General maintenance and organisation: apps that make your life a bit easier

This post does not speak directly to academic tasks such as writing papers or reviewing literature. Instead, I’m going to briefly describe some apps that does useful ‘background work’, which in turn helps me spend less time on being organised and more time on doing my actual work. I’m not offering a full review of these apps, but rather pointing to some options designed to help you organise your files and work flows.


As I’ve said before, I’m a great fan of tagging as a means of organisation. Tags is a nice and user friendly app that easily allows you to tag different file types across your mac, including emails stored in the native mail app and safari web pages.

One thing I like about working with tags is that you can assign more than one tag to a file, and you can subsequently use smart groups in Finder if you want additional folder organisation to supplement the use of tags. It’s a much more dynamic way of organising your stuff than static folders.

If you would like some free alternatives to Tags, Tagger is worth checking out, and can be used in conjunction with TagLists.

Default Folder X

Another app that helps with file management is Default Folder X. First, this app adds an additional part to you Finder window when you save files, where you can add open meta tags, labels and spotlight comments as you are saving the file. Second, this app allows you to associate particular folders with particular apps, so that when you want to open a file within, for example, Pages, Scrivener or Circus Ponies Notebooks, Finder will automatically be directed to the folder of your choice.


Leap is a little powerhouse for those who want to rely on tags rather than folders as a main principle for file management. It’s a swiss army knife for searching, retrieving and tagging your files. It might be overkill for a lot of people – but if you’re looking for a maxed out Finder option which will never put you in a situation of ‘not finding that file’, it’s worth having a look at this app.


Hazel is a little app that works in the background with general housekeeping. You can ask Hazel to automate a lot of tasks that are then just executed without you having to think about them. Some of the things that Hazel does for me include:

  • regularly clearing out my downloads folder
  • regularly clearing out the camera uploads folder in dropbox
  • batch renaming files uploaded to the camera uploads folder in dropbox
  • erasing files once a day from a folder where I stick stuff that I’m just temporarily editing or saving
  • automatically opening new journal articles that I download in Bookends. I first save them in a separate folder in Dropbox, because I like to keep a separate set of my PDFs without any annotations. These files are all gathered in a dropbox folder and organised by tags. When I tag the files with ‘bookends’, Hazel automatically opens the PDF in Bookends (thanks to Aleh Cherp at for this tip!)

These are just some examples – Hazel can do a whole range of things, and also complements the native Automator very well.


TextExpander does exactly what the name suggests, it expands text. For many years, I’ve had a system of abbreviations when I take notes. For example, instead of writing ‘knowledge’, I write ‘kno’, and instead of writing ‘educational theory’, I write ‘edul th’. Especially when you are writing by hand, this saves a lot of time and effort. TextExpander expands these snippets for you as you type. This means that when I’m writing literature notes or academic papers, I can type much faster because TextExpander has all my snippets stored in them.

TextExpander is also very useful for filling out forms or dealing with emails or other forms of correspondence where you typically repeat particular sentences or paragraphs. For example, I have snippets for all my email addresses, my phone number, my postal address and frequently used abbreviations.


Alfred opens and finds stuff for you. It opens applications, finds files, and searches the web for you, activated a little keyboard shortcut. I primarily use Alfred, rather than the Finder, to open apps and files, because it’s very quick and easy.

Do you have other recommendations for apps that help you keep productive and organised? Please leave a comment below.


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5 Responses to General maintenance and organisation: apps that make your life a bit easier

  1. Thank you for a inspiring and useful post on tools, especially tagging.

    Best regards,
    Joe Siri Ekgren

  2. Dear Macademise-editor,

    I really enjoy your thoughtful blog posts and elegant solutions to the challenges of writing articles amid a sea of information.

    On my second reading two questions popped up.

    1) I expect that you have quite a few projects running in parallell. What do you use to stay on track on your projects? I use to divide my projects into horisontal stories – where each step is a “sticky note” laid out on a grid you define. (much like Agile SCRUM). The dynamic reflowing of notes when organising is refreshing and very useful. Notes cange colour wen moved to a different column, which is, at least for me, more inspiring than regular lists or other more static post-it walls like LinoIt (which aesthetically has more bells and whistles). I like Merlin which is a project planning tool with GANNTT charts and sceduling of project tasks, but Symphonical is easier to share, and in everyday use gives me more flexibility.

