I hate to do things slowly. Ever since I can remember I've wanted to do things as quickly as possible. This probably has a lot to do with being involved in Speedcubing for the last decade where the goal is to always solve the cube as fast as possible.
Naturally, this extended into my work. I don't like to do repetitive tasks frequently. So if there is anything I can do to finish a task faster, I'm going to do it. One of my favorite tools for MacOS is Alfred. If you're familiar with Spotlight on MacOS, Alfred is the same thing but on steroids. People often ask why you would choose to use Alfred instead of Spotlight and I hope to talk about some of the very powerful things Alfred allows you to achieve and how it can help you speed up some preproduction video tasks.
As a disclaimer, many of the things I will mention in this blog post require the powerpack of Alfred which can be purchased for roughly $25. It is worth every penny, I promise! Alfred does also allow you to use the free version which still has many features that you can try out and see if you like Alfred.
At its core, Alfred is an application launcher. When you hit your keyboard shortcut to activate Alfred (mine is Command+space) a little window will pop up that you can type in. As you start to type, results that match what you have typed start to populate the window. If you open something frequently, Alfred will learn that you frequently open that and start to populate that result at the top of the list so you can open it quicker. You can see in the screenshot below that I very frequently open Premiere so when I only have to type "Pre" and Alfred knows that I want to open Premiere.
1. Navigating folders with arrow keys
One of my favorite features of Alfred is being able to quickly hunt through folders with my arrow keys. You simply type the name of the folder and you can start digging through it with your arrow keys. This is much better than opening Finder, clicking to the right directory, and then slowly clicking through all the folders. This might not seem like a big deal, but when you're doing it dozens of times every day, that time adds up and it starts to feel really annoying.
Navigating a folder structure with Alfred. 4 seconds.
Navigating the same folder structure with Finder and mouse. 11 seconds
As you can see from the above GIFs, the time difference might not seem that large but again, when you repeat the tasks many times a day that time adds up! I bet Alfred has saved me hours of time alone with this feature in the last few years. This can be especially fast when you need to navigate your projects folder which may have many subfolders.
2. Moving files with Alfred
The second thing that I use Alfred for is moving files around quickly. When I select a file and double tap the command key, Alfred brings up a little window asking me what I want to do with this file. Alfred calls this the "Buffer"
My most frequent use of this is to copy a file to my project folder for the current project I am working on. I often refer to my assets drive which has folders full of sound effects, music, and other various video effects. Instead of manually opening two Finder windows and navigating to each of them and then dragging and dropping, I can simply go into my assets drive and then hit command twice to bring up the buffer prompt. From here all I have to do is type the folder and use the arrow keys to navigate deeper into the folder that I wish to place the file in. In this case, I would be taking a sound effect and putting it in my sound effects folder which is inside of "Project name" > Sources > Audio > Sound effects. I love being able to use Alfred to copy/move files around my computer without actually needing to open up the Finder windows to do it. I estimate that using this method of moving files can save anywhere from 5-20 seconds depending on how deep the subfolders are that you have to navigate.
Now to be clear, I don’t use this for copying new files from a card off my camera. Alfred does not do checksum verification. For this, I use Red Giant’s Offload. But for generally moving files around my computer I use Alfred all day long.
3. Copying and pasting my template folder for Premiere projects
On my editing hard drive, I have several folders set up for the various projects that I might work on. Personal projects, YouTube, and Freelance. I also have a template folder that I use for ALL of my projects. If you aren't already doing this, you really should be! It will save you tremendous amounts of time. One thing that always annoyed me was having to open up Finder, navigate to the hard drive, and then copying and pasting my template folder, naming the folder, and then moving it into the correct folder.
Warning: this part is much more technical than other parts of this post.
I had one of my friends help me set up this script to use inside of Alfred. I created my own workflow (which is another incredibly powerful part of Alfred that I won't touch on here today).
The workflow starts with a keyword. In this case, I have my keyword set to be abbreviations of what I want this to do. "CP" stands for "Create personal" "CF" stands for "Create Freelance".
After that, I have it connected to a terminal script (Or a bash script) which will run in the background. You can see my script below. You need to make sure to replace the volume destinations with your correct directories! The first line is telling Alfred where to place your new folder and the second line is telling Alfred where your folder template is that you want to copy.
The script to duplicate my template and place it with a name into the correct folder.
So now, all I have to do to create a new project is type "CF" and then type a project name. In this case, it would look something like cf Alfred Blog Post. Once I hit enter, this will create my template folder with the project name pasted inside of my freelance folder. The last line of the command "open ." will also open Finder to that folder if it is not already open.
Now, I must admit. This specific script is not very beginner friendly but if you do get it set up, it is extremely useful! This is a task that annoyed me for ages and I was very happy to get this setup. There is also a program from Digital Rebellion called Post Haste. This is a program that remembers and stores various template folders for you. Personally I think it is slower than my script, but it is also much easier to setup and I would definitely recommend it to new users.
4. Opening project files
In my first tip, I mentioned that you can use Alfred to navigate folders with your arrow keys which is much quicker than just using Finder. But to take it a step further, I have Alfred immediately find my Premiere project files so I can just hit enter to open them up. Sure, it isn't the worst thing to type my project folder name and then use the arrow keys to navigate to the project file and hit enter, but we can certainly be faster and that's what I'm all about.
Alfred has a "Quick File Search Mode" where you can hit spacebar and then type in the file name you're looking for and it will find and pin down that file. In this case, I open Alfred, hit spacebar and then type Alfred Blog Post. Since I named my Premiere project file this, it immediately comes up and I can hit enter to open Premiere and my exact project. I believe by using this method instead of just typing the file name, Alfred will prioritize files over folders in your search list.
5. Ejecting hard drives
Alfred has the ability to execute many system commands which are useful. You can do various things such as put your computer to sleep, restart, shutdown, close all open applications, empty your trash, and also eject hard drives!
If you're anything like me, you may have many hard drives connected to your computer at any given time for accessing media. Instead of opening Finder and clicking on the arrow to eject the hard drive, you can simply open Alfred and type "eject" and you will get a list of hard drives that are available to be ejected. You can navigate to the drive you want to eject using the arrow keys or on the right-hand side you will also see that you can use shortcuts to select that drive and eject it (command+number). This is a very quick and easy way to eject your hard drives.
These are just a few of the ways that I use Alfred to assist in my video production while I am at my computer. There are so many more features that I didn't get the chance to cover in this blog post such as text snippets, using Alfred as a dictionary, calculator, web search, workflows, iTunes control, 1Password integration, and much more! I would highly encourage you to try out Alfred and see what you think. If you're a fan of Spotlight, I assure you that you will like Alfred even more.