I don’t allow just any app to take up space in my menu bar. It’s prime real estate — always on the screen and accessible regardless of whatever app I’m currently using. It’s the perfect place to store small snippets of useful information, like how many unread emails I have or which apps are connected to the internet.
I’ve spent a lot of time building the perfect menu bar, and I want to share with you what I’ve crafted. Here’s my essential menu bar apps, listed in the order in which they appear.
I like to be aware of which apps are talking using the Internet. Little Snitch allows me to monitor any and all data transmission between my computer and servers elsewhere. You can also set application specific rules (ie Always let Chrome use the Internet, never let Photoshop).
It’s a popular tool along software pirates (it can block an illegal piece of software from phoning home), but I continue loving the application even after I’ve gotten older and begun trading all my pirated software for the real deal.
Mostly, I can easily see when my downloads are proceeding smoothly, or when Backblaze is actively backing up my files. It’ll also tell me if some random application I just downloaded from the internet is trying to connect to any mysterious servers — which I can immediately terminate.
At this point, if I’m not using Little Snitch, I just feel exposed.
I originally purchased iStat Menus simply for the fuzzy clock feature. This replaces the traditional digital clock with a fuzzy approximation of the time. I fell in love with fuzzy clock a few years back, but that app stopped working after an OS update and I hadn’t been able to find a suitable replacement since.
I love fuzzy clock because, for the most part, the exact time doesn’t matter. When I was growing up, I always wore a digital watch and could always recite the exact time to the minute.
I was shocked, and couldn’t fully explain it. There was something about looking at hands moving around a clock face, rather than thousands of numbers passing by one at a time, that changed my perception of time.
Fuzzy clock allows me to have this same experience. I’ll write for longer sessions at a single time and find it easier to get lost in my work. There’s really no benefit to knowing that it’s 10:47 instead of 10:44 — I’m happy knowing it’s “a quarter to 11.”
iStat Menu has a ton of computer monitoring features, aside from Fuzzy Clock, but the only other one I use is the CPU monitor. It’s fantastic for checking, at a quick glance, whether there’s an application that’s not responding and using up all my processing power.
I started using Puush when I worked at The Verge, because it’s a super simple and fast way to share photos and screen shots. I have the cross hair screenshot feature mapped to ⇧⌘S, which immediately selects a part of the screen, takes a screen shot, uploads it to my account, and puts the URL into my clipboard.
Within seconds, I can share a screen shot with anyone.
For annotating screenshots, I much prefer the old version of Skitch. But sharing these images takes a little bit more work than Puush, so Puush is my daily driver.
Some might call me addicted to my calendar, and their case is strengthened by the fact that Fantastical is one of my favorite applications of all time. For me, it’s not a replacement for Google’s web calendar interface, but it’s where I quickly add new events to my calendar and check events for today and tomorrow.
I didn’t think I’d like the natural language engine as much as I do. I can type in “call with Mike next tuesday at 1pm” and it’ll add the event to my calendar with no problems. I can even say “1pm Mike call tuesday 1/14” and it’ll still work great. (The latter probably a much more accurate rendition of how my brain works when entering events on my calendar.)
Fantastical now syncs with Apple’s Reminders, which I have a love/hate relationship with. It’s great when it works, but the iPhone app is so buggy, and the UX so bad, that I rarely leave the official Reminders app with a smile.
By integrating Reminders into Fantastical, I’m able to interact with my to-do items in an interface that actually works. It’s great!
I spend most of my day available to friends and coworkers through Gchat, but don’t always like to keep a Gmail tab open. The best solution I’ve found is Adium, which is way superior to Apple’s iChat, but still has a few quirks of it’s own.
It does what I need it to, and that’s all that matters. What I really want is Gmail’s chat interface, but for the desktop. I’ve tried Google’s Gchat Chrome plugin, and it’s not quite right.
The hunt is still on for the perfect tool.
This application performs a simple yet important task. It shows how many unread messages I have in my Gmail inbox at any given time, and provides a notification when I receive new emails.
I’m a strong proponent of turning off email notifications on your smartphone, but I love getting them on my computer. I usually take 30 seconds to decide what action each messages needs, then just right back to where I was. Sometimes it interrupts my train of thought, but it never derails me completely.
There’s also a Google Calendar alert function, but I keep this turned off. I have Fantastical, after all.
I really want to have the current weather in my menu bar, and WeathrClip has been the best application I can find thus far. It’s not the best app I’ve ever used — it’ll often freeze or lose connection with the Internet, but it still gives me the weather at a glance for the most part.
Clicking on the menu bar icon reveals a much more detailed forecast. But I still find myself using Forecast.io any time I want details about the weather.
