Getting Back to Mac – Making Mac Work

Like most people married to their computers, I spend a portion of my time wondering how I can do things faster and how I can stay better organized. When I made the decision to move back to Mac, I put some effort into researching various productivity tools. The time I invested in research and running trial software has more than paid for itself. The tools described below have literally changed the way I use my Mac. My pack rat approach to accumulating information means that my hard drive is clogged with various text files and Word documents, many of which contain only a few sentences, or a paragraph or two. The reminders, ToDo lists, and research notes are scattered throughout my file system, reflecting the ad hoc way in which they were created. For years, my response to this bad work habit was to periodically crack all those files open, delete the old ones, try to consolidate the new ones, and hope to restore some sanity to the whole mess. Not surprisingly, the results were less than optimal. On Mac, I initially tried to address part of the problem with Stickies, those marvelous little virtual Post-It notes. The end result was a slight improvement, but left me with an interface that looked like my refrigerator door. Again, less than optimal. There had to be a better way… My online research eventually led me to a tool named Voodoo Pad. Despite the implication of the name, Voodoo Pad is more than a TextPad replacement. It handles images and other media and provides a place to write, draw, or link to other files or applications. Indeed, given the way it enables you to work, it is more like a wiki, in the sense that you create and acquire content in various forms and manage it by hyperlinks. VoodooPad has completely supplanted my old way of doing things. Now when I want to take a note, I do it in VoodooPad. When I want to copy some text, I paste it in VoodooPad. I wind up building relationships between items and greatly enhancing not only the accessibility of my previously scattered ramblings, but also increasing the value of them by making connections between things. As you add pages, your VoodooPad document becomes more and more like a wiki — and less and less like a pile of distinct files. The whole is literally greater than the sum of its parts. VoodooPad is easy to search and provides export in many formats. It supports HTML and even comes bundled with a web server which enables you to share your VoodooPad contents with others on the network. One of the neatest features allows you to email a page with a click — a handy add-on. Since I picked up VoodooPad, it has slowly come to dominate my information organization. I now use Word only for documents that need particular formatting for external audiences. I use Stickies only for my immediate ToDos. I place links to commonly used files on my VoodooPad’s starting page and use it to aggregate all sorts of information. You can use VoodooPad for free, with some minor limitations, or, if you are like me, you’ll love it so much you’ll gladly cough up the US$ 29.95 to upgrade to the Pro version (and to thank the developer!). You can get it online at Flying Meat(what is it with these guys and names??). The other application which has changed the way I work on Mac is the well-known Quicksilver. The application is, at its most basic, a launcher, and at the most complex, a whole new way to interact with your Finder. I admit to using little of the whole potential. Quicksilver, for me, is a fast and easy way to launch applications and perform other tasks without having to open Finder and dig around for things. Quicksilver reduces launching and other common application tasks to simple keystrokes (think: macros). So now, instead of loading up my dock with things I only use sporadically, or going to the effort of launching Finder or SpotLight, I use a basic keystroke. When triggered, Quicksilver pops up and you start typing the name of what you want. When the application you are seeking appears on the list, hit return to launch it — or use tab and then scroll down a list of possible actions that can be performed with the target application. Quicksilver is a huge time saver. Once you start using it you will wonder why Mac doesn’t work this way right out of the box — it is a far superior approach to application management. Of course, you can do a lot more with Quicksilver. You can write your own macros (aka “triggers”) or use Quicksilver to manage your clipboard (setting it, for example, to archive large numbers of clipped data). I’ve only scratched the surface with this app, now I guess I should use some of the time I’ve saved to figure out how to get more out of it… Quicksilver is free of charge and can be found at the developer’s site – Blacktree. Visit the previous installments in this series:

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