What's in your software toolbox?

My tools of choice in 2018

Every year, I look back at my software toolbox and evaluate my tools. Most of it stays the same but I do evaluate and pick tools based on my current needs.

Task Manager: OmniFocus 3

OmniFocus 2 was my faithful companion for most of my GTD life. I’ve flirted with others but kept with OmniFocus.

OmniFocus 3 was released for both Mac and iOS in 2018 to start a new paradigm based on a new code base. Features such as Forecast Tags and multiple tags brings a breath of fresh air to an app that was straining under the single context model that has long been its signature. Task sharing will be another feature that I’m looking forward to in 2019. [OmniFocus for Web] is aimed at users who can’t use a Mac or iOS device at work.


Cultured Code’s Things 3 was very tempting but strange limitations such as being unable to complete a due task before its due date. I do love its beautiful interface but I’m sure Cultured Code is working hard on new exciting features for 2019.

I am excited to see a new Todoist coming in 2019 with a Kanban card interface. Recent announcements have Todoist promising new features slowly rolling out throughout 2019. Todoist has a strong user base that will meet the needs of many who needs cross-platform use and collaborative features now.

The task manager industry is thriving with choices for many users. I look forward to seeing what will be coming in 2019.

Automation - Keyboard Maestro, Alfred, and Siri

I underestimated Keyboard Maestro for a long time. I used it infrequently and didn’t know if I could use it for nothing more than a way to re-assign keyboard shortcuts or repeat simple tasks. I’ve gained a new appreciation for it now. If I notice that I repeat a workflow on my Mac at least three times, I’m determined to find a way to automate it.

I started experimenting with Keyboard Maestro by working on Creating OmniFocus 3 for Mac Perspective Groups to help manage my large list of OmniFocus 3 custom perspectives. Next, I did a #deep-dives experiment with Creating a Daily Review Checklist in Keyboard Maestro (Pro member article). I wanted to find a way to speed up my Daily Review. If I could save 10 minutes a day on the daily review, I’ll get back 70 minutes of my life every week. I think that’s worth the price of Keyboard Maestro alone.

I never really thought I would use Keyboard Maestro but it has slowly started to creep into my life. Whenever I am stuck in a scenario where I wished an app would do something for me, I reach out to Keyboard Maestro to see if I can create a macro that would give me what I wanted. I don’t have to wait for the app developer to come out with a feature request. I’ll have it worked out with Keyboard Maestro. It’s been a lifesaver for me.

Alfred 3 for Mac has been my Spotlight replacement for years. I use it frequently for launching apps. I don’t have to hunt for an app in the Applications folder. It has been a great companion with Keyboard Maestro. It has added much more functionality to my Mac. MacOS X’s Spotlight has gotten better. We’ll see in a couple of years if Spotlight can overtake Alfred.

Office Apps

I have been starting to use the iWorks app suite for a while now. It’s simple and is often the first app suite I reach for when I’m doing work for myself. I’m finding myself using Pages for beautiful PDF reports and Numbers for table creation. Keynote doesn’t have a lot of the fluff that PowerPoint has. But I’ve learned to keep my presentations short and simple now. I use Microsoft Office only when I need to work with others that still reside in that world. I’m glad that the simplified iWorks suite is a suitable alternative to the Microsoft Office juggernaut.

File Reference - DEVONthink Pro Office

DEVONthink Pro Office has been a steady workhorse for me. I broke free from Evernote and have been using DTPO for a while now. It’s not flashy but it does its job well.

Calemdar: Fantastical

I rely on Fantastical on my iOS devices as well as my Mac. Apple’s Calendar is good enough but when I want that extra feature such as natural text entry to create an appointment, it’s hard to beat Fantastical.

BusyCal is a serious contender. With a little more development, BusyCal for iOS might just beat Fantastical for iOS.

Bear’s take on apps is beautiful and is a good offering. With a subscription model backing it up, there is the promise of new features to come

I quite haven’t been to figure out how the Agenda app fits into my life. It’s a note taker based on dates. I’ve been thinking about how to use it to document progress in my current projects and goals.

iA Writer

iA Writer is an app that I’ve considered for a long time. If I never tried Ulysses, I might have ended up with iA Writer. It offers most of what Ulysses has but without a subscription.

Apple Notes is a very strong notes app that is included in every installation of MacOS and iOS. iCloud support gives it strong syncing capabilities wherever I go. The above note taking apps do give Apple Notes a run for its money but it’s hard to beat free.

I’ve been using Apple Notes exclusively as an app that stores my goals and project logging. But I’ve been experimenting with Agenda and Bear to replace Apple Notes. I’ll be experimenting with replacing Apple Notes with the other apps as my goal tracker in 2019.

I’ve been comfortable with Ulysses and continue to use it today. Bear, Agenda, and iA Writer, and Apple Notes are still top notch contenders for writing tools of choice. I don’t change tools often but these apps do give me a variety of writing tools to choose from.

Writing: Day One and Ulysses

Writing has become an important part of my life. Self discovery and planning through my journals and my experiments in productivity and self learning can be manifested in my writing. It is physical evidence of my growth in areas that I’ve never explored before.

