Mac apps to boost the productivity of your home or remote office
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
Looking for a job? In addition to encountering those annoying never-ending job interviews you may find yourself face-to-face with an artificial intelligence bot.
Companies worldwide increasingly use artificial intelligence tools and analytics in employment decision-making – from parsing through resumes and screening candidates to automated assessments and digital interviews. But recent studies claim that AI does more harm than good.
While AI screening tools were developed to save companies time and money, they’ve been criticized for placing women and people of color at a disadvantage. The problem is that many companies lack appreciable diversity in their data set, making it impossible for an algorithm to know how people from underrepresented groups have performed in the past. As a result, the algorithm will be biased toward the data available and compare future candidates to that archetype.
The City’s Automated Employment Decision Tools (AEDT) law is designed to offset the potential misuse of AI and protect job candidates against discrimination. It was enforced on July 5th, 2023 in New York City - with other cities and states expected to gradually follow suit. Employers must now inform applicants when and how they encounter AI. Furthermore, companies have to commission a third-party audit of the AI software used, and publish a summary of the results to prove that their systems aren’t racist or sexist. Job applicants are able to request information regarding what data is collected and analyzed by the AI. Violations of the law can result in fines of up to $1,500.
Replacing Human Hiring Decisions
However, should a job applicant want to opt-out of such impersonal judgement by a bot, the new law's scope is quite limited.
While the law specifies that instructions for requesting an alternative selection process must be included in the AI screening disclosure, companies aren't actually required to use other screening methods. Not to mention that the law only applies to AI in hiring and not any other employment decisions. It also wouldn't apply if the AI, for example, flags candidates with relevant experience, but a human then reviews all applications, making the ultimate hiring decision.
Some civil rights advocates and public interest groups argue that the law isn’t extensive enough and that it’s even unenforceable. On the other hand, businesses say that it’s impractical, costly, and burdensome, and that independent audits aren’t feasible.
Responsible use of AI in hiring
Although this law may be a good first attempt to assign more regulatory guardrails around AI, it remains to be seen if it ensures the responsible use of AI in hiring processes. At the end of the day, perhaps recruiting talent should remain a human-made decision.
The good news is that AI can help companies without harming potential job candidates in many ways – such as connecting new employees with internal organizational information and company benefits during onboarding. Or helping employees to do their jobs more effectively rather than replacing them.
There’s all this talk about solo travel. And for good reason — no wasting precious time waiting for others to get their act together, take the plans out of the group chat and actually buy the tickets. Going solo, you can be spontaneous. You can plan your trips according to your precise tastes. You can hop on any flight and fly awayyyyyy.
But what if each time you flew you’d get a free ticket? That’s what you get with the Southwest Companion Pass.
Award status, upgrades, lounge access — there are many perks in the frequent flier game. But one of the coveted holy grails is the Southwest Companion Pass.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Companion Pass is part of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. You get to choose one person to be your “companion,” and they fly with you for free (plus some taxes and fees) on every flight. That’s right. Two for the price of one. That’s half off each ticket if you split it! Whether you’re flying with a partner, family member, friend, or anyone else, they can tag along for free.
And it gets better: once you earn the pass, you can reap the rewards for that full calendar year … AND the next. That’s why people go mad trying to earn a companion pass during the early months of the year. The sooner you qualify, the longer you can use it.
There are also no blackout dates. There are no limits. And if you didn’t purchase the ticket (think: work travel, your companion, or a generous benefactor), there are no restrictions! As long as you’re the one on the plane, your companion can also … be on the plane.
You can also switch out your designated companion 3x a year. So, no need to stay in a relationship simply to get the most out of your companion pass! Ghost and fly away — with a whole new companion!
If this sounds too good to be true — it’s not. But there is one small catch. It’s kinda tough to earn this mega reward.
How to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass?
You can qualify for the pass in one of two ways:
- Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights
- Earn 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.
Clearly, this is no small feat — especially if you’re trying to qualify ASAP.
So how do you actually earn the Southwest Companion Pass?
Don’t worry, there’s a path to earning this amazing reward without climbing on 100 flights or spending an exorbitant amount of money.
Earning 135K reward points may seem completely impossible, but it’s easier than it sounds. Simply sign up for a Southwest Credit Card and turn those spending habits into a rapid rewards account. Through the Rewards Priority Credit Card, earn points when using local transit and commuting, plus score major points and miles whenever you spend.
Stay with me here. This is not some scheme to get you into credit card debt. Many airline cards come with potential savings, giantic rewards, awarding you points, and cashback with every purchase you make that can be redeemed for travel. And often they can come with passive sign-up bonuses. If you spend a specific amount of money within a certain timeframe of opening the card, you can be in for a windfall of points.
Now that’s where the companion pass comes in:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Performance Business Credit Card
Southwest has three personal cards and a business card. Each of these cards offers rewards between 30K-80K points. In the past, people could open two cards and get a bonus that granted enough points to almost meet the minimum. However, with new restrictions on personal cards, you can only get one bonus every 24 months. Boo!
However, this doesn’t apply to business cards. If you’re eligible, have good credit, and not likely to spiral into insane credit card debt, you can open a business card and a personal card, and accrue 100K+ points. The Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card will get you points after you spend money in no time.
Now to earn the rest of them.
The secret to gaining these credit card points is to plan your card sign-ups around big purchases. Just before a recent move, I opened a card . . . and the rewards came rolling in — a small balm to ease the pain of how exorbitant moving can be.
Put everyday spend — especially big purchases or bulk items — on your Southwest credit card and watch your award points quickly add up. Typically, you earn 1 point per $1 spent on your Southwest card and 2 points per $1 on actual Southwest purchases.
But there are other ways to earn points, including:
- Flying Southwest: Booking travel on Southwest earns more points. The cost of this travel will be worth it with your companion pass
- Shopping from Rapid Rewards Partners: Purchases with Southwest’s “Home & Lifestyle” and “Shop and Dine” Partners also earn Companion Pass qualifying points. While you shouldn’t make gratuitous purchases, browse Southwest’s partners to see if you could earn extra points for items you'd be purchasing anyway. All this, simply from enrolling in their Dining Program and shopping with their partners.
So there you have it! And since it’s almost Spring, get to earning and soon you’ll be flying two for the price of one!