Four Essential Productivity Apps I Couldn’t Live Without

I recently ordered a new MacBook Pro. It has been two years or so since I have bought a new computer, and I figured it was about time. Apple makes it really easy to upgrade. You simply connect your old computer to the new one and it copies everything over. It couldn’t be easier.

Close Up of Tools on a Tool Belt - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #2124951

Photo courtesy of ©

However, this time, I decided that I am not going to do that. Over the years my computer has become filled with “preference” and “application support files” that are no longer necessary. For the sake of improved performance, I decided that this time I would install everything from scratch.

This has made me carefully think through what I am actually using. I try a lot of software, but I really have a suite of applications that I rely on. In fact, I have four software applications that serve as the foundation for everything else. These are the apps I will install first. (In fact, I am not sure I could even function without them!)

  1. 1Password. This is the program I use to store all of my passwords. 1Password has my Web logins email accounts, identities (one for office, home, etc.), software licenses, and a digital wallet with all my credit card info. Before 1Password, I had this information stored in a variety of places. Now it is all safe and secure, tucked into one encrypted vault. With a keystroke, I can enter this information automatically when I need it. It also auto-generates very strong passwords.
  2. iKey. I hate using the mouse. It sounds trivial, but you waste a lot of time moving your hand back and forth from your keyboard to your mouse. iKey is a keyboard macro program. I can load or goto specific programs with a single keystroke. For example, to get to Apple Mail, I press Shift-Alt-?-M. To get to HootSuite, I press Shift-Alt-?-H. I launch all my major programs with similar keystroke combinations. I never even think about them now.
  3. Typinator. This is also a huge timesaver. Typinator is a text expander. You type an abbreviation, and it replaces it with a word, a phrase, HTML code, or an entire block of text. It also autocorrects common misspellings in any application. For example, if I type “.emw” (without the quotes), it replaces the text with my work email address. If I type “.emp,” it replaces the text with my personal email address. I also use it to type in entire HTML or PHP statements with abbreviations. This way I don’t have to remember the correct syntax.
  4. LaunchBar. This is also a keyboard driven utility that provides near instant access to applications, documents, contacts and calendars, bookmarks, iTune tracks, and everything else. In my opinion, LaunchBar is what Spotlight should have been. If I want to lookup someone’s phone number, I just press Ctrl-Space to invoke the program, type the first few letters of their name, and ba-bam: their contact info is at my finger tips. I can even use this to launch apps I don’t use very often or goto specific web sites.

I also intend to install all my major applications from scratch, including Microsoft Office, iWork, Adobe Creative Suite, etc. Thankfully, all my software license numbers are in 1Password. It should just be a matter of downloading the app again and entering the license number. I will then copy over all my documents from my backup disk.

Question: What are the software apps you can’t live without? If you are on Windows, have you found equivalent applications?
Get My New, 3-Part Video Series—FREE! Ready to accomplish more of what matters? 2015 can be your best year ever. In my new video series, I show you exactly how to set goals that work. Click here to get started. It’s free—but only until Monday, December 8th.

Get my FREE video series now!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Kevin Brinkley

    I have an almost identical configuration to your Macbook.

    However, I recently started using Parallels to run Windows 7. The reason is that the chimps from Microsoft don’t make IE for the Mac anymore. And some sites, specifically my company’s ecommerce system still runs best under IE. We’re working to change that but it’s not easy or quick.

    Also, MS Office for Mac stinketh. So I can use the Windows version with no problem under Parallels.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Kevin. I use Parallels also. I use iWork instead of MS Office whenever I can. I do not like Office for Mac either. I am hoping the new version is better. Thanks.

  • Tony

    Love 1Password too. The other essentials for me are:

    Omnifocus: not as pretty as Things but the best GTD tool out there

    PathFinder: Replace the Mac finder with something a little more high-powered

    • Michael Hyatt

      I use PathFinder, too. Although I use Things. I tried for OmniFocus for several months but found it complex and really more than I needed.

  • Mark Jaffrey

    Totally with you on 1Password. It is absolutely indispensable. I prefer to use Quicksilver over LaunchBar as it is more flexible and once learned gives you all kinds of shortcuts to the inner workings of software and processes.

