Photo: Domenico Loia

By Tom Twardzik

Sometimes, the difference between a successful day of work and a frustrating one is a set of efficient, uncomplicated tools. For someone working from home or otherwise away from the office, the primary tool set is often a computer. A standard word processor, a default email client and the desktop sticky notes might be enough to complete your tasks, but a more personalized and powerful desktop will boost your productivity and overhaul your creative process. The Mac apps below highlight the best ways to upgrade your tool set for a more efficient home or remote office.

Basic productivity

What are some of the most basic actions you perform on your computer? Copy-and-paste and resizing and arranging windows. Saving a fraction of a second every time you perform these actions adds up quickly, and several apps will help you do that.

Magnet.

Magnet has been at the top of the paid apps chart for months. This $0.99 utility gives your desktop more than a dozen shortcuts for resizing and arranging the windows on your screen. Whether you're on an 11" laptop or a 27" iMac, Magnet snaps any window into size and position with a number of keyboard shortcuts. It makes decluttering your digital workspace much simpler than decluttering your desk will ever be.

iPaste is another must-have utility that lives in the background and automatically stores your recent clipboard. It saves what you ask it to save and makes it available in a pop-up menu through a keyboard shortcut. And it does it for free. So you can copy three separate sentences of an article and paste them separately instead of flipping back and forth between windows, copying and pasting three times.

It's the little things.

Idea-sketching and planning

There are hundreds of brainstorming, note-taking and to-do list apps available on and off the app store, but there are few standouts who do it all in one. Fed up with Evernote's subscription model but still willing to pay? Try Notability, the Mac version of iPad's ultimate idea space. Type, draw, annotate, record audio, add photos and PDFs—it does everything. For $10 and no subscription, it'll quickly replace all of Evernote's functionalities.

OneNote

Or, for a free alternative, go for Microsoft's OneNote. The only catch here is that you'll have to create a (free) Microsoft account. OneNote offers a toolset similar to Notability (if a bit less polished and more… Microsoft). It offers a powerful notation space, especially for anyone already in the Microsoft ecosystem.

Agenda.

For a more structured planning app, Agenda is a great alternative to Trello. It's a date-focused notes/journal combination that incorporates your calendar to offer a to-do list, note space and calendar on one screen. Seeing previously completed to-dos and past dates in the same line as future events is surprisingly helpful. It adds temporal context to every glance at your upcoming tasks and notes. $25 gets you all of the synching and exporting features not included in the free app.

Maybe you're looking for a pure, simple, full-featured, free to-do list to replace Todoist, Things or any of the other paid or subscription-based apps out there. Enter Wunderlist. Not only does it offer all of the features of the others for free (including sync, subtasks and an Apple Watch app), but it has collaboration features, too. Use it to manage all of your own projects or set up your coworkers or family with access to shared lists to split up the workload.

Collaboration

Notion.

Speaking of collaborating, you might be searching for a change in routine to boost creativity or energize your team. A new app could be the solution, a replacement for Slack or Trello or Google Drive. Try Notion. It's a free, universal notes/to-dos/wiki app that works on desktop, mobile or in-browser on any computer. You can work offline, sync between devices, invite your team to workspaces and collaborate in real time. It looks great, too. There is a paid pro tier that removes limits on card numbers and upload sizes, but the free version has plenty of features for a small team.

Email

Collaborating with a small team is easy with an app like Notion, but email still dominates working from home or out of office. It's often a necessary drudge, but make it easier on yourself with Spark. This free email app from Readdle offers features like email snooze, send scheduling, swipe shortcuts, pinned messages, tons of smart folder options and more, all with the goal of reaching Inbox Zero. Spark wants to change your habits from leaving thousands of old, unread messages in your inbox to archiving or deleting those messages and leaving only the messages you need in your inbox or in a folder. The snooze feature, alone, makes it worth downloading.

The work

All of these time-saving productivity apps lead to one thing: the work. Two app highlights are worth mentioning: Be Focused and iA Writer.

Be Focused.

Be Focused is a tiny timer app that lives in the menu bar as a stopwatch icon. Set the timer and ��click start, and the app simply counts down. It doesn't block social media or lock you into a writing screen like other apps. It is not a restriction or a monitor, but a reminder to break up your work into blocks and take short breaks in between those blocks. You'll see that this psychological trick helps quite a bit.

iA Writer.

iA Writer is an essential tool for anyone whose work involves a significant amount of writing. It presents a beautiful, simple, powerful, Markdown-compatible writing space and brags a feature called "Focus Mode." When you enable it, this mode dims all of the text that is not the current sentence (or paragraph, or whatever you choose) so that your eyes remain on the current thought. It drives the work forward by avoiding the editing-while-writing quicksand. iA Writer can also highlight syntax in different colors, revealing your love of adverbs or repetitive verb use. And it has "Night Mode," a white-on-black theme that saves the eyes during late-night projects.

In the end, the work is up to you. But you can help yourself finish projects more quickly and efficiently with the help of the apps above.

Tom Twardzik is a writer covering personal finance, productivity and investing for Paypath. He also contributes pop culture reviews for Popdust and travel writing for The Journiest. Read more on his website and follow him on Twitter.

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Home garden and porch

As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.

Extensive Plants and Greenery

A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.

Lawn Care

As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.

Paved Pathways

There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.

Usable Outdoor Furniture

Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.

A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.

Unfortunately, giving back can sometimes go haywire. If you're ready to make a donation, first consider common mistakes made when giving back.

Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.

Acting Quickly Out of Emotion

Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.

Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.

Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation

Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.

If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.

Donating Unusable Materials

Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.

Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.

Strictly Giving at Year's End

As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.

With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.

Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.

The Age of Your House

Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.

The One-Percent Rule

An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.

The Square-Foot Rule

Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.

The Mix and Match Method

Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.

Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.