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Working With the Alfred App

This post covers a new tool that I’ve been using to increase productivity. Unfortunately, it’s only available on Mac.

I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve my productivity. While I’m open to trying and testing out new tools, I’m also cautious against trying out a myriad number of apps and methods that ultimately end up wasting my time trying to learn a new system rather than actually improving my workflow. About a month ago, I was happy with virtually every aspect of my workflow. In fact, I didn’t really want to try out anything else for fear of disrupting the balance. However, I had always been curious about experimenting with a task launcher. One app in particular had enough supporters that I was intrigued.

I first heard about the Alfred App from Shawn Blanc’s series “Sweet Mac Set-ups“. He had one particular interview with Leo Babauta (from ZenHabits) that eventually led me to Leo’s post on his own Mac set-up. Whereas I have inherent doubts about how others arrange their work habits, there’s one thing you can be sure about when it comes to Leo: he doesn’t include anything unnecessary. When I first read his post, I immediately put quite a few things in action that I feel have been very beneficial:

  • I hid the dock and removed many of the icons in it.
  • I started using apps for their basic functions rather than seeking out more powerful do-it-all master apps.
  • I experimented with more basic text editors. (In fact, I write all of my articles in a text file now.)

However, he continued to mention how often he used an app launcher instead of the default method of clicking on an app to open it. I thought this sounded pretty beneficial so I started experimenting with Spotlight to launch apps. For those on a Mac, you can usually open up Spotlight by using the Command + Spacebar combo. I would then type the name of the app I wanted to open. While this was great and I certainly liked it more than having thousands of items in my dock, I knew there had to be a better way.

At the recommendation of several folks across Twitter and work colleagues, I started to investigate Alfred. My first experience was a bit of a downer. I installed the app and – like a typical guy – neglected to read any instructions whatsoever. After about five minutes of frustration, I deleted the app and resorted back to Spotlight.

A few weeks later, I convinced myself to give it another go. That time, I made myself try it out for the entire day. This time, the results were a bit better.

I wanted to take a second to jot down the most common things I use the app for and some pros and cons of various functions.

1. Building Workflows

One of the most beneficial features outside of the traditional app launching has been the ability to build workflows. Essentially, a workflow is a string of actions that happen with a single command. For instance, I have various functions that I use my computer for (different jobs). In each case, I use different apps. As a result, I’ve built workflows for each type of task I do. When I sit down at the computer, I can launch only the necessary apps for that task. The result – no extraneous things running in the background.

 

2. Using Snippets and Text Expanders

Typing the same thing over and over gets exhausting plus it wastes a ton of time. Things like email subject lines, greetings, common URLs, and frequent text snippets can all be automated using Alfred (great overview here). This is probably my favorite feature as I send quite a few emails on a daily basis. Currently, I’m using the Snippets function much more often than the Text Expanders. Here are some things that I quickly automated using snippets:

  • Common emails (If I sent it more than once a day, it became a snippet.)
  • Signatures
  • Greetings that I use frequently
  • URLs
  • My address

3. Opening Files

Finding files can be a bit of a bugger since I’ve built so many nested files within my Dropbox folder. I can’t access any single document without going through several parent files first. While this helps to keep me organized. It also makes finding documents quite difficult if you don’t remember exactly where they are.

Alfred helps to solve two problems: finding the file and opening it – both with a simple command. By opening Alfred and typing “Open” then a few characters, Alfred searches the computer for documents that may match what I’m looking for. Once it locates the one, I can open the document by just hitting the enter key.

4. Reminders

Often times when I’m working, I’ll have something pop into my head that I need to remember. Sometimes, I’m in a bit of a groove writing-wise, and I don’t necessarily want to stop just to add a reminder. With this simple reminder workflow from Alfred, I can add things to my to-do list without even leaving the application I’m currently working on. The workflow is actually rather complicated but with Alfred, you can install prebuilt workflows so you don’t have to create them yourself. The link mentioned above is an example of a pre-built workflow.

I’ve been using Alfred for various other things as well like tweeting and controlling Spotify, but the functions listed above are some of the more basic features I’ve started to play with. I haven’t even begun to dig deep into the more advanced uses for Alfred. I’m sure that will come shortly. For now, I’m just enjoying the launching functions the most.

While my breath wasn’t taken away initially by Alfred, it’s certainly become a valuable tool in my productivity arsenal. It’s worth every penny of the $23 price tag. If you’re looking for an app launcher and all-around tool for optimizing your workflow, I’d highly suggest picking it up.

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