  • Mark Jaffrey

    And I almost forgot – I love Gmail, and use the Firefox plugin GTDinbox to manage all my emails as projects using the GTD system from within Gmail. It’s amazing.

  • Barry

    I used to use Quicksilver as a launcher for OS X, but now use a new app called Alfred. You setup a keyboard shortcut (in my case command-space) and then type out the app (or contact, website, etc.) that you want and a list pops out below and you hit enter to launch. Very easy way to launch apps or search without use of mouse.

    Also Skitch to do screenshots (or partial screenshots) and markup. Good visual way to share ideas/info with others.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I like Skitch, too. I also use Snapz for screenshots. Probably my favorite in this class.

  • Adam Reineke

    A similar app to Typinator is AutoHotKey, a really powerful app. To get features similar to Typinator, you’d probably have to download some user-written scripts (there are quite a few). I’ve used it for more complex text replacement tasks and some task automation (performing complex macros).

    A beta for 1Password was just announced for Windows earlier this week. KeePass is a similar application for Windows, but I haven’t used it.

    Similar to LaunchBar, I use QuickSilver on my MacBook. I also use QuickSilver in place of an app like iKey. There is a similar app for Windows called Launchy, but I haven’t used it either.

  • Wezlo

    I would add jumpcut to your list, it’s a simple clipboard manager that allows you to store the results of multiple copy commands. It only does text, but it’s small and light. There’s a comercial app called clips that does text and images (and much more), but it taxes my system resources too much.

    Also, I use the Wooji presentation remote when I give a keynote presentation, so their presentation manager is an app I have to have.
    I can’t not mention Adium. I keep track of so many congregants through it’s facebook IM integration that it’s essential for me to have.
    I also use sequence for screen capture video, delicious library to keep track of my books, and Accordance almost every day.

    To keep track of projects I use things, and for my thoughts I love macjournal. My mind-maps I do on freemind.

    Quite a list!!

  • Barbara Boucher

    I’m really out of my league here, but wanted to share that my next computer will likely be a MacBookPro – so I’m trying to grasp as much as I can from this post and the comments. My next computer is not replacing what I am using now except for one function. That is, I am configuring to have 3 computers for 3 different functions. Despite huge storage capacity this helps me stay organized and with only one computer online, I protect most of my files (yes, I backup). (Computers are like closets – one of my posts.)

    • Lisa – Defined Design

      Barbara, may I suggest visiting ScreenCastsOnline after you purchase your macbook pro.

      I purchased my first macbook pro three years ago, after my friends and brothers raved about theirs. However I was so PC ingrained I quickly became frustrated not knowing how to operate it. My brothers would tell me ‘you’ll figure it out, it’s very intuitive’. For me I could not get passed the windows frame of mind, many times I felt like tossing mine out in the trash.

      One night while searching google to learn how to put my signature in my email, I came across Don McAllister’s SCO site. He and his screencasts were my saving grace! Finally after 10 months of beating my head against the wall I found a teacher, who could really explain things with clarity and excellent video.

      Because of Don I’ve learned how right my friends were, concerning the mac operating system. I now love my mac and eventually will switch my entire family to mac.

      A nice bonus is Don’s accent, you’ll love listening to him. A membership is really affordable too! He has lessons on how to use each of the software tools Michael can’t live without. I should mention if you don’t want to purchase a membership you can sign up for his free screencasts, while not as detailed they will help you get up and running.

      • Matt Edmundson

        Thanks for that Lisa – in same boat! This'll help loads – and he is only round the corner from me! great!

      • BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

        Thank you so much, Lisa. Holding onto your generous suggestion for the right time!

  • Adam Shields

    I use ewallet instead of 1password, but the same basic thing.

    My other necessary apps are:

    -MS office (I live in excel and Access) – using the 2010 Beta now and love it.
    -Dropbox – keeps a backup of all my important files along with all previous versions of all my files and keeps my computers synced.
    -Google Chrome for Windows

    I have rebuilt my computers recently and have not reloaded software until I actually need it. I have very few real programs any more. I mostly live in the cloud. No contact manager, email, RSS reader, etc.

