Mac users don't settle. They paid extra to get the best computer they could, and they expect the best software. They want that software to fit in on their operating system of choice, using familiar keyboard shortcuts and design conventions. Most importantly: they want those apps to feel like Mac apps. It's not good enough to put the web version in a window.
It's great, then, that so many developers have worked to build Mac productivity apps that do exactly this, and they're better than what you can find on other platforms. That's right: some of the best productivity apps on the planet aren't available on Windows. Sorry, Microsoft fans—it's just the truth.
Productivity, though, isn't one-size-fits-all: the best productivity apps for Mac will be different for each person—what works for me might not work for you. With that in mind, here's a list of the kinds of productivity apps every Mac user should have. I'll recommend a couple of apps in most categories while linking to resources with even more choices.
A to-do list app like Things
Sometimes you have to do things. The tricky part is keeping track of all the things you need to do. The worst place to store said things is in your brain, where they will jingle around endlessly, only to resurface when you cannot act on them.
A to-do list app helps keep your tasks organized and helps you decide when to do them. And there isn't a better to-do list app out there than the aptly named Things, which tops Zapier's list of the best Mac to-do list apps. This elegant app looks simple at first, but the more digging you do, the more power you'll find. And, most importantly, it fits very naturally into the Mac environment.
If Things doesn't suit you, there are plenty of other Mac-exclusive choices, like the power-user Getting Things Done (GTD) tool Omnifocus. Or, if that's too complicated, there's always the simple but always handy Reminders—it automatically syncs with your iPhone and is already installed on your Mac.
Once you've picked your to-do list app, make the most of it with automation, so you can easily add tasks that come in by email, team chat apps, project management tools, or notes. Read more about automating your to-do list.
A calendar like Fantastical
Time is a resource, and you only get so much of it every week (at least, that's how I understand it, but I am admittedly not a physicist). This is where calendars come in: they organize time so that we know when things like meetings or doctor appointments are happening. This is crucial for planning your work week, and generally just functioning as a person.
A dedicated Mac calendar app makes it possible to combine your work and personal calendars in one place, while also using notifications to make sure you don't miss any appointments. Fantastical topped Zapier's list of the best calendar apps for Mac. This app looks great, makes it quick to add new appointments, and makes it easy to see everything in a day, week, month, or even quarterly view.
If that doesn't work for you, you should check out the Calendar app already installed on your Mac. It doesn't have all the nice touches of Fantastical, granted, but it's free and does almost everything. Or, if you just want a little calendar in your Mac menu bar, check out Itsycal, which can pull in appointments from the default Mac app.
Once you choose a calendar app, take it to the next level. With automation, you can do things like automatically turn calendar events into tasks on your to-do list or use forms to create calendar events. Here's how you can bring context to your calendar by connecting other apps.
A note-taking app like Apple Notes
The best notebook, like the best camera, is the one you have with you. You never know when you're going to need to write something down, but when that happens, you need to be able to open it quickly. This is why, for most people, Apple Notes is the best note-taking app for Mac. It's already on your device, it syncs with your iPhone and iPad, and recent updates add support for features like tags and attaching files.
Evernote used to be a clear winner here—their Mac interface in the early 2010s was beautiful and fast. That's changed, which is why I don't recommend it anymore, but if you miss that version of Evernote, you should check out Notebooks, the closest thing you can find to that classic app. Or, if you want the most flexible note-taking application on earth, check out Obsidian. That's what I use, and I'm a better person because of it.
See our favorite ways to use automation to improve how you put your notes to work, track action items from meetings, and put an end to regular copy-paste actions.
A screen recording tool like Zappy
Taking a screenshot on a Mac is a little convoluted. The files save to your desktop, meaning if you want to share them with someone, you need to manually drag them over to your app of choice. Recording the screen is even worse: you need to do it using QuickTime, and the files are generally annoyingly large for sharing.
This is where screen recording tools come in. They make it easy to quickly take a screenshot or screen recording and share those recordings with others. The best Mac tool for the job is, in my opinion, Zapier's own Zappy. Is it ridiculous for me to recommend a Zapier tool in a Zapier article? A little. But this is something Zapier built for internal usage because they couldn't find any tools that worked for them. To this day, I haven't found a better tool for the job, which is why I'm glad it's now available to people outside the company as well. With it, you can quickly take a screenshot or screen recording and—if you're a paying Zapier customer—immediately get a link for sharing with others. That link is direct: there's no growth-hacking injected.
If Zappy doesn't work quite the way you like, I recommend checking out Dropbox Capture, which works similarly to Zappy but saves all files in your Dropbox folder.
A distraction blocker like SelfControl
I want to finish this article, I really do, but there are YouTube videos of people playing video games that I need to watch. At least, that's what would have happened if I hadn't discovered the best distraction blocking apps, which allow me to block YouTube and other potentially distracting sites.
Perhaps the best app for the job is the totally free SelfControl, which allows you to choose a set of distracting URLs and set an amount of time. It will be completely impossible to access those distracting URLs until time runs out, even if you restart your computer. It's really powerful.
If you want a little bit more customizability, I recommend Focus, which offers a menu bar icon and the ability to block apps in addition to domains.
A read-it-later app like Pocket
Another really distracting thing about the internet is all the great things to read. This article you're reading right now, for example: it's about productivity, but it's also a thing to do that's not working. Wait...don't leave! At least, not without making sure you'll come back and finish later.
That's where the best read it later apps really shine. Mac users should probably check out Pocket first because it offers an actual Mac app. You can use Pocket to read all of your saved articles, online or off, and there are browser extensions you can use to save articles.
None of the alternatives offer Mac apps, though Instapaper runs quite well in the browser if you really don't like Pocket for some reason.
Automate the process of saving articles by connecting your read-it-later app to Zapier. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Other Mac apps for productivity
I could honestly recommend Mac apps day, but the set above is a solid start for really getting things done. If you want to dive a little deeper into productivity apps for Mac, though, here are a few more.
Application launchers make it easy to open any app in just a few keystrokes and can generally automate all sorts of things. I think Raycast is the best Mac app out there right now.
RSS readers make it easy to stay on top of the news without being sucked into dopamine-driven social networks. Of the best RSS readers for Mac, I personally recommend Reeder, which, in addition to being beautiful and functional, can sync with almost every RSS service you can think of.
Email clients make managing email a lot less stressful. Out of the best email clients for Mac, I recommend sticking with Apple Mail. It comes with your operating system, can block marketers from tracking you, and just generally works well.
Amphetamine is a tiny app for keeping your Mac awake, which is perfect during presentations.
Numi is a neat alternative to the conventional calculator.
Bartender is a great Mac productivity app that keeps your menu bar from feeling cluttered by hiding icons.
The best productivity app for Mac is going to be the one that makes you more productive—end of story. Need more? Check out all of Zapier's app recommendations.
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This article was originally published in July 2018 by Matthew Guay. The most recent update was in January 2023.