Tools and Toys

There comes a time in every techie’s life when he/she simply must indulge in, “what apps do you like?” I generally stray from such posts, but my dev lead at work told me I had to do so. Hat tip to him for forcing my hand to share some tips.

Let’s get something straight right at the beginning: I love free stuff. There are a lot of items on this list that are not free, however, and like the rest of you I am not made of money. That said, my father once taught me that if a tool helps you get the job done faster, thus saving you time, your time is saved is likely worth the price paid for that solution. If I’m going to use my computer(s) 12+ hours a day, every minute counts. I love free stuff, but I’ll gladly support a developer for their work if I have a way to do so.

I am a front-end developer by trade, a writer by moonlight, and an obsessive-compulsive time manager by aspiration. If one tool gets the job done, I don’t like to have three in my toolbox; if we need three tools to save time, let’s use all of them. This is a list of things that keep me moving and have stood the test of time.


Working on a Mac is the first step to greatness. (I think Churchill said that.) @40Digits we use retina laptops with small drives and a ton of memory. We do local development (Apache, MySQL, etc.) and push everything through Bitbucket for our Git repos. We are primarily a WordPress dev shop (love that GitHub repo!), though myself and a few others are starting a rogue Rails sect. More on that another day.

When you work on your local machine all day, tools like SizeUp are absolutely invaluable for wrangling your windows. This is one of the apps I have used hundreds of times each day when things get crazy.

I write, code, and debug through a combination of Sublime Text and Espresso. Since we do lots of pre-processing for front-end work, I also use LiveReload…a lot. Yet another app that sees hundreds of requests pass through it each day.

Dev in Motion

I’m going to make this one its own line: YOU. SHOULD. USE. 1PASSWORD. There simply is no smoother way to manage secure data (including notes and product keys) over multiple devices and platforms, desktop or mobile.

Droplr is my current sharing tool of choice, combined with a handy Pinboard-to-Tumblr workflow (thanks, IFTTT) where I catalog solutions to common problems I encounter throughout the day. Everything in my life is kept in sync with Dropbox and BitTorrent Sync.

Another one-liner: Anything you write more than twice each day should go into TextExpander. This is one of the most essential apps I use, so much in fact that I don’t even notice the difference between typing and expanding “snippets” that I have stored over time. I have everything from WordPress code blocks to common spelling corrections in there.

I have mobile apps for all of these as well – super stuff.

Projects & Prose

I’m a big Evernote fan for curing I-should-have-this-written-down-somewhere syndrome. For task management, I love (and am always learning) OmniFocus. I cannot say enough about what I have learned from Merlin Mann and David Sparks on that front.

nvALT by Brett Terpstra is one of the few text editors I’m not sure how I ever lived without. Between that and PlainText and Drafts on iOS, just about everything that doesn’t fit into a proper Evernote notebook is synced between all of my devices.

By the way, if you’re not writing everything in some flavor of Markdown, then I officially give you permission to admit you have been wrong all this time. Go and do likewise.


Data is tough, especially when you have a lot of it. I like to use Transmit for anything that goes beyond basic command-line commands, and it has served me well over the years. When I’m at home I use Synergy to share a common keyboard/mouse between all of my devices. This project has come a long way and is such a breeze to use once you set it up.

When I’m not at home (but really need to be) I rely heavily on LogMeIn to gain access to my home office. Clipboards are another tough one to wrangle when you work/live/play online, but I’m going to shamelessly plug ClipMenu for all of your Mac-based clipboard needs. Keeping that data in sync via Dropbox is also a really handy perk of using that app.

Testing…1, 2, 3

I rely on Hues quite a bit for sampling colors and making small changes throughout the day. (Go grab the beta version – it rocks.)

Testing uptime and other web matters is a breeze with MX Toolbox, Down For Everyone Or Just Me, Pingdom Tools, What Browser Am I Using, etc.

General Insanity

Keeping your life (roughly) in order is a challenge for all of us – why do we spend so much time in ambiguity? I really like tools like Fantastical on iOS to keep my calendars up to spec, along with simple email clients like Mac Mail or Airmail so things don’t get too crazy. I also plan to start using MailTags, because “MailTags can now use OmniFocus projects.” Wow wow wow.

Remember: Every missed appointment is a deal you have broken with yourself. Don’t give your brain that kind of mess to deal with.

We have changed chat programs a couple times at work, so I use Adium as a sure-fire way to make sure there are no networks left behind. I’m a big fan of Twitter which means Wren, Tweetbot, and Twitterrific all get honorable mentions.


I saved Instacast for last because podcasts (internet broadcasts) are so very near and dear to me. I absolutely love this space and can’t get enough of places like 5by5…whom I reference all the time on this site. Way of the Futureā„¢

That’s all for today – I hope this is helpful! Drop me a line if you have notes, thoughts, or general feedback on other first-world geekery.

By CK Hicks

Greetings! I'm a life-long innovator and "heartful technologist" with 13+ years professional experience as a Developer. My primary passion is crafting experiences that enable compelling, human-first storytelling.

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