Saving time with Alfred

This post discusses how I use Alfred to increase my efficiency/productivity on my MacBook. If you spend some time in front of a computer (even if it’s sadly not a mac), you might find the principle vaguely interesting.

The Problem

Time is our most valuable non-renewable resource.

I spend a huge amount of time in front of a computer/laptop. I’d like to think that most of that time is reasonably productive, i.e.: I’m getting stuff done (as opposed to simply browsing Facebook/Reddit/Youtube etc).

  1. Click on Finder
  2. Click on Google Drive in the sidebar (because everything important’s backed up in the cloud, obviously)
  3. Click on ‘Third Year’
  4. Click on ‘Project’
  5. Click on ‘PDFs’
  6. Double-click on ‘Ali Abdaal Part II Project.pdf’

The ultimate goal is to minimise the time delay between the user thinking of a command, and the computer executing that command

Thus, having introduced the objective of this post (in a somewhat wordy fashion), I’ll now go over some of the tools and techniques I personally use to optimise my time in front of the computer. Of course, these may not be the absolute best methods out there, but they’re the ones I’ve found quite useful, and I’m always open to more.

The Solution — Alfred

Alfred is a wonderful Mac app, and is the single, most useful tool in my ‘productivity arsenal’. Essentially, it’s the Mac Spotlight on steroids — you bring it up with a quick keyboard shortcut (I use CMD + Spacebar) and then type whatever you want to launch.

Use Case 1 — Opening Files

The problem I mentioned initially was opening a file deep within an organised tree of folders. With Alfred, the process of opening it couldn’t be simpler — I simply bring up Alfred and type a few characters of the filename (preceded by a space, as that’s the Alfred shortcut for searching for files). And bam — within around 2–3 seconds (depending on typing speed), we’ve got the file we wanted open. Here’s a GIF explaining the process.

Use Case 2 — Opening Apps

For opening files, we typed in a space before the filename. To open apps, we just type the name of app (or the first few characters of the name), and we’re sorted. This feature is so useful that I’ve set the Mac dock as hidden — what’s the point of moving the mouse to click on the Spotify icon when you can just launch Alfred (with CMD + Spacebar), type S and hit , a process that takes less than a second compared to the multiple seconds moving the mouse would take.

Use Case 3 — Searching Google

While the above two things can be done in Spotlight, the Google search feature of Alfred is incredibly useful and (as far as I know) can’t be done in Spotlight. To search Google for anything, simply open up Alfred and type whatever you want. Alfred recognises that what you’re typing isn’t an app and therefore it searches Google for the term.

Use Case 4 — Searching Amazon

You know that feeling when you remember you’re running out of toothpaste, and need to order some via Amazon. The normal way of doing this would be to open up Chrome, put in the Amazon URL (which would, in fairness, be autocompleted), click on the search box and then type in ‘toothpaste’. The Alfred way of doing it is to launch Alfred, type ‘AMA Toothpaste’, hit the key and be happy with the 5 seconds of your life you’ve saved.

Alfred Workflows

One of the nice things about Alfred is that you can create custom ‘workflows’ to automate tedious tasks. Even better, you can download existing workflows online which link to apps you use in other parts of your life.

Fantastical + Alfred

One of my favourite Alfred workflows combines Alfred with Fantastical (a really nice mac and iOS calendar app). I use this workflow to add events to my calendar using natural language.

Other Custom Workflows

Here’s a list of the workflows I’ve got active these days, most of which save just a small amount of time, but those small amounts add up to make me (hopefully) a lot more efficient when using my computer.

Closing Remarks

So yeah, that’s how I use Alfred to improve my efficiency when using my Mac. The aim (as with most productivity tools) is to minimise the time between thinking of an action and getting the computer to perform the action.

Final year medical student. Trying out this blogging thing.

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