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Alfred Productivity Tips: Tweaking your search results to show just what you want

Lego knight in shining armour

We all use our Macs slightly differently, squirrelling files away in all sorts of obscure locations with, sometimes, less than helpful names or folder organisation.

This is where Alfred comes in, like a knight in shining armour against the mountains of files on your Mac. Below are a few ways to tweak your settings to ensure Alfred is ready to serve YOU.

Setting your default results

If you're looking at your Default Results preference pane and thinking "What is she on about? Searching couldn't be simpler!" And you know what? You'd be half-right. The default settings for Alfred will suit a good portion of users straight out of the box, allowing you to find the bulk of the files you need.

However, if you need him to tend to your every need, you can tweak the settings to reflect this. To create as little noise as possible, choose only the file types you really want to see every time you search, e.g. Applications, Folders and Contacts.

Don't check every box unless you want every document, text file and image for "Spot the dog" every time you start typing "spo..." to launch Spotify.

The default search limits your results to 9 items to be as fast as possible. Want more results? Want a broader search? Keep on reading!

Widening your search scope

By default, the search scope covers the locations where Mac files are usually stored, such as your home folder, Applications folder, etc. However, if you store your files elsewhere, you'll want to use the + button to add the additional paths you need Alfred to include in default searches.

Searching all file types

Now you really are looking for every file and folder relating to Spot the dog, no matter what the file is. You want all those cute doggy photos, videos and stories and you want them NOW!

Hot tip: Listen carefully. This is one of the Alfred search gems you'll never want to forget once you've used it...

  • Use "find" to reveal a file in Finder
  • Use "open" (or hit the spacebar) to open a file
  • Use "in" to search for the content of files

Search for Spot the dog

Like so, with a single tap of the spacebar or the "open" keyword, you can expand the scope of your search without cluttering your everyday search results.

Still need to refine the contents of this broad search? Go to the Features > File Search > Exclusions & Scope tab in the preferences to select the file types you want Alfred to show you. I always hide emails, calendar items and browser history, for example, as I have so many unnecessary noisy results in there.

When using any of the 3 file search keywords, Alfred shows 20 results by default but this can be expanded to 40 in the preferences. Handy!

Working with external drives

You've probably worked out by now that Alfred's a rather accommodating chap and that he'll do everything he can to help you.

He'll be happy to include external volumes in your searches, on two conditions. First, Spotlight must have the drive indexed for search and, secondly, the scope in File Search > Exclusions & Scope must be set to include Everything.

A few more handy tips for fussy naming

Not happy calling a file by its name? Be Alfred's guest and give the file a nickname.

Using Spotlight Comments, you can assign short names or nicknames to applications or files.

For example, I use a developer app called "Instruments" to test Alfred for Memory Leaks, but when it's my own memory that starts leaking, I can't remember the app's name. For this reason, it now has a Spotlight Comment for "leaks", ensuring I find it every time. Go ahead and do the same with your own apps!

Leaks instruments

In the case of apps, you can also turn on fuzzy matching in the Alfred's Applications preferences, allowing you to use a partial match (e.g. "gc" for Google Chrome) without setting a Spotlight Comment. With Anchored turned on, Alfred will only search from the first character of every word, while turning it off will go more freestyle by showing any fuzzy match.

Hot tip: Use Spotlight Comments to assign a short name or nickname to a file, or turn on fuzzy matching in the Applications preferences to match on the fly.

What to do if Alfred can't find what you want

Alfred relies on your OS X metadata being healthy. This metadata is maintained by Spotlight and, on very rare occasions, can get out of date or corrupted. We've outlined easy diagnostics steps to follow if this happens.

Want more Alfred tips? Next time, we'll look at the iTunes Mini Player to add a bit of music to your day!

In the meantime, don't forget to check out the Tips & Tricks category of the blog, filled with more useful tricks for using Alfred than you can dream of!

[Image credit: Knight in shining armor by Pascal]

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