Day One has been a single focused app that I’ve used for my journaling needs. Features such as “On This Day…”, audio transcribing, geo-location, and weather tracking, with new features being carefully considered and added. Day One has made journaling a much easier task to complete. Yes, it’s possible to journal in a text editor. But there’s something about having one app that is specifically tailored for journaling.

Ulysses has become my go-to app for writing medium to long form posts for the office and the Guild. It’s an acquired taste for sure. It takes care of my writing needs but there are a couple of competitors that will give it a run for its money.

Digital Paperless: Mariner Paperless 3

I’ve tried using DEVONthink, Evernote, and Apple Notes to store my digital receipts and scanned papers. But nothing seems to beat Mariner Paperless for me. With built-in reporting features, it helps me save my important documents for tax filing purposes. I’ve been using Mariner Peperless 2 for a long time now. Mariner Paperless 3 was released right before Christmas. I’m looking forward to combining this with a new Fujistu Scansnap to make my life easier.

Security: 1Password

I’ve been using 1Password for so long, I’ve never really tried other solutions. I love 1Password’s Watchtower feature which checks for weak passwords, duplicated passwords, and possible password breaches.

1Password has something that Apple’s iCloud Keychain doesn’t have - the ability to securely store sensitive documents such as images of my passport, birth certificate, social security card, and anything I don’t want available in the Finder.

Other Noteworthy Apps

VLC has been the Swiss Army knife of video players.


Handbrake is an open source app that will convert almost any video file into mp4 videos. It’s a great tool to have when dealing with a variety of video formats.


Although iCloud is starting to gain traction, it’s hard to leave Dropbox behind. Another cloud storage solution is Google Drive.

Duet Display

I love using my extra iPad as a portable monitor when i want more space than my MacBook Pro 13” screen can hold. I am looking out for Luna Display which seems to top Duet Display. I’m excited to try this out in 2019.

Carbon Copy Cloner


I can never feel safe enough. I make copies of my hard drives on a weekly basis. After the backup is complete, I move the external hard drives off-site for safekeeping. It’s nice to that I won’t worry about a computer failure when I have my documents backed up. SuperDuper is a close second for me.

I don’t change apps often but I like to do a critical review once a quarter to see if there are any apps that would offer something more. I like to find apps that are available on both iOS and MacOS so that I can use it on whatever device I want to use at any given time. As the iOS technology grows, I’m getting interested in looking for iOS apps more often than the Mac now.

My current experiments involves writing with Ulysses, Bear, and iA Writer fighting for a spot in my toolbox. Ulysses is the current champion but I am keeping an eye out for the other two.

Task management has been interesting to me. Todoist, OmniFocus, and Things offers features that will fit different users. I’m excited for the future now that the top kings of task management are promising new features. Other apps such as GoodTasks and 2Do are also viable contenders.

  • What’s in your software toolbox that you rely on every day?
  • Have you done an apps review to see what apps you can uninstall?
  • Are there any workflows that you can improve with new, updated software?

Share your list of apps by creating a new post in the Productivity Guild discourse!

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This is a fun thread, @wilsonng! Thanks for starting it.

I updated my academic workflow page as a result, which I’ve been meaning to do for awhile now, so thanks for the excuse.


  • Task Manager: Omnifocus 3
  • Automation: Hazel
  • Office: Google Docs/Sheets/Slides
  • File Reference: DEVONthink Pro Office
  • Calendar: Fantastical & Calendly
  • Note-taking: Bullet Journal & Tinderbox
  • Writing: TBD
  • Reference: Paperpile

Edited to add software not on the workflow page linked above, but may be of interest to this community, in particular:

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After experiencing a growing sense of confusion about the roles of all the various text processing apps on my system, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my “knowledge processing” workflows. Tentatively, I’ve distilled things down to a main workflow that looks like this:

			 Jottings  ↘︎
							In Process ➜ Zettelkasten ➜ Writings
(Streams) ➜ Clippings ↗︎

Streams is pretty much everything I read or listen to that I didn’t write myself: books, magazines, RSS feeds and other web browsing, social media, podcasts, etc. A small fraction of this material I capture into my systems.

Most of the “capture” from my streams (“Clippings”) goes through Evernote, mainly because nothing beats its web clipper and other input options.

For “Jottings” (inputs that I write myself) I’m trying to use Drafts, but on the Mac I may eventually go back to my old workhorse BBEdit.

I process material that I may someday write about using Tiago Forte’s Progressive Summarization technique in DEVONthink.

The result of this processing is a Zettel, sort of an atomic unit of written composition, which I keep and work with in The Archive. (Tons of material on the Zettelkasten Method here.)

I haven’t actually written all that much for publication yet apart from blog posts and social media, but I’m mostly trying to use Ulysses for that.

Outside of that paradigm, I also have these categories of notes/texts:

  • Project Notes (including logs, for non-writing projects). I’m in the process of consolidating these in DEVONthink.
  • Reference Notes (for things like dimensions, timetables, procedures, etc.) — Evernote
  • Journal — I’ve never really been a consistent journaler, but after spending some time thinking about all this, it’s sort of the only use case I really have left for Agenda. (I’ve also tried Day One in the past but it never stuck.)