Macs are incredible machines to work with! The first reason for this is the powerful OS with its multitude of timesaving features. The other reason is the vast selection of third party utilities that either aim to enhance already existing OS features or even create new ones. But not everyone is aware of those os specific timesavers and third party tools. This is what I aim to do with this article. The post is divided in to two categories. First are the third party workflow utilities and the second part is about OS tips and features.
Third Party utilities
In general I’m not a fan of having a lot of utilities running in the background. I hate the idea of programs chewing up valuable resources! Besides that it makes things difficult if you’re freelancing and you have to work on site. When you’re so used to your own system with all the bells and whistles the on site computer feels like a computer from the 70s. As you can guess though there are some utilities worth breaking those rules.
One of those utilities is:
A big portion of a user’s time is spent doing repetitive tasks. Like moving files around deleting files and so on and so forth. Understandably some users can’t be bothered maintaining their machine resulting in cluttered hard drives and desktops. This is where hazel shines. Hazel is a great automation tool doing all the boring and repetitive things for you! You might think that involves a lot of programming but this couldn’t be farther from the truth!
Hazel does its magic through actions performed on folders. The actions are described through very simple rule selections. You just add as many commands as needed.
You can do quite a lot of things with it! For example the most common problem a lot of users have are messy desktops. You can setup Hazel to clean up your desktop automatically. This is how I’ve setup my desktop. I have specific rules setup for different file types. But the general rule for all files is this. If after 2 days I haven’t taken any action, Hazel will start moving files around or even delete files.
So after 2 days any images on the desktop will be moved to a folder named images. Later on I can go around and manually select which ones I want to keep and which ones I want to delete. The same goes for folders and movies.
For my downloads folder which is another place where things just keep piling up has slightly different rules. If after two days I haven’t taken any action Hazel automatically moves the files to the trash. But if the file is labeled with grey than no matter how old the file is it will stay there.
Another rule that is specific to the way I work but shows the possibilities of Hazel, are screenshots. I take a lot of screenshots during the day so before hazel I ended up with a desktop full of images. And if you take in to account the fact I’m using a 2 monitor setup the file number gets quite high really fast! I never use the second monitor for screenshots so I always end up manually deleting the second image. To solve this I created a hazel rule which moves all screenshots to a folder named screenshots and after that automatically moves the one from the second screen to the trash.
You can do so much more! For example you can set up a weekly archival of a specific folder that also moves the archive to your backup storage device. You can also automatically rename files that have a specific naming convention and move them to a specific folder. Great for bank account statements. Whatever you can think of chances are you can do it!
Default Folder X
With Default Folder X you have a turbo charged system for file saving/ file management. It basically adds a surrounding area to your open and save dialogs with the added bonus of having a lot of extra options.
The feature I use all the time is the ability to save a file on a folder window that is open on your desktop. You don’t have to manually navigate to that specific folder. You can just hover outside the open or save dialog and you will get a highlight of the open window. If you have multiple windows you will see multiple highlights! All you need to do after that is to click on the finder window you need. Your open or save dialog is now automatically set on that folder! It’s that simple! And most importantly that fast!
But the niceties don’t end there! You have a fully functional finder inside the dialog. That means adding tags to your files, labelling your files, renaming folders and deleting files. You can also set up folders you access frequently on the right side of the dialog. Along with recently visited folders.
This is a must have utility! Just for the quick jump to folder, alone!
There are several other utilities that are definitely worth checking out. Like Alfred, or Art Directors Toolkit. But Hazel and Default Folder X I’m using day in and day out and they have completely transformed the way I work.
You can get quite a lot of things done though, even with just a vanilla version of OS X. As long as you know some handy little things.
Navigate dialogs with your keyboard
Surprisingly enough this is something that a lot of people are not aware of. You don’t have to use your mouse every time a dialog pops up. You can starting using your keyboard for this type of action by just enabling one option in system preferences.
Once enabled you hold tab to switch between options and then space to confirm the highlighted option. So simple but so useful!
The finder has a really extensive set of options for screenshots.
Command + Shift + 3: Screenshot of the screen
Command + Shift + 4: Select an area of the screen you want to grab. There’s a nice little extra here that I use all the time. When in this mode the pointer transforms in to a hairline showing you the dimensions of the area you’re grabbing. This is really useful if you just want to measure things on screen. If you’re done measuring you can just hit escape and avoid saving the area as an image.
Command + Shift +4 + space: Here you can just screen grab a specific window. It even saves it with its underlying drop shadow!
The same commands with control added save the images on to the clipboard instead of in a file!
But it doesn’t end here!
In the commands where you just select a screen area if you hold down once more:
space: you can move the area you’ve drawn around
option: you resize the area window from its center
shift: you resize only one axis (x,y) while the other one remains locked
Digital Color Meter
One of my favourite utilities in OS X. With this little utility you can read the RGB values of any area on your screen. Especially useful if you found a cool colour while browsing images on the internet. You don’t have to save the image, open it up in photoshop and read its values. You just hover over with your mouse read the values and you’re done!
If you’re looking for a specific command but you cannot find it, something that happens to me all the time (!), you can just go to the help menu and start typing the name of the command. The system will find it and highlight exactly the menu where it’s located! Just plain awesomeness!!!
This is just a small selection of cool and neat little things I use all the time to improve my daily computer work! The list is quite big! If you have a tip that is not mentioned here but you use all the time feel free to share!