Jordan McMahon


Wiring Your Tech to Fight ADHD: Making Your Mac a Productivity Powerhouse



My Mac often looks more like a shelter of neglected apps than it does a place to get work done.

Whenever my workload feels so overwhelming I might reach my breaking point, usually about once a month, I go on an app binge. I’ll download any app that I can convince myself will change my life by ridding me of my ADHD woes and making me a better worker.

Usually these apps last a few days before discouragement and disappointment lead me to deleting them and going back to what I know.

This process isn’t entirely without merit, though. Every now and then an app slips through the cracks and makes me better at getting my work done. These are the apps that help keep my ADHD at bay and let me get to work.

Accountability: RescueTime

When you have a world of information and distractions at your fingertips, you need a barrier between them and your work to keep you on task, especially when ADHD will do everything in its power to pull you away from what you’re doing. RescueTime is built to do this in two ways. First, it logs how much time you spend on a given app or website. That time then gets broken down into categories of productive time and non-productive time. As you get an idea of how far off you are from the amount of time you’d like to spend on your work, you can look at your biggest distractions and begin to adjust your habits accordingly.

You can take this a step further and use RescueTime’s Focus feature to block out any and all distractions that drag you from your work. It’s part of RescueTime’s premium tier, which will cost you $9/month and give you some other features like alerts and in-depth reports on your habits. But if you’re looking for something that can make you stick to what you’re doing free of charge, you can pair RescueTime with SelfControl, a free app that blocks access to any distracting site you put in its list.

Password Management: 1Password

There’s no sense in forcing your brain to remember things that good software can hang onto; leave your limited brain space for more pertinent bits of information. I use 1Password to save time by storing my login information and keeping it within reach. It’s always in the menu bar so you can search for whatever login info you need, and it automatically knows when you’re logging into something you haven’t stored yet so you can throw it into 1Password right away. There’s also the added benefit of creating unique, hard to guess passwords for each account to keep it safe from prying eyes.

Scheduling: Fantastical

I’m terrible at writing down my commitments before they get tossed into a Pile of Things I Totally Forgot About but Totally Shouldn’t Have. Fantastical has done a better job at helping me stick to my commitments than any other calendar app to date.

What makes Fantastical stand out is its menu bar icon, which shows you a condensed view of your schedule so you can stay on top of what’s going on in your life. It also keeps an input bar at the top for easy logging of upcoming events, and you can write them in plain English to get them scheduled as quickly as possible. You can type in phrases like “Coffee with Michele tomorrow at 2,” press enter, and jump right back to whatever you were doing. These two features have helped me stick to my arrangements and reduce that Pile of Things I Totally Forgot About but Totally Shouldn’t Have.

Notes: Bear

Even though it’s fairly new to the scene, Bear has made its way into my daily workflow thanks to two key features: its interface and its organization system.

If I’m using an app on a daily basis it has to be pretty or I’ll lose interest and my unfaithful brain will jump to something more eye-catching at the cost of my productivity. Bear’s ability to blend simplicity with power results in an interface that’s both pleasant to look at and easy to navigate. Whenever I store a note in Bear, I know it’s in safe hands.

That’s where its second key feature comes into play. The way Bear organizes notes has surpassed anything else I’ve seen. Rather than storing things in folders, Bear uses a unique tagging system to make your notes easy to sift through. Unlike other note apps with tagging systems, Bear treats tags as folders by letting you create nested tags for more fine-tuned organization and letting your notes exist in multiple “folders” at once.

Forgetfulness and disorganization are ADHD’s main weapon against my ability to get things done, and Bear is a staple in how I fight back and maintain my sanity.

Bookmarking: Spillo

I’ve accumulated a lot of information over the years, and it’s all useless without a good way to sort through it all. Spillo, my Pinboard client of choice, helps me sort through everything by giving the bookmarking service a super charge in organization.

