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1st look at my dock – how I set up my MacBook Pro for a creative workflow

Part of the fun of a new MacBook is personalising it – I’ve never shared this before, so let’s look at what apps I can’t live without

MacBook Pro - apps in my dock

That new feeling

I bought this MacBook Pro almost a year ago – and it was probably one of the best purchases, or investments, that I’ve made.

I can still clearly remember the day it turned up. Even with all the gear that comes through these doors, the feeling of a new work MacBook, never tires. I stress the work part, as that makes a massive difference.

I’ll typically spend well over fifty hours each week in front of my main workhorse, so, it’s important to get it right – from the Mac you choose, to the layout, and apps you load up and save to your dock.

The choice

I’d owned MacBooks before, a couple, actually.

Both were 15-inch Intel models, which were OK, but never my main, daily machine, so I’d never felt too attached to them.

I guess the first Mac that I’d ever grown really close to, was the first Mac I spec’d up, and not bought off-the-shelf. I’m convinced that the simple process of being involved in the build of your Mac, makes a difference to how you feel about. From the get-go, it feels more personal – you feel an attachment.

For me, the first Mac I bought, that was not off the self, was a 2015, 27-inch iMac. It was built very much with my graphic design business in mind, and it served me well.

I speak about it in the past tense, but it’s still very much with me. I have spent so many hours with it, and got so many memories attached to it, I can’t see myself ever letting it go. How bloody daft is that? It’s only a Mac, after all – a computer – a tool of my trade, and yet…

Time for change

But after seven long, and trouble-free years, it was time to move on from that iMac.

Not only had I noticed it starting to slow down in tasks it would once have flown through, but more importantly, Apple silicon had come to be. Not only had the tech changed, and evolved, but so to had the demands I was making of my Mac.

My design business is still very much alive, but is now only a part of my work life. Content creation, in one form or another, is now front and centre every day, and the demands it makes on my Mac are very different.

This time last year, I took the decision to move away from a desktop iMac, and instead, invest heavily in a MacBook instead. Like many, I had found new ways of working through COVID, and I had learned that flexibility was key to the way I now wanted to work.

The new M series of chips that Apple had launched made everything possible. Tasks that would once have required all the might an iMac or Mac Pro could offer, could now be carried out on the fly. Apple silicon changed the way we can work.

I’d read, watched and listened to so many reviews and opinions on the new MacBooks, that I knew that was the way forward. Although it was stupidly expensive, I’ve honestly never regretted the outlay for a moment.

As my demands have grown, the MacBook Pro has matched my needs. I bought it with as much headroom as I could. I knew from experience that ticking a few extra option boxes when checking-out, would bear fruit moving forward. And I’ve been proven right.

Getting down to business

Of course, buying the MacBook Pro was only the start.

No matter what specs you’ve chosen, it’s not until you get it out the box, and fire it up, that it starts to truly become yours, and earn its keep.

I’ve written everyday on Medium for over a year now, but I realised I had never before pulled back the curtains and talked over what apps I use. What apps warrant a ‘right-click’ to keep in the dock! Well today, that is precisely what I am going to do – welcome to my MacBook, and working life.

The line-up of apps in anyone’s dock is a giveaway to what their demands are. You could probably make a good guess at what someone does for a living by checking out the dock on their MacBook. And, I’m no different. If I was the victim on Through The Keyhole, it would pretty obvious what I do.

If you are a content creator, designer, or writer, it may interest you to know what creative apps I use to get me through the day.

Natively right

It may surprise you to learn, that for some of the essential tasks, I stick with the native apps that ship with the MacBook.

I have always used Mac Mail as my mail client, for instance. I don’t see the need to spend hours shopping around for another app, that essentially works just fine for me. The same holds true for the calendar app as well.

I do have Microsoft Word loaded, but you won’t find it in the dock. Again, when it comes to the basic work, or admin apps, I am more than happy with Pages and Numbers. For me, familiarity means speed, and speed equals efficiency.

The Photo’s app, until recently, had not been in my dock, but as of a couple of weeks back, it now is. I shoot quite a few images on my iPhone 14 Pro, and I’ve found it’s quicker to download the photos from the Photo app, rather than rely on AirDrop. Actually, I’ve quite enjoyed the Photo’s app – it’s been ages since I’ve used it, and it’s come a long way.

Time to browse

Continuing on the native theme, it’s pretty much the same when it comes to my browser.

Safari has always worked well for me. It’s quick enough, and works quietly in the background. Again, I know how it works, (are you sensing a pattern?), and I like its layout.

But, for the last year, Chrome has been right next to it in my dock. It’s not that I’ve fallen out with Safari at all. Using Chrome had become a necessity. Uploading videos to YouTube is actually a way better experience using Chrome. I had initially tried to stay loyal to Safari, but it was less intuitive.

There are a few extensions that I run on Chrome to help when uploading. The developers of those extensions don’t offer Safari options – so, once again, for the best experience, I switch over to Chrome when posting a video to my YouTube channel.

