Alfred for Mac — Ferocious Tools for Instructional Designers

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Alfred is my #1 favorite productivity tool for the Mac, and over the years I have developed some ferocious tricks to support the tasks I do everyday as an Instructional Designer. My work is equal parts content development and web design, so I like to mix conventional productivity tools with modern web development workflows.

You will need:

Your new superpowers:

Built-in features of Alfred

Even before you start adding custom workflows to it, Alfred is an incredibly powerful tool for performing common productivity tasks. Using the free version, you can give yourself a huge productivity boost by using Alfred to handle common computing tasks.

Here’s an incomplete list of the things you can do with just the core tool itself:

Launch any application on your machine FAST

One of the most obvious (and useful) features of Alfred is the ability to type a couple letters and have it know which app you want to open. This process is lightning fast, allowing you to open apps as quickly as you can think them — much faster than mousing around to the Dock or Mission Control.

Search any file on your machine, and even search inside files

Press space or ', and you can type a search for the name of any file on your computer. Again, this is much faster and smarter than mousing through folders, especially for files you use frequently. Alfred even boosts files you’ve used recently in its search results, so it instantly surfaces the files you’ve been working on over other less relevant files.

Type in and you can even search for text inside of files. This is useful if you remember writing a passage of text but don’t remember the file name you saved it as.

Search the web using any of your favorite search engines (or roll your own!)

You can search the web just as quickly as you search your desktop. By default Alfred comes with Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, Twitter, and other common searches, but you can add ANY searchable site as a custom search engine in Alfred. As you type into Alfred, it will intelligently offer you a list of sites you can search directly.

Search your browser bookmarks from Alfred

If you have it saved as a bookmark in Chrome (or your favorite browser of choice), you can search those bookmarks from Alfred. Simple and so easy.

Built-in calculator, dictionary, contacts viewer

Rather than opening the Mac’s built in Calculator or Dictionary app, you can get answers with a keyword search from within Alfred so you don’t need to open any alternate apps or go out to the web.

Clipboard manager

Alfred 3 now includes a clipboard manager — a tool that records a history of the things you copy to your clipboard, and makes it easy to paste several clips at a time, in whichever order you like. I go into why this is such a great thing for Instructional Designers in this post. This is one tool that will give you superpowers once you master it, and you won’t know how you got along without it.

Text replacement

Text replacement allows you to save commonly used strings of text like your name, email address, LinkedIn URL, or anything really, invoking it with a short keyword and automatically replacing that keyword with the stored text. Here is a short list of the things I routinely replace now:

  • My email address(es)
  • My postal address
  • URLs for my blog, my Twitter, LinkedIn, and my employer’s website
  • The text of the form email I send every Monday morning asking for meeting ideas
  • My email signature, as well as my usual sign off, “All the best, Ted”
  • The CSS hex color codes for our corporate brand colors
  • And much more…

Even though this feels a bit geeky to get set up with, it’s a great productivity tip to use text replacement wherever you end up repetitively entering the same data over and over.

Code snippets

If you work with code a lot, you can also use the Snippets tool to store and paste chunks of code you use routinely.

Terminal command line

If you ever get the urge to open the Terminal app to enter command line interface, you can do it from Alfred by entering >.

Quick system tasks like shut down, lock, empty trash, logout, change volume, etc.

Nearly every feature of your computer itself can be controlled by Alfred. I use it to quickly eject any mounted disks, change my screen brightness and sound volume, sleep the computer, empty the trash, or shut down/restart the machine when needed.

Alfred Workflows

The features above are just the ones built in to the core tool, and those are amazing enough on their own. But Alfred can also be extended by installing (or writing) community-sourced workflows. These workflows provide a whole galaxy of ways to control the apps and services you use most, all from Alfred.

I can list a few of my favorites below, but you should really read up on the Alfred Workflows website to see the latest and greatest extensions to this powerful tool.

Some of my favorites:

  • Lorem Ipsum: Quickly generate Lorem Ipsum placeholder text and paste
  • Layout: Resize and move your windows to make more room on your screen(s)
  • Emoji Search: search and paste emojis from Alfred
  • Placeholder Images: quickly paste in a URL for placeholder image from Unsplash or LoremPixel
  • Rename Action: Simply rename a file from within Alfred. Surprisingly useful.

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Written by

Ted Curran is a Learning Experience Designer/Developer for Autodesk. He is committed to empowering educators and learners to create transformational change through effective pedagogy and technology integration. You can follow Ted on Mastodon, LinkedIn or learn more at my 'About" page. These thoughts are my own.

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