Turn Alfred into the Ultimate Notes Manager

Alfred is awesome. Over the last couple of years this app launcher has garnered a substantial and loyal following, and its easy to see why. It’s an awesome app launcher in its own right, but as we have noted elsewhere, with the Alfred Powerpack, this app becomes much more awesome. It turns into a clipboard manager, iTunes player, file browser, and with a bit of tweaking, the ultimate notes manager.

Whether you prefer to manage notes with Mountain Lion’s native Notes app, or would rather keep notes in plain text files, Alfred has you covered. Read on to find out how to turn Alfred into the ultimate notes manager.

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Using Alfred to Manage Plain Text Notes

Many writers, students, researchers, and developers prefer plain text notes to keep track of important information and ideas. Plain text notes have many advantages including simplicity, cross platform compatibility, and, my favorite, simple integration with iOS text editors, especially if you store your notes in dropbox. There are many ways you could manage plain text notes, but Alfred makes an especially awesome tool for managing plain text notes on your Mac.

Do note: You’ll need to purchase Alfred’s £15 Powerpack to use it to manage notes. But really, it’s worth it.

Create an Interface for Accessing Your Notes

One great feature Alfred offers is the ability to set a keyboard shortcut for a wide range of functions. You can set a keyboard shortcut to open a folder in Alfred’s file navigation system or in Finder. This is a great way to quickly access and navigate the folder where you store plain text notes. Here’s how you do this in Alfred:

  1. Go to Alfred’s preferences
  2. Click on the Hotkeys button in the toolbar.
  3. Click the Plus sign in the bottom left.
  4. Go to Paths and URLs and then Folder path.
  5. Click on Browse to designate the folder where you store your notes.
  6. Choose if you want to view the folder in Alfred or Finder.
  7. Set the key combination to pull up the interface (for me this is alt-command-n).
That’s it. Now you have quick access to your notes folder. Simply use the arrow keys to move back and forth between folders if you are using Alfred’s file navigation system. You can also start typing the filename of a note and Alfred will automatically select it.

Using Alfred’s Powerpack features, typing a key combo quickly displays a nice interface for navigating your notes.

Create a Filter to Search Your Notes

Often a quick search of your notes is better than navigating a file system. A simple file search using Alfred will find a plain text note, but an even more streamlined option is to create a filter for specifically searching your notes folder. This limits the search results and makes it easier to find the note you are looking for. Here’s how to set up a filter:

  1. Go to Alred’s preferences.
  2. Click on the Extensions button in the toolbar.
  3. Click the Plus sign in the bottom left.
  4. Select File Search Filter.
  5. Select a name for the filter and click Create.
  6. Title the filter and give it a description.
  7. Select a keyword. This is what you will type to activate the filter in Alfred.
  8. Leave the Action as Open File.
  9. Click the Plus sign at the bottom right of the File Types window.
  10. Select any plain text file. This tells the file to search for plain text filenames.
  11. Click the Browse button on the right side of the Scope field and select your notes folder

You can now activate Alfred, type the keyword and search your notes folder without sorting through irrelevant results.

You can use Alfred to set up a filter to streamline your note searches.

Quickly Create a New Note

Say you have a great idea you want to quickly jot down. Alfred can help you accomplish this too. This shell script will allow you to quickly create an a new note in your default notes folder.

  1. Go to Alfred’s Preferences.
  2. Click on the Extensions button in the toolbar.
  3. Click the Plus sign in the bottom left.
  4. Select Shell Script.
  5. Give the extension a name and click Create.
  6. Title the extension and give it a description.
  7. Select a keyword. This is what you will type to activate the extension in Alfred.
  8. Copy this text into the Command field: touch [file extension here]{query}.txt; open [file extension here]{query}.txt. (I got the syntax for this from a post by Roger Byrne).
  9. Copy the path where you would like your new notes to be created and paste it in the appropriate spots in the command field.
  10. Make sure the silent and option boxes are ticked.

There you have it. Now when you need to create a new note just type the keyword, type a title, and a new txt file is created in your favorite text editor and automatically stored in your notes folder.

Another option for quickly storing bits of information is Pedro Lobo’s extension for easily appending text to the beginning or end of a text file.

Using Alfred With the Native Notes App

Maybe plain text notes aren’t your thing. Or maybe, like me, sometimes you prefer bullet lists and rich text formatting. The native Notes app experienced a major overhaul with the release of Mountain Lion. It is now a standalone app and, in my opinion, a joy to use. If you find yourself using the native Notes app, integrating Alfred will help make your life easier.

Add a New Note to the Notes App With Alfred

You will need to download and install this handy extension written by Ken Elliot to quickly add notes with Alfred. After the extension is installed, typing the keyword note and then the string title:body of note will create a new note in the default account and folder of the Notes app.

This is an example of using Alfred to create a new note in Mountain Lion’s native Notes app.

If you enter a title of a note that already exists in the Notes app, whatever you type after the colon will be appended to that note. For example, I have a note titled scratch. When I want to append text to that note I activate Alfred and type: note scratch:appended text here.

Use Alfred to Search Notes in the Native Notes App

As I describe above, it is easier and more efficient to search notes if a filter is applied to avoid manually looking through irrelevant search results. Using this extension written by David Ferguson you can easily filter out all other search results and focus in on your notes. This is even more handy than the plain text notes filter because it searches the entire note, not just the title.

Applying a filter makes it easy to focus search results on what you are looking for.

 Summary

Alfred is awesome. (Did I mention that before?) It’s great for launching apps, finding files, and doing so much more. Whether you prefer plain text notes or the native Notes app, Alfred can help make your note taking workflow hassle free. Thankfully, there a lot of people out there writing Alfred extensions and making them readily available, and by putting a few of them together, you can make Alfred turn into quite the little notes app.

If you’ve ever used any other ways to use Alfred with notes, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below!


  • Ian

    “There’s many ways you could manage plain text notes”

    Please remember that “there’s” is a conjunction for “there is.” Thus, what you said is “there is many ways” which should be “there are.”

    Other than that, I love the post. Super useful.

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Oh, sorry I missed that one. Fixed now!

      Glad you like the post; I hope we can get more like it out soon!

  • Melwan

    Every time I think I “know” Alfred, something useful pops up. Really informative post and very useful. Thank you.

  • David Ferguson

    Actually, the search for text files can search the contents of the files as well. To add this to the search filter that you created in the post:

    1. Go back to Alfred Preferences, and find the search filter you created.
    2. In the top right corner of the File Types box, click the Advanced button.
    3. There, under Metadata Fields, click the + button in the button right
    4. Select kMDItemTextContent
    5. Now that its added to the list, make sure the “Split” option is ticked.
    6. Save and close.

    Hopefully the mod will add this to the original post for you guys

    • rjleamaster

      Thanks David. That is one addition I wanted to add to this workflow. Just tried it out and works great.

      • David Ferguson

        Should probably add those steps to the post so that others know that it can be done in case they don’t read the comments

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      You can also use another app to open the selected files instead of the default app. Instead of “Open File” in step 8 of “Create a Filter to Search Your Notes” you can choose from an assortment of options, amongst those are script extensions.

      Just create and extension to open the file with another app and voila. I know it’s a shameless plug, but my post here goes into more detail.

      Hope it helps some!
      Cheers,
      Pedro

  • http://evanlovely.com Evan Lovely

    Great post! Thanks for all the tips, they really helped!

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