Hidden Productivity for the Office with Alfred (macOS)

I love process efficiency. Whether it’s mechanical motion or simplifying a repetitive task to it’s base parts, efficiency feels good. It especially feels good when you can integrate it into a daily workflow where the time savings actually adds up.

I’ve read a lot of posts about productivity that give high level advice akin to get to sleep earlier or workout in the morning. While these are valid tips for productivity these posts are often broad in scope and shallow in depth (water wings allowed for style but not required). Instead I’m writing a brief, hyper-focused tip for productivity that I’ve started using to great effect during my work day.

Alfred

I’ve been using Alfred for a few years now on my personal computer, but brought the app to work when I started at a new company (AppNeta, an application and network performance monitoring company). Alfred effectively replaces OSX’s Spotlight feature. You can run them side-by-side as they are very similar tools at first glance, but Alfred allows for additional customization.

Without making this a pitch for Alfred I will note one thing — I was a freemium user for years before I ended up grabbing the power pack right before Alfred 3 came out. That being said, the tips below are all free to use.

Preferences

As a free user you’re limited to a few features of the Alfred Preferences:

  • Default Results — determines scope of the search capability
  • File Search — identifies keywords for advanced file search (e.g., in)
  • Web Search — URLs and customization options
  • System — keywords for quitting, sleeping, restarting, etc.

I use Web Search 98% of the time. Why? Because the customization options allow me to not only open common pages (like my company home page, the staging server, and others), but it lets me search quicker and is a replacement for my bookmarks bar in Chrome.

Searching Quicker with Alfred

Google Drive is great, except when you can’t find something. Syncing to my hard drive, allowing collaboration, available anywhere — all great. But…

Searching Google Drive is slow.

Google Drive can be slow to use when you’re trying to find that one shared document that Joe sent out two weeks back after his sales team update with the funny picture of a goat on it.

Thankfully Google’s search engine is built into Drive so you can use keywords like from: but to get there quicker through Alfred use this custom Web Search.

To walk through it, Alfred requires a URL and allows the {query} parameter to be replaced when the command is executed. With the keyword ds you can type ‘ds new template’ to replace the {query} with ‘new template’ in the URL (it’s smart enough to encode the space as %20). This will open a new web browser tab or window, open google drive (if you’re already logged in), and then automatically search for ‘new template.’

I was looking for a handy new launcher, but what I have found is a tool to URL-hack my way to productivity. I started looking for some other processes that ended up taking longer than expected. Specifically I looked for searches of sites that I had to pull up in meetings or to answer questions.


Alfred’s Web Search Functionality

Use Cases

I’m sure everyone has different tasks that annoy them on a daily basis. These are some of the Alfred Web Search commands that I use to speed those up.

Google Drive Search

Detailed above, this allows me to quickly search Google Drive for any document and because its generic search will also permit additional options like owner: and type:. I also added shortcuts that do searches by owner or links directly to the recent tab.
Search URL: https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/search?q={query}
Title: Drive Search
Keyword: ds

Note: you can drag an icon into the configuration screen for each command

New Google Doc, Slide or Sheet

I’m in marketing so I am constantly working on new messaging, presentations or analysis. Creating a new Google doc (lowercase) is one of those minor annoyances that can be removed through Alfred and unique URLs from Google.
Search URL: https://docs.google.com/document/create
Title: Create New Google Doc
Keyword: newdoc

Search URL: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/create
Title: Create New Google Sheet
Keyword: newsheet

Search URL: If you have a company template take the URL and replace /edit with /copy to prompt a copy of the slide deck as a new deck.
Title: Create New Google Slide Presentation
Keyword: newdeck

Salesforce

Similar to drive I often find myself looking up customers and prospects in our database. I’ve got two commands, one to open the page that corresponds to our instance sfdc and one to search sfdcs.
Search URL: Open up Salesforce and do a generic search for ‘test’ then grab the resulting URL. Replace test with {query}.
Title: Salesforce Search
Keyword: sfdcs

Other shortcut ideas

  • Google Analytics link to pageviews per week
  • Search your content library for relevant docs
  • Search JIRA board for a bug number
  • Quick link to homepage, blog, staging site
  • Search for a relevant gif

Got a suggestion for another or other productivity hack for the workplace you’d like to share? Throw it in the comments or link your own article.