First, its attractive and simple interface ensures that I’m engaged when I’m using it. Second, it shows me any links I’ve stored that are now dead, as well as links I haven’t yet tagged so I can quickly clean up and organize everything I’ve thrown into Pinboard. I’m prone to letting my surroundings fall into unorganized chaos, and Spillo helps keep me from reaching the point of no return with my resources.

Journaling: Day One

When we say we’ll never forget something, it’s probably because it’s something we talk about enough to commit it to memory. Anything I don’t repeat often will inevitably be forgotten by the end of the week, and sometimes this means losing memories I want to hold onto.

I’ve talked about Day One before, but what I love about the Mac app is the fact that I can type longer entries on it than on my iPhone thanks to the Mac’s keyboard. When I take the time to write my daily entries from my Mac, I find that they’re more articulate and I can see my ideas through to the end in a way that a smaller screen and less capable keyboard don’t allow.

Clipboard Syncing: Copied

A lot of my work involves text, and if I don’t have a way to hang onto that text I’m definitely going to forget it. Copied has helped me hang onto snippets of text that I’ll need for work but don’t need to store long-term. Any time I copy something, a new clipping is created in Copied and I can quickly access it when I need it.

Copied is a powerful ally for someone who struggles with multitasking. Its automated templates can turn text copied from an article into a note with the article’s title and source link. It’s also great for quickly aggregating chunks of information from different sources to group together later. I can go on a copying spree, saving every bit of text I’ll need for an article or some other project, then merge all of the clippings in Copied into one note that can then be placed in something like Bear for safe keeping.

Copied’s List feature makes it a great place to store strings of text that I end up using frequently, like a canned email response or links to my articles when people ask for them.

These features have made Copied a staple in how I manage my projects because it can store my information without disrupting my work.

Text Expansion: aText

Until someone finds a way to create more time in the day for me to get things done, I’ll keep using apps that can make me better at being productive by cutting down the amount of effort I have to put into those seemingly trivial, yet crucial, tasks.

As much as I love Copied, I use a lot of repetitive phrases, tags, and contact information that don’t really fit in its system. Still, I need a way to save time so my always-on-empty brain can stay on course without losing momentum.

aText keeps me fueled by letting me turn these longer strings of text into a small phrase or string, so I can type out ::blog:: and aText will quickly turn that into a link to my site’s blog. It’s easier than having to copy/paste my URL or type it out manually, without the end result suffering.

Like most apps for power users, this can quickly soak up hours of your time while you try to figure out what you need shortcuts for. Your time is probably in short supply so the best way to work around this is to set aside an hour or two creating shortcuts for anything you can think of off the top of your head. As you use aText longer, you’ll notice more phrases that you can incorporate into aText’s system, adding and removing as you see fit.

When you’re done you’ll be saving your fingers and your brain useful energy that can go to something more demanding.

Task Management: Things 3

None of this would matter if I didn’t have something to remind me of what needs to get done. I’ve cycled through nearly every todo list app on the App Store, and since launching two weeks ago Things 3 has stolen my heart.

In many ways, Things 3 excels because of its similarities to Bear. Cultured Code, the developer of Things, struck the perfect balance of simplicity and power. In addition to its clean and beautiful interface, Things has a few features that pushed me switch from Todoist. It’s the first productivity app that’s managed to fuse my calendar with my tasks without feeling cluttered.

I’ve also found Things 3 to be great for managing larger projects because under each project you can create sub-headings to divide your tasks and keep them organized. But my favorite feature is the completion bubbles next to each project. As you complete more tasks in a project, the white bubble will start to fill with blue color to show you how far along you are. 

These features have made Things 3 the most effective task management app I’ve used to date, and it does so while being a joy to use. 

ADHD will always be an obstacle in my pursuit to complete tasks on time and stay afloat. No app or service will ever change that, but there are apps that can make it just a little bit easier to get through your work.

Once you find those apps it’s easier to develop a system that works with your brain rather than against it. These apps might change over time as services get shut down or something better comes along, but the core idea is the same: take a look at the weaknesses in your workflow and find software that will fill in those gaps without forcing you to change the way your brain is wired. Your work will be better for it.

Jordan McMahon