    • Matt Edmundson

      Dropbox is awesome…no doubt about it!

  • John Richardson

    Timely post, Michael. I passed on the iPad and instead purchased a Macbook Pro. I really appreciate your list. I’ll have to look into each one of those. My question is… what do you use for blogging software. On the PC is use Live Writer from Microsoft. It is wonderful for creating WordPress pages. Unfortunately it is not available for Mac. I’ve been looking at the common Mac blog writing programs but the reviews are mixed and they all cost around $30. Any reviews or suggestions?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I use ecto. The developer is in a coma (I just) and hasn’t released an update in a few years, but it is fantastic. MarsEdit is also very good.

  • Ben Hailey

    Wow! Sounds incredibly efficient. Makes me wonder how many labor dollars are waisted on waiting on outdated computers or inexperienced users in the workplace. Seems like it would be beneficial for more companies to put in programs for teaching people to be more efficient when using computers.


  • rohngibson

    Enjoy your new Macbook and thank you for the resources.

  • Michael Hyatt

    You are welcome!

  • Jonathan Hasson

    Being a PC guy, I have a few different ones:
    1. ClearContext – great for keeping my Outlook email inbox under control. Highly recommended.
    2. Syncback SE – a very useful tool for synchronizing files across multiple computers.
    3. For password management, it's a tossup between Roboform and Lastpass. I like the local control of Roboform, but I like the cross-platform flexibility of Lastpass. I'm running both until I find a favorite.
    4. For notes, etc., I again have a tossup between Evernote and MS OneNote. Evernote is great for internet access via my BlackBerry, but OneNote has a much more intuitive interface. Running both until I find a favorite.
    5. Fences – Used to keep my desktop nice and organized
    6. Launchy – Used for keystroke access to programs and web links.

    • Matt Edmundson

      I love Evernote (it functions on my PC, Mac and iPhone without any problem).

      Have you tried Xobni for Outlook – it is by far the best extension I have used for Outlook – the design and colours need help tho :D

  • Daniel J. Mount

    For Windows, I use the native Hotkeys application to do exactly what #2 does.

  • Bobby Shaw

    I love Evernote. It is a great application to keep track and store all notes, pictures, files, etc. that I might need quick access too but don't need stored in my email or folders. The interface is easy to access from any OS Platform although the iPhone App is the best way to do this on the go.

  • Merry Bond

    Microsoft Word Autocorrect can do the same as your Typinator too — it makes life easy.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, but this only works within MS apps, no?

      Typinator works across all apps.

  • Justin Bessler

    Bento from FileMaker is a great way for me to stay organized. But, Mike, the real question for you: What are you doing with your old MacBook Pro? and can I call dibs? (DIBS! Just called it, anyway.)

    • Michael Hyatt

      Ha! I’m passing it down within the organization.

  • Anonymous

    My "iPassword software" is a spiral notebook where I keep all my passwords. What stops me from moving faster into more effective technology is the time I need to learn everything. Thank goodness summer is coming, so I can take some time to do what is necessary, including re-reading a number of your posts. Thanks again for sharing what you know.

  • Ray Cullins

    Great tips, thanks. For Windows users, AutoHotKey ( is an open-source application which functions somewhere in the intersection between iKey and Typinator. I’ve just started using it and am already a huge fan.

  • Phil Bowdle

    If you have a mouse with extra buttons (like the Logitech Revolution, magic mouse and others), there’s an incredible app called SteerMouse .

    It allows you to customize all the buttons on the mouse individually for each application. Couldn’t live without it.

  • Bryan Radtke

    I bought a MacBook Pro in January and set out on a mission to exist in a Windows AND Mac world. Therefore I needed to be equipped with applications and tools that are cross-platform. Here is my current arsenal:

    Google Apps (Chrome & Mailplane – Mac Only)
    Dropbox – best sync utility period.
    Office 2010 (via VMware Fusion on Mac)
    Adobe CS4
    1Password (just installed the Windows Beta)
    Quickbooks 2010 (via VMware Fusion on Mac, syncing with Dropbox)
    BackBlaze – web-based backup service
    Nirvana – Web-based GTD task manager
    Harvest – Time Tracking and Invoicing

    On a side note, I managed to preview Office 2011 for Mac. For the most part its seems like an upgrade over the past version. Outlook was a disappointment as it was supposed to be completely overhauled. Still lacking a lot of the features of the Windows version. Hopefully that will improve before its released.