    2) What strategies do you use to follow up phone calls and e-mail?

    I bought EndNote years ago, but from your post it looks like Bookends would be more useful, especially with tagging functions.

    Best regards,
    Joe Siri Ekgren, MD

    • macademise says:

      Thanks for that, Joe, and for visiting my blog!

      I didn’t know about Symphonical. It looks a bit similar to, which I was only introduced to a couple of months ago – it’s based on the same agile/scrum principles. I haven’t actually worked with it, though, but it looks really useful for collaborative projects.

      How I approach project management depends a bit on what kind of project it is. I often start new writing projects in Curio, which I’ve written about here. The strength of Curio, in my opinion, is that you can combine mind maps, index cards, rtf, web searches, and a whole lot of other things within the same app. It’s a very useful all-rounder, and the developers are very helpful.

      More generally, there are two apps that help me keep organised with my work. One is a task manager called 2do, which I’m going to write a post on when I find the time. 2Do is very similar to Things, but better IMO because it’s cheaper and also syncs to android (I have a Samsung phone). In 2Do, I can allocate tasks to different projects, assign different start and due dates so that stuff I need to do simply pop up when they need to be executed, and also paste links to e.g. web pages or my notes in Evernote. That’s also how I also keep track of phone calls and emails. You can tag specific tasks with “email” or “phone”, or stick such tasks in a separate category, if you wish (I tend to assign them to the relevant project, by due date). Another thing I like about 2Do is that it works very well with tagging and you can create smart groups based on different combinations of tags, so there’s a lot of flexibility in terms of how you want to keep organised.

      Another daily go-to app for my project management is Evernote. I have a separate notebook for each ongoing project, and then I can further differentiate notes within those notebooks by using tags. I also have one notebook for all my academic writing, where I use tags to distinguish between different texts-in-progress. Two of the advantages for me with using Evernote is that it syncs with ‘everything’ (in contrast to Curio, which is a great app in many ways but doesn’t really sync with anything), and I can also share notebooks with people I work on projects with.

      Bookends is primarily for organising my literature. I use the note cards during literature reviews to make notes of what articles should be used for what purposes, and sometimes I create smart groups based on particular writing projects.

      I agree that GANNTT charts are nice and I recently upgraded my XMIND mind mapping licence to get that included, but haven’t actually set it up yet. I’m looking forward to trying it out. I’ve been eyeing up Merlin before but the price (relative to my needs) put me off.

  3. Doug Adama says:

    Thanks for the overview. I use many of these applications. A few more that I recommend include:
    – Foreversave, specifically for backing up MS Word and Excel documents due to the instability of Microsoft applications on mac. This is always one of the first utilities that I install and I would never dream of using Microsoft applications on the mac without it.
    – 1Password for managing and syncing passwords, logins, and software licenses
    – Keyboard Maestro for creating your own key commands. This is great for creating common keyboard shortcut across applications or for making some shortcuts more intuitive.
    – Popclip for an iOS like popup action menu that can be customized using an extensive number of extensions.
    – Dash: a snippet manager for code including R, html, css, etc.. It is supported by an extensive library of code (“docsets”).
    – VoodooPad: a personal wiki application. I use it for creating mini tutorials for myself for more complex applications (Photoshop, QGIS, R, JMP). I had tried using Devonthink Pro for this but found it lacked the fucntionality of VoodooPad – particularly the ability to make page anchors for creating html like navigation within pages.
    – Tembo and Datalore: alternatives to spotlight.
    I always enjoy your musing about acedemic productivity.
    D. Adama

    • macademise says:

      Thanks very much for your input! Several of these were new to me. I have Keyboard Maestro but haven’t even begin to really dig into the possibilities that comes with it. I also see a lot of praise for 1Password, which I’ll probably get around to purchasing at some point.

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