My Favorite Mac Software for Work [Repost]

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[The following is a repost of an entry I did on my personal blog. At the time I wrote this I had yet to do the review of Circus Ponies NoteBook.]

 

The Mac at Work

I was a PC guy for more than 15 years before I switched to Mac. When I say I was a PC guy, I don’t mean I simply used PCs, I knew PCs. I would program my own batch files, root around the hard drive using DOS commands (even after Windows had arrived), and regularly did my own hardware upgrades.

When I was a PC guy I was one of those people that looked at Macs as geared more toward creative endeavors as opposed to work. While I knew there was MS Office for Mac, I still thought of Mac as the place for photo editing, audio, and video production.

Ironically, since switching to Mac, my computer has become far more of a work machine. I have found myself utilizing more and more applications for organization, writing, brainstorming and general productivity. So, for my Mac friends (and those considering switching) here are some of my favorite programs for getting work done on the Mac.


Writing

My writing workflow usually starts with written notes on 6X9 pads or Moleskines. I then review my notes by creating a mindmap using MindNode Pro. This program let me brainstorm and rearrange my ideas until I have the general structure for my paper. I then export the mindmap as an OPML file and open it in OmniOutliner. Most of my outlining is done in OmniOutliner, and then exported to Scrivener as an OPML file. The nice part about the OPML file format is that Scrivener will import this file and automatically create all the sections of my paper based on the outline. Once the Scrivener project has been created, I type in all my written notes. I realize that this is an extra step I could have avoided by taking note in Scrivener, but it allows me to refresh my memory and organize my notes before I begin writing. From this point on all my writing is done in Scrivener. Since Scrivener is meant to take you from idea to draft and not finished copy, I eventually export my Scrivener project as an RTF and open it in Nisus Writer Pro for final formatting. Nisus is a great word processor that has replaced my need for MS Word. It has a clean interface, and allows me to add comments to documents (including MS documents), track changes, and even export my work as an ebook in the EPub format.


Organization

There are a number of great programs on the Mac for planning, organization and record keeping. I use iCal as my everyday calendar, but I supplement it with iDeskCal. iDeskCal lets me keep my calendar events on my desktop even when iCal is not open. I can see all my upcoming events and even add new events or to-dos with some keyboard shortcuts or via the menu bar.

University committees, department committees, article reviews, writing projects and life in general often require more than a calendar. I have used Taskpaper for simple to-do lists and really liked it, but for a more complete Getting Things Done approach to organizing I prefer OmniFocus (although Things is a great and cheaper alternative). OmniFocus allows me to separate projects from the actions to necessary to complete a project. I can set due dates and reminders, create subfolders, and embed one project inside another.

One aspect of personal organization that has often eluded me is what to do with the little bits of information that don’t fit nicely into a single category. For example, I might have a list of my tenure/promotion related activities, a short list of committee heads, web site user names, products I’m interested in buying etc. I generally rely on a free program called nvALT which allows me to save information as plain text files that are incredibly easy to search. I have set nvALT to save all my notes to a folder in Dropbox, which also allows me to easily add and edit files using a text editor on my iPad.

While nvALT is great for small bits of information, I am still looking for that perfect note taking application. I would like to be able to easily take and organize notes in meetings and for reports without transferring everything from handwritten form. While I like doing this when I write, I would rather have a more efficient system for non-writing activities. Right now I am trying NoteBook by Circus Ponies, but I will have to suspend judgment until I have really taken it through its paces.


Efficiency (warning—very geeky)

There are times when the Dock and the mouse are not the most convenient way to get things done. I prefer to use keystrokes when I can to open applications. I haves used Quicksilver, and Alfred to do things like launch applications, but my favorite is Launchbar. Launchbar allows me to quickly launch applications using Command + spacebar, highlight a file and quickly attach it to a new email, perform simple calculator functions, search the dictionary, and a hundred other things I have yet to learn.

Another (psychologically) helpful little application is My Little Pomodoro. My Little Pomodoro helps in my constant fight against procrastination. It is basically a timer that allows me to track the work I do on individual projects in 25 minutes chunks (or whatever length you may want to set). It also allows me to look at each activity, the date, and the time spent on it. For those not familiar with the Pomodoro Technique, you can read about it here.


Additional Productivity Applications

There are a few applications I have heard good things about and would like to take for a spin. Recently, ProductiveMac is offering a great deal on Mac productivity applications. I already mentioned Launchbar and Notebook, but also included is Fantastical, BusyCal, Home Inventory, Default Folder X, Cashculator and Tags. Aside from Notebook, I am particularly interested in BusyCal for advanced calendar functions; Tags for more fine-grained organization and searching of documents, emails etc., and Default Folder X which allows you to access folder more quickly than with Finder (though Launchbar may make this application unnecessary). Fantastical, another application I have tested, is great for the intuitive way you can enter events in iCal. For a detailed review of these apps see the recent MacWorld review of this software bundle.


Side Note:Most Mac software developers offer educational discounts on their software. Although many will place this information on their website, often times you have to contact them directly by email. In my experience, the lowest discount if around 15% with some offering savings in of 50% or more—so it never hurts to ask before purchasing.

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