Alfred Workflows

Flow: An Alfred Workflow

I created an organizational tool called Flow that transforms your desktop into a living agenda for the day, helping you to be focused, present, and creative. In other words: in flow.

- Updated: June 29th, 2020 -

“In the wholeheartedness of concentration, world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.”

Jane Hirshfield

Source: Brain Pickings Article: Jane Hirshfield Concentration

Inspired by my own needs as a freelancer, I created an Alfred App workflow called “Flow.” It has three main functions:

  1. It keeps you efficient. Flow transforms your desktop into a living agenda for the day. Fire up your computer and the files on your desktop are your work for the day.
  2. It keeps you focused. Flow allows you to select, tag, memo and move items on your computer in seconds, allowing you to keep your focus rather than becoming lost in finding or organizing your files.
  3. It keeps you organized. Flow builds directories of your files as you assign tasks to yourself over days, weeks, months and years.

Moments of inspiration for one project might come while you’re working on another project. This idea might be a critical breakthrough or valuable seed that could influence future design decisions. This endless exploratory process is the essence of any artist’s work.

However, a deadline is a deadline and giving too much attention to that transient moment makes it become, well, not so transient as well as a distraction to what I had been concentrating on. I wanted a way to quickly jot down a note and come back to it later when I could better give it my concentration. I didn’t want an external application that I had to launch, navigate through, click, click, etc. Anything more than a keyboard click would naturally break my concentration.

This workflow is designed to promote a “pull” mentality and approach where you bring the work to you only when you are ready for it. Cal Newport (author of Deep Work) has a very descriptive article that lays it out well, especially for the knowledge sector.

Image Credit: Danielle Macinnes

The Problem: Desktop Chaos

I primarily use my computer’s Desktop as my project and task list. If something is on my Desktop, there is something that I need to do with it. Of course the Desktop exponentially grows on any given day and that starts to encroach on making things hard to find or worse, making me feel anxious that there are other things which need my attention – both of which serve to block my focus. I needed a way to clear out what wasn’t pertinent to “today”. Just creating a folder on the Desktop called “stuff to get to” didn’t do anything but make it one more place to look for things.

Image Credit: Tim Gouw

The Goal: Desktop Zero

In my example, the goal is simplicity in that the Desktop becomes the point of focus for that day’s work and items get swept out as they are finished or evolve to another task, for another day. Anything that doesn’t need my attention for “today” should be cleared away until I’m ready.

Once the Desktop reaches zero, it’s time to get outside.

Lulu celebrates Desktop Zero

The Solution: Flow

This is where Flow comes in. By selecting a file or folder you can tag it for a proposed upcoming day (e.g. Monday), add an optional memo and move it into its dedicated place within the specified Projects directory (see Key Points of Flow below). If its place doesn’t exist yet, you can create it on the fly. If you simply don’t have the time to consider anything with it, you can move it to a temporary place so that it will be ready for action the next day. Once the day arrives that matches the tag (e.g. Monday) it gets linked back to your Desktop for you to start working on.

Download Flow Workflow for Alfred (coming soon).

This method helps gain back valuable visual real estate. Distractions come to me in a variety of ways, and knowing how to give them just enough attention to take them off my mind’s shoulder clears the mental pollution from my creative process by making it easier to concentrate. Concentration is the key to cohere within any task, no matter what that task is.

Freelancing, for me, includes graphic design, web development, photography, writing, etc. Switching between them all can become a very real challenge since each discipline requires different mental resources. Inefficient multi-tasking is the difference between “doing” things and “finishing” them.

So with all that, Flow was born. The rest of this explains the technical side of the bash scripts included with Flow.

Related Readings

Key Points of Flow

Looking from the high level view, I wanted to:

  1. Make a selection and initiate Flow with a keyboard combination
  2. Choose a location to move the selection (housed within the user defined Projects folder).
  3. Create a simple note from the selection with it’s new location and any memos attached to it so that I could find it easily and pick up with where I left off.
  4. Draft an estimated day to sit with and work on the selection/project. This would only be a 7-day window of opportunity, as anything else should be Shelved for a later time without a deadline.
  5. Get back to what I was working on knowing that when the day arrived, the project would show up on my Desktop.

Moving forward with the goals, it would also be ideal to select the file/folder again whenever I wanted to add more memos/notes or adjust days as they came into existence. Importantly, it had to be flexible enough to action the items again if I wasn’t able to finish them according to the loose deadline I created, since life is, well you know, happening.

Key Action Points

  • Tag files with proposed due day (7 day max Sunday-Saturday)
  • Shelve a project that you want to look at in more depth but may not need a deadline
  • Wipe all notes and files from a finished project (optional)
  • Bin files into a temporary repository to come back to the next day as some projects require more high level planning.
  • Symlink to Desktop in order to keep master files in there dedicated locations and avoid duplicates littering your hard drive (optional).

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