My Productivity Boosters — A random collection of tricks and tools — What are yours?

Christian Bäuerlein on April 10, 2018

I love working on projects. I’ve been working on all kinds of projects for 12 years now and over time, some patterns emerged. Here are some of m... [Read Full]
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Great read!

A lot of my productivity hacks come from Deep Work - Cal Newport.

An "ah ha" I got from his book was to set up my environment and mental state properly.

Before I work, I take the dog for a walk and mentally walk through what I want to accomplish, and I attempt to get into the frame of mind necessary for extreme focus -- the kind a chess champion or a surgeon would need.

Once home, I prepare a coffee, some water and a few snacks. I clean my desk, write down my time blocks and todos for the day, and in general just get ready so I won't have to move for hours.

When I'm ready, I close my office door and I completely get in the zone. All unnecessary browser tabs are closed, phone is at a safe distance so I won't check twitter, etc.

With practice, I can enter the zone fairly quickly, and with my little todo list next to me, I am often very pleased with the results of the day.


Good points, the book is going on my reading list :)


I was very glad when I finally bought it. The sooner you read it, the better :)


Phone at a safe distance ... Hmm, I could really use that!


I really enjoyed this post - capslock to ctrl/esc is one of my favourite hacks too.

Couple more things which have worked for me which you may like:
Spacefn layer: hold space then hjkl for arrow keys, then you don’t need a specific slack mapping, there is a Spacefn example in KE I am pretty sure
Hyperkey: map a key to command+option+ctrl+shift and then map hyper+other_keys to open apps directly - saves a lot of time for me.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you are already doing this ;)


Hey, super good points!

Spacefn layer: I remapped holding space down to cmd for some weeks, but it showed side effects when I typed sloppily. Your idea sounds better and could solve a lot of my problems. I think I might give the Spacefn layer a try!

Hyperkey: I love the idea, I just don’t know where to put the key. 🤔 Can you tell me more about your setup?



I currently have right option bound to hyper (I was never using it for anything else).

Since you have capslock bound to ctrl/esc maybe you could go with the left ctrl? Or something else that you don't use. If you are super daring, how about mapping enter (when chorded) to it?! (and of course leaving a single enter to it's normal functionality).

Here is my current karabiner config:

Ah, very cool, I will try this out!
What do you use to create the shortcuts based on the hyper key?

Good question! I am using Hammerspoon - here is my config for an example:

(Ignore the keyboard swapping bit, that's out of date. Karabiner elements supports device dependent mappings now)

Another useful tool to have in one's back pocket.


I use several of these; I like the Getting Things Done methodology and practice email inbox-zero, and use Things to manage the GTD workflow. I lean pretty heavily on Siri to add items to my GTD inbox. I wear an Apple watch, so any time something pops into my head I can just say, "Hey Siri, remember to write an article on Little Snitch and VPN leakage," and it will automatically appear in my inbox in Things. It helps get tasks immediately out of my head and into my GTD system.

One small utility that I use constantly is PopClip, a contextual pop-up menu that's activated on selecting text. For example, I can highlight an address in a document and PopClip will bring up a tiny menu that lets me do things like open Endicia with the address so that I can print a mailing label. I use it so much that it's jarring when I'm on a Mac that doesn't have it installed.

One last tool that I use quite a bit is Dash docs (despite the dev's rocky history with Apple). It integrates with every major IDE; if I'm in Webstorm working on some JavaScript, a quick Cmd-Shift-D brings up the documentation for whatever object or method is under the cursor. It also integrates with StackOverflow for the desperate :)

Be careful not to get caught up in Productivity Porn...that's when you spend more time playing with productivity tools that doing actual work :)


Oh, wow I didn't know about PopClip. Could you give some more examples how you use it?


I think my top three uses are:

  1. Open a URL in a browser (a URL that's just text, not a link).
    1a. Open a URL in Chrome specifically.

  2. Add selected text to Things inbox.

  3. Copy selected item to clipboard.

There are well over 150 add-ons, and you can easily write your own. Here's the current list of PopClip add-ons.


