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5 productivity apps for Mac that help me blast through the day

Every day I sit down to create some kind of content, and there are 5 apps that I couldn’t get by without – today I tell which ones they are, and why I use them

Apps for productivity on a Mac

Groundhog Day

Some apps sit there doing nothing, yet others I rely on every day.

You know what it’s like, sometimes you hear about the next great productivity app and download it, but then it never sees the light of day again. Others are at the core of what I need to get done, whether writing, image editing or working on podcasts.

In a recent blog, I walked you through the apps in my doc. Today, I thought I’d focus on the ones that I open, use and rely on every day to get the job done. Although all are creatively based, they all perform a different role in my day.

Being a creature of habit, I tend to broadly speaking compartmentalise my day into the same sections or slots – I find that having a structure in place helps me to focus on what I need to do. And the day always starts with writing.

1. Ulysses

If you are serious about writing and you work on a Mac, you need to take a look at Ulysses.

There are a couple of reasons I use Ulysses, the first of which is that it’s aimed at writers and is distraction-free. With native word processor apps such as Apple’s Pages or the ubiquitous Word from Microsoft, they all have a UI that means your focus is taken away from the job in hand – writing!

With Ulysses, there are no ribbons, font choices, or format decisions to make. All you get is a blank screen and a blinking cursor. When you first install it you make a couple of choices and after that, you are left to get on with what you are there to do. It’s based on the Markdown method of writing. If you’ve not come across that term before, let me explain.

With Markdown, you write in plain text and don’t move away from your writing to search for italics, quotes, or headings. Instead, you simply use quick, easy keyboard shortcuts for inserting special characters to create headers, boldface, bullets, and so on. About eighteen months ago I was new to the idea as well, but now it is second nature. You don’t realise until you work and write with Markdown quite how productive & efficient it is.

It has a reasonable onboard spell-checker, but for a belts-and-braces approach, I use Grammarly alongside it to speed up my workflow and create error-free posts. And there is one other hidden gem about Ulysses I adore too.

If you have a WordPress-based website such as mine, Ulysses publishes directly to it. It does away with the need to copy and paste and makes the process slick and super simple.

So, I write the blog in Ulysses, then publish it to my site. That way it means I retain all rights and can prove ownership. The final step is then to copy the URL from my site to Medium. I have to spend a few minutes re-formatting headings, but apart from that, that’s the blog part of my day is done.

2. Photoshop

I come from a graphic design background, so dear old Photoshop has been part of my DNA for more years than I care to remember.

On the simplest end of the scale, I use it to make the thumbnail you see at the top of every Medium Post. I make sure to keep the images small here for quick rendering and also meaning that huge files don’t clutter up my website either.

There is an ongoing argument about the fact that Adobe’s Creative Cloud is purely subscription-based. I get it, honestly, I do, but for me, it’s a no-brainer. It costs me about £50 per month, but as I use multiple apps every day as you’re about to discover, it represents pretty decent value.

While there are pretenders to the Photoshop crown, for me PS is still the king. Once you get into it, Photoshop is just so much fun. The freedom it gives you to create images super-fast is staggering.

It’s once you start to get into layers and blending modes that the magic happens – you can easily get lost in time. Admittedly, the images I use here are simple enough to edit, but the thumbnails I make for the YouTube videos are often a little more tricky, and certainly, when it comes to the work I have to create for clients, I’d be at a loss without Photoshop.

Adobe was one of the first tech giants to recognise the benefits of AI. They have used Sensei for years at this point and it has become a standard across all their apps. Where once cutting out an image for instance would have taken many patient hours of creating layer masks, now you can do the same task, and often even better carried out with Sensei and AI.

Like it or not artificial intelligence is here to stay – not only in the creative space but life in general. I’m sure there will be some downsides & dark days with it ahead, but just remember, this is AI as bad as it’s ever going to be. It can and will only get better.

3. Lightroom

Another of the Adobe CC apps I use every day is Lightroom

In many ways, it’s similar to Photoshop, yet distinctly unique. It is way more image focused and based. I only started to use Lightroom after buying my first DSLR camera. The camera gives me the ability to use the raw CR3 files which are large and choc-full of uncompressed data.

The benefit of putting your images in Lightroom before Photoshop is the speed and ease with which you can manipulate images. The UI is designed and set up to get you right into the colour space – again, similar to Ulysses, without distraction. Even for the novice, it is a case of using easy, obvious sliders to adjust exposure, shadows and highlights.

There are three parts of the app that I love though – the presets, exporting choices and framing. On that first page, you’ll see the preset button at the top and you just scroll through to find the preset that best suits your intended result – it’s a great starting point at least. You can then choose how much of that look to apply and still play around with the point curve to further tweak the image to get it just so.

Editing the framing is brilliant. Once you’ve chosen your aspect ratio you just drag and move the image around to get it positioned perfectly. And in that same space is a straightening tool which is so simple to use.

