Many people are obsessed with speed and I happily include myself in that category, at least with respect to the performance I get from my computer. Whether it's a faster processor, more memory, a quicker graphics card or a new high-speed hard drive, upgrading to the latest and greatest translates into getting things done more quickly.
It's not enough to just throw hardware at a problem, sometimes you have to optimize yourself. Of course I can do this by inhaling a rather large quantity of coffee first thing in the morning but what I'm talking about is finding applications that can improve how you use your computer. Though Macs have incredibly high usability right out of the box, over the last year I've found 4 applications that have really helped me improve my efficiency on my Mac. I've tried quite a few but these are the applications I've stuck with and found most valuable to me.
Then think about the repetitive forms with your contact information that need to be filled out and the purchase sites where you have to enter in your credit card details. Finally toss in those times when you need your frequent flyer number or child's social security number or application's license code.
1Password does a fantastic job of handling all of this for me. It plants itself in the toolbar of my browser and makes logging in to a site a one or two click affair. It will offer to remember my login credentials the first time I use it and then it retains it after that. Now when I hit nearly any form I can just tell 1Password to fill it out for me and it usually completes most of the common fields without any typing on my part.
Now that I have it synchronizing my 1Password data automatically through DropBox (which is a free service), both the Macs I use on a regular basis are current all the time. It is seamless and completely wonderful.
I realize I sound like I'm gushing about this application but it's one of those "you have to try it to appreciate it" types of things. It's also one of the few applications I immediately bought a family license for and put on my wife and kid's Macs. At $39.95 (single user) and $69.95 (family 5-pack) it's not the cheapest utility you can buy but well worth the money.
I have a confession: I am a keyboard junkie. I'll use an easily remembered keystroke combination over a mouse movement every time. It was for this reason that one of the first features in OS X I became enamored with was Spotlight. The ability to hit Command-Space and just type in the name of something and launch it by hitting Return was excellent.
The issue was that Spotlight had some issues about the time I was starting to really use it and I ended up trying out QuickSilver. While QuickSilver was great I started to see some minor issues with it and at the time the author of QuickSilver was indicating he was walking away from the project (that has since changed I believe). It was at this point that I started playing with LaunchBar and I've been hooked ever since.
LaunchBar makes it really fast to get to the application I want, whether it's running or not. Command-Space (I moved Spotlight to Control-Space), type in a couple letters and hit Return. It's much faster than Spotlight and allows me to do more than just launch an application. It also learns my personal shortcuts so that when I want to launch Pages I hit Command-Space, PG, Return and it's up and running.
Since it can also use what I type to search my address book I can find a person by typing part of their name, then hit the right arrow button and select and e-mail address, press Return and I've got a new mail message addressed to that person and ready for writing.
I use Skype for my phone calls and have installed some LaunchBar scripts to control it, allowing me to just navigate to a person's phone number through LaunchBar and hit Return; Skype dials them for me.
Though I can get by with Spotlight on a Mac that doesn't have LaunchBar installed, my productivity takes a bit of a dip. LaunchBar is €24.00 for a single user version and €39.00 for a 5 user family license.
I run lots of applications at the same time (right now I've got 16 running). Even with dual screens I like being able to arrange my application windows in a very structured way so I always know where to look for things. Spaces give me the ability to set up those work spaces and jump between them very quickly. The alternative is a bunch of windows that are either layered on top of one another or minimized down to the Dock Bar. I have found that jumping to a Space that contains the apps I need set up and ready for use saves me a lot of time throughout the day.
I've written quite a bit on how I've set up Spaces to optimize my daily routine. Though it's included in OS X and could really just be considered a part of the Mac experience I've observed a number of Mac users that never bother to. If you haven't already, give Spaces a try.
Though I'm a keyboard first kind of person there are plenty of times that I switch into "mouse mode". Usually this is when I'm browsing through information on a combination of web pages, links from Twitter, and from NetNewsWire. This is when I want my mouse to be more than just a 2 button hockey puck with a scroll wheel and go for heavier duty mice that have multiple programmable buttons.
Logitech is my mouse vendor of choice and while I love the hardware they produce the Mac mouse drivers they put out have been horrid. Fortunately SteerMouse has come to my rescue. It allows me to define custom actions on all of the buttons on my Logitech Mx510 mouse. While I would prefer that Logitech make serious efforts to improve their drivers I'll happily pay the $20 for SteerMouse because it makes my mouse that much more functional.
So there you have it, the four applications I use constantly to optimize the way I use my Mac. How about you? Got an application that helps you perform at your peak? Drop a note in the comments and share.