I work for a web development company and that means that all of my work is on the computer. I like exploring new software if it can help me become more efficient in my work.
What I look for
There are two main elements I look for when deciding on software to use:
- How well they address the problem I’m trying to solve. Some apps have so many features that they muddle their focus. I’d rather have an app that solves my problem really well, than one that only solves it so-so but has a few nice additions which I didn’t (know I) need.
- How easy they are to use. It may surprise people who don’t work in the tech industry that techy people like simple software. Even though I am likely to figure out how to make something work a lot faster than most of my family members, I still value ease of use and I have found that the easier an app is to use, the more likely I will actually use it.
So what software do I use every single day?
Let’s start with the apps that I would likely use again no matter where I work next.
Note: I’ve been a macOS user for over 10 years now. I have no idea which of these apps work on Linux, Chromebook and Windows.
The first app I would highlight is Things. This is my to-do software and what I use for pretty much all my planning and reviewing. If I’m working, this is the app I use to both log and prioritise what I’m working on. I tested other options like Asana and Todoist, but in both of those cases, they didn’t top Things in my #1 requirement; they had some nice features but didn’t exactly do what I wanted. What is important about Things?
- There’s an easy way to use it with Alfred (see below).
- It’s easy to set up recurring events (and make does either absolute – e.g. “every Wednesday” – or relative – e.g. “every 5 days after completing”).
- The overview of what I did last week is easy to read.
- It’s clear and simple to use.
The second one is the browser I use. I switched to Firefox at a point where Chrome was regularly filling up my CPU on my laptop (its “brain space” or multi-tasking skill). So far, my experience with Firefox has been better. The browser also has some particular features which I very much enjoy using. The one I like the most is Firefox Containers. This allows me to set up a different container for customers I’m helping (with separate login details), but also for my work versus personal Google Drive for example.
Like many, many other companies, we use those software pieces that everyone else is using: Slack for fast typed check-ins and Zoom for video conferencing. We also use the G Suite range so our email is handled via Gmail. That said, I use a native app called Spark because it allows me to move through my email a lot faster. I used to use Polymail for that, but they became too feature-heavy and Spark has served me amazingly since with all the features I listed in that post.
We also do use our in-house built tool for asynchronous communication called P2. It’s a WordPress-powered system that has entirely replaced emails for internal communication and I love using it. We have a p2 for pretty much everything. The main ones I use are one for projects related to my division, our division one, and one for the leads in our division. I know I’m biased because it’s built in-house, but after having worked with it for almost 6 years, it’d be one of the first things I’d recommend should I ever change employers.
Finally, among the leads, we use Basecamp for more sensitive communication. One of the downsides of P2 being in-house is that the support people who are supporting it need access to the P2s; for more private discussions we needed a separate tool – either because we want to bring up a sensitive topic or prepare ourselves for an upcoming change that we expect will raise a lot of questions.
For my local sites setup, I used to use Local, but I’ve moved to using Valet+ just over a year ago. While this was very tough to set up for a n00b like me, I persisted because once it has been set up, it’s extremely simple to use. I haven’t had a single problem with my test sites since using this, and it’s not resource-heavy so my computer can handle quite a few test sites being open at once without slowing down.
Next to apps for doing the actual work, I used quite a few apps that help me do that work faster.
My number one recommendation for any macOS user, would be to install Alfred. Alfred is an app that allows you to automate things that you repeat regularly. Here are some examples:
- When I’m preparing for 1:1s with the team leads, I check their involvement on P2s, the notes of the last 1:1, their weekly update, their contribution to support interactions, and so on. Rather than opening those URLs manually each week, I open Alfred and type
1:1 NAME(where name is of course the name of the lead). That opens all the right tabs (and does so in the right order).
- I also use it a lot for custom searches. If I want to find a specific spot on GitHub (where we develop our software), I type
g woo MY QUESTION. This will search github.com/woocommerce for results that match “My question”. You can use that for pretty much every site that has a search option.
While Alfred can do similar things, our company uses TextExpander for phrases and whole paragraphs we use a lot in our interaction with each other and with customers. It’s great to move fast, but it holds the danger that the communication can come across as a bit mechanical so I try to either limit my use of it or to customise it to my own wording. For easily sharing screenshots and screencasts, I use Droplr. Should you consider using this, be careful that you redact sensitive information out of this as people with the URL can access that information.
My colleague Dwain introduced me to a little app called Spectacle almost 5 years ago. I’m still indebted to him because I used it all the time. It allows you to rearrange your open windows with shortcuts. I like a clean desktop where the apps are properly aligned and this app does that for me.
For my note-taking, I again use an in-house built tool called Simplenote. It doesn’t do anything fancy but is super easy for taking notes. For spreadsheets and drafts, we use the G Suite tools of docs and sheets. Had you told high-school me that my Excel courses would be some of the ones I’d use the most in my professional career, I would’ve probably dismissed you as an idiot. Look who’s laughing now when I try to set up another
I work in tech and we all (well, almost all) like emojis. I use Rocket for easily finding the emojis I want to insert in my post.
Given the nature of our work, security is of the utmost importance. Next to some in-house tools, I use some external apps as well. 1Password is my password manager. Kim uses this too which allows us to easily share our Netflix account for example without compromising security and using the same password more than once.
In the background, I always have Little Snitch running. This app runs in the background and checks all my in- and outgoing connections. While sometimes tedious when installing new software because it asks for all the new connections it generates if that’s wanted, but it’s better to err towards the side of caution.
CleanMyMac not only allows me to review my computer and delete unnecessary files, it also includes a malware scanner. Pretty much every single time I run a scan, I have over a few Gb that can be cleared of my computer.
Before moving to South Africa, I used Spotify. However, they took forever to come here and by that time I had already started using Apple Music. It frustrates me a lot how slow the app starts, but given that I use a lot of Apple products, I like its connection to the OS. I also much prefer Apple’s approach to downloads that Spotify’s.
On a budget?
Several of the above-mentioned apps require subscriptions or once-off purchases. Which of these apps would I still use if I worked at a startup and was short in cash?
- The free ones, of course: Spectacle, P2, Rocket, and Slack (and likely Google Drive)
- Things – once-off payment (dependent on where your app store is based)
- 1Password – $4.99 per month for a family pack
- Alfred’s Powerpack – £29 once-off
What are some of the apps you use for making your work easier and faster?