An Incomplete List of App Recommendations for Productivity on macOS

Good tools can often boost productivity. I enjoy using the macOS a lot because of its Unix nature, delicate GUI, and its abundance of apps. It has been a important teammate for me on my academic path. In this post I would like to summarize the apps that I use the most often, and why they are recommended.


Alfred is similar to macOS’s built-in Spotlight, but with more customizable functions. Instead of opening folders and looking for files manually, I usually toggle the Alfred window and type, for example, find xxx.txt or open xxx.txt. The previous command will open the folder that the file is in, and the latter opens the file via its default application.

Alfred is a paid app, and by upgrading to the powerpack, one is able to use the workflows, which are super convenient. I use a scholar workflow to find papers with a simple scholar xxx command.


This app is not useful if you are using mac’s own keyboard. When you use other keyboards, however, the keymaps are often incompatible with mac’s configurations. Karabiner helps people to easily customize key mappings for each keyboard.


Texpad is a paid LaTeX editor that supports seamless live preview. It also provides an outline panel where you can see how many labels you have defined with ease. Its own typesetter supports a wide range of document classes. The only minor drawback is it does not support import of customized syntax highlight themes.


iTerm is a replacement for macOS’s built-in Terminal. Compared to Terminal, it is much more flexible. My favorite is the splitting pane function. Provided your screen is large enough, you can split the pane vertically or horizontally into as many smaller windows as you want. This is especially useful when you need to use command line for multiple tools. In Terminal you will have to open many windows, which can be confusing.

Open iTerm/Terminal Here

This is a finder extension, also contributed by developers on GitHub (link). Linux’s Finder supports the “open in Terminal” function in its right-click menu, but not macOS. This little plugin as well as many others having similar functions, makes life easier by saving the repeated cd to ... steps.


I am using MacDown to write this post now. It is super light weight, supports syntax highlighting, and provides seamless preview. I am not a super fan of Typora as I do want to see the original look of the source, but Typora is another very popular markdown editor, and I do recommend trying it out if you are looking for one.


I have used Docker for a few months. Though I cannot yet call myself an intermediate user, I confidently say it helped me a lot. In a recent paper we just submitted, the journal asks for replicability of code. I set seed, and tested on my own computer many times to ensure that the code produced the same output as we reported. It did not work on another computer, however, and we found out that it was because the sample() function does not work consistently on R 3.5.1 and R 3.6.0. Docker made it possible for me to run both versions of R simultaneously. Also, thanks to a comment from an officemate, when submitting R packages that also require anonymity, the package can be built inside a Docker container, and when the journal checks the package, they will always see the author’s name as root.

Yishu Xue
Yishu Xue
Data Scientist / Coder / Novice Sprinter / Gym Enthusiast

The night is dark and full of terrors.