I’m a massive fan of the Reminders app and use it all the time. The moment something pops in to my mind, I open the app and set a reminder. It can be to chase up on an email, pay a bill, or to call someone back…the Reminders app just frees up bandwidth for my head.

Next to that, is another native MacBook app – Notes. I don’t really make notes in it, but have various templates saved there. For instance, all the wording from the title, to hashtags, time stamps, and affiliate links, that you see under my videos, are all just a straight copy and paste from my Notes app.

I have folders set up for YouTube, Podcasts, and Blogging. For instance, if I think of a great idea for a blog, I’ll jot it down in the Notes app.

Music for the mind

So, now we come to the music apps.

My favoured app is Apple Music. Spotify is in the dock, but may soon be culled! I rarely use it. With my music background, I don’t need to rely on the mighty Spotify algorithm, I tend to know what I want to listen to. To that point, the one big advantage that Apple Music has for me, is that it has years worth of my albums saved to it.

With Apple Music, I can rip, and upload many rare CDs that just aren’t available to stream or buy online. So, for me, Apple Music is just more personal.

I am a big podcast listener, but listen to the majority of them when out walking, or away from the desk. So, for the odd times I listen to a podcast in the studio, I simply stick with Apple’s Podcast player. I have been tempted to look in to Overcast though – any thoughts?

Audio Hijack is an app I came across a few years ago, and is fantastic. I love the way you can create virtual audio interfaces in it. Using Audio Hijack means I can create an interface for Ecamm, or Zoom, which then means I can record 32-bit audio in Audition for podcasts and interviews.

Time to get creative

OK, so now we are getting into the bread & butter of what makes my days tick – the creative apps I rely on.

The first of those is the app I use to write these blogs in – Ulysses. Not only do I write all these blogs in it, but also all the scripts for my videos too. It’s intuitive, stripped back and clutter-free. Not only is all that true, but crucially, it links directly to WordPress. That means, the moment a blog is written, I can load it up to my website, before publishing it to Medium later on. It’s a Mac only app, and one I can’t recommend highly enough.

I am an avid Adobe user, so next, we come to those apps. I’ve subscribed to Adobe’s Creative Cloud for years now. Because I use so many of their apps, to me, the sub represents decent value for money.

As each year passes, I seem to add more of their apps to my dock. Currently, I have Audition, In Design, Premiere Pro, Lightroom, Photoshop, Acrobat, and Illustrator saved. Of those, I guess I’ll use Photoshop and Premiere the most. The beauty is, once you know how one app works, then it doesn’t take too long to get used to another. Also, there is a great synergy between them that makes working in Creative Cloud apps so easy.

I try to group the apps in a logical order, so next to Premiere, I have another couple of video-based apps – namely Screenflow, and Ecamm.

Screenflow is used to screen capture video for the tutorial-based videos I make, and Ecamm is the powerful video app I use for my Minus Sixteen podcast. Both take a little getting used to, but once you’ve got in to them, they are both fantastic apps that play a big part in my creative life. One thing I really love with Ecamm is that it captures the audio of all guests, independently. That means in post, I can EQ each guest in Audition, to make them sound at their best.

Home run

Those last few apps were the meat in my daily content-creators sandwich, the ones that come next, are not as essential, but ones I still use regularly enough to warrant them being in the dock.

The photographer’s social media site Vero is the first of those. I came across it last year – think of it as an ad – free, site to enjoy the work of some great photographers. It never ceases to amaze me at some of the creativity that’s out there. Vero is a very inspiring environment.

Next, and virtually at the far right-hand side of my dock, are the Speedtest, Discord, and Waves Central apps.

The speed-test speaks for itself. I have set up a Discord server for my channel, but it has never really taken off – may be one day! Waves makes many of the audio plug-ins I use, and that is where I save licences, and get updates from.

After that, we have just a few apps left – the native calculator app, and Apple News. I added that to the dock after I switched over to the Apple One bundle. As it was part of the subscription, I have added it to the dock, as I can take a quick look each morning to catch up on news, F1 gossip, oh, and Apple news too.

Then I have a font suitcase called Connect Fonts that I have used for years in my design business. It works brilliantly with In Design, Photoshop, and Illustrator, and is a great way to store and work with fonts.

The last two apps are Duet and Cannon. The Cannon one is obviously linked to my 90D camera, and Duet is a monitor sharing app that I will use if I want to use my iMac as an extended monitor.

Wrapping up

So, there you go – a walk through my dock. Now you know what I use to make my days tick.

Each of those apps comes in to its own at some part of every day, or week. They all play their part in me getting the amount of content I create out of the door and online.

It’s never a finished process. Some new app always crops up, but for now, that dock line-up is working really well for me.

I’ve scattered a fair number of links throughout where you can find these apps, but if you need any more details, just leave a comment, and I’ll get back to you.

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