  • chris vonada


    thanks for sharing these, i think they say something about you… you’re truly hot-wired by God for productivity! i’m linking my mouse, and my Apple products too.

  • Colleen Coble

    Great suggestions, Mike! I’m going to check out the password one especially.

    I LOVE Scrivener! Love it, love it! It’s a fabulous program for writers. I can write in scenes and drag and drop them in a new location in the book. I can have all my character outlines and research in one place. It’s indispensable for me now.

  • Lisa – Defined Design

    Thanks Michael!

    I just discovered Mac Sensei, Don McAllister’s, tutorial for this week atScreenCastsOnline is on 1Passwordv3! I just watched it and at the end of the tutorial Don provides a link for 25% off a first time purchase!

    The video is incredibly detailed and FREE to watch.

    We are on a tight budget and I’ve wanted to purchase this for a couple years, Don’s discount allowed me to save $9.99 off my purchase (my mother’s day gift)!

    The offer expires June 30, 2010.

    I love reading your blog!

  • Mark Chaffee

    1Password, Things, SOHO Notes (dabbled with Evernote, but found I needed something more robust). I also can’t live without Budget and Paperless. These two tools allow me to easily keep track of personal/work receipts and budgetting (yes, I scan and archive every receipt :-)

    Each of these apps (save Paperless) syncs with a compliment iPhone app so I am never without my most important productivity tools.

  • Bridget Wenman

    I love Freemind Mind Mapping Software. It is a free internet download and I recommend it to all of my clients who are looking to get their creative thought process in a manageable systematic format. When you layout a project, one click of a button allows you to access any web-site, document or program on your computer using hyperlinks. It is a great tool for brainstorming and compiling the details that you need for any project – keeping it all in once place! Love it!

  • obihaive

    Is iwork really all that great? I have it on my mac but I’m just so used to Microsoft Word that I don’t see why I should even try to learn iwork. Is there anything on there that’s actually better than Word? Just curios.

  • Peter G

    You simply connect your old computer to the new one and it copes everything over.

    Copes? Never heard that one for copy. I am obsessed with language, but not being a native speaker, I sometimes have trouble distinguishing real words and slang from typos. Which is it?

    The 1Password app sounds great. My passwords are driving me crazy. Unfortunately, I have a Windows machine.

    Typinator? I'm looking for Thoughtinator, a program which would automatically transcribe my thoughts into eloquent language on the screen.

  • Joey

    I haven't used any alternatives to these in the Windows world, but some of them sound interesting. There is a site that has a search engine to help you find alternatives to software packages. There are a few Windows alternatives to these apps.

  • Peter G

    You're welcome. Sorry to hear that. I thought I was learning a bunch of cool no words today, but they're all typos. On another blog somebody wrote I should not get a flu vaccine because it is plot to kill everyone. I thought perhaps "plot" used as an adjective was a regional slang term for "likely," but it turns out the person meant to write a plot to kill everyone.

    One could make up a whole new language just from people's typos. If I compiled a typo dictionary, would Nelson be interested in publishing it?

  • patriciazell

    I keep my passwords in my head and in a spiral notebook. Maybe some day, when I have time….. Oh, well!

  • Michael Hyatt

    You caught a legitimate typo. I have corrected. Thanks!

  • Heather Ledeboer

    Man I would love an apple computer, they sound so slick! I am going to do some searching to see if I can't find a PC version of the Typinator. Thank you for sharing your time savers!

    • Matt Edmundson

      Mac's are good – and Typinator is great – but not a reason to get a mac – have a look at It might help.

  • Hans Schiefelbein

    Michael – interesting, “geeky” stuff. I especially like the shortcuts. I customize mine in Gmail and love it. You’re making me want a Mac. Oh, and I love “ba-bam”, well said.

  • Brandon

    I could not live without my Outlook. I am not up on technology because I still have Vista. Are Macs really worth the price?

  • Vin Thomas

    Chrome – best browser EVER! – for creating applications from webpages (like NirvanaHQ, and such)

    Jing – A better alternative to Skitch. Does video and can upload to your own server.

    Text Expander – Alternative to Typinator

    Google Voice – Amazing. You can opt to use Google voice to handle voicemail for your non-GoogleVoice number now. Very cool.

    Google Quick Search Box – Kind of like Launchy, but better :)

  • Keith Ferrin

    I've got four I use all the time – though three are actually built in to Windows 7. The app I use for ALL my note taking is MS OneNote. Even makes inserted audio searchable. OneNote syncs seemlessly with my phone, too. Beautiful.

    The 3 Win7 features are:
    Universal Search – Hit the Windows Key, start typing anything (programs, documents, contacts) and they just show up. It "learns" your preferences too, so I usually am 1-2 letters in before it knows exactly what app I want to launch. Replaced any HotKey stuff I used to use.

    Jump List – Right from the Launch Bar, just right click any program and the most common actions are right there. I also "pin" documents, playlists, etcs that I want there so they're 1-click away.

    Snipping Tool – I think Mac has something similar, but highlighting anything on my screen and being able to click 1 button to share it with a contact, save it, or paste in into a document is great.

  • Andries

    For MS Windows users
    I would like to add: Phrasexpress.
    It's a textexpander and programlauncher
    Free of charge for personal use.

    Treepad as a Personal Information Manager.
    Basic, easy in use, adjustable.

    Finally, I stopped paying for MS Office and
    started using Open Office, which is a very good
    software. The files are exchangable with MS Office
    and also has a lot of apps/extentions to customise
    or add functionality.

  • Sandy Reynolds

    I can't wait to get a MacBook. I am interested in a program like typinator for the iPhone. Does anyone know fo one?

  • Sandy Reynolds

    I can't wait to get a MacBook. It's on the wish list. I am interested in a program like typinator for the iPhone. Does anyone know of one?

  • Taki

    Hi Michael,

    A friend told me you use Things to run your GTD process…

    How do you keep from being overwhelmed by all the projects down the side. (I'm using Omnifocus right now because it can do sub-projects which keeps the sidebar a little less cluttered).

    How do you make Things work when you must have heaps of projects going on at the same time?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Things is similar to Omnifocus, but I find it way more intuitiuve, similar, and a pleasure to use. I love it. I am planning to write a blog post on how I manage it.

  • MarkSpizer

    great post as usual!

  • dom

    What specs did you choose on your MBP?

  • Matt Lee

    This is an iphone/ipod app, but I thought I'd share it since it helps me to stay on task. I use Calengoo to give me quick access to my Google Calendar (yes, I'm addicted to Google), and sends me reminders for appointments. I don't know what I did without it!

  • @levi_smith

    I would add to the list: evernote (laptop/desktop, web and mobile text/audio/pic note sync), jott (voice to email), simulscribe (voicemail to email), clearcontext (outlook productivity) and automate (advanced outlook rules).

  • Time Tracker

    Great post, thank you! I'm excited to try Typinator, sunds pretty interesting! My key ones are QB, TSheets: for time tracking, 1Password and QuickSilver: which is similar to LaunchBar.
    Thanks for sharing, it seems like I have a few more apps I need to scope out :)

  • Time Tracker

    Great post, thank you! I'm excited to try Typinator, sunds pretty interesting! My key ones are QB, TSheets: for time tracking, 1Password and QuickSilver: which is similar to LaunchBar.
    Thanks for sharing, it seems like I have a few more apps I need to scope out :)

  • Robert

    Thanks for the resources. I just downloaded all four of them to see how they work for me.

  • rustyfarrell

    I know this is an old post, but I was curious to see if you are still using 1Password in your daily toolkit? Thanks for everything that you do!

    • Michael Hyatt

      It’s a great solution, but I am now using LastPass, because it allows me to share passwords with my assistants.