As the pro iPhones are now shooting raw and give you the option to export the drg files, again, it may be worth you downloading Lightroom and having a play.

It’s not at all intimidating and is so creative. You’d be amazed at the differences you can make to a fairly average image by the time you’ve finished editing it. Lightroom is an app you’ll have fun with – promise.

4. Premiere Pro

Every time I open YouTube and check out my homepage feed, I am bombarded with creators shouting at me that they are leaving Premiere or Final Cut and running with DaVinci Resolve.

Now, I have never been afraid to sing my song and do things my way, but I just don’t get why Premiere Pro is getting such a hard rap right now. I’ll admit it went through a bit of a sticky phase when Apple silicon first came along.

Back then Premiere had to run through Rosetta which was a virtual workflow. Adobe was not optimised for Apple silicon at the start, so running it through Rosetta was its workaround. For the most part, it wasn’t too bad, but it was noticeably slower and more buggy. I found it freezing more often than it once had and just didn’t feel as stable.

But now, all that is a thing of the past. Hand on heart, I can’t remember the last time it ‘beach balled’ on me or crashed. It’s as fast and slick as I can ever recall. Have you ever gone through that experience of falling in love with an app all over again? Well, that is me with Premiere Pro these days. I look forward to opening it more than ever and getting to work on the next project.

Of all the parts of making my weekly videos, without a doubt, it’s getting creative in the edit suite that I love the most. Using Sensei once again it’s a master in synchronising audio from my shotgun mic to the audio from the camera. There are also simple tools to remix and either extend or shorten the length of music tracks and beds.

And the Essential panels – either Essential Sound or Essential Graphics are brilliant. The Essential Sound panel is in essence like having a trained audio producer in your team. With a few simple sliders, and no knowledge required, you can fix, EQ and alter the audio to sound like a pro had been hard at work on it for hours. Matching clips to audio loudness standards is quick and painless and colour grading has been made even easier now – again with one-touch sliders being used. You can even reference the colour LUT from your favourite movie and replicate it in your videos.

Where exporting was once confusing, Premiere has now made it foolproof. All you need to do is choose the format and platform you want to export for, and Premiere does the rest.

I know in essence all video editing apps do the same thing – chop, delete and export, but Premiere now makes it about as easy as it can get. All fads are cyclical, but I bet it won’t be long until Premiere is once again feeling the love.

5. RiversideFM

I am a recent convert to this one – but so far, from what I’ve seen of it, I love it. Let me give you the backstory.

For almost a year now, I have been posting my podcast Minus Sixteen which I record with Alex from Alex Gear & Tech in video format form along with the audio version. Recording a video podcast is not as easy as it may seem and there are several stumbling blocks – the primary one of which is bandwidth and buffering.

Everything to do with video is huge – the files, and the amount of data it creates is insane. I had been using Ecamm but there was one issue that I simply couldn’t overcome which was poor video recording quality. The audio was fine as Ecamm captures each person’s track individually. The problem was if there was any degradation in bandwidth during the recording. I’ve had many podcasts affected but poor quality, and there was no fix for it. I contacted the guys at Ecamm support and there was nothing they could suggest.

Sure, in a perfect world, we’d all have gigabit fibre connections, but sadly in the real world that is not the case. So, as much as I hate change, for the last episode, after a lot of research and reading up, I switched over to RiversideFM to use as my app to record it.

Riverside has quite a few advantages I am coming across as I start to learn the platform, but the main advantage it has is that it records locally on the guest’s side, so it is not reliant on connections. In a stroke the anxiety about if the connection was going to drop or the picture become pixelated was gone.

It works only via Edge or Chrome, and it is all cloud-based – even for me the host. All your guest has to do is leave the tab open on their side until the file uploads at the end. After that, it’s all there for me to grab, download, edit and export. You create a virtual studio for each session and you can just leave it there in case you ever have that guest on again.

At the end of the session, you have all audio stems in 48k hi-res wav formats, a combined file and a choice to download in 4K or 1080. The Riverside app even creates backups in case the worse should happen and you lose everything. In the app’s editor, you can even export the audio directly to Spotify, make a portrait video to use as a short promo for the podcast or export it as a Premiere Pro timeline.

As I said, I am new to RiversideFM but from what I have seen and learned firsthand, so far I am mightily impressed. Luckily they are at the London Podcast Show that I will be going to in a few weeks, and I will be sure to tap them up and learn some more about its awesome capabilities.

Wrapping up

So there you go – an insight into my creative Mac-based day and the apps I rely on to make content.

So far today, I have used Lightroom, Photoshop and Ulysses. Later in the day, Premiere will be cracked open and so too will Audition. That’s one app I didn’t get around to talking about today, but I can visit that with you another time.

If you are in the creative field and are looking for apps and tools to help you through your day, then give any of my top five a go.

The amount of content I can create quickly and efficiently with these apps speaks for itself – let me know what apps you use and if there are any others you think I should be checking out.

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