Have you ever used spotlight on your mac? If so you know how quickly one gets used to the standard CMD + SPACEBAR Keyboard Shortcut to trigger Spotlight to search for everything on your mac. Most people quickly figure out that Spotlight is a great application starter/switcher and adapt their workflow accordingly.
But there is a better tool out there that can do exactly what Spotlight does but so much more. In this post I’ll show you how you get startet with the award-winnig tool Alfred, show you my list of workflows and how you become a keyboard shortcut master (not only with Alfred)
Disclaimer: You’ll need to buy the Alfred Powerpack to be able to use the workflows I’ll show you, it’s £17 and well worth the investment.
First things first: Download Alfred 2
- You’ll fall back to using Spotlight if you don’t change the default Shortcut right away.
- First go in the System Prefs > Spotlight and deactivate that system shortcut (http://cl.ly/TiiI), it’s the second from the bottom.
- Go into Alfred and map the general Shortcut to the the one you had for Spotlight (CMD + Space: http://cl.ly/TiAF)
- Alfred is built around speed and first of all centers around being an application launcher, so go ahead and hit your new shortcut and type an application name … hit Enter or cycle through the results with your arrow keys. Easy right?
- Looking for a file? Open Alfred and hit the spacebar once more. Your view should now look like this:
- Don’t remember the filename and want Alfred to crawl through the content of all your files on your Mac? Start off with the keyword “in”:
The power of web searches right out of Alfred 2
This is a list of keywords that you should remember:
- google ok, this one is obvious, start your query with google and search for anything on google, simple as that.
- wiki jump right into a wikipedia search
- amazon you know the drill by now.
Ok, these were pretty basic, but Alfred lets you use any website URL scheme. Let’s say I want to create one for the popular website Rotten Tomatoes to look for a movie rating.
- Head over to the Alfred preference pane, select “Features” ▸ “Web Search” ▸ “Add Custom Search”
- Head over to the website that has a site-search feature and look out for the “URL-scheme”. For RT it looks like this: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/search/?search=her
- This is how I made mine work:
- And it works just fine:
Alfred Workflows (where the real magic happens)
For this part you definitely need the Alfred Powerpack mentioned above, the workflow area is a key element that is activated by the Powerpack.
Workflows allow you to connect keyboard shortcuts and/or keyboard input to multiple actions … but let’s just start off with an example:
In this example the workflow is started by a keyword “movie” and takes the next word/search term as input for three following actions. On pressing “Enter” with the key phrase “movie inception” the browser will be opened with 3 Tabs: A search on Youtube, Search on IMDB and on rottentomatoes.
Granted this no real revelation to productivity but it serves as a good example .
The real key to using workflows is, that they can be shared and easily installed just by double-clicking on them. So luckily smarter people than I have created loads of workflows to be installed by us:
A few examples:
- Spotify Controller – does exactly what you expect by it’s name.
- MailTo – allows you to open a new Email to one of your contacts right from inside Alfred
- Evernote Integration – allows multiple evernote-actions from within Alfred including search, new note or new note from screenshot.
- LeoDictionary – directly translates German ⇔ English
- Asana QuickTask – enables you to quickly create a task within Asana (ToDo-List-Tool)
Want to browse more Workflows ➜ Alfred Workflow Forum (Sorted by Views)
My own example: Google Drive Search Workflow
So I set one up myself to quickly search through all my Google Drive Items. The following steps show you how you do it. Lazy? Download the complete workflow here – be sure to adjust the location of your google drive folder, the steps explain how to do so.
- Head over to your Google Drive overview and download the Google Drive Application
- Create a new blank Workflow in the lower left corner of the Workflow section of the Alfred Preference Pane:
- Start the workflow by clicking the little +Icon in the right corner with a “File Filter”
- Configure the “Basic Setup”:
- Keyword is filled with something short and memorable like “gd”
- Placeholder Title is filled with a longer keyword of the action.
- File Types: Drag a file of each different Google Drive Filetype (gsheet, gdraw, gdoc) into this area:
- Configure the “Search Scope” by dropping in the Google Drive Folder that was created by the Sync App you installed before:
- Save and add another tile to the workflow by clicking the plus again. This time add “Actions ▸ Open File”
- For the last step connect the two parts by clicking and dragging a line from the File Filter to the Open File Action. Be sure to click and drag from the right side of the File Filter Tile.
- Try it, it should work now!
How to simplify keyboard shortcuts by making the caps key more useful.
Two things before you try this part of the tutorial:
- There are a few steps and software involved, so it will take a few minutes to set up
- You’ll loose your Caps-Lock-Key. Do only continue if you never or hardly ever use that key. (Don’t worry, it’s reversible)
What we’ll achieve:
- Hitting and holding the Caps-Lock-Key will actually prompt CMD + ALT + CTRL + SHIFT all at the same tame.
- Hitting it once will promt ESC.
Why do we want this?
- Remembering keyboard shortcuts is hard!
- Many keyboard combinations are already blocked by system commands.
- It’ll serve as your new go-to command, effectively replacing many complicated keyboard shortcuts.
Let’s do this:
- Head over to Brett Terpstra and follow his tutorial. He does a very good job at explaining the necessary first steps.
- Brett explains to disable the system Caps Key (System Preferences ▸ Keyboard ▸ Modifier Keys: Set Caps Lock to “No Action”) I actually did’t realize that I need to do that for the keyboard on my macbook and also for my external keyboard. So head back there if you also use an external keboard.
Brett already explains how to use BetterTouchTool to quickstart common Apps with our new Hyper Key, I use:
- CAPS + M to start the Mail App
- CAPS + B switches to Chrome
- CAPS + C switches to the Calendar App
The real productivity gain for me comes by using the Hyper Key in Alfred:
- CAPS + G starts the google drive search. Just adjust the workflow by adding “Trigger ▸ Hotkey” at the beginning. (Download the complete workflow here)
- CAPS + A starts Asana (my ToDo-List Tool) – This acts as a really quick way to get a thought out of the way.
- CAPS + V shows the Clipboard Feature of Alfred. You might have to enable it in the Alfred Preferences.
- CAPS + S shows the Spotify controller, probably my most-used workflow.
I hope this tutorial helps a few people out there getting started with Alfred. Just drop me a line if you have other tips or questions!