Really excellent writeup, Christian! So much cool stuff here. I hadn't heard of Karabiner Elements. (I use Alfred to mess with my keyboard shortcuts, but Karabiner seems really interesting.)

I'm surprised you didn't mention any kind of snippet tool, like TextExpander. Do you have a favorite?


Thanks! I use Spacemacs/Emacs as an editor and yasnippet ( as a snippet tool for it, but I don’t use one outside of Emacs. I tried it in Alfred for some time, but it never stuck with me.

I use the Workflow app on mobile to prefill DayOne journal entries though.

I am curious: What do you use snippet tools for?


TextExpander does the usual snippet expansion stuff, which is great. But what puts it on another level is that the expansion doesn't have to be static. Instead of plain text, I can tell TextExpander to run a bash script and emit the output. I use this to quickly fetch ticket titles from Jira, parse Velocity template files and emit boilerplate code to call them, etc.

And I'm a recreational cyclist, so I use it to ease the pain of typing the notation for the workouts I sometimes do.

If you're interested in a bit more detail, I did a short write up here on a while back.

Good articles, thanks for sharing! TextExpander is mightier than I thought, seems like a useful tool! 🤔


Some great tips in here Christian!

A lot of my productivity tips are explained in My Mac Setup, but in a nutshell Alfred and aliases for the command line and git. You've given me some new things to check out as well, e.g. Karabiner. I think @wesbos mentioned that in one of the earlier episodes of Syntax FM, so definitely gonna check that one out.


Thank you for this writeup! I also use Fira Code 😍


As an Emacs user and keyboard person I'm surprised org-mode didn't come up. TODO/project planning/authoring, all with plain text. The ultimate productivity tool. No wonder it's still going strong after 15 years!


Deep inside me, I know that Org-mode is the answer. I am just afraid that I never can go back to anything else if I start using it 😩


I am on Ubuntu and I sometimes have to copy multiple think at the same time. In such cases a clipboard manager (glipper in my case) is very handy. I can copy multiple stuff (image, file, text, spreadsheet table etc) one after another without worrying previous clips will be overwritten. Accessing all previous clips is just a shortcut away.
Clipboard managers can also remeber clipboard history after reboot if you want to.
I use ClipStack on Android for clipboard history and what I love about it is that I can launch ClipStack history instead of Google Assistant when I hold home button.
If you think that I am a little obsessed with clipboard managers just remember that I think you are a little obsessed with keybindings 😁


Nice article and thanks for introducing me to new tools and techniques.
One of my favorite in this article is about how you are using Trello and GTD.

Does anyone know the similar type of article which targets windows users?


Interesting. in area of keyboard i MUST have ThinkPad one. absolutly must for me. i remap capslock and windows keys to F13 abd F14... but to be honest i do not use them much. they are more like dead keys.

about getting in zone helps me:

  • setting “moon” mode on phone (or also called stfu mode) :) and fliping it faced to the table
  • setting DND on mail extension in browser
  • playing music, good headphones are best- closed ones, so in the zone you will no hear even tank
  • green tea

for note taking i use post in notes and whiteboard
i just didnt found right tool for task tracking, so i keep most of it in my head
(i find Trello bulky and i feel it dont show enought information on given space- even on my UHD display i see thin column with messages and it drives me crazy)
i am like more for “ github issues” style of work.
i was thinking about trying Jira, or any oher suggestions. :)


I see you use Pomodoro technique and Trello. There is a way to combine those two together using I use it for my project to keep track of time I use for each task, you should check it out!


Interesting! Thanks for the link, I will check it out!


I need a hoodie ASAP :-).

Great piece, Christian. I mostly work on Windows so this is very helpful on getting up to speed on Mac.


Thanks! I think some of them are even platform independent or could hopefully be ported to windows tools :)


Only did it for a couple years, but some good habits stuck with me. :)


I loved everything... except airmail ;)

I don't know what it is but I always have issues with it, mainly just on ipad though


I'm only using it on Desktop. Right now, I switched back to Postbox, the new version is really fast!

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