The Best Way to Save Time on The Computer

The Best Way to Save Time on The Computer

The Problem

This post discusses how I use Alfred to increase my efficiency/productivity on my MacBook. If you spend some time in front of a computer (even if it’s not a mac), you might find the principle vaguely interesting.

Time is our most valuable non-renewable resource.

I spend a huge amount of time in front of a computer/laptop. I’d like to think that most of that time is reasonably productive, i.e.: I’m getting stuff done (as opposed to simply browsing Facebook/Reddit/Youtube etc).

I feel it’s really important, therefore, for me to attempt to maximise the efficiency of the process. I don’t mean in the sense of “ensure that I don’t waste time on Facebook”, but more the sense of “I know what small action I want to accomplish at this moment, and I’d like for my computer to obey me as fast as possible”.

This may sound a tad abstract, so let’s use a concrete example. Let’s say we want to open a file. The ‘ordinary’ (read: normal) person’s way of opening the file on a Mac would be to use Finder to locate the file and double-click it. However, if we look a bit closer at this seemingly simple process, it takes quite a few steps (using a project for school as an example).

  1. Move the mouse to the bottom of the screen to the Mac dock
  2. Click on Finder
  3. Click on iCloud in the sidebar (because everything important’s backed up in the cloud, obviously)
  4. Click on School
  5. Click on First Year
  6. Click on Projects
  7. Double Click on the appropiate project.

This whole process of opening the file takes 10-15 seconds. In other words, there’s a 10-15 second lag between us thinking “I want to open this file”, and the file being open on the computer in front of us. That may not sound like a big deal, but when we consider the ridiculous amount of time it’s possible to spend on a computer, and the huge number of ‘small actions’ we take during this time, the seconds add up to minutes, hours, days, and ultimately, we’ve wasted years of our lives doing mundane intermediate tasks to achieve our ultimate goal (in this example, simply opening a particular file).

How would we optimise the process? Well, as I mentioned at earlier, the ultimate goal is to minimise the time between thinking of a command, and the computer executing that command.

The ultimate goal is to minimise the time delay between the user thinking of a command, and the computer executing that command

Thus, having introduced the objective of this post (in a somewhat wordy fashion), I’ll now go over some of the tools and techniques I personally use to optimise my time in front of the computer. Of course, these may not be the absolute best methods out there, but they’re the ones I’ve found quite useful, and I’m always open to more.

The Solution - Alfred

Alfred is a wonderful Mac app, and is the single, most useful tool in my ‘productivity arsenal’. Essentially, it’s the Mac Spotlight on steroids - you bring it up with a quick keyboard shortcut (I use CMD + Spacebar) and then type whatever you want to launch.

Here’s what their website says:

Alfred is an award-winning app for Mac OS X which boosts your efficiency with hotkeys and keywords. Search your Mac and the web effortlessly, and control your Mac using customised actions with the Powerpack.

Use Case 1 - Opening Files

The problem I mentioned initially was opening a file deep within an organised tree of folders. With Alfred, the process of opening it couldn’t be simpler - I simply bring up Alfred and type a few characters of the filename (preceded by a space, as that’s the Alfred shortcut for searching for files). And bam - within around 2-3 seconds (depending on typing speed), we’ve got the file we wanted open. Here’s a GIF explaining the process.

Use Case 2 - Opening Apps

For opening files, we typed in a space before the filename. To open apps, we just type the name of app (or the first few characters of the name), and we’re sorted. This feature is so useful that I’ve set the Mac dock as hidden - what’s the point of moving the mouse to click on the Spotify icon when you can just launch Alfred (with CMD + Spacebar), type S and hit , a process that takes less than a second compared to the multiple seconds moving the mouse would take.

Use Case 3 - Searching Google

While the above two things can be done in Spotlight, the Google search feature of Alfred is incredibly useful and (as far as I know) can’t be done in Spotlight. To search Google for anything, simply open up Alfred and type whatever you want. Alfred recognises that what you’re typing isn’t an app and therefore it searches Google for the term.

Use Case 4 - Searching Amazon

You know that feeling when you remember you’re running out of toothpaste, and need to order some via Amazon. The normal way of doing this would be to open up Chrome, put in the Amazon URL (which would, in fairness, be autocompleted), click on the search box and then type in ‘toothpaste’. The Alfred way of doing it is to launch Alfred, type ‘AMA Toothpaste’, hit the key and be happy with the 5 seconds of your life you’ve saved.

There the basics but there is a lot more advanced stuff you can do with the powerpack but we won't get into that here.

Closing Remarks

So yeah, that’s how I use Alfred to improve my efficiency when using my Mac. The aim (as with most productivity tools) is to minimise the time between thinking of an action and getting the computer to perform the action.

If you haven’t tried using Alfred, I’d suggest downloading it (it’s free!) and giving it a go. Heck, even the Mac built-in spotlight works quite well these days, and in fact, quite a few people prefer it to Alfred. Either way, using the keyboard to navigate a computer tends to be much quicker than using the mouse/trackpad, so you’ll save a lot of time in the long run 😃.

P.S There are also Windows alternatives such as Wox and Windows logo key I think are meant to be good the main message of this article is that you should use the keyboard for absolutely everything.