Discovering Bartender changed my life. I used to be a menu bar snob, quitting useful applications simply because they occupied prime menu bar real estate. Now, I don’t have to worry about that at all. I just let Bartender organize everything.
Bartender allows you to control how your menu bar looks and functions. I’m able to hide applications that I don’t need to see, giving me access to their functionality while not making me feel as cluttered.
As a general rule, my visible apps are the ones that provide information at a glance, while more functional apps are stored in Bartender’s bar.
I don’t know what I did before you, Bartender.
Caffeine is a dead-simple app that prevents your Mac from going to sleep, dimming the screen, or starting the screen saver. It can be toggled on and off with a simple click. When there’s coffee in the cup, Caffeine is on.
It’s way better than the Energy Saver settings in Apple’s System Preferences, since closing my laptop still puts things to sleep.
TextExpander saves a a lot of time. It allows you to create snippets that automatically change into longer pieces of text. I’ve got a shortcut that inserts my email address and another that typed out my full blog URL. Each snippet is three or four characters each, which is much easier to type than the full text.
Even better, you can create dynamic expanded text. This is great for when I have to send out similar emails to a large number of people. I’ll create a new snippet with the full text of the email, but make the name and business name “fill-ins,” which means I’ll be prompted to fill them in each time.
TextExpander is a handy little tool to have.
Quiet has been discontinued (it doesn’t play nice with Apple’s new sandboxing rules), but I’ll keep using it until it breaks. I’ve got the keyboard shortcut ⇧⌘P mapped to turn on quiet, which immediately darkens every part of the screen except for the current app I’m using.
I consider this “focus mode,” tuning out all the distractions and helping me write for longer periods of time. Quiet has other features, like disabling notifications to cut out all distractions, but I really just like the ability to hide all background apps.
It’s not a completely distraction-less (since I usually write in Chrome and have a ton of tabs open) but it has a big impact on my productivity.
I’ll admit, I was suckered in by the amazing sales video, but I’ll be damned if I don’t love this app. It’s an app for both your computer and your iPhone, and allows you to tap twice on your phone to unlock your Mac.
I bought the app when it first came out, and it was extremely buggy for a long time after that. But things seem to have smoothed out by now, and I generally don’t have any issues with tapping my phone to unlock my Air.
I put this app in the same category as the fingerprint scanner on my iPhone 5S. Both are small features that have beefed up the security on my devices. Before the fingerprint scanner, I never used a passcode on my iPhone — it was just too much of a hassle to type in the numbers. It was the same with my Air, I just didn’t want to type in a password every time I wanted to use my computer.
Now, everything is password locked. And it’s fun unlocking everything!
Man, do I ever love F.lux. When you enter in your GPS coordinates, F.lux will automatically change the color temperature of your computer screen based on sunrise and sunset times. Late at night, your screen will be much warmer than during the day, putting less strain on your eyes and helping you fall asleep faster.
When you install the app, make sure to change the setting so the color change happens gradually over the course of an hour, rather than all at once. You may notice it at first, but after a few day you won’t even be sure it’s on. That is, until you choose to disable it for an hour and are suddenly blinded.
Obviously users who work with photography or graphics late at night may not benefit from F.lux, but it’s fantastic for the rest of us. I just wish there was an official F.lux app in the iOS App Store (instead of just the Jailbreak version). I’m looking at you, Apple.
I have a Space dedicated specifically to Twitter, allowing me to swipe over to the right at any time and see recent tweets. Every single person I follow is organized into one of four lists: people, companies, news, and favorites. I put each of these lists in a separate column, allowing me to easily browse by content type.
Maintaining this type of organization allows me to follow a bunch of news and company accounts without worrying about them blocking out the actual humans I want to follow. My Favorites list is the shortest, allowing me to keep track of nearly all the tweets from a select group of people.
Using a VPN gives me peace of mind. I use it any time I’m connecting to the Internet outside my apartment. I use it if I want to access location-restricted content (although, as someone living in the United States, that doesn’t happen very often). I use it just for fun.
Private Internet Access is super cheap (about $40 per year) and makes me feel safer. They don’t store any log files and encrypt all data transferred through their service. I’ve been using PIA for almost three years now, and can’t see myself stopping any time soon.
I started using 1Password about three years ago, and I don’t know how I ever lived without it. I keep strong and unique passwords on all my accounts, and don’t ever have to worry about forgetting anything.
The most useful feature of the autofill for Chrome. With a quick keyboard shortcut, 1Password automatically fills in the username and password for everyone online account I have. Since I have everything saved in 1Password, it also allows me to quickly see if I’m already a member somewhere (in case I forgot signing up) or if I need to make a new account.
It syncs with my iPhone, too, so I have access to all my passwords at all times. Couple with with the two-factor verification I use for everything that supports it, and I feel fairly protected.