GUI as a Workflow Application

Apr 3, 2019  

Background

Since using tiling window managers like DWM or I3, I’ve come to realise that my approach to using my computer has also changed. No longer is the GUI simply a tool to launch and arrange separate applications, but it’s become a sharpened tool adapted specifically to my workflow needs.

Window Manager Workflow

To begin with, there are a few specific shortcuts I have configured - mostly using the Meta (Windows) key as this has minimal conflicts with any applications.

Here are some simple ones for managing windows and launching apps I use:

Key Action
Meta + f Make the current application full screen
Meta + q Quit the current application
Meta + Shift + q Quit DWM
Meta + x Launch my customised dmenu launcher (see later)
Meta + m Launch an email client, neomutt
Meta + n Launch a news reader, newsboat
Meta + b Launch a web browser, palemoon
Meta + Enter Launch a terminal
Meta + Tab Swap to previous workspace
Meta + 19 Swap to workspace X
Meta + Shift + Enter Launch a file manager, vifm
Meta + h Make the active window larger
Meta + l Make the active window smaller
Meta + j Move focus to the next window
Meta + k Move focus to the previous window
Meta + t Tiled window mode
Meta + f Full screen apps

A Workflow Example

Occasionally I want to write a blog, so I have s shortcut for that. Meta + x, blog, Enter, post, Enter and that brings up Vim with a new draft to begin writing an article. Within Vim, I can then press Space (the leader key) then I which brings up a folder selection dialog where I can pick a folder with an image to include. Once selected, sxiv launches to allow me to select images to include in the article, and they will be automatically resized (preview and full-sized) and copied to the correct folder for the blog entry. The process also then includes the correct markup to include the images in my blog entry.

Then I can press Meta + x, blog, Enter and choose from other options such as Preview Site with Drafts (which opens the site previewed in my web browser, and automatically reloads every time I save a change) or Publish.

Publish then will commit the changes, push to GitLab, and hooks will then update my live site using Netlify. I also used to have an “If This Then That” trigger to publish on Twitter that I have a new article.

All of this can be performed quickly and efficiently, and with minimal use of the mouse (only currently required while selecting a folder, although there are alternatives to that approach too).

Conclusion

Clearly this workflow is streamlined for keyboard use, and specifically biased towards Vim key bindings. Many of the applications I use I customise the shortcuts to be consistent which makes overall flow pretty intuitive and when it works well, many separate applications end up working together to a single unified process. This is what epitomises the power and flexibility of the free / open source ethos to me, and it takes away reliance on specific tools to perform the task at hand. There isn’t a single application I use that couldn’t be replaced with another similar application to perform the same job.

Another term I like to use for this approach is “anti-fragile” - if one link in the chain breaks, then it can be quickly replaced with another that is at least as good or even improved through customisation. Also if my workflow needs to change, then it is something that I can implement at any time.