Why you should learn to love your keyboard (An ode to Alfred)

Aug 21, 2016 · Technology

We often search for the most convenient way to do things. What would be the answer, if we would evaluate the easiest and most convenient way to interact with a computer? Despite the fact that this is definitely dependent on the context, for numerous of our daily tasks most users would probably prefer the mouse. But what if we take a look at the daily actions we execute? Mostly, we look at the same homepages, we open the same apps or we perform the same kind of workflows/tasks/actions.

The mouse is a pretty convenient way to interact with a computer, that’s why it was one of the most important drivers for a wide adoption of computers in the early days (in combination with the Graphical User Interface). Nearly everyone can use a mouse intuitively – but for a lot of tasks, the keyboard is simply the more efficient alternative. There is one specific app, which really helps you to get the most out of your keyboard: meet Alfred.

Hey Alfred, introduce yourself

Alfred has been my (daily) faithful companion for more than two years. It is a Spotlight replacement application for Mac OS with an increased functionality and the possibility of creating specific workflows to automate repeating tasks. If you use Alfred solely for searching files and opening apps, it’s probably not useful to substitute Alfred for Spotlight. Nonetheless, when you invest a bit of time and get used to it, Alfred can do magical things.

A few examples for improving day to day actions

When I start up my laptop, one of the first thing I do in the morning is checking a few news sites. The single most convenient way for me to do this, is to open Alfred (I’m using the shortcut cmd + Space), type „on“ and hit Enter. Alfred then will open my browser and all of my favorite sites. This function might not provide an insane amount of value, though it’s easy and fast. Alfred enables me to this by defining a so called workflow, which it will execute when typing in a predefined command. This is a very simple workflow, but there are also more complex ones, which are all provided by the awesome Alfred community.

Due to the reason that I’m German, I sometimes need to look-up a certain word in English. Instead of heading to the browser and typing the word into Google, I just hit my shortcut and enter „de example“. The keyword „de“ tells Alfred that I want to use the respective workflow (translation from German to English or the other way around) and the word behind the keyword will be the one i want to get translated.

I can do the same thing when searching for synonyms: „syn example“ and Alfred will give me list of synonyms for the word “example”. This is incredibly useful when you try to improve your writing and vocabulary. If I press Enter, the respective synonym will be copied to my clipboard. This is how it looks:

These are just three simple examples. You can do even more like navigating through Spotify, adding tasks to (certain) to-do apps, adding appointments to your calendar (very good in combination with Fantastical), checking the rating of a movie/TV series you want to watch… Alfred got you covered.

Simple tasks + high frequency = big opportunity

I’ve to admit, that I’m not using Alfred to it’s full extent. Foremost, I’m using it for very simple tasks, which I perform a lot. But when you begin to use Alfred on a daily basis, you will probably observe a few things:

  • Using workflows might improve your day to day actions only by small amount at a time, but the saved time sums up pretty quickly because of the high frequency.
  • You will scrutinize the way you interact with your computer and seek for more efficient ways.
  • You will see how annoying it is to switch from your keyboard to your mouse/trackpad (or the other way around) in order to open apps or do similar small tasks.

Tiny habits in our everyday life’s might sometimes not seem worth to think about – at least if you think short term. When focusing on the long term, which get’s more and more difficult in a world of instant gratification, giving your keyboard a second chance for more than just typing words, seems pretty reasonable. So, it might be worth for you to take a few seconds and think about your daily routines when interacting with your computer – and if so, maybe Alfred could be an option for you, too.