How to ACTUALLY Work Productively on a Mac

If you go looking for MacOS productivity tips, you'll find an awful lot of software/app focused content. "Top 25 Must-Have Productivity Apps!" - that kind of thing.

Unfortunately, most of this advice misses the point entirely. I've had the opportunity of the over-the-shoulder perspective and have observed countless people work over the years. Sometimes in the role of coach and advisor, sometimes as an employer.

In all cases, the major productivity issues I observe (and help the person in question fix) have nothing to do with software and apps. Instead, I see hours of time wasted in inefficient, messy workflows.

The video above is my crash-course for fixing these workflow issues. As you'll see, it's the very basic functionality in MacOS that can help you 10x your efficiency.

In case you ARE interested in the very few exceptions of apps that actually increase your productivity, this is for you. There are also some app recommendations below, but software takes a backseat to workflow.

But for today, here's a brief summary of the productivity principles demonstrated in the video:

Optimize the Dock

Start by decluttering your dock. A minimalist dock not only frees up screen space but also enhances focus. Adjust your dock settings to make it smaller and enable automatic hiding. The key is to keep only those programs in the dock that you use to open files quickly.


Open apps efficiently using Spotlight by hitting Command + Space Bar and typing the app's name. For an even faster and customizable experience, consider installing Alfred or Raycast. These can add some useful features, although the main efficiency gain is to use the keyboard shortcut and typing to interact with MacOS instead of relying predominantly on the mouse.

Efficient App Switching

Get used to switching between active apps using Command + Tab. This simple yet powerful shortcut can significantly reduce the time spent toggling between apps, making multitasking a breeze.

Declutter Your Desktop

A clean desktop is not just aesthetically pleasing but is instrumental in maintaining focus. Develop a systematic folder structure to organize and locate your files efficiently. Avoid dumping files on your desktop – every file should have a home.

Tuning Notifications

Turn off non-essential notifications. A distraction-free work environment is crucial for productivity. Adjust your Mac’s notification settings to ensure that you’re only alerted when it’s absolutely necessary.

Ergonomics & Keyboard

If you’re using a MacBook, an external mouse and keyboard can enhance both speed and comfort. Although the MacBooks built in keyboard and trackpad are high quality, a mouse instead of a trackpad will speed up your workflow and an external keyboard allows you to set yourself up more egonomically.

The "hunched over my laptop" position is not great for productive work and long, deep focus sessions.

Internet Browsing & Backups

Optimize your browsing experience with Firefox coupled with uBlock Origin for ad-free, fast-loading web pages. Always ensure that your essential files are backed up – consider using pCloud or Skiff for privacy-focused backup solutions.

Password Management

Use password managers like 1Password or Bitwarden for secure and efficient login to various accounts. It’s the perfect blend of security and convenience.

Apple's own iCloud Keychain feature has been improving over recent updates. From a security standpoint, it's a good solution. But since it only works with in the Apple ecosystem, it is somewhat limited in terms of efficiency and transportability.

Avoid the Efficiency Trap

Everything here is focused on efficiency. And while efficiency is important, it should never take priority over effectiveness. The essence of productivity lies in deep focus and accomplishing important tasks. So make sure you don't end up with an ultra-efficient way of working on things that don't actually matter.

The greatest lever for most entrepreneurs and knowledge workers is to master the skill of deep focus, set clear goals and then make sure the workflow is efficient.

About the Author

Shane is a half Swiss, half Irish person who's managed to channel his very perfectionist and somewhat obsessive nature into a relentless pursuit of personal improvement. Then that kinda got derailed by a relentless entrepreneurial pursuit and now it's something in between the two.