on Chrome, versions are also available for both Safari and Firefox.

Providing an array of keyboard shortcuts for online browsing, its true power lies in the f shortcut. On almost any page, tap f and everything clickable will have a key combo placed upon it. A combo often only two characters long, hit those keys and it clicks the link for you.

If you’ve not seen this film, do yourself a favour 🥁

Again, this may not sound like your cup of tea, but for any online power-users (and let's be frank, almost all of us are) this is a must-have in their OSX arsenal.

f: open a link in the current tab
F: open a link in a new tab
?: display all the key commands
H/L: go back/forth in history
j/k: scroll up/down
J/K: go left/right in tabs

That’s all for now. Writing is a skill I contend with, and one I’m using these posts to improve. Constructive feedback is always welcome and highly encouraged, so that I may learn all I can from your wonderful mind.

dubious dev, fintech friend, sloppy skier | he/him