I’ve been reading The Productive Programmer for a book club and it’s put me on a productivity binge. It’s an older book and many of its recommendations no longer apply, so I got excited when, while researching modern alternatives for some of the tools the author recommends, I happened to stumble on Alfred. Alfred is a replacement for the Mac spotlight that has already changed how I work. In fact, I was so excited by Alfred that within ten minutes of downloading, I immediately bought a “mega-supporter” license! And I almost never buy Mac software. It’s that good!
Alfred basically replaces the Spotlight, which is a built-in Mac tool to search for files and apps (if you don’t know what the Spotlight is and you’re on a Mac, try pressing ⌘-space and searching for a file). Alfred takes that concept and turns it into a way to do almost anything, particularly without taking your hands off the keyboard because for most things, using the mouse is way less efficient than using the keyboard.
I’ve already been able to use Alfred to create three cool efficiency-boosters for my work:
- A workflow to let me reply to Google Chat messages from Alfred (we use Google Chat for work). I just type
chat braden; Hey this is a chat!and hit
enterand my message is sent.
- I mapped a keyboard shortcut to a workflow that automatically joins my next meeting, turns my camera off, and mutes my microphone.
(I made both of the above workflows by chaining keyboard shortcuts that each respective application supports)
- My keyboard at work makes it pretty annoying to raise/lower the volume or to pause/unpause music. For the former, I mapped raising/lowering the volume to ⌃-⌥-plus and ⌃-⌥-minus and for the latter, Alfred includes it’s own shortcuts for controlling music playback so luckily I get pausing/unpausing for free— as well as playing a random album from my library, which I use constantly!
The problems these workflows solved were all things I had to deal with many times a day, so any efficiency improvement pays dividends. And I get the satisfaction of using something I made!
Here are some other workflows I’ve found helpful (don’t be afraid of the GitHub links, these things are very easy to install— just download the
.alfredworkflow file and double-click it to install). One note, you’ll need to purchase a license to use workflows, but I think it’s very worth it:
- Browser tabs search - Search your browser tabs from Alfred (works with all major browsers)
- Two-factor Authentication for iMessage - Alfred scrapes your texts for the latest two-factor authentication text code and pastes it for you- very convenient in Chrome since unlike Safari, it doesn’t do this for you!
- Thesaurus - search for synonyms and antonyms to words from Alfred
- Emoji search - search for emojis
- Markdown text expander - quickly expands text into Markdown
If you do try Alfred, I recommend disabling spotlight and replacing it with Alfred.
I think most people will gain some time-saving improvements from Alfred so I highly recommend checking it out. Let me know if you find a cool workflow!