Launchbar screenshot on a Mac desktop

I Rarely Think About My Launcher But I Use It All the Time

Most people wonder how I operate a computer so quickly. It’s a simple secret. I use a launcher.

I use my launcher upwards of 30-40 times a day, yet I don’t think about it. I’m going to teach you how to boost your productivity the same way.

Move as Quickly as You Think

A launcher is an application that gives you quick access to different areas of your computer from a unified interface. It usually comes in the form of a single text input that can be invoked by a keyboard shortcut.

Today, a launcher is used for more than just opening apps. This class of application is usually bundled with many useful features like managing the clipboard, controlling music playback, changing settings and much more. One simple input can have extraordinary complexity underneath the surface.

I can’t recommend this enough, stop using your mouse for everything. You’re already typing things on your keyboard, so don’t change contexts continuously. A launcher lets you keep your train of thought by being in-line with your keyboard.

How to be a Launcher Power User

First, you need to install a good launcher. The key to finding the right launcher for you is experimentation. I know a lot of people aren’t fans of “breaking what works” when it comes to computers, but trust me, finding the right application and becoming comfortable with it can mean saving tens times the amount hours in boosted productivity.

Now, Mac and Windows are getting smarter and have added built-in utilities for launching applications. Spotlight for Mac has been around for a long time but has recently received a face-lift. Use it. Seriously, it’s free and it works well. Master Spotlight to see if you even need a more advanced launcher. Windows has the start menu which sort of acts like a launcher to my understanding if you hit the right key combo.

If you want to step up to something more extensible, I recommend Alfred as its learning curve is a little easier to grasp for newcomers. Launchbar is pretty unforgiving if you ask me.

A good buddy of mine, Mike Kanaly, recommends Lauchy for Windows as “…mildly more convenient than start menu…” From the looks of it, Launchy shares a good deal with its Mac counterparts. And with that raving recommendation, I’m sure everyone will download it.

I gain most of my speed on my computer because I use a launcher every day that knows what I want it to do.

A good launcher adapts to you. It picks up your habits. Launchers grow with you, so start now. Give the app time to see how you work. Make sure you’re actually using the application, though. If you let it sit in the background, it won’t learn and adapt.

How To Make Launchers Work For You

Explaining launchers are one thing but I actually should explain how they can help. I’ve put the next few sections in an order of what to tackle with your launcher. This isn’t definitive. Work in a way that suits your needs.

Open Applications

Sure, most things today are done in a web browser, but the easiest way to save time with a launcher is actually launching applications.

Think about it, every time you go to your taskbar/Dock/whatever you need to essentially hunt and peck with the mouse. Keeping your hands on the home row will let you move quickly between applications. Use your launcher as an application switcher to get it into your muscle memory.

Even if you work on the web all day, you can also type the site you want to go to in both Launchbar and Alfred and they will launch it.

Skip the “Open” Dialog Box

Once you’ve started getting used to opening applications, move to opening files! Seriously, why would you open an application to then go “Open” to find a file? Invoking a file should open the file in your launcher1.

Start Fuzzy Finding

If your launcher supports it, I highly recommend enabling fuzzy finding. This will let you find files by mashing some keys instead of exactly typing the beginning of a file or application.

Here’s an example of how fuzzy finding works

This simple change will boost your speed with your launcher guaranteed.

There is one caveat to fuzzy finding; if you’re really wrong, you’re not going to find what you’re looking for. I have this problem with Launchbar a lot where I lazily type and it can’t decipher what I’m trying to do. Computers can’t read our minds, so you still need to give the program something halfway decent to work with.

Clipboard History

Accessing the clipboard history is the feature I use most right behind accessing applications.

Every time that you copy something, these applications remember it. You’ll save countless hours of going back and forth between windows trying to copy the same things over and over and over again. I suggest that once you’re comfortable launching items, you start using your clipboard history.

Launchbar and Alfred also allow you to quickly append text to an already copied item. So instead of needing to format a bunch of pasted text, it’s already formatted on paste. Huge timesaver that I know will help you.

Use Built-In Actions

These applications are productivity packs. Since you’ll be so used to invoking a launcher for applications, you should be able to do more in the interface. Just using them to launch applications is a waste. Learn what your launcher can do for you.

Web Search

Launchers know about the web. Revolutionary, right? Launchbar and Alfred both let you search using your favorite engines2 Stop going to your browser first, launch it with the search in place!

Calculator

For quick calculations, opening a new app is pointless. Basic math in a basic interface is usually all you need. I know I’m checking numbers all of the time with Launchbar.

But Really… What’s the Best Launcher?

What I use isn’t going to be perfect for everyone, so I’m going to break down what’s good and bad about both Alfred and Launchbar.

As a modest hacker3, Alfred’s approach appeals to me on a core level. I love the idea of letting the community around an application build its features. In practice, Alfred’s experience doesn’t compare. Slow, scripted code grinds work to a halt.

Launchbar is my go-to app launcher. The polish and myriad of built-in actions make it a no-brainer for me to use. I don’t recommend it though if you’re going to casually launch things. Launchbar is an art in my book and you have to be willing to learn it.

Currently, I still have Alfred running on my computer every day. Do I use it? No. But it’s there if I want the whizz-bang features ever. Launchbar is there for me 99.99% of the time.

If you take one thing away from this article, it should be you need to use your keyboard to query your computer. It may seem unintuitive in the modern age of touch devices, but trust me, “googling” your computer is still an extremely relevant way to interact with it.

Use a different launcher than mentioned here? Have specific questions for me? Find me on Twitter @thenerdscribe


  1. Your choice of launcher sucks if the default for files to reveal them, not open them. 
  2. DuckDuckGo anyone? No? Oh. Okay. 
  3. Let’s face it, I’m a